AAA warns of soaring traffic this Memorial Day weekend, here’s best and worst times to drive

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The unofficial start of summer will bring tens of millions people to the roads and skies this weekend, according to a warning from AAA.

AAA Northeast projects that 43.8 million travelers will be heading 50 miles or more from home over the Memorial Day holiday travel period of May 23-27 — a 4% increase over last year that exceeds pre-pandemic levels for the first time.

“We’re expecting to see plenty of traffic on the roads and in the skies this Memorial Day weekend,” said Mark Schieldrop, a senior spokesperson for AAA Northeast. “We’re projecting an additional 1 million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means that we’re moving beyond pandemic-era lulls but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead.”

Road trips are expected to set a record this year, with AAA projecting that more than 38 million people will travel by car over Memorial Day weekend — the highest number for the holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000.

Airports are also bracing for a spike in travelers, as AAA expects 3.51 million people will fly somewhere this holiday weekend, and nearly 2 million people are expected to travel by other modes of transportation, including buses, trains and cruises.

Best and worst times to drive

According to AAA, drivers leaving Thursday or Friday should expect the heaviest traffic during the afternoon, when travelers mix with commuters, according to data from transportation analytics company INRIX.

Travelers going back home on Sunday or Monday should avoid the afternoon hours when return trips will likely peak.

Here are the best and worst times to travel by car, according to each day of the holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 23

Worst time: 12 – 6 p.m.

Best time: Before 11 a.m., after 7 p.m.

Friday, May 24

Worst time: 12 – 7 p.m.

Best time: Before 11 a.m., after 8 p.m.

Saturday, May 25

Worst time: 2 – 5 p.m.

Best time: Before 1 p.m., after 6 p.m.

Sunday, May 26

Worst time: 3 – 7 p.m.

Best time: Before 1 p.m.

Monday, May 27

Worst time: 3 – 7 p.m.

Best time: After 7 p.m.

Top destinations

Data from AAA shows that travelers are seeking theme parks and entertainment venues in Orlando, New York, Las Vegas and California. Florida beaches and cruise ports are also expected to be packed.

The top 10 domestic destinations, according to AAA booking data, are Orlando, Florida; Seattle, Washington; New York, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; Anaheim/Los Angeles, California; Denver, Colorado; Anchorage, Alaska; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Miami, Florida; and Boston, Massachusetts.

Hertz reports that the highest rental car demand this weekend is in Orlando, Denver, Atlanta, Boston and Las Vegas.

The top 10 international destinations this weekend, AAA booking data shows, are Rome, Italy; Vancouver, B.C., Canada; London, England; Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Athens, Greece; Barcelona, Spain; St. George, Bermuda; and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Boston peak congestion

The peak congestion period for Manchester to Boston via I-93 south will be Sunday at 8:45 a.m., AAA says. It will take approximately an hour and 48 minutes, for a 50% increase compared to typical.

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