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Memorial Day: This is the worst time to travel this weekend, experts say

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As millions travel this Memorial Day, experts offer traveling tips for those getting away for the long holiday weekend.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects 43.8 million travelers to head 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day weekend, almost reaching record numbers.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “We’re projecting an additional one million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we’re exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead.”

This year’s total number of expected travelers is a 4% increase over last year, which saw 42 million travelers. It is close to the 2005 record of 44 million Memorial Day travelers.

Road trips are expected to set a record. AAA is projecting 38.4 million people traveling by car over Memorial Day weekend, making it the highest number for the holiday since AAA began tracking the data in 2000.

Road trips are expected to set a record this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA.

Alex Wong/Getty

Compared to last year, drivers in for 2024 Memorial Day are up by 4%. It is also 1.9% higher than pre-pandemic 2019.

Car rental company Hertz shows Orlando, Denver, Atlanta, Boston and Las Vegas are the cities with the highest rental demand this weekend. The busiest pick-up days will be Thursday and Friday.

INRIX, a transportation data provider, suggests drivers leaving Thursday or Friday should expect to hit the roads early to avoid mixing with commuters.

The Worst Times to Drive

The worst time to drive on Thursday is between noon and 6 p.m. local time. It is best before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Los Angeles to Bakersfield travel will be worse Thursday at 6:15 p.m., when it will take an estimated 2 hours and 45 minutes to travel the distance. New York to Albany will also be the busiest on Thursday, but at 11:45 a.m.

On Friday, travelers should avoid a noon to 7 p.m. travel if possible. Travel from Philadelphia to Baltimore will be at its worst Friday at 7:30 a.m.

Saturday drivers will see worst travel times between 2 and 5 p.m. local times. Atlanta will see its peak congestion on Saturday around 4:45 p.m. To ravel from Atlanta to Savannah it is expected to take 5 hours and 31 minutes.

Travelers going back home on Sunday or Monday should avoid the afternoon hours, when return trips will peak. For both days, the worst travel times is expected between 3 and 7 p.m. local times, according to INRIX.

Sunday is the worst day of travel for Manchester to Boston at 8:45 a.m.; Milwaukee to Chicago at 4:30 p.m.; Fort Collins to Denver at 4:15 p.m.; Kalamazoo to Detroit at 8:45 p.m.; Galveston to Houston at 5 p.m.; Ellensburg to Seattle at 4:30 p.m.; and Gainesville to Tampa at 9 a.m.

“Travel times are expected to be up to 90% longer than normal. Travelers should stay up to date on traffic apps, 511 services, and local news stations to avoid sitting in traffic longer than necessary,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.

Gas prices are slowly creeping up as the summer months approach. On Thursday, the national average for a regular gallon of gas is at $3.62, according to AAA’s data. This is 5 cents higher than last year during Memorial Day.

California is the highest above the average, at $5.16 per gallon of regular gas. Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Washington all broke the $4 threshold. Mississippi is the lowest on Thursday, at $3.06 per gallon of regular gas.

Tips for Airline Travelers

AAA is expecting 3.51 million Memorial Day weekend air travelers, an increase of 4.8% over last year and a 9% jump from 2019.

This will be the most crowded airports will be during Memorial Day weekend since 2005, when the “travel industry finally rebounded post-9/11,” according to AAA.

Air ticket prices are comparable to last year at this time. AAA shows about a 1 to 2% increase in prices for domestic flights.

Plane stock image
A 787 jet airplane lands at San Diego International Airport at sunset.

KC Alfred

It seems like travelers are seeking out entertainment for Memorial Day weekend, according to the top destinations domestically.

Top 10 Domestic Destinations for Memorial Day

  1. Orlando
  2. Seattle
  3. New York City
  4. Las Vegas
  5. Los Angeles
  6. Denver
  7. Anchorage, Alaska
  8. Fort Lauderdale
  9. Miami
  10. Boston

AAA reports that 70% of travel agents say their travelers are looking for all-inclusive vacations this holiday weekend.

Top 10 International Destinations for Memorial Day

  1. Rome
  2. Vancouver
  3. London
  4. Paris
  5. Dublin
  6. Amsterdam
  7. Athens
  8. Barcelona
  9. St. George, Bermuda
  10. Edinburgh, Scotland

Tips for Amtrak, NJ Transit and cruises

Nearly 2 million people are expected to travel by other modes of transportation, including buses, cruises and trains.

NJ Transit and Amtrak have warned commuters of cancelations or delayed trips on Thursday, after electrical wires fell to the tracks.

“Customers should expect possible delays and cancellations today due to residual impacts resulting from crew availability and equipment that was out of position as a result of last evening’s service disruption caused by Amtrak’s overhead wire issues,” NJ Transit said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Power lines fell in Kearny, New Jersey on Wednesday during the evening rush hour commute, causing a complete shutdown of service in the Northeast corridor. All travel between Philadelphia and New York was stopped, according to a post from Amtrak Northeast.

Crews restored power to one of the tracks around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Train 197 from New York to Philadelphia was canceled for its 10:52 p.m. trek “due to ongoing delays caused by a track closure caused by a downed overhead power lines.”

No alternate transportation was provided.

As of 8:55 a.m. all trains traveling between Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey were facing a 25 to 30 minute delay due to signal issues, Amtrak posted.

“This category took the biggest hit during the pandemic with fewer people taking public transportation or not cruising at all,” Twidale said. “Now – five years later – we’re back to 2019 numbers. Travel demand has been soaring, and long holiday weekends create the perfect windows for getaways.”