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AAA forecasts nearly 44M travelers for Memorial Day weekend: See best times to travel

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Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, which means people will be flooding highways and airports this weekend looking to get away for some rest and relaxation.

The American Automobile Association is projecting nearly 44 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Memorial Day holiday travel period, which is defined by the organization as the five-day period from Thursday, May 23 to Monday, May 27.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a news release. “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.”

The organization projects over 38 million people will travel by car over Memorial Day weekend, over 3.5 million will travel by air and nearly 2 million will travel by other modes of transportation, including buses, cruises and trains.

The 38 million drivers is the highest number for Memorial Day since AAA began tracking data in 2000 and is up 4% compared to last year. The 3.5 million air travelers is an increase of nearly 5% over last year and, according to AAA, this will be the most crowded Memorial Day weekend at airports since 2005.

When is Memorial Day?: Here’s when the holiday falls and what to know about its history.

Best, worst times to travel for Memorial Day weekend

Drivers leaving Thursday or Friday should hit the road early to avoid mixing with commuters, AAA said, citing data from transportation data and insights provider INRIX. Drivers going back home Sunday or Monday should avoid the afternoon hours when return trips will peak.

“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, in the news release.

Here’s a breakdown of the best and worst times to travel by car depending on which day you are traveling:

Thursday, May 23

  • Best travel time: Before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m.
  • Worst travel time: Between noon and 6 p.m.

Friday, May 24

  • Best travel time: Before 11 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
  • Worst travel time: Between noon and 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 25

  • Best travel time: Before 1 p.m. and after 6 p.m.
  • Worst travel time: Between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Sunday, May 26

  • Best travel time: Before 1 p.m.
  • Worst travel time: Between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Monday, May 27

  • Best travel time: After 7 p.m.
  • Worst travel time: Between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Gas prices continue to decrease heading into Memorial Day weekend

According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of gasoline has fallen four cents since last week, to $3.60. The primary reasons are weak domestic demand and oil costs below $80 a barrel, according to the organization.

“Barring some unforeseen event, this pokey drop in pump prices is not likely to change anytime soon,” said Andrew Gross, AAA spokesperson, in a news release. “There are seven states with county gas averages at less than $3 a gallon. This trend will likely accelerate as more gas outlets east of the Rockies drop their prices.”

This Memorial Day weekend, drivers can expect similar gas prices as last year when the national average was about $3.57.

“Pump prices rose this spring but have held somewhat steady in recent weeks,” AAA said in the news release, while also noting that prices may creep higher as the summer driving season gets underway.

The wildcard remains the cost of oil, according to the organization, and unlike last year, there are now two wars – in the Middle East and Ukraine – that could roil the oil market.

Gabe Hauari is a national trending news reporter at USA TODAY. You can follow him on X @GabeHauari or email him at Gdhauari@gannett.com.

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