Traffic slows as it moves around the bend of northbound I-5 through north Everett on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Memorial Day holiday weekend travel nightmare is upon us

Going somewhere this weekend? You’ll have lots of company — 44 million new BFFs — on planes, trains and automobiles.

MUKILTEO — The friendly skies might be a bit grouchy and the ferry ride no fairy tale.

Travel over Memorial Day weekend is expected to be the busiest ever.

If heading out by car, even if it’s just to the mall, brace for gridlock if it entails a major road.

The American Automobile Association predicts about 44 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home from Thursday to Monday. Friday and Monday are the choke days.

Over 38 million will take road trips, up 4% from last year.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a news release. “We’re projecting an additional one million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we’re exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead.”

About 3.5 million will travel by air, up 5% from 2023. Nearly 2 million will frolic by bus, cruise ship and train.

State ferry ridership is expected to approach 350,000 over the weekend. The busiest sailings will likely be westbound, or onto an island, Thursday through Saturday, and eastbound, or off island, Saturday through Monday.

There are ways to avoid the fray, other than staying home and chillaxing, which isn’t such a bad option.

Leave super early or late when hitting the road. Avoid the afternoon hours when return trips will peak.

“Travel times are expected to be up to 90% longer than normal. Travelers should stay up to date on traffic apps, 511 services, and local news stations to avoid sitting in traffic longer than necessary,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, a transportation data company.

Please, don’t yell at the gas station clerks, TSA agents and deckhands. Working this weekend is no holiday for them. Gas prices, ferry fares and poorly packed bags are not their fault.

Check the state Department of Transportation online, at, to plot a trip before leaving home. Load the WSDOT mobile app for real-time traffic on ferries, roads and border waits. Alerts are also on @WSDOT on the social platform X.

Seattle is among the top 10 domestic flight destinations, according to AAA.

Instead of driving to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for departures and arrivals, use the light rail from Northgate Station. Good practice for when rail service extends to Lynnwood at the end of the summer.

Walk on the ferry when possible to avoid the car clog. On Tuesday afternoon, the wait was three hours at one point when the Mukilteo-Clinton route was down to a single boat. One of the rust buckets in the aging fleet of ferries can go out without notice, and on a holiday weekend could replicate the recent congestion on I-5.

On Wednesday, a 188-car ferry on the Seattle-Bremerton route was replaced by a 90-car vessel for scheduled maintenance. Low tides canceled some sailings on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route on Thursday.

Still want to get off the couch?

Travel with someone you don’t mind being trapped with in the car or the airport for long spells.

Pack treats, toys and podcasts. Keep telling yourself that the journey is part of the fun. With headphones and good snacks, it can be.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443;; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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