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A Comprehensive Guide to Surviving Memorial Day Weekend Travel

May 24, 2018
5 min read
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If you have plans to travel this Memorial Day weekend, which stretches from Thursday, May 24, to Monday, May 28, be prepared for some serious (read: terrifying) traffic — both on the road and in the sky.

No matter which way you slice the numbers, this long holiday weekend is poised to be one of the busiest on record.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), travelers are undeterred by rising gasoline prices (an almost 5% increase from last year). Approximately 41.5 million American plan to drive 50 miles or more for Memorial Day weekend. It’s the largest volume of vacationers on the road in 13 years.

And the skies, too, will be crowded. Some 3.13 million travelers (up nearly 7% from 2017) are expected to catch a flight for the holiday.

Of course, that doesn't mean you need to stay home to enjoy the three-day weekend. Be prepared for the crush and follow our expert advice, and you'll be on your way to enjoying an awesome Memorial Day weekend trip.

Choose the Right Destination

Haven’t already booked your Memorial Day vacation yet? Consider picking a destination where prices haven’t yet peaked. According to TripAdvisor, Martha’s Vineyard is 33% cheaper during the week of May 28, compared with the rest of the summer season. Travelers can also find savings of 31% in Nantucket and 24% in Ocean City, Maryland.

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Book the First Flight

The industry trade organization Airlines for America (A4A) estimates that an average of 2.68 million people will fly with a US airline every day this summer. That's why, more than ever, travelers should be sure to book early morning flights (specifically, between 6:00am and 7:00am). Sure, it might be a full cabin, but at least your vacation is less likely to be delayed.

Avoid the Worst Airports

We get it — this might not be an option for you. But if you have any flexibility with where you fly in to or out of, there are a handful of airports you’ll want to avoid at all costs. More than hour-long departure delays are expected at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA), with Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Washington, DC’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) performing only slightly better.

Leave the Country

A surprising way to use your points and miles to book a last-minute Memorial Day getaway? Look for flights to Paris from the East Coast. The City of Light may be less crowded than major US cities, it’s close enough to squeeze in during a long weekend and you may still be able to find saver space.

Hit the Road Extra Early

If your Memorial Day plans involve packing the family into the SUV and driving, well, anywhere, leave extra early. According to a traffic forecast from Waze, peak traffic congestion begins after noon local time, and continues as late in the day as 5:00pm. If you’re leaving on Friday, May 25, be sure to get to your destination before 3:00 in the afternoon, when traffic worsens. The best day to drive? On Monday, May 28, which will likely see the lightest traffic of the holiday weekend (though it's still best to keep off the roads between 12:00pm and 2:00pm).

Dodge a Parking Nightmare

Parking can be a hassle at any time, and holiday weekends are notorious for further complicating the experience. If you can leave the car at home, explore ride-share options or public transportation that might get you where you need to go for cheaper or faster than a pricy downtown parking garage or an unavoidable hotel valet parking fee. But if ditching the car isn't an option, use SpotHero to search for parking garages near your destination that may offer more competitive rates.

Take a Tech Break

Americans check their phones, on average, 80 times a day while on vacation, a study has reported. To really unplug during your holiday weekend, download Moment, an app that holds you accountable for the hours spent scrolling through your high school sweetheart's Instagram when you should be grilling, watching fireworks or sunning on the beach. Moment tracks the amount of time you spend on your phone and sends a push notification a few times a day with the minutes (or hours) you're accruing. If you’re using your phone too much, you can also set daily limits and receive notifications when it's time to power off and engage with the world.

Pack the Whole Barbecue

Get that barbecue going as soon as you step off the plane by avoiding hiccups at airport security. Travel like a pro pitmaster with grilling equipment, secret sauces and spices by leaving helpful notes for the TSA agents in your suitcase. Be sure to invest in a Kong or Cabela’s-brand cooler, and always remember to double and triple bag your barbecue sauce.

Featured image by Denver Post via Getty Images