News Column

Good Weather, Better Economy Mean Memorial Day Traffic

May 22, 2014

Taft Wireback, News & Record

May 22--Gas prices are up over last year. So is the tab for hotel accommodations. And if you drive this Memorial Day weekend, there's a slightly bigger chance the old clunker will break down.

But the wicked witch of a long, cold winter is dead. The weather is going to be great. And people seem to have a few more bucks in their pockets.

"Travel tends to lead the way into a recession and also leads the way out," said Ricky Shore, the president and owner of Aladdin Travel & Meeting Planners in Greensboro, who said his agency is seeing resurgence in domestic and foreign wanderlust.

So it's no wonder the travel industry anticipates a big Memorial Day weekend, with nearly 12 percent of North Carolina's population planning to be on the move at least 50 miles from home.

AAA Carolinas motor club estimates nearly a million Tar Heel drivers will take to the highways between today and Monday, the greatest number since 2005 and an increase of nearly 2 percent over last year.

That's true despite fuel prices averaging 20 cents higher this year than last, a statewide average of $3.62 a gallon -- a jump just shy of 6 percent.

And that hotel room at the beach, mountain or your lake front Shangri-La? Well, when the economy rebounds, you know what happens. ... Then again, it could be worse.

The cost of a relatively fancy hotel room is up $3 per night this year to $169, or about 2 percent over Memorial Day 2013. Meanwhile, less swanky, two-star digs will set you back 3 percent more ($124, up from $120 in 2013), AAA estimates.

But, hey, the sun is free. And it's likely to be abundant the next few days.

"Temperatures are going to be pretty much seasonable, starting out Friday at about 80," said meteorologist Mike Moneypenny of the National Weather Service in Raleigh. "Really a nice weekend with moderate temps and almost no chance of rain."

Still, the curse of this year's nasty winter will linger for some unlucky travelers, AAA warns. That's because cold-weather wear and tear leaves cars more vulnerable this time of year, particularly the batteries. AAA predicts more than 13,000 motorists will break down in North Carolina and South Carolina during the next four days and summon the motor club for roadside assistance.

Shore of Aladdin Travel said increasing numbers of travelers are leaving such navigation issues behind by opting for sea travel, both for Memorial Day and beyond.

"People continue to cruise," he said. "No matter how much bad press (cruise lines) get, it's still a way that people really enjoy traveling."

Where to? The Old World, particularly to Europe in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing, Shore said: "It's really about Memorial Day and patriotism. People are going to Europe, and a lot of them are saying, 'Gee, I'm going to get to Normandy.'"

AAA reports a similar phenomenon: "With river cruises soaring in popularity and famous European cities (serving) as launching points, the top three air destinations this month have been London, Paris and Rome."

Oh, and if you're going by air, expect to pay for every last convenience or human kindness, AAA advises: "Be ready to pay for checked baggage, snacks, preferred seating and even pillows and blankets."

"Carry a bag on the plane to save baggage check-in costs and possible delays in baggage areas. ... Purchase any water, drinks, snacks or food to carry on the plane after passing through airport security, saving money over the cost of food offered for sale on the plane," AAA advises.

But Memorial Day is a driving holiday for most folks. And AAA found that the top four destinations this year for North Carolina drivers include Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Charlotte; Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Williamsburg, Virginia.

On the road, AAA recommends drivers take a break every two hours or 150 miles -- "Get out and stretch to re-energize your brain as well as pump blood into your muscles."

AAA also suggests switching drivers regularly on long trips, with the substitute preferably coming from the back seat where passengers typically are more rested.

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to help out this weekend by suspending most construction projects along major routes that cause traffic tie-ups by narrowing travel lanes. DOT's moratorium lasts from Friday afternoon through Tuesday morning.

But even when they're running wide open, roads can only handle a finite number of cars. So if you want to avoid those annoying tie-ups caused by the sheer volume of traffic, experts say travel times to avoid are Friday afternoon and evening and Monday evening.

Contact Taft Wireback at (336) 373-7100, and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.


(c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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Original headline: Nice weather, better economy spell travel for many

Source: (c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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