Record travel expected on July 4th weekend: Here are the worst times to hit the road

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The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates 43.6 million Americans will be traveling by car between July 1–5. (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – Planning a road trip over the Fourth of July weekend? You and most everyone else, apparently.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that 47.7 million Americans are planning to travel between July 1–5, with 43.6 million traveling by car. In terms of total traveler volume, it’s expected to be the second-highest on record for any Independence Day weekend — but it’s expected to be the highest on record for drivers, as more Americans are choosing road trips instead of traveling by plane, train or bus.

“Travel is in full swing this summer, as Americans eagerly pursue travel opportunities they’ve deferred for the last year-and-a-half,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a recent media release. “We saw strong demand for travel around Memorial Day and the kick-off of summer, and all indications now point to a busy Independence Day to follow.”

Analysts for AAA also expect rates for both hotels and car rentals to spike amid increased demand, with the latter increasing 86% over Independence Day 2020. But those added costs, along with higher-than-average gas prices, don’t seem to be swaying many folks from staying home.

The best a driver can do, as AAA suggests, is to leave during the least congested times. Together with INRIX, a firm specializing in transportation analytics, AAA has determined that road-trippers should plan to avoid peak travel times.

“Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst for INRIX. “Our advice is to avoid traveling on Thursday and Friday afternoon, along with Monday mid-day.”

Those who must travel at other times, or on other days, can beat some of the rush by choosing their departure times wisely.

Worst times to drive:

  • Thursday: Between 3:00–5:00 p.m.
  • Friday: Between 4:00–5:00 p.m.
  • Saturday: Between 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
  • Sunday: Free flow expected
  • Monday: Between 4:00–5:00 p.m.

Major cities also appear to be the most congested, with San Francisco and Boston expected to experience delays over three times the average at certain travel corridors.

However, whether they go by land or air, travelers should be wary of encountering large crowds at this year’s top destinations. According to travel booking data from AAA, which analyzed data from tour bookings and advance airline bookings, the top destinations include theme parks in Florida and California, as well as outdoorsy, beachy, and traditional vacation spots.

Top Travel Destinations of 2021:

  1. Orlando, FL
  2. Anaheim, CA
  3. Denver, CO
  4. Las Vegas, NV
  5. Seattle, WA
  6. Chicago, IL
  7. New York, NY
  8. Atlanta, GA
  9. Boston, MA
  10. Kahului, Maui, HI

AAA worked with IHS Market, an analytics firm, to research its 2021 travel forecast. They project that travel over Independence Day weekend will “nearly” be at pre-pandemic levels, with 2021 numbers only expected to fall 2.5% over 2019, which saw the highest-ever July 4 traveler volume on record.

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