Planning A Memorial Day Road Trip? Here's What To Expect

May 23, 2012
Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Vacation

Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Vacation

Memorial Day means many things to Americans:

  • An opportunity to remember those who've died in service of their country.
  • A chance to get together with friends and relatives.  
  • Cookouts.
  • Picnics.
  • Box socials. (They still have those, right?)

Thanks to the three-day weekend, Memorial Day is also a great time for road trips. If you're planning one, though, you should know that travel conditions will be slightly different than they were last year. AAA has put together a list of things you ought to expect.

1. Cheaper gas: Back in January, it seemed as if gas would soon hit record levels, but prices have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. The average price for regular unleaded is now $3.68 a gallon -- almost 20 cents lower than it was last year. (That's due to cheaper oil and increased domestic production here in the U.S.) 

2. More traffic, especially near major cities: AAA expects a small uptick in the number of drivers this weekend. In all, 30.7 million folks are expected to undertake road trips in the coming days, which is 400,000 more than last year. Why the jump? There appear to be several reasons:

  • Gas is cheaper (see item #1 above)
  • Rental cars are also cheaper: Weekend rates for rental cars have dipped about 4% in recent months. As a result, driving has become a more attractive option, even for people who don't have a car of their own.
  • Air travel is more expensive: Delta and American recently jacked up fares for domestic flights, which has put mini-vacations to Vegas, D.C., and other locales out of reach for many families.
 3. Less traffic further out: AAA has found that Americans are planning shorter trips this Memorial Day weekend. The average mileage over the three-day weekend is expected to clock in around 642 this year, which is down 150 from last year's total of 792. So, while there are likely to be more folks on the road, most of those should remain slightly closer to the urban areas they call home. 

4. More expensive hotels: The rates at AAA's Three Diamond lodgings are expected to be 8% higher than last year, so plan accordingly -- or impose on family and friends. 

5. Wealthier travelers: Families with household incomes under $50,000 are less likely to hit the road this year -- in fact, only about 26% will do so. Families in the $50,000 to $100,000 bracket will travel less, too. In fact, the only folks who are traveling more are the ones who can afford it: the $100,000-earners. About 36% of them will hit the road this weekend, up 6% from last year. (Note: this fact is a little curious, since gas prices are lower this year.)

If you haven't yet planned your road trip, we've got compiled a handy infographic showing the best (and worst) states for driving. You can find it right over here.

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