WASHINGTON — A strong case of cabin fever and a little more money to spend should inspire a greater number of Americans to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend — and D.C. area residents are no exception.
That’s the forecast from auto club AAA, which on Friday said it expects a total of 36.1 million people to travel 50 miles or more. If that estimate holds true, it would be the largest amount of people traveling during the holiday weekend since 2005.
Most people will drive to their vacation spots, but more people are expected to fly or take a cruise or train this year compared with a year ago, AAA said.
The improving job market and a rise in disposable income are fueling the increase in holiday travel plans, AAA found in its annual survey. The desire to get out of the house after a brutally cold winter is another strong incentive to hit the road.
Around the nation’s capital, drivers are getting more comfortable spending money on trips.
“Last year we had the sequestration and the government shutdown threat, this year we’re free of that,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesman John Townsend.
No matter which direction travelers are heading, they will run into gridlock, Townsend says.
“Every person who leaves will be replaced by another person who’s coming in for events in the Washington metro area this weekend,” he says.
Travel volume around D.C. will be heavy from Thursday through Monday.
Of the total nationwide travelers, 31.8 million are expected to drive, up 1.3 percent from 31.4 million last year. Gas prices are less of a concern for drivers, since they are expected to be lower than last year’s average of $3.63, thanks to rising supplies, AAA said.
Airports will be busier, with 2.6 million people expected to fly this year, up 2.4 percent from last year. And 1.7 million people will take a cruise, train or bus, a 6.5 percent jump from a year ago.
Travelers can expect to pay more for their getaways. Hotel rooms are likely to cost $3 more a night from last year, at an average of $169 per night, AAA said. The average cost of a round-trip plane ticket is $227, up from $215 a year ago. Car rentals will average $44 a day during the weekend, up 1 percent from a year ago. A 3.4 percent increase in personal income from last year should help cover those additional costs, the auto club said.
The AAA forecast represents an 18 percent increase in travelers from 2009, the low point of the recession, when only 30.5 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day. The number has been increasing steadily since 2011. The busiest travel weekend was in 2005, when 44 million people went away.
Last year, AAA said more people traveled during the Memorial Day weekend than it projected. It had expected total travel to fall nearly 1 percent from the year before to 34.8 million. But 35.5 million Americans actually traveled last year, according to a survey conducted following the holiday weekend.
For its forecast, AAA works with research company IHS Global, which uses economic data to come up with its projections. A separate company, D.K. Shifflet & Associates surveys more than 50,000 households after the trips have been taken.