ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 37 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend (May 27-31).
This is a 60-percent increase from 2020, when just 23 million traveled, the lowest number on record since AAA began keeping track in 2000, the association reported.
Still, this projected strong increase in demand is 13 percent less than the last pre-pandemic Memorial Day holiday in 2019, or 6 million fewer travelers.
"As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. "This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions."
The number of actual Memorial Day holiday travelers could fluctuate. If the number of reported COVID-19 cases rises due to variants, some people may change their minds and decide to stay home, while others may make a last-minute decision to travel after noting the strong progress in vaccinations, according to AAA.
The recently updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control advising fully vaccinated people that they can travel domestically at low risk while taking proper precautions is another factor contributing to the rise in expected travelers.
According to AAA, top road trip destinations this year include Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Denver; and Nashville, Tenn.
PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES
There's good news for convenience store operators: auto travel is expected to increase 52 percent compared to 2020, with nearly 12 million more Americans traveling by car during the holiday weekend.
While this is still 9 percent less than in 2019, more than nine in 10 Memorial Day travelers will drive to their destinations, as many prefer to substitute road trips for travel via plans or other methods of transportation.
Those traveling by car are likely to experience the highest Memorial Day gas prices since 2014.
"We don't expect higher gas prices to deter motorists this holiday season as many Americans are eager to travel," said Jeanette C. McGee, AAA spokesperson. "We typically find when pump prices increase, travelers look for more free activities or eat out less while on vacation, but still take their planned trips."
High demand for fuel and low supply in some areas following the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline contributed to the rising fuel prices.
Despite the preference for car travel, this year will see nearly 2.5 million Americans boarding planes. This is nearly six times more than 2020, or an increase of 577 percent. However, this still 750,000 fewer people than in 2019.
Just 237,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, including bus and train. This is the second-lowest volume on record, only higher than the 185,000 who traveled in 2020. This year, travel via these modes is expected to be 88 percent below 2019 levels.
Drivers will experience the longest travel delays prior to the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metropolitan areas could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers in particular could see more than three times the delay on the busiest roads.
"Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40 percent in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend," said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. "Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes."