Fasten your seatbelts. Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of our return to normal, especially when it comes to travel. What's happening to gas prices? What are the most popular destinations? What's the best time to get on the road?
KSFR reporter Mary Lou Cooper talks with a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association to find the answers to these questions and more.
Mary Lou Cooper: After the long, long months of pandemic hibernation, our pent-up desire to go road tripping has become unleashed at last. That's what's in store for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, which marks the unofficial start of summer. Here in the mountain region, the American Automobile Association predicts that nearly 3 million residents will travel this Memorial Day weekend. Nationwide, more than 37 million people are expected to get away for the holiday. This is up some 60% from 2020 and most of us will travel by car. I spoke to Daniel Armbruster, with the New Mexico Office of AAA to get the details. Welcome, Daniel.
Daniel Armbruster: Thanks very much for having me.
Mary Lou Cooper: Now, why do you think travel is going to explode over the Memorial Day holiday?
Daniel Armbruster: Well, of course, Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer driving season and there's a lot of pent-up demand, people are ready to get back out now that CDC is updated its guidelines, saying that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically at low risk to themselves. taking those proper precautions like masks and social distancing. Interesting summer travel has really exploded, people are ready to get out– tired of staying indoors and at home.
Mary Lou Cooper: AAA is predicting a huge upswing in road trips specifically. And that's despite rising gas prices. How do you explain the contradiction?
Daniel Armbruster: There's going to be 2.8 million by car that would be traveling from the mountain region and you know, gas would have to be well over $3.50 per gallon before many drivers would even consider changing their plans and we'll be nowhere close to that. However, of course, these are the most expensive gas prices we've seen since 2014. But when you factor in that pent-up demand, drivers may cut other expenses in other areas of their budget, but certainly they're not going to cut back on road trips.
Mary Lou Cooper: Are hotel rates and car rental prices going up too?
Daniel Armbruster: In some areas they are, but you can still find really good deals just because of course for so long, many people did not travel. The travel industry is really trying to offer up deals. That's why it's really important to work with a trusted travel advisor to discuss you know where you can find the best bargains.
Mary Lou Cooper: So, we've got all these families going road tripping just where are they going? What are the most popular destinations?
Daniel Armbruster: This year, it's going to be Las Vegas. That's the most popular road trip. But there's also Orlando, Florida. Of course, Disney is there. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Denver, Colorado was popular this year and Nashville, Tennessee. Another place where you can't get to by road, but a lot of people are booking by air is Anchorage, Alaska.
Mary Lou Cooper: Now, especially for those of us traveling to large metro areas, traffic is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels. What are the best days and times to be on the road?
Daniel Armbruster: Well, the traffic could start backing up, you know, as early as Wednesday or we could see some delays due to Memorial Day travel. So, I would say aim for mid-morning, either Wednesday or Thursday, if you can. The afternoon congestion, as you said in many areas already back or close to pre-pandemic levels. When you mix in those holiday travelers, we're expecting big delays in most major US cities some 3-5 times what their normal travel volume is.
Mary Lou Cooper: So, if the best time to travel is in the morning, what again is the worst? Is it rush hour still?
Daniel Armbruster: Yeah, the rush hour, the afternoon evening commute times, especially in major metro areas. That's a time you're definitely going to want to avoid.
Mary Lou Cooper: How should motorists prepare for their first big road trip in many, many months?
Daniel Armbruster: Here at AAA, we recommend you work with a travel advisor. They can help you if you need to make any last-minute changes to your travel plan as well as explore maybe travel insurance options if you need that. But then also before hitting the road. You just want to make sure that your vehicle is road trip ready. You don't want to have a breakdown while you're having your first holiday and in quite a while. That's really important to make sure your tires are properly inflated, your engine in good condition. We’re expecting to come to the rescue here at AAA of 468,000 Americans just during that five-day period Thursday to Monday. Nearly 1600 of those rescues are predicted to happen on New Mexico roadways.
Mary Lou Cooper: Any final tips on holiday travel this coming Memorial Day weekend?
Daniel Armbruster: Well, it's a good thing for folks to remember that we are still facing a pandemic. So, you know follow CDC guidelines. There are some travel restrictions in place so at aaa.com. We do have our COVID-19 travel restrictions map, which shows you the restrictions down to the local level.
Mary Lou Cooper: This surge in travel that's going to happen over Memorial Day– is this a precursor to what you expect to happen throughout the summer?
Daniel Armbruster: 2021 we're expecting a course set for Memorial Day of around 60% increase nationwide when it comes to travel but certainly won't just be Memorial Day. This is just the beginning.