- Memorial Day marks one of the United States’ busiest weekends for travel as people rush to enjoy the spring weather during the holiday.
- More than 37 million people will be driving at some point during the holiday weekend, according to AAA.
- New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago will see the largest increases in traffic among major US cities, according to data from Waze.
- Beaches and movie theaters are the most popular Memorial Day hotspots. Cemeteries also see many more visitors coming to pay respects to fallen members of the armed forces.
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An estimated 37.6 million Americans will be on the road during Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA, making it one of biggest holiday travel weekends of the year.
For many, the national holiday represents the start of the summer, and the warm May temperatures and final days of school encourage people to travel. Of course, that also means that there will be significantly more traffic in the days leading up to Memorial Day, especially around major cities.
We reached out to Waze, the GPS navigation software company that powers Google Maps, to find out where we can expect the biggest increases in Memorial Day traffic. AAA also provided some helpful statistics to help drivers navigate the roads during the busy holiday weekend.
Here’s what we learned that will help you plan your Memorial Day drive:
These 10 cities will be the most visited vacation destinations during Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA.
- Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Orlando, Florida, and New York City will be the most popular travel destinations during Memorial Day weekend, based on data from AAA. Other cities in the top 10 include:
- Las Vegas
- San Francisco.
Traffic will be heaviest in the afternoons, with the worst congestion happening between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. in most metro areas. AAA reports that drivers near Atlanta and New York can expect their trips to take up to twice as long, while travel times in Washington, D.C., and Boston could triple on the afternoon of Memorial Day.
People flying into Orlando, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, and San Francisco should expect the longest wait times for rental cars, according to Hertz. Friday, May 24 will be the busiest day for rental pickups, and the average rental length is five days.
Waze says New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago saw the biggest traffic increases among major cities last year.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
On Memorial Day 2018, drivers in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago saw the greatest increase in their average time spent in the car compared to the distance they actually travelled.
The Chicago metro area saw 16% more drivers on Memorial Day, and traffic speeds slowed up to 33% between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. New York and Philadelphia both saw a 10% increase in drivers, and traffic speeds were between 14% and 16% slower during the morning and evening rush hours.
Los Angeles saw an 11% increase in drivers and a 10% slowdown in traffic nearly all day, from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., Waze reports.
Cemeteries, beaches, and movie theaters will see major increases in traffic during the holiday weekend.
- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Not all Memorial Day travel is for vacation. Cemeteries also see many more visitors, thanks to celebrations, parades, and people coming to pay respects to fallen members of the armed forces.
Last year, the number of people using Waze to navigate to cemeteries increased by 159% on Memorial Day, compared to the Mondays before and after the holiday. Roughly three times as many people went to the beach on Memorial Day, and more than twice as many people went to the movies, according to Waze.
If you’re visiting a major city, some traffic will be inevitable, but the best thing you can do is be prepared.
Of course, the best way to avoid long delays while driving is making a clear plan to avoid rush hour congestion.
Waze has a Planned Drives feature that will help you chart a path based on when you need to reach your destination, avoiding the most congested areas when possible.
Google Maps and Apple Maps will also let you view predicted traffic for the time you plan to depart, or check when you should plan to depart if you hope to arrive by a specific time.
While some traffic is inevitable when you’re visiting a major city, avoiding peak rush hours will at least keep you from suffering doubled or tripled travel times. Regardless of where you drive, be sure to get plenty of sleep, and save your energy for your trip instead of yelling at other drivers.