This Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional start of the summer vacation season.
But in St. Helens, around the state and across America, the summer travel season looks very different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Travel restrictions remain in place to domestic and international destinations, according to the Oregon/Idaho AAA. In Oregon and other states, non-essential travel is still discouraged or not allowed. As of May 15, 31 of Oregon’s 36 counties, including Columbia County, have entered the state’s Phase 1 reopening.
Most of the counties administrator and businesses say they’re not ready for an influx of tourists.
Memorial Day is usually considered to be unofficial start of the summer travel season. But most Americans will be staying home this year.
For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast due to COVID-19. The annual forecast – which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend and provides data on people’s trips – will return next year. This summer, AAA expects to make travel projections for the late summer and fall, assuming states ease travel restrictions and businesses reopen.
“Last year, 43 million Americans including 557,000 Oregonians traveled for Memorial Day Weekend – the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” Oregon/Idaho AAA public affairs director Marie Dodds said. “This year, Memorial Day travel volume is likely to set a record low because of the pandemic.”
While Memorial Day travel will be put on hold, Dodds said many people still want to plan future vacations.
Bookings at AAA Oregon/Idaho and online at AAA.com/travel show slow and steady increases since mid-April.
“After weeks of staying at home, people are sure thinking about how and when they’ll be able to travel again,” AAA Oregon/Idaho senior vice president of travel Doreen Loofburrow said. “Domestic travel and the great American road trip will be some of the first post-coronavirus outings. Many are making plans to visit family and friends they haven’t been able to see while in quarantine–Grandma and Grandpa want to see their grandkids!”
Driving vacations to local and regional destinations are expected to pick up later in the summer. National parks, state parks and locations that provide an escape from crowds are of great interest. With gas prices about $1 a gallon lower than last year, a driving vacation is relatively budget-friendly. The current national average is $1.86 and the Oregon average is $2.39.
AAA officials said now can be an excellent time to book trips for later this year and into 2021 and beyond.
“You can find incredible travel bargains now—prices are slashed on everything from flights to Vegas to that bucket-list dream destination,” Loofburrow said. “With many travel providers easing or waiving cancellation policies, you’ll be able to change your plans if necessary. However, be sure to read the fine print to know exactly what the cancellation policies are.”
“You have to do your homework before you leave since many restrictions are still in place. Gone are the days when you can pack the kids in the car and just take off,” Dodds.said.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that Americans stay home and avoid nonessential travel. Americans should heed all official warnings and refer to the latest updates from the CDC and U.S. Department of State to help decrease the spread of COVID-19.
• Many states, counties, cities and countries still discourage non-essential travel, or have travel restrictions in place. Some places require visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days. Check with each destination in advance.
• Book your lodging, camping and rental car in advance and check on the cleaning standards. Many hotels and rental car companies offer enhanced cleaning policies. See more information below on AAA’s Best of Housekeeping badge. Oregon has 181 properties from Albany to Yachats that are honored with the AAA Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping award. Here’s the complete list of Oregon properties.
• Consider working with a travel professional to help plan your trip. They can help you sort through all of the pandemic-related restrictions and help you get the biggest bang for your vacation dollars.
• Check with any museums, parks, attractions, etc. you want to visit. Many will have reduced operating hours and limit the number of visitors at a time. Many also require face masks. Consider purchasing tickets in advance.
• Bring snacks, beverages and non-perishable foods with you. Grocery stores may have limited hours. Check to see if restaurants are open, and if they offer dine-in service, take-out and/or delivery.
• Pack hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting products such as face masks, hand sanitizer, soap, wipes, sprays, paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, etc. as these items may be difficult to purchase while you’re on the road.
Memorial Day 2009 currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, according to AAA. That holiday weekend came toward the end of the Great Recession and the H1N1 flu pandemic was spreading across the U.S. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-pandemic-timeline.html
This summer and fall, AAA expects vacationers will gravitate to road trips and family bookings including air, car, hotel and activities to destinations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. For now, though, the borders to Mexico and Canada remain closed to non-essential travel until at least May 20.
Later this year and beyond, assuming international travel restrictions are lifted, AAA officials said they expect to see more demand for tropical destinations and a wider range of international travel.
For more information, visit AAA.com/Travel.