May 25, 2012 -- Americans across the country are gearing up for the traditional hurry-up-and-wait, hours-of-your-life-you'll-never-get-back gridlock, as millions of travelers hit the road to escape for the first big holiday weekend of the year.
Memorial Day weekend is considered the unofficial start of summer, and this year is no exception with the American Automobile Association projecting that 34.8 million Americans plan to escape at least 50 miles or more away from home.
Deciding just what to pack might be the least stressful part of this weekend's trip, because half a million more people than last year all have the same idea to hit the highways. About 31 million of this year's travelers will be on U.S. roads.
At least those about to hit the holiday road won't be feeling too much pain at the pump. Gas prices are averaging $3.68 per gallon, down 26 cents from last month's high of $3.94.
Still, Memorial Day weekend warriors are looking to economize on their journeys. U.S. travelers are expected to average 642 miles this weekend, 150 miles less than the same weekend in 2011.
Weather looks to be a mixed bag across the nation, with a sunny Saturday but rainy Sunday in the Northeast and a cold, late-season storm system expected to bring snow to the northern Rockies through this holiday weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
Based on the hundreds of millions of searches done on the travel site kayak.com, the most popular destinations appear to be Las Vegas, New York, and Atlantic City, where people are likely hoping to either hit the beach or hit the jackpot.
"The biggest differences year over year was Atlantic City, which jumped 94 percent from 2011, followed by Myrtle Beach and then Virginia Beach," Kayak.com spokeswoman Jessica Casano-Antonellis said.
And it's not just the destinations that seem scaled back. It's also what people are willing to spend. Only 2.5 million people are expected to fly on Memorial Day weekend, down 6 percent from last year. This likely explains why 31 million Americans are now trying to strategize when to leave home.
"I personally like to get out of town as early as 4 a.m.," Casano-Antonellis said. "I know that sounds a little ridiculous, but if you're going to avoid the traffic, that's when you have to go."