BOISE – Summer travel is going to begin with a bang. AAA projects that nearly 48 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for a 4th of July getaway, with 261,000 Idahoans among them. That’s just 2.5% less than the 2019 record, and nearly 40% more than last year.
AAA says that increased vaccinations, reduced COVID-19 travel restrictions and lower unemployment are giving more Americans the confidence to travel for some fun and fireworks this year. At this point, 2/3 of states have fully lifted their containment measures and re-opened.
“After seeing strong Memorial Day travel numbers, we felt that this was coming. The roads are going to be especially crowded this year, with a record 43.5 million Americans choosing the flexibility and convenience of traveling by car,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “Average credit and debit card spending are also up 15% since January. That tells us that many Americans have the disposable income to travel, and that they’re going to go for it.”
The 2021 Independence Day holiday period is defined as Thursday, July 1 through Monday, July 5. The busiest times on the roads will be Thursday afternoon, when travelers are driving alongside evening commuters, and Monday afternoon, as some employees will receive July 5 as an observed holiday this year. At the airport, Friday afternoon will be one of the busier times.
This year, popular destinations include nearby state and national parks, and Idahoans will also visit tourist spots like Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Orlando over the holiday weekend.
“If you plan to travel on two-lane roads to reach a lake or a distant campsite, you could be in for some pretty heavy traffic congestion at times,” Conde said. “Wherever you go, please bring plenty of food and water with you to tide everyone over until you reach your destination.”
Gas prices have been steadily climbing throughout the spring and early summer, recently hitting the $3.30 mark in Idaho, but they aren’t likely to change anyone’s travel plans. Most Americans will shift funds from eating out or retail purchases if they need to offset the higher cost of fuel.
Independence Day Travel by the Numbers
- Cars are king. Automobile travel will set a new record this year, as 43.5 million Americans seek the comforts of a ‘personal bubble’ for their journey. In a normal year, 87-89% of travelers go by car, but AAA predicts that this year, 91% of travelers are planning a Great American Road Trip.
- Air travel soars. If you’re heading to the airport this year, you won’t be alone. AAA projects a 164% percent increase in air travel, with 3.5 million Americans expected to take to the sky. That total is 90% of the volume seen pre-pandemic, and another sign that travel is steadily rebounding.
“From a TSA standpoint, staff reductions could lead to some occasional bottlenecks in the screening process,” Conde said. “It’s a good idea to build in some extra time and practice calming techniques when you’re making your way through security.”
AAA reminds travelers that face coverings are still required at airports, on airplanes, and in many other public transportation venues, and that state and city requirements may differ from federal requirements. For more information, check out AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map.
- Other modes of travel are slowly pulling away from the station (or dock). While 620,000 people will travel by cruise ship, bus, or rail, the figure remains 83% below pre-pandemic levels.
AAA’s Travel Pricing Index
- Hotel rates take up more room in the budget. On average, a AAA Two-Diamond or Three-Diamond property will cost at least 30% more than it did last year, as increased travel demand reduces the availability of lodging options.
- Air fares hold steady. Average airline tickets will dip slightly this year (-2%), with some Americans still reluctant to go that route and more seats being added back into the system.
- Car rental rates accelerate. Due to a global semiconductor shortage, new car production is substantially reduced, meaning that rental car companies don’t have the ability to replace inventory that was sold off during the pandemic. The average daily rate is $166, up 86% from a year ago.
AAA to the rescue
Over the Independence Day holiday weekend, AAA forecasts responding to 461,000 requests for roadside assistance, and as many as 1,000 service calls on Idaho roads. According to experts, automotive repair during the pandemic did not keep pace with the reduction in vehicle miles traveled, suggesting that some travelers are behind on routine maintenance.
“A pre-trip inspection of your vehicle by a trusted mechanic is so important. The obvious temptation is to put off maintenance until you get back from vacation, but you also want to reduce your chances of being delayed at the roadside,” Conde said. “Dead batteries, flat tires, and low engine fluids are some of the most common culprits, so having these things checked before you leave can help prevent a big headache later.”
Please pack food, water, extra clothes, a first-aid kit, emergency flares or reflectors, and basic tools.
AAA Travel Tips
AAA encourages travelers to take masks and disinfectant wipes with them, and to wipe down high-touch surfaces such as airplane tray tables and hotel room phones, light switches, and TV remotes.
Soon, AAA will launch its new “Inspected Clean” program, with full-time inspectors incorporating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing into the time-honored physical inspection process for hotel properties. ATP is an energy-carrying molecule found in all living things, including mold and bacteria. Hotels must pass a physical inspection before receiving a AAA Diamond designation based on the level of amenities that they provide.
“Don’t wait until the last minute to make reservations at hotels, restaurants, and other points of interest, and plan on long lines at popular spots like the National Parks,” Conde said. “Perhaps the most important thing to pack is your patience.”