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Labor Day travel: why 35 million drivers are hitting the road this weekend

Labor Day road-trippers are going to have a lot of traveling companions this weekend. In fact, the number of motorists hitting the road this Labor Day is expected to reach a six-year high. 

Wayne Parry/Reuters/File
Traffic stacks up on a highway in Dallas. AAA anticipates the number of people traveling for Labor Day this weekend to hit a six-year high.

If you're hoping to enjoy a quiet getaway over the upcoming holiday weekend, you might want to dial back your expectations. According to AAA, you're going to have a lot of traveling companions this Labor Day -- more than you've had in several years.

In fact, based on AAA's projections, some 35,000,000 Americans will likely hit the road between Thursday and Monday. That's 1.3 percent higher than Labor Day 2013 and the highest number we've seen since 2008, before the Great Recession began forcing many families to curtail their vacations (or forego them altogether).

The news is even worse for road-trippers, because the vast majority of vacationers -- 86 percent, or 29.7 million of them -- will drive to their destination. That's a 1.4 percent uptick compared to last year. As the signs say, expect delays.

The one bright spot in all of this is that gas will be cheaper. Nationwide, average prices now hover around $3.44 for a gallon of regular unleaded, compared to $3.59 per gallon recorded during last year's Labor Day holiday.

If it's not too late, you might consider traveling by air. Fares are a modest two percent above last year -- from $214 round-trip to $219 this year -- but the number of air travelers is up just one percent, with the total expected to be around 2.65 million. Better still, car rental rates are flat, at an average of $51 per day.

Why are more Americans traveling this weekend? AAA attributes the increase to two things:

1. Timing: AAA says that "[h]istorically, when Labor Day weekend begins in August, Americans have shown a higher tendency to travel".

2. Confidence: Consumer confidence is soaring, which means that Americans are optimistic about their financial situation. That, in turn, means that they're spending more -- even though most are having to break out the credit cards to do so. In fact, AAA says that "spending is expected to increase 3.8 percent year-over-year, while disposable personal income is only expected to increase 1.4 percent".

Our advice? Pack plenty of sunscreen, go easy on the Amex, and enjoy the last bit of summer. A much colder round of holidays will be here before you know it. 

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