How will the coronavirus pandemic alter summer vacations in 2020?
Memorial Day typically signals the official beginning of the summer. But what does summer vacation look like in the midst of the a pandemic?
This time last year, more than 43 million Americans took to the roads rails and skies, kicking off one of the busiest summer travel seasons in recent history. But this year, many beaches remain closed or have restrictions. State and national parks have not fully reopened. Some of the country's biggest attractions, including Disneyland and Universal Studios remain closed although, officials say they hope to reopen to some degree in June.
Community pools are closed in many cities, and large events such as summer festivals, concerts, carnivals - and even state fairs - are canceled.
In fact, because of the circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in 20 years, AAA did not even bother to do its annual travel forecast, saying only that this holiday weekend and its kickoff of summer travel will likely set "a record low" for travel volume.
"One of the big issues this Memorial Day and also this summer is how much more unknown there is than there has been in the past," said Michael Hunter, director of the Georgia Transportation Institute. "We kind of knew where the congestion was likely to be, kind of had a sense of travel patterns and that's all gone ... We don't fully know what's even allowed now."
He added: "A lot of the draws that were causing people to travel aren't there."
And how comfortable and able are Americans to travel even as those attractions reopen?
The U.S. death toll from the virus appears likely to reach 100,000 by the end of May. More than 38 million Americans are unemployed. Even those who can afford to travel, experts say, may hesitate to do so despite reassurances from the industry of increased sanitation and new covid-19 protocols.
Stan Caldwell, a traffic researcher and chief of Carnegie Mellon University's Traffic21 Institute, said most Americans are likely staying at or near home this weekend and in the months ahead, noting that airplanes, trains and buses are still operating well below normal levels following a plunge in demand earlier in the spring.
Revamping travel in those modes may be challenging because it is dependent on Americans regaining confidence in their safety.
Those who travel this summer will mostly do it by car and to regional destinations, experts say. Emptier roads combined with cabin fever brought on by extended stay-at-home orders and low fuel prices will probably drive regional and local leisure trips.
Nationwide, the average price per gallon was $1.94 on Friday. The last time the average price was under $2 a gallon leading into Memorial Day was 2003, according to AAA.
In the Washington region, the average price was $1.97 per gallon ahead of the holiday; in Virginia it was even lower than the national average at $1.70 a gallon.
"Vehicle travel will be the travel of choice for summer vacation and starting this weekend," Caldwell said. "My prediction is that there will be more regional travel by vehicle, but less overall travel in general."
Campgrounds, hiking destinations like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and beach houses or mountain cabins may be even more popular as people seek to vacation while social distancing. Other traditional summer destinations, such as resorts or amusement parks known to have crowds, maybe not so much.