Traveling for Memorial Day? Expect 3 million on the road and gas over $5 a gallon

Huntington Beach, CA - May 22: Dan Steele, left, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Scott Bickelhaupt, of Temecula put up their flags while setting up their campground during the Memorial Day weekend getaway at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dan Steele, left, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Scott Bickelhaupt, of Temecula put up their flags while setting up their campground during the Memorial Day weekend getaway at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

At least 2.9 million Southern California travelers are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend despite higher prices at the pump.

Those traveling by car are a big part of the overall 3.5 million in the Southland who are expected to get away between Thursday and Monday — a record, according to a forecast by the Automobile Club of Southern California. The number of people driving to their destination is a 4.5% increase from last year.

Nationally, 43.8 million Americans are expected to travel this year, a 4.1% uptick from 2023.

Read more: Get ready, fliers: Memorial Day weekend will kick off a humming summer at LAX

Typically, travel trends over Memorial Day are an indication of what's to come for summer, so there could be more records ahead, said Doug Shupe, a regional spokesperson for AAA.

The increased number of travelers is a sign that people need a break and are wanting to get out and connect, even though the cost of goods and services is higher these days, he said.

Gas prices are displayed on a sign in Studio City.
Gas prices are displayed on a sign in Studio City on Wednesday. The average price of a gallon of regular self-serve gasoline in California is $5.17, nearly $2 more than the national average (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

"What we typically see in these travel forecasts is people prioritize travel in their budgets," Shupe said.

And a big part of that budget this year is allocating enough funds for filling their gas tanks.

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California's gas price average is $5.17 — nearly $2 more than the national average of $3.61.

In the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area, a gallon of regular self-serve gasoline costs just under the state average: $5.13. This time last year, the price was $4.86.

In a bit of good news, prices have been dropping since last week, when the cost was $5.22.

But don't get too excited, Shupe said, noting that gas costs may creep up further.

"What we don't know is the wild card of crude oil," he said. "Unlike last year there are two wars, in the Middle East and Ukraine, and that can cause some turmoil in the oil market."

Despite the tensions overseas, the potentially volatile effect on crude oil prices has been kept in check by spare production, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration projections. If holders choose to use it, the spare crude oil supply can be available to the market in the event of short-term disruptions.

Historically, gas prices tend to rise gradually in the spring and peak in late summer, when people drive more frequently, according to the EIA.

California's prices also are affected by the shift to a different fuel blend in warmer weather, a transition that already has taken place.

As you prepare for your weekend plans, experts say factor in fuel-efficiency tips and plan for where you'll fuel up. Both can save you money.

Fuel-efficiency tips

Here's a list of simple things you can do to squeeze a few extra miles out of each gallon of gas in your tank.

Don't put off repairs. Ignoring your check engine light could not only result in costly extra repairs but also increase your gasoline usage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40%.

Read more: Ready to hit the road for spring break? Gas prices in L.A. County are now topping $5 a gallon

Check your tire pressure. Driving with deflated tires can cost motorists two or three miles per gallon, according to the EPA.

Slow and steady wins the race. Go the speed limit, because the faster a vehicle is moving, the more fuel you're burning.

Pack your luggage inside the car. Putting your belongings in the overhead luggage rack can cause your car to drag, reducing fuel efficiency. If you can, keep items inside the trunk.

Lighten the load. Pack lightly on road trips. The less weight you're carrying, the better your fuel efficiency.

Read more: Gas prices are on the rise. Here's how to find the cheapest options

Shop around for cheaper gas

While you're mapping out your travel route, consider searching for where you'll stop for gas. There are several apps and websites that can help you find lower prices:

  • The Auto Club app for AAA members shows the closest gas stations with the lowest amounts, anywhere in the United States.

  • In its app and on its website, Gasbuddy displays real-time pump prices near you.

  • The Gas Guru app can search for gas stations by price, fuel grade and distance, as well as show prices in your area.

  • Mapquest, Google Maps and Waze have a feature that enables you to see gas prices on the route of your trip.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.