Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off to summer for Americans and typically one of the worst times to travel, especially on the road. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), this year will be no different.
AAA expects 39.2 million people to travel more than 50 miles from home this Memorial Day weekend, an 8.3% increase over 2021. That increase comes across all segments—AAA expects air travel to rebound up 25% over 2021 and car travel to increase 4.6% over last year’s levels.
AAA is calling this weekend the “busiest in two years” when it comes to travel, even with gas prices and the cost of air tickets up significantly over 2021 levels. Major U.S. metro areas, namely Orlando, Seattle, Miami, Las Vegas, Anaheim, and New York, are all expected to be busy, particularly for the road trip travelers who will make up close to 90% off all travelers this weekend.
For those preparing to hit the road this weekend, INRIX, a Washington-based company that tracks traffic conditions, has put together a quick guide to the best, and worst, times to start your journey, including what corridors nationally are going to experience the worse congestion.
“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years”, says Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst, INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roadways around big cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
According to INRIX, here are the worst times to travel each day of the long weekend:
Thursday: Worst is 1 p.m. through 8 p.m.; best is before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
Friday: Worst is 12 noon through 7 p.m.; best is before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
Saturday: Worst is 1 p.m. through 6 p.m.; best is before 10 a.m.
Sunday: Worst is 1 p.m. through 4 p.m.; best is before 11 a.m.
Despite the increase over 2021 levels, Memorial Day travel is still not expected to reach levels from pre-pandemic. This year’s AAA predictions are still more than 8% below levels from 2019, which were the highest ever, both for car travel and airplane travel. The view from the travel industry continues to be that the gap can be closed by ending some COVID-19 era rules.
Still, this year’s travel is still going to be busy, regardless of comparison to 2019, and AAA recommends two things in particular for all those packing bags this Memorial Day weekend.
“Air travel has faced several challenges since the beginning of the year,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said. “With the type of volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are a lifesaver if something unexpectedly derails your travel plans.”