Memorial Day 2022: Travel predictions, best times to hit the road and more

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As we approach the third Memorial Day Weekend of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Americans are preparing to return to travel in droves.

With widespread vaccinations and fewer restrictions in place, experts are expecting travel to return to near pre-pandemic levels during Memorial Day Weekend, one of the most popular travel times of the year, often referred to as the unofficial start of summer.

During Memorial Day Weekend, from May 26 through May 30, approximately 39.2 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from their home, an 8.3% increase from the 36.2 million who did so in 2021 and just 8.2% fewer than the 42.8 million in 2019, the year before the coronavirus pandemic, according to AAA Travel.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation, and they are looking to catch up on some much-needed R&R in the coming months.”

All travelers, regardless of vaccination status, are encouraged to continue taking additional precautions during their trip, like social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.

It’s also important to note that various states and localities still have some level of coronavirus restrictions in place, meaning travelers will want to make sure they’re aware of any such restrictions before traveling to their destination.

The vast majority of the 39.2 million expected Memorial Day travelers will travel by car, as road trips continue to be the preferred mode of travel for many Americans who may still feel uncomfortable boarding a plane, train, bus or ship.

An estimated 34.9 million Americans are expected to travel by car this Memorial Day Weekend, a 4.6% increase from the 33.4 million who did so in 2021, but still 7.3% fewer than the 37.6 million recorded in 2019.

Those planning to hit the road should brace themselves to pay more at the pump, with gas prices remaining elevated throughout the country and New York reaching record-high prices for a gallon of gas earlier this month.

Air travel is expected to rebound significantly this year, with an expected 3.01 million air travelers, a 25% increase from the 2.41 million in 2021, and just 6.3% fewer than the 3.22 million in 2019.

A massive rebound is also expected on other forms of travel, like buses, trains and cruise ships, where AAA projects approximately 1.33 million travelers, a staggering 199.9% increase from the 440,000 recorded in 2021, but still 29.6% fewer than the 1.9 million in 2019.


INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, projects the afternoons of Thursday, May 26 and Friday, May 27, to be the worst traffic periods across the country, with trips taking more than twice the usual amount of time in some major metro areas, including New York City.

“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years”, says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst, INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roadways around big cities and popular destinations.”

For New York City, INRIX anticipates the worst traffic to take place Thursday, May 26, from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m., on I-278 W, from the Long Island Expressway to 39th Street, with traffic expected to reach 161% of normal levels.

INRIX also provided a breakdown of the best and worst times to travel during each day of Memorial Day weekend if you’re looking to avoid traffic.

On Thursday, the best time to travel is before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m., while the worst time to travel will be from 1 to 8 p.m.

On Friday, the best time to travel is before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m., while the worst time to travel will be from 12 to 7 p.m.

On Saturday, the best time to travel is before 10 a.m., while the worst time to travel will be from 1 to 6 p.m.

On Sunday, the best time to travel is before 10 a.m., while the worst time to travel will be from 1 to 4 p.m.

On Monday, the best time to travel is before 11 a.m., while the worst time to travel will be from 1 to 4 p.m.

“Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic,” Pishue said.


AAA has also compiled a list of the most popular domestic and international destinations, based on the company’s booking data.

U.S. locations

  • Orlando, Fla.
  • Seattle, Wash.
  • Miami, Fla.
  • Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Anaheim, Calif.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Denver, Colo.
  • Anchorage, Ark.
  • Boston, Mass.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii

International locations

  • Vancouver, Canada
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Paris, France
  • Rome, Italy
  • London, England
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Calgary, Canada