Gas is cheap and traffic is relatively light on Georgia highways. But many people have put summer vacation plans on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Summer vacations on hold during pandemic

Memorial Day weekend is here, gas is cheap and the open road beckons. So millions of Americans are planning to … shelter in place.

At least for now.

That’s according to AAA and GasBuddy, which have studied Americans’ summer travel plans amid the pandemic. They say many Americans hope to hit the road later this summer or perhaps next year. But for now, the hazards of mixing with others amid the coronavirus pandemic mean more people are staying at home this holiday.

Just ask Teresa Collier of Smyrna. She and her husband, Arnsel, usually spend Memorial Day with their children and grandchildren on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Not this year.

“We are very disappointed in not going on vacation, but I guess it beats a ventilator stay at Emory (University Hospital),” Collier said.

Those are the grim considerations that have many Americans rethinking their plans as the summer travel season begins. Ironically, by some measures, travel has never been more appealing.

According to AAA, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline in Georgia was just $1.66 a gallon this week — down from $2.65 a year ago. And though traffic volumes on Georgia highways have picked up recently, they’re still 20% below normal on weekdays, according to the state Department of Transportation.

What’s more, many residents have been sheltering in place for two months amid the pandemic — making even a trip to the grocery store seem like an exotic thrill. And with Gov. Brian Kemp easing restrictions on businesses and public gatherings, an escape to the mountains or the beach might seem like sweet relief for many families.

But the pandemic is far from over, and many Georgians are not convinced it’s safe to venture out.

“Even though you have some places that are opening back up, you still have that fear of the unknown,” said Montrae Waiters, a spokesperson for the AAA auto club. “We’re finding that, even with restaurants opening up, you still don’t have people rushing into restaurants.”

So, too, with vacations. Back in February, a AAA survey suggested some 173 million Americans had summer vacation plans. Then the pandemic struck.

Now AAA says it can’t make its usual summer travel projections, given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. But the club believes Memorial Day travel will be suppressed.

A recent GasBuddy survey of its customers found 31% plan to hit the road between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, down from 44% last year. But others still hold out hope for a getaway.

“What we found very interesting is the uncertainty,” GasBuddy Marketing Director Allison Mac said. “Nearly 51% have not made a decision. By this time, people have usually decided, ‘Yes, we’re going to do something this summer,’ or ‘No, it’s not in the budget.’

“They’re still itching to get out there,” Mac said.

Jeff and Sabrina Hughes of Loganville are heading to Savannah this weekend to celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary. They had planned a week at Hilton Head, but Sabrina recently was laid off from her job at a local nonprofit. Jeff said they’ll stay at a hotel owned by a friend.

“We try to live with faith over fear,” he said. “We want to be smart with what we do. We’ll definitely take precautions we haven’t in the past.”

GasBuddy believes more people will hit the road later this summer. When they do venture out, they’ll probably take shorter last-minute trips.

For now, though, AAA says Americans should heed the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re telling our members as well as the general public to continue with the recommendations that Americans stay at home and avoid nonessential travel until it’s safe,” Waiters said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

X