230,000 Idahoans will take a vacation to kick off the summer travel season

BOISE – (May 15, 2019) – The summer travel season is off to a busy start, with AAA projecting that nearly 43 million Americans will take a Memorial Day vacation this year – the second-most on record.  Nearly 230,000 Idahoans will be among them.  But unlike previous years, the roads will be filled to record capacity, which means heavy traffic could cause an occasional delay.

“Nearly 38 million people will drive this holiday weekend, and that creates the potential for some gridlock in places, including the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “Many Americans take the Friday before Memorial Day off to get an early jump on the weekend, so Thursday and Friday could be extremely busy, particularly when morning and evening commuters comingle with droves of holiday travelers.”

This year’s Memorial Day holiday period (defined as Thursday, May 23 through Monday, May 27) marks the fifth year of consecutive growth.  High consumer confidence, low unemployment, and higher wages have created more disposable income for many Americans, who often use those funds to travel.  Travel volume has increased by 12.3 million since the 2009 recession.

In the month of April, 260,000 jobs were added, dropping unemployment to 3.6 percent, the lowest level in 50 years.  Although economic growth is expected to slow in the latter half of the year, unemployment could fall even further, and strong consumer optimism will likely result in continued spending for the remainder of 2019.

Holiday travel up across all modes

Overall, travel will jump 3.6 percent to nearly 43 million for the holiday.  Car travel is still the most popular option, and the recent upswing in gas prices is unlikely to alter vacation plans.  Most families will adjust retail, entertainment, or food expenses to be able to incorporate higher gas prices into the travel budget.  Although the average motorist will experience an 11 to 12 percent increase in travel times, drive times could triple on some stretches of road in major metro areas.

 Air travel will increase by nearly five percent, outpacing overall growth for the fourth consecutive year.  Airlines have increased seat capacity in recent years, but they haven’t kept pace with growth, which means more full flights, and bigger crowds heading through security and waiting at the gate.

The Boise airport may be somewhat busier than usual on Thursday and Friday before the holiday, and Idahoans who are connecting to other regional airports should also plan ahead.  In partnership with INRIX, AAA predicts that Los Angeles and San Francisco will be busiest on Friday and Saturday as people leave for their destinations, and Seattle will be busiest on Memorial Day as people return.

Other modes of travel (bus, cruise, train) will barely outpace overall travel growth, increasing by nearly four percent as some opt for a less conventional journey.

Hotels and car rentals drop, airfares hold steady

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotels and car rentals may provide some savings to offset higher gas prices.  The average price of a Two Diamond hotel room is $146, and a Three Diamond room is $183, both down 2-3% from last year.  Car rental rates dropped seven percent, to an average price of $55 per day.  Meanwhile, airfares are flat compared to this time last year.

Avoid distraction

Whether they fly or drive, most Americans will end up traveling by car for some portion of their Memorial Day celebration.  Motorists should be aware of all traffic laws, particularly related to hand-held or mobile device bans, for the states through which they travel.  This could help avoid receiving an expensive citation along the way.

The big picture

Overall, 13 percent of the U.S. population will travel for Memorial Day.  In the Rockies region, that number expands to 13.5 percent, likely due to greater distance between rural areas.

It pays to prepare

During the Memorial Day travel period, AAA will field more than 350,000 requests for roadside assistance, but the most common problems can be diagnosed and resolved before motorists leave home.  Visit a trusted mechanic, like a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, for a pre-trip inspection of battery life, engine fluids, tire condition, and more (AAA.com/autorepair).

“A battery may appear to be in excellent condition, but it could perform very differently when exposed to high heat on a road trip,” Conde said.  “If your battery is three years old or older, a quick check of its charging power and your electrical system could prevent a serious headache later.”

While weather likely won’t pose a danger to most Memorial Day travelers, extra preparation can make the trip safer and more enjoyable.  Pack some snacks and water, a secondary source of mobile power, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and a basic first aid kit.

“Car games and other activities should not prevent drivers from keeping their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road, and their minds on safety,” Conde said.  “We want everyone to reach their destination and make some great memories.”