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Here Are the Worst Times to Travel This Memorial Day Weekend

AAA is out with its annual Memorial Day travel forecast, which outlines not only how many people will hit the road this year, but when.

According to the organization, “INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion on Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24 in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.” While that’s not exactly surprising, considering this is a weekend holiday and all, what is interesting is just how much worse your expected travel times could be. Many metro areas will experience traffic that is three times worse than usual. (When is that infrastructure bill coming again?)

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“Drivers in the most congested metros should expect much worse conditions than normal,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the morning and evening commuting times or plan alternate routes.”

Here are AAA and INRIX’s best guesses for the worst travel times in several U.S. cities:

Metro Area Worst Day for Travel Worst Time for Travel Delay Multiplier of Normal Trip
Atlanta Thursday, May 23 4:30 – 6:30 PM 2.2x
Boston Monday, May 27 3:45 – 5:45 PM 3.0x
Chicago Friday, May 24 3:30 – 5:30 PM 1.6x
Detroit Friday, May 24 2:30 – 4:30 PM 1.7x
Houston Sunday, May 26 2:15 – 4:15 PM 1.0x
Los Angeles Friday, May 24 4:30 – 6:30 PM 1.0x
New York Thursday, May 23 4:45 – 6:45 PM 2.0x
San Francisco Saturday, May 25 1:00 – 3:00 PM 1.6x
Seattle Monday, May 27 3:30 – 5:30 PM 1.0x
Washington, D.C. Monday, May 27 3:45 – 5:45 PM 3.0x


Millions Will Hit the Road for Memorial Day Travel

All in all, some 43 million Americans will take a trip this year, an increase of 1.5 million over last year. And despite rising gas prices, AAA expects 37.6 million people to drive, an increase of 3.5 percent compared to last year.

“When gas prices are expensive, travelers may shorten the distance of a road trip, eat out less, or look for free activities,” said AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano. “But, overall, prices are very similar to this time last year and, like then, they aren’t letting that deter them from taking summer road trips.”

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Air travel will also increase this year, to 3.25 million people, a jump of over 4 percent.

“Americans are eagerly anticipating the start of summer, and expensive gas prices won’t keep them home this Memorial Day weekend,” said Paula Twidale, vice president at AAA Travel. “Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth. Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day.”

All that said, numbers like this make a compelling case for a relaxing and traffic-free staycation. But if you’re determined to get out and about this Memorial Day, hopefully this info helps you avoid some of the worst backups and headaches on the road.

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Readers, what’s your trick to avoiding the Memorial Day travel rush? Do you leave in the middle of the night? Do you travel off the beaten path? Or do you simply fire up the grill and lounge in the backyard?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Japan. I'd love to take a month off and visit the cities, temples, and countryside. I'm fascinated by the country's juxtaposition of ancient traditions and modern ambitions."

Travel Motto: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” –Terry Pratchett

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