Swimsuit packed? How about your patience? If you are heading out of town for the July 4 holiday weekend, you will likely need both.
More than 47.7 million Americans will be on the nation’s roadways and in the skies during the July 1–5 period, according to the American Automobile Association.
That will be very close to pre-pandemic levels, and the second-highest Independence Day travel volume on record.
In normal times, holiday travel can be frustrating — but as the nation makes its way out of the pandemic, there is a lot more than usual riding on this weekend.
Road trips still rule
Despite the shortage of rental cars and the highest gas prices in seven years, AAA expects more than 91 percent of holiday travel will be by car. An expected 43.6 million Americans will drive to their destinations, AAA said. That's the highest on record for this holiday and 5 percent more than the previous record, set in 2019.
All those cars means congested highways.
“With travelers eager to hit the road this summer, we’re expecting nationwide traffic volumes to increase about 15 percent over normal this holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst with INRIX analytics company. “Drivers around major metro areas must be prepared for significantly more delays.”
Drivers should remember that many motor home drivers are still getting used to maneuvering their new RVs.
In addition to loading up tunes and travel apps, experts suggest holiday road trippers do a refresh on safe following distances and remember that many motor home drivers are still getting used to maneuvering their new RVs.
Advice for air travelers
Around 3.5 million people are planning to fly over the July 4 holiday, and air travel volumes are expected to reach 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. That is an increase of 164 percent compared to last year, AAA said.
Anyone waiting until the last minute before booking may want to try budget carriers such as Southwest and Spirit, especially on their new routes, said Adit Damodaran, economist with Hopper travel site. Newcomers Breeze and Avelo, serving secondary airports, may still have good fares as well, Damodaran said.
Getting through airports during holiday weekends was frustrating before the pandemic. This year, it could be much worse, due to a temporary shortage of Transportation Security Administration officers, airline staff, and airport shop and restaurant workers. Add to that new airport protocols, the rash of unruly travelers, and passengers who show up at the security checkpoint with everything from oversized liquids to guns and other prohibited items because they’re forgotten how to pack.
Travelers should make use of airline apps to check in for their flight and tag their luggage, said Sherry Stein, head of technology strategy at SITA, an air transport technology company. With such high passenger volume, “the challenge will be to keep things moving smoothly," she said.
What about buses and trains?
AAA expects 620,000 Americans to travel by bus, train, and other modes this holiday weekend, an increase of more than 72 percent since last year.
While overall ridership on Amtrak is running at about 55 percent of pre-pandemic levels, it is down just 14 percent for the holiday weekend, compared to 2019, said Doug Duval, an Amtrak spokesman. "This is trending to be the best holiday since the pandemic started.”
Bus ridership is on the rise too. During the pandemic, bus lines furloughed and laid off many employees — and drivers are not rushing back, said Jan Jones, program coordinator for the Hospitality and Management program at the University of New Haven.
“Staffing is a problem here, too. July 4 travelers may be limited in terms of where they can go by bus," Jones said.
Hotels and campsites
Lodging reservations are well above the reservation volume for last year, at 163 percent of 2020 bookings, according to a report from TripIt vacation planning service.
But late planners might not be totally out of luck.
“If you know the hotel or hotel brand you want to stay with, try their mobile apps or websites because they usually offer a best rate guarantee,” said Paul Barron, EVP for marketing and hospitality at Amadeus travel tech company. Loyalty program members booking directly on a hotel website often receive personalized offers not available on other sites, he added.
Too daunting? Ditch the drama.
Travelers itching to get back to big cities or other popular tourist hotspots to celebrate Independence Day should try smaller towns — or maybe do a pivot and “don't travel at all,” said travel adviser Jessica Scott.
“Instead, spend the long weekend penciling out your travel schedule for the future. If there is anything the pandemic taught us, it is not to wait to take that dream trip, or to visit a far-away friend or family member.”