Americans are expected to hit the road and take to the skies this Memorial Day weekend in greater numbers than we've seen for the past 10 years of the summer-kickoff holiday -- which means congested roads, long lines at the airport and crowds all around.
AAA predicts that 37.2 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home this holiday weekend -- a 4.7 percent increase from last year and the highest number since 2005. Most will be road warriors: 33 million Americans are expectedto drive. But 2.6 million Americans are expected to fly -- an increase of 2.5 percent from last year.
Yes, the crowds are going to be thick, and patience will be required to get through the weekend in one piece.
“It’s a busy time to travel, but there are things you can do to make it a little easier,” said Anne Banas, editor of SmarterTravel.com.
Here’s how you can ensure smoother sailing -- or driving, or flying, as the case may be.
If You’re Traveling By Road
Make sure your car is ready. The last thing you want is a breakdown or a motor problem when you’re surrounded by thousands of other travelers on the highway. Get a pre-trip vehicle inspection this week, recommends the Car Care Council, a nonprofit organization. Check all fluids, make sure hoses and belts are in good condition, and confirm your tire pressure and alignment. (AAA expects to rescue 350,000 motorists this weekend --- primarily for dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.)
Get the best price on gas. Good news: Gas prices are expected to be the lowest Memorial Day travelers will pay in at least five years, according to AAA. To make sure you’re getting the absolute best deal when you’re on the road, download the GasBuddy app to your smartphone. It points drivers to the lowest-priced pumps in their area.
Don’t idle when stuck in traffic. The roads will be packed, and you can expect to be standing in traffic at some point. Don’t let your car idle -- you’ll only waste gas. Turn off your engine instead.
Try to leave at off-peak times. If there is any way you can resist driving on Friday evening or Monday evening, make it happen, suggests Banas. You’ll save hours in travel time just by avoiding peak rush periods. Consider leaving early Saturday morning, for example -- the hours you save sitting in the car may be worth the slightly delayed start to your trip.
If You’re Traveling By Air
Get to the airport early. Leave yourself plenty of time to deal with crowds at the airport, says George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com. “There’s so much to do at many airports -- if you get there early and have time to spare, enjoy a meal, go shopping,” he said. But don’t try to rush things this weekend. “If you miss your flight, it will be nearly impossible to get another one.” An app like GateGuru can help you navigate the airport when you’re there to find the best places to dine, shop and relax before your flight.
Do everything you can at home. Check in online and print your boarding pass or get an electronic one sent to your phone, says Banas. That way you can beeline to security and bypass long lines elsewhere.
Be ready for the security line. Streamline yourself for air travel: Make sure you’re wearing shoes that slip on and off easily. Keep any jewelry you might wear in a pocket in your carry-on and put it on after you’ve gone through security. If you’re taking your laptop with you, make sure it’s easily accessible for the security line -- you’ll be required to take it out for scanning.
If you have TSA Pre-Check, make sure your Known Traveler Number is associated with your reservation. If you’re unsure whether it is, call your airline in advance to double-check. You’ll negate the speed benefits of TSA Pre-Check if you’re fumbling for your Known Traveler Number when you get to the airport.
Set up phone alerts and get the right apps. You want to be the first to know if a flight is delayed or canceled, so sign up for email and text alerts from your airline. Your airline’s app is also a good first line of defense to access gate changes and flight delay info. Bill Rinehart, CEO of travel startup DUFL, suggests a third-party app like FlightAware, which often beats the airlines to sending flight delay and cancellation alerts.
Program your airline’s phone numbers into your phone. In case something does come up, make sure you have your airline’s customer service numbers and any alternate numbers at the ready. When you’re trying to reschedule something, do double duty: Stand in line to talk to a gate agent, but also be on the phone at the same time. When everyone is trying to get through, you can’t give yourself too many advantages.