The unofficial summer driving season begins Friday.
AAA expects 34 million Americans to hit the road this weekend, 2.4 million of them New Yorkers, which would be a roughly 2.4 percent increase from Memorial Day weekend in 2016.
Weather may affect travel plans, but gas prices probably won’t, said Eric Stigberg, public affairs manager at AAA Northway.
Not only is gasoline a pretty small percentage of the total tab for a road trip, it’s an expense drivers are willing to bear.
“Typically, gas prices don’t play a role in people’s travel plans,” he said. “When prices are very high, people look to save money elsewhere. That’s not really the case this year.”
AAA reported that regular unleaded gasoline was averaging $2.42 a gallon Tuesday, down 4 cents from a month earlier but up 9 cents from a year earlier.
“That’s pretty insignificant in terms of a year-over-year increase,” Stigberg said.
The statewide average Tuesday was $2.50 a gallon, ranging from $2.38 in Syracuse to $2.64 in New York City, according to AAA. The national average was $2.36.
For perspective, the highest average price for regular unleaded gasoline ever recorded in the Capital Region was $4.21 a gallon on July 9, 2008.
“Even in the summer of 2008, people still traveled,” Stigberg said. “Travel is just one of those things that Americans enjoy. The automobile is certainly the favored mode of travel.”
For a 600-mile, three-day, two-night road trip in a vehicle averaging 25 miles per gallon, $2.50-a-gallon gasoline would total $60, while food, lodging, shopping and entertainment could each run into the hundreds of dollars. It’s these other expenses that may get trimmed if gas prices soar, Stigberg said.
He said popular warm-weather destinations for Capital Region residents include the Jersey Shore, Cape Cod and the Adirondacks.
“Anything that’s sort of that six-hour driving window, people are happy to take those trips,” he said.
Memorial Day weekend is only a three-day window, and some warm-weather destinations aren’t fully open yet, which limits travel options. The kids have to be back in school on Tuesday.
Stigberg said there aren’t any secrets to avoiding traffic, except possibly leaving very, very early.
He suggested the motorists make sure their vehicles are in good shape, and take care of any known problems or routine maintenance before heading out. He also suggested the motorists take care of themselves, and not try to drive too far on too little sleep.
Be well-rested and prepared for a longer drive time, thanks to holiday traffic.