Memorial Day Weekend 2022: Best, Worst Times To Travel From Illinois

CHICAGO AREA, IL — Traffic congestion on Chicago-areas highways is expected to peak Thursday afternoon as drivers hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA’s annual Memorial Day weekend travel forecast.

Interstate 290 and IL-110 to Racine Avenue in Chicago will be the most congested between 3:30 and 5:30 pm on Thursday. During this time, traffic volumes will be 131 percent above normal, according to AAA.

Nationwide, the number of cars on roads is expected to increase by 8.3 percent compared to last Memorial Day weekend. Even as gas prices soar over $5 per gallon in some parts of the country, 39.2 million people plan to travel more than 50 miles.

“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst for INRIX. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roads around big cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

Here’s the daily worst and best times to travel over the Memorial Day weekend:

Date Worst Time To Travel Best Time to Travel
Thursday 1 to 8 pm Before 6 am or after 9 pm
Friday 12 to 7 pm Before 7 am or after 9 pm
Saturday 1 to 6 pm Before 10 am
Sunday 1 to 4 pm Before 10 am
Monday 1 to 4 pm Before 11 am

Air Travel Up By 25 Percent

Airports will also be packed this Memorial Day weekend, as 25 percent more people plan to take a plane to their destination this year. This will make it the second-largest increase in Memorial Day weekend air travel since 2010, with 3 million people planning to fly.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of 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.”

Twidale recommends those traveling by air purchase travel insurance or work with a travel agent as airplane companies continue to face several challenges that could lead to travel plans being engaged.

“With the type of volume we anticipate, we continue to recommend the safety net of a travel agent and travel insurance. Both are a lifesaver if something unexpectedly derails your travel plans,” Twidale said.

Travel Levels Increase To Pre-Pandemic Levels

Memorial Day weekend travel is expected to be the busiest in two years, building on an upward trend that began earlier this spring. This year’s forecast marks the second-highest single-year increase in travelers since 2010 (2021 was the highest), bringing volumes almost in line with pre-pandemic levels.

Despite historic gas prices, which surpassed the $4 mark in early March, 34.9 million people plan to travel by car, up 4.6 percent over last year, according to AAA.

As of Tuesday morning, the statewide average for gas prices in Illinois was $4,973, but prices in the Chicago metro area were much higher, at $5.19 per gallon. In Cook County, the average price was $5,270 per gallon for regular gas, and in the City of Chicago, it hit $5.39 on Tuesday, according to AAA.

Meanwhile, the share of car travel fell from 92.1 percent last year to 88.9 percent this year, a slight indication that higher prices at the pump are having an impact on how people choose to travel this Memorial Day, according to AAA.

With more people planning to travel this summer, AAA recommends booking flights, car rentals, cruises, hotels and more as early as possible. Finding last-minute deals is “unlikely” and availability is filling up. Here is a look at what to expect for travel costs this summer:

  • The average lowest airfare this Memorial Day weekend is 6 percent higher than last year at about $184 per ticket, with Saturday being the most expensive day to fly and Monday being the least expensive
  • Mid-range hotel rates have increased about 42 percent, with the average lowest nightly rates ranging from $199 to $257 per night for AAA Approved Hotels
  • Daily car rental rates have decreased by 16 percent compared to last year, with the average lowest rate coming in at $100 per day

Prepping For Your Trip, COVID-19 Restrictions

For the 34.9 million Americans hitting the road, it’s smart to get your vehicle road-trip ready with a full vehicle inspection.

AAA expects to respond to more than 425,000 calls for help over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Those traveling should get key components of their car checked including their battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels and should also make sure your vehicle’s emergency kit is fully stocked.

And while most COVID-19 restrictions have eased, it’s important to keep safety in mind for yourself and others. For those looking to take a few extra precautions, AAA recommends:

  • Traveling with your bubble: This type of travel rose to popularity during the pandemic when many optional to vacation with people they were in close contact with. Consider taking a group trip to divvy up costs for things like activities and accommodations. If everyone is spread out, a travel agent can help manage the logistics.
  • When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. In 2021, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet these new standards are now recognized as Inspected Clean. Look for this designation or to browse all of AAA’s Diamond properties, click here.
  • Everything from airports to restaurants to attractions will be busier this Memorial Day, which means more people congregating. AAA advises travelers to follow CDC guidance, which at this time, is still recommending that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings (airports, bus/train terminals, public transportation like subways/metros, airplanes, trains and buses).

You can learn more about how AAA determines its forecast methodology for travel volumes here.

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