Survival Guide for 4th of July

·Editor-in-Chief

The 4th is here — and we’ve got all the tips you need. (Photo: iStock)

It’s that time of the year! Time to celebrate America’s birthday — and time to buckle down for one of the busiest holiday weekends. According to AAA, an estimated 41.9 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home during this upcoming 4th of July — which is up .07 percent from last year and the most since 2007. And according to a recent TripAdvisor poll, nearly one quarter (24 percent) of U.S. travelers plan to take extra time off to celebrate the holiday.

So whether you’re driving, flying, navigating fireworks, or just looking for a last-minute getaway, we’ve got expert tips and useful advice to help you survive the holiday.

DRIVING

Get ready for holiday traffic. (Photo: iStock)

According to a recent TripAdvisor poll, two-thirds (66 percent) of U.S. travelers plan to head to their Independence Day destination by car. You don’t want to hit the road without Waze, the crowd-sourced navigation app, on your smartphone. Waze analyzed historic data to give a sneak peek at the upcoming 4thof July holiday. 

Getting Out of Town: Think you can beat the traffic by leaving work early on Thursday or Friday? Think again. Everyone else has the same idea. Waze says that traffic will peak around noon on Friday, July 3 and and again that day between 3 p.m. - 6 p.m., when holiday traffic and rush hour collide. Julie Mossler, creative launch strategy & global communications for Waze recommends: “Beat the rush by leaving town before 7 a.m.”

Getting Home: Expect a long journey and lots of gridlock. Waze expects traffic to increase 63 percent above average for the trip home on Sunday. And the Sunday “rush hour” will go from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. “It’s tough to leave the beach early, but every hour you linger is likely another you spend in traffic,” warns Mossler.

Related: 10 Places to See Fourth of July Fireworks

Traveling on July 4th: Waze says you can plan for serious traffic between 10 p.m. and midnight on the night of the 4th, as everyone heads back from the fireworks or out for the night.

Accidents and Police: Be careful: Waze saw an 18 percent increase in accidents last year and a 26 percent increase in police presence on the 4th.

Find low gas prices nearby: Gas prices are low, but who doesn’t want the lowest of the low? Waze analyzes the real-time input from the users’ GPS chips and their reporting, as well as historical data, to recommend low gas prices in nearby areas.

Family Driving Advice: If you’re driving with kids, time your departure so that you leave during nap time or just after bedtime, advises travel search site Hipmunk. Ideally, leave for your destination around 8 p.m., once the kids are fed and in their jammies.  

FLYING

Planning to fly for the 4th? Be prepared. (Photo: iStock)

The Good News: According to Orbitz.com, airfare costs are down by 4 percent overall, with the biggest decreases in Las Vegas (down 14 percent) and Los Angeles (down nine percent). 

Hipmunk is also seeing deals for Vegas, as well as Honolulu and Cancun. To check on current deals from certain cities you can use Hipmunk’s last-minute weekend getaway flight-booking tool; just plug in your own location to conduct a search. 

Expedia says there are deals to be had for Miami (down 15 percent) and the nation’s capital, where air ticket prices to Washington, D.C. are down 16 percent over last year. What could be more perfectly patriotic?

Plan Wisely: If you’re going to fly and haven’t booked your tickets yet, take a vacation day on the Monday after July 4th. Hipmunk’s recent analysis of July 4th flight prices shows that Sunday July 5 is the most expensive — and crowded — return date. Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com agrees: “For patriotic travelers looking to skip long lines and save on airfare, avoiding travel on July 2 and July 5 offers the best bets.” 

DESTINATIONS

Fireworks light up the sky. (Photo: iStock)

Where to Go: For travelers on a budget — especially families — Orbitz says the place to consider is Orlando, which has the most affordable hotel rates ($129 per night on average) and airfare ($330 on average). In addition, hotel rates are down 10 percent in New York City, 8 percent in Las Vegas, and 8 percent in San Francisco, pointing to great Fourth of July deals. 

Switchfly, the technology company powering search/booking and loyalty point redemption solutions for many travel brand, also reports that the top summer travel destination this summer for Americans is Orlando, followed by Nassau, Bahamas. (Last summer, Las Vegas ranked #1.) 

Related: Top 10 Small Town 4th of July Celebrations

And Cheryl Rosner, co-founder of the bidding site Stayful.com recommends New York City for the summer holiday weekend. “The city is calm and serene, the best restaurants are easy to book and the hotel rates are at an all-time low,” she says. “Enjoy a killer view at the Empire Hotel for as low as $135 per night and soak in the culture of the Upper West Side. Or head downtown to the Maritime Hotel for the breezy outdoors scene from $180 per night.”

According to Camelia Gendreau of Sojern, a performance marketing platform for travel brands, “London remains America’s favorite international destination, even on the 4th of July this year, a preference possibly reinforced for some by the coincidence with the Wimbledon tournament.” Other international hot spots: Cancún and Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan. 

Chicago is going to be quite a scene on the 4th. (Photo: iStock)

Where to Avoid: This weekend’s Grateful Dead reunion concert — commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the band’s final shows in Chicago — with Phish is bringing people in droves to the Windy City. According to the Orbitz Insider Index, the city is seeing a 122 percent year-over-year increase in hotel bookings and 77 percent year-over-year increase in hotel prices for July 3, 4, and 5.

Last-Minute Trips: “With the rush to book Independence Day fun, it can be difficult to find a last-minute deal,” says Jetsetter editor-in-chief Sean Murphy. But if you’re still looking, Jetsetter recommends the Chambers Hotel in New York City and the Copley Square Hotel in Boston (great fireworks!). There are also deals to be had in Miami, Vegas, L.A., and San Francisco

For those still looking to book a getaway, Orbitz is offering up to 50 percent off hotels through July 3 in some of the country’s most popular destinations: Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago.

Related: Cheers, America! Fourth of July Cocktail Recipes for Wherever You’re Celebrating

Another Idea: Avoid the crowds and take time off after the holiday. “Check in on Sunday, get there early, drop off your bag with the bell desk, and then head out for some beach fun,” advises Stayful’s Rosner. An example: rates at the Catamaran in San Diego drop by $150 on Sunday and Monday.

RENTALS

Home rentals are a great option for the 4th. (Photo: iStock)

Last-Minute Rentals: Want to grab a last-minute home rental? You’re in luck. Airbnb offers Instant Book listings, which don’t require approval (or an additional fee) from the host before you book. Instead, you can just choose your travel dates and discuss check-in plans with the host. 

Tips: HomeAway provided some tips for renting over the holiday weekend, given the short timeframe. “Look for a rental a bit off the beaten path,” says public relations manager Adam Annen. “Search for properties in lesser-known destinations or a bit farther from popular destinations; they can still be great vacation spots that may cost less because there’s less demand.” Another piece of advice: “Be a bit flexible with your travel dates. Oftentimes like hotels, vacation rentals are priced higher surrounding holidays.”

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