BOISE – Memorial Day travel will be back in a big way this year.  AAA predicts that more than 37 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home for a holiday getaway, and 202,000 Idahoans will be among them.  That’s a 60 percent increase over 2020, but 13 percent less than in 2019.

Memorial Day Travel 2021

AAA says that rising vaccination rates, loosening restrictions, and improved consumer confidence will motivate more Americans to take a long-awaited vacation.

“There are plenty of signs that the nation is in recovery mode.  Unemployment is falling, discretionary debit and credit-card spending are on the rise, and more people are going through TSA screenings at airports,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “Even though we aren’t quite back to 2019 levels, it will still be a busy weekend, especially if you’re traveling through a major metro area or heading into the backcountry on a two-lane highway.”

Memorial Day falls late in the month this year, bringing the possibility of warmer weather and some Idaho children already out of school.  The Memorial Day travel period is defined as May 27 through May 31.  Thursday afternoon is likely to be one of the busiest times on the roads.

In addition to state and national parks, Idahoans are likely to visit warm-weather destinations like Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Orlando over the holiday.

By the numbers

Auto travel is still in the driver’s seat.  AAA projects that 34.4 million Americans will travel by car – nearly 93% of all travelers.  In a typical year, 87-90% of travelers prefer to drive, but concerns about COVID-19 and mask requirements on buses and airplanes make traveling in a personal ‘bubble’ an even more attractive option this year.

Flying gets a lift.  Memorial Day air travel will be nearly six times greater than in 2020, but still 23% lower than in 2019.  Just 6.6% of the total travelers will take to the skies this year, or about 2.5 million people.

Other travel modes are slow out of the gate.  Larger modes of public transportation will be the slowest to bounce back from the pandemic, with just 237,000 people making a trip by ship, train, or bus for Memorial Day.  Some cruises are scheduled to resume this summer.

Travelers should consult AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map before setting out and exercise special caution while vacationing this year as the pandemic continues.

Memorial Day Travel 2021

Travel tips during the pandemic

“Airlines and major transportation hubs all require masks at this time, along with many public areas including theme parks, museums, and other destinations,” Conde said.  “Keep in mind that many locations are also operating at limited capacity, so please book your reservations well in advance.”  Consider purchasing travel insurance and making as many arrangements as possible with the help of an experienced travel agent.

Travelers should pack hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and masks to use throughout their trip.

Hotels may have limited amenities.  Ask about pools, spas, fitness centers, and on-site dining before you go.  To reduce the spread of germs, use disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces in your hotel room, like door knobs, light switches, and remote controls.

AAA to the rescue

Over the Memorial Day holiday, AAA forecasts responding to 388,000 calls for roadside assistance nationwide, and about 720 calls here in Idaho.  Dead batteries, lockouts, and flat tires will be some of the most common issues.

Emergency kits can keep travelers safe and comfortable until help arrives.  AAA encourages motorists to replace old batteries in flashlights, swap out expired first aid materials, and replenish snacks, water, and extra clothing.

Gas Price Activity

In the aftermath of the recent cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline and subsequent shutdown, there may be limited fuel supplies in some areas along the Eastern seaboard.  But those who are traveling in the West are likely to find abundant fuel wherever they go.

AAA anticipates that gas prices will continue to rise in the run-up to Memorial Day, with travel demand applying upward pressure at the pump.  But according to previous AAA research, few will change their travel plans if prices remain below $3.50 per gallon.

“People have waited a long time for the opportunity to take a vacation, and Memorial Day is a great way to get some of the cabin fever out of their system,” Conde said.  “But please drive carefully and drink responsibly.  When the weekend’s over, everyone deserves to make it home safely.”