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Driving this Memorial Day weekend? Here's what the experts want you to know.

AAA says nearly 44 million drivers will be on the road this Memorial Day

Erika Mailman
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Erika Mailman
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Hopefully if you're driving this Memorial Day, it's just a quick jaunt down the road a town or two. Because if your drive is longer, you'll want to build in some extra time in case of traffic. According to AAA, 43.8 million drivers are estimated to be on the road over the Memorial Day weekend. That's the second-highest holiday travel forecast since AAA started tracking 24 years ago. For some reason, this year is going to be a doozy.

In 2023, there were 4 percent fewer drivers than there will be this year (so if you thought last year was bad, adjust accordingly). The year that was the absolute worst, though, was 2005. That year, 44 million traveled by car.

Some people are renting a car over the weekend. According to Hertz, Orlando, Denver, Atlanta, Boston, and Las Vegas are showing the highest demand, especially for the pickup days of May 23 and 24: the Thursday and Friday before the holiday. As far as gas prices go, we may see a hike as summer travel picks up. The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East may affect the cost of oil.

Perhaps travelers are choosing the car this year because of perceived potential delays from airline travel. However, airports are also expecting record numbers of travelers. This holiday weekend, there should be around 3.51 million air passengers, an increase of 4 percent over last year (and 9 percent since 2019's prepandemic numbers). Just as with car traffic, this is going to be the most busy time since 2005.

Why 2005? That was the year the travel industry finally rebounded after the September 11, 2001 attack.

AAA reports that airline ticket prices are comparable to last year, so that's a relief. There's just a small 1 to 2 percent increase, and thanks to so many differentials that now affect pricing (seat selection, bag costs, etc.), it's hard to see exactly how that pans out other than to say that passengers who choose nonstop flights, select seats in advance, and bring a carry-on bag will almost undoubtedly pay more.

A little bit of friendly advice from AAA: if you're leaving Thursday or Friday, get on the road early (before noon) or after 7pm to avoid commuter traffic. And when you return on Sunday or Monday, avoid afternoon hours—3pm to 7pm are the worst times to be on the road. You might consult travel apps or 511 to see what the real-time traffic is.

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