What to Expect This Summer Travel Season

Travelers looking to offset historically high gas prices could turn to c-stores to save money this summer, says AAA.

May 26, 2022

AAA's Summer Travel Insights

By Sara Counihan

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The summer travel season is predicted to be “sizzling,” and this weekend is the great kick off, according to Andrew Gross, AAA’s national public relations manager.

“It’s like waving the start flag at a race, and it’s really going to be true this year, which is kind of unique given how expensive everything is across the board. Whether it’s gas or rental cars or airfares, hotels, everything is more expensive and yet people want to travel,” said Gross on this week’s NACS Convenience Matters podcast episode.

Around 39.2 million people are going to travel over the Memorial Day weekend, and that’s close to pre-pandemic levels, said Gross. Of those 39 million, 34 million-plus are going to travel by car, which is 88%—down slightly from year’s past when car travel was around 92%.

So why is it that travel is still below pre-pandemic levels if people have grown more confident and comfortable about traveling amid COVID-19? Gross said that cost could be one factor, as well as the fact that people may not be in the economical or emotional place to travel yet because they may have lost a loved one to COVID-19.

Despite expected lower-than-normal travel this year, Gross has never seen a strong Memorial Day and then a downer summer.

“Folks use Memorial Day as if they’re at the starting gate. They will go away on a shorter trip on Memorial Day because you have a smaller window of time, but then maybe later on in the summer they’ll have the great big family vacation,” said Gross.

“But again, we’re in all these unchartered waters. You still have COVID and then you have all these high prices, so will travel change? We won’t know until this fall when look back to see whether our forecast was accurate or if the numbers changed. It’s going to be interesting to observe as we go,” he added.

Convenience retailers can get ready for the influx of business this summer season by taking care of one of the foundations that c-stores offer—clean restrooms.

“[A restroom] does set the whole tone for the entire [convenience-store] experience. If you go in and the bathroom’s clean, you’re going to come out and feel much more positive about spending time and money,” said Gross.

He also points out that due to historically high gas prices, travelers who drive may look to save costs on their trip, and c-stores could be the answer.

“One way that they budget in the cost of gasoline is they may eat out less, but they still need to eat, and they still need to stop. So perhaps they won’t go to a drive-thru or a sit-down restaurant, but they will need to stock up on snacks for the road trip. So, it could be a very busy summer for convenience stores,” said Gross.

Listen to this week’s NACS Convenience Matters podcast episode, “AAA’s Sizzlin’ Summer Drive Forecast,” and find out the best and worst times to hit the road, plus what Gross suggests in terms of inflation through the summer.

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. She can be reached at scounihan@convenience.org.