July 4 travel forecast: Experts give best, worst times to hit road during 'busiest ever' holiday rush

AAA expects nearly 71 million people to travel by car or plane for July 4

With record numbers of people expected to drive and fly during the week surrounding Independence Day, those traveling for the holiday should prepare for heavy traffic and delays.

Nearly 71 million people are expected to travel between June 29 and July 7 around the Fourth of July, according to AAA estimates – that's 5% more people than last year and 8% more than 2019.

"With summer vacations in full swing and the flexibility of remote work, more Americans are taking extended trips around Independence Day," Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. "We anticipate this July 4th week will be the busiest ever with an additional 5.7 million people traveling compared to 2019."


Busy travel

Nearly 71 million people are expected to travel for the Fourth of July between June 29 and July 7, according to AAA estimates. (Kevin Carter/Getty Images/File)

The motor club predicts that 70.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more during that period – 60.6 million are expected to travel by car, an increase of 2.8 million from the same period in 2023.

The worst times to hit the road will be between 2 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Sunday, according to a transportation data analyst at INRIX. 

Based on the data they've collected, INRIX recommends that those traveling by car on July 3 and July 4 should try to leave home before noon, while road-trippers traveling on July 6 and July 7 should leave before 10 a.m.

"Drivers in large metro areas can expect the worst traffic delays on Wednesday, July 3rd, as they leave town, and Sunday, July 7th, as they return," Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, told Newsweek.

Pishue said that on busy holiday weekends, car trips can take up to 67% longer than typical travel times, so he recommends starting drives on those days in the morning, if possible.


Air travel

The TSA warns that more than 32 million people are expected to pass through America's airports between June 29 and July 8, an increase of 5.4 million people from last year. (Kevin Carter/Getty Images/File)

placeholderIf you can't leave first thing in the morning, experts recommend waiting until after the evening rush to travel.

Following New Year's Day, Independence Day is among the most dangerous holidays for driving in the U.S., Omega Law told Newsweek. 

"Holidays also often go hand-in-hand with breaks from school or work, which can mean more teenagers or young adults on the roads who may have less driving experience, leading to risky driving and accidents," a spokesperson from the California-based injury law firm told the outlet.

The firm's analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's traffic fatality analysis reporting system from 2017 to 2021 found South Dakota to be the most dangerous state for driving during the July 4 holiday. Fatal crashes increased by 244% in the state compared to any other day. In Washington, D.C., fatal crashes increased by 182%, the firm told the outlet.


fireworks over the Empire State building in New York City

July Fourth is celebrated with fireworks in New York City last year. (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and San Francisco are the cities with the highest demand for rental cars during this year's holiday week. The busiest pickup days were last Friday and Saturday and Wednesday, July 3.

Meanwhile, the TSA warns that more than 32 million people are expected to pass through America's airports between June 29 and July 8, an increase of 5.4 million people from last year, according to reporting by The Independent. The peak travel day will be July 7, on which 3 million people are expected to stream through the country's 434 airports.

"We have been anticipating the arrival of the Fourth of July travel period and planning our security operations to ensure that we are prepared for the surge in travelers who will be coming to the airport," TSA Federal Security Director for Colorado Douglas Cruz said in a statement.

Storms could impact travel plans this Fourth of JulyVideo

Lower-than-average prices for domestic airfare contribute to a surge in flyers when compared to this time last year, and domestic airfare will be 2% cheaper than last year, with the average price for a domestic round-trip ticket averaging $800, according to AAA estimates.

AAA recommends getting to the airport at least two hours early, even for domestic trips. Parking should be reserved in advance, and traveling with carry-on luggage can save time and money. 

More than 4.6 million people are expected to travel by other modes of transportation, like buses, cruises and trains, over the July Fourth holiday period, which is a 9% increase from 2019, according to AAA.

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