Usually AAA issues a press release on its holiday travel and gas price predictions right before long weekends, like this Memorial Day. This year they didn’t bother; Covid-19 lockdowns and our varying levels of commitment to those rules have made all modeling useless. The organization did predict some good news however: the resurgence of the American road trip
For the first time in 20 years, AAA is unsure what the roads will look like this Memorial Day weekend:
For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19. The annual forecast – which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend – will return next year.
Anecdotal reports suggest fewer people will hit the road compared to years past for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season.
“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend – the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”
Memorial Day 2009 currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, according to AAA. That holiday weekend, which came toward the end of the Great Recession, 26.4 million Americans traveled by car, 2.1 million by plane and nearly 2 million by other forms of transportation (train, cruise, etc.).
Gas prices have started to climb their way out of the Covid crater, according to the Wall Street Journal, though prices are still below what producers need to make money and, at $1.86 per gallon, way lower than last year’s average of $2.84 per gallon.
As the country opens up more, traveling will once again ramp up as folks take their summer vacations. AAA found online bookings for hotels are on the rise, albeit slowly. AAA also found more Americans will stick to domestic travel this year, specifically road trips, which makes sense: cheap gas and a desire to stay out of the recycled air of an airplane means more Americans could soon be hitting the road as a vacation than in years past. In February, shortly before Covid-19 really took hold in the U.S., a AAA Travel survey found 90 percent of the 173 million Americans who had summer vacations on the books planned to take a U.S.-based vacation. While not all of those are road trips, we can guess a fair number will be.
Obviously, this is great. Long-haul road trips can be some of the most introspective, fun and challenging ways to see this country and spend time in your car. It’s a truly American past time, one that encourages spontaneous stops and getting lost. However, before you hit the road, it is worth noting that, currently, the CDC still recommends Americans do not travel at all except for necessary reasons and lockdown severity varies from state to state. Some states still require visitors to self quarantine for 14 days before going out in public. Be sure to look up rules for travel in the states you’re visiting. Or maybe just stay home this year.