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How Busy Will Memorial Day Travel Be?

By Matt Villano

May 25, 2016

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Roads will be especially crowded this holiday weekend.

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Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us, and it looks like near-record numbers of people are expected to travel for the holiday.

In a release published late last week, AAA projected that more than 38 million Americans will travel between this coming Friday and Monday—the most since 2005. And of those travelers, nearly 34 million are expected to drive.

This isn’t really surprising given that gas prices are lower than they’ve been in more than a decade. Last week the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was $2.26, 45 cents less than what it was at the same time last year. And a AAA survey from earlier this year indicated that 55 percent of respondents were more likely to take a road trip at some point this year due to lower gas prices.

Memorial Day air travel is expected to increase slightly as well, with 2.6 million more Americans flying this year—a spike of 1.6 percent. According to AAA, average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes are 26 percent cheaper this Memorial Day than they were last year, with an average roundtrip ticket costing $165.

(In case you’re wondering, travel by other modes of transportation, including cruises, trains, and buses, is actually expected to fall 2.3 percent.)

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Still, the vast majority of Memorial Day travelers will be road-trippers. The best way to avoid the rush? Leave early. According to AAA, most travelers will hit the roads on Friday and Monday. To get out in front of this crush, consider heading out Thursday night and heading home Sunday night—or trying to get on the road before sunrise on the busy days. 

And don’t forget, if you do have to drive on a busy day, that the road trip is part of the fun. Get creative with your route: Surface roads might not be the fastest way to get from point A to point B, but they are often the most fulfilling, with better (or at least different) views, more interesting stops (think local diners instead of 1,000 Starbucks), and more surprises to keep the drive interesting. You never know what you might find.

Finally, if you want to avoid the worst drivers, steer clear (see what we did there?) of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Drivers in these three cities have the rudest behaviors, at least according to Expedia’s recent Road Rage Report

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlinesand more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com. 

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