Memorial Day travel: Here’s what drivers, flyers in the Carolinas need to know

·3 min read

If you’re heading out of town for the Memorial Day weekend, you’re going to have company -- lots of it.

Memorial Day weekend is expected to be the busiest in three years, according to AAA. Traffic levels are expected to build on a travel resurgence that began earlier this spring. This year’s forecast marks the second highest single-year increase in travelers since 2010 (2021 was the highest), bringing volumes almost in line with pre-pandemic levels.

AAA estimates 39.2 million Americans will travel this weekend, a number up 8.3% percent over 2021. AAA predicts nearly 1.2 million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more from home -- a 7.2% increase over 2021, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

ALSO READ: Prices up in the air: Flights may be higher as travel returns for many

Heads up, drivers

Despite historically high gas prices, 90% of Memorial Day travelers plan to drive. Nearly 1.1 million North Carolinians are expected to take a holiday road trip; that’s 4.6% more people than last year’s holiday weekend. At the same time, gas prices for Memorial Day are likely to set a new record high for the holiday. The highest average price recorded on Memorial Day was $3.90 per gallon in 2008.

For those hitting the road, Thursday and Friday are anticipated to be peak traffic days. INRIX predicts the longest travel delays for drivers will be before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday and Friday. Drivers in major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip.

AAA recommends:

  • Leaving early to avoid congestion and spending more time on the road.

  • Reducing food costs by packing snacks and water.

  • Considering staying at an all-inclusive resort. This limits driving and paying a la carte for entertainment and dining.

  • Determining how much you can expect to spend on gas during your trip, and compare gas prices when you fill up. Filling stations near airports and attractions often have the highest prices.

  • Using loyalty programs.

ALSO READ: Expect officers to crack down on fast drivers along Charlotte’s “speed corridors”

Holiday weekend flights

Holiday travel brings good news for the airline industry, which estimates air travel will increase 25% over last year. That number is pretty close to what it was in 2019.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport estimates 31,000 local passengers will begin their trip at CLT for the holiday weekend. Charlotte Douglas also will serve nearly 100,000 connecting passengers each day.

Based on AAA booking data, Thursday is shaping up to be the busiest day for air travel during the Memorial Day travel period (Thursday through Monday) with Monday being the lightest. Charlotte Douglas officials said Friday will also be a busy travel day.

AAA recommends:

  • Arriving at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours for international ones.

  • Booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.

ALSO READ: ‘The Bermuda Triangle of commuting’: Problem spot on I-85 sees crashes, chaos on a regular basis

(Watch the video below: Race fans flock to Concord this year for Speed Street)

Fewer Memorial Day sales this year

The holiday weekend brings some bad news for shoppers. It’s usually a great time to buy items like grills.

“Memorial Day sales won’t be as good as they were last year. And that’s just because of inflation,” said Patrick Penfield, a professor of supply chain issues at Rochester University. “So the things that are going to be short in demand is going to be anything that’s outside. So your grills, your lawnmowers, your patio furniture, those are short in supply.”

Experts say if you are out shopping, you might see some small discounts on summer items. But with base prices still high, the advice remains the same: If you don’t need it this summer, you may want to hold off on buying.

(Watch below: Busy Memorial Weekend travel expected at Charlotte Douglas International Airport)