How You Can Prepare For the ‘Busiest Ever’ Fourth Of July

Travelers gather with their luggage in the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) ahead of the July 4th holiday travel period in Los Angeles, California, on June 25, 2024. Credit - Mario Tama—Getty Images

The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects that this Fourth of July holiday week will be the “busiest ever,” breaking records in multiple ways with 70.9 million travelers heading 50 miles or more from home.

Due to the rise of virtual and hybrid work, AAA Spokesperson Andrew Gross says many people have more flexible work hours, and may even be working for part of their trip. AAA has projected a 5% increase in people traveling for the week of the 4th, compared to 2023 and an 8% increase over 2019.

Gross says these numbers are akin to what 2020 traveling would have looked like if the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred, a positive moment for the travel industry.

AAA also projects a record 60.6 million people will travel by car over the holiday week–that’s an additional 2.8 million travelers compared to last year. Air travel will also see a significant increase at 7% compared to last year, and a 12% increase from 2019. Gross says that cruises are also having a big comeback after their down years during the pandemic.

Read More: Here’s How to Travel if You’re on a Budget

First, the good news: gas prices are down—and could keep going down until the holiday—and domestic airfare is 2% cheaper this Independence Day week.

But, travelers are also going to be facing challenges no matter what way they are traveling, with the high number of travelers causing high wait times. The worst traffic delays will be on Wednesday, July 3 and Sunday, July 7, with  the worst times to drive between 2pm and 7pm. AAA projects that road trips could be 67% longer than normal.

According to Gross, preparation is key to ensure a successful holiday. Pack light with just a carry-on bag if flying, utilize your TSA Precheck if possible, arrive at the airport at least two hours early, reserve a parking spot early, and remember that at the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat.

“It’s what every dad in America says, but it’s true: get on the road early,” he tells TIME.

Karen Schaler, founder and host of Travel Therapy TV, agrees. Her “travel therapy tips” include avoiding peak travel times and utilizing technology to find the best routes ahead of time. With this many people leaving and arriving at the same time, Schaler says things can inevitably go awry, and travelers must adapt and be flexible.

“Get up at 4am, get up when it's still dark, or travel at night; don't go right after work,” she says.  “Don’t go at peak times and you’re going to have a lot less stress—it's going to be a lot more fun for the ride”

Schaler says having a backup plan is key. Ask yourself even the worst case scenario questions to mitigate stress levels if these events do, unfortunately, happen: “What will I do if I break down? What other flights are available from the airport I’m leaving from? Do I have extra water, just in case? Where is my spare tire?”

For parents traveling with their children, this also means packing their children’s favorite books and movies, and putting on a favorite playlist. If the kids are calm, this means the adults can be calm, too.

Read More: Travel Tips for Long Flights. Here’s What You Need to Know

She recommends letting go of a “perfectionist” mentality, and instead expecting the delays as they come, not necessarily just trying to prevent the unpreventable. This is vacation time, after all. Schaler believes there are ways to make even the busiest times fun.

“This is time to plan off the beaten path trip, and plan some stops that you wouldn't usually plan,” she said. “Do that little quirky restaurant on the side of the road and make it an adventure.”

For last minute travelers just now thinking of where to spend their time, Schaler recommends staycations in your area, or fun day outings like museums, picnics, and spa days.

Most of all, though, travelers need to know their limits and have realistic expectations of a weekend sure to be full of chaos.

“You knew that it was going to be chaotic, and you just have to just own the chaos,” Schaler said.

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