AAA Projects Record Number of North Carolinians Traveling for Holiday Weekend

AAA Carolinas projects that nearly 1.2 million North Carolinians will travel this weekend hitting a record high for Fourth of July travel.

AAA Carolinas Public Relations Manager Tiffany Wright said the high volume of travelers is due to the low gas prices.

“The numbers just keep going up and up in a direct correlation of the fact that, I know some folks have seen gas prices go up and down and up and down but they are still the lowest that we have seen in 11 years, so that’s impressive,” Wright said.

Since more people will be on the road this weekend it is important to keep the roads safe.

“Try and do those things that are preventable. Obviously, have your seatbelt on, don’t drink and drive, and by all means please eliminate as many distractions as you can. There’s nothing worth a life,” Wright said. “So what we like to say is, ‘get in that vehicle, stay focused, disconnect and drive’, put those mobile devices down, do the one thing you are meant to do when you get behind the wheel, and that’s drive the car.”

To make sure your travel route is clear of construction and closed roads, you can check the NCDOT website for up to date information. You can find more resources for your travel with the AAA mobile app.

“It’s great. You’ve got a navigation system to help travelers find the best route, and you can also find updated gas prices. We like to say, ‘shop smart at the pump’, look for those cheap gas prices as you are trying to reach your destination, and if you are a AAA member you can view those discounts,” Wright said.

Wright said many residents will be traveling to destinations along the coast of North and South Carolina. She added Washington, D.C. was another popular location to spend the July 4 weekend.

Record Number of Holiday Travelers Expected

A record number of North Carolinians, nearly three million, are expected to hit the road this holiday season, according to AAA Carolinas.

Falling gas prices are making it more affordable to travel this year. The state average for a gallon of gas is $1.97 and expected to continue to fall during the winter months.

During the holidays, drivers might see variation in prices at different gas stations. This is due to the high number of travelers and competition between gas stations to attract those customers, according to Tiffany Wright of AAA Carolinas.

An estimated 158,000 North Carolinians will be flying to their destination this holiday season, a slight increase from last year. On average, airfare rates are down 6% from 2014.

AAA recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car in case you become stranded due to bad weather or car trouble. Helpful things to include in your kit are flash lights, blankets, battery jumper cables and a small bag of sand or cat litter for traction in case you get stuck.

Drunk driving can be a problem during the holiday season and police across the state are cracking down. North Carolina’s “Booze It & Lose It” campaign started Dec.11 and will run through Jan. 3. The campaign includes checkpoints and increased patrols. If you are planning on consuming alcohol at a holiday party, make sure you have a designated driver or hire a car service.

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Traveling in Style

Packing Perils

Summer vacation season is upon us.  By car, by plane, by boat, by train….you’re bound to be headed somewhere this summer.  That means you have the daunting task of packing ahead of you, which takes time, energy, planning and decision-making skills.  Oh, the agony of accessorizing every outfit!  And how will I know what I’m doing every minute of my trip?  When it comes to packing, it’s so easy to over-pack and procrastinate.  I know I’m not alone in either department; however I might be in contention for the all-time packing procrastination award.  I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve only had a couple hours sleep before a flight because I waited and deliberated.  However, preparation and packing light are the secrets to saving time, tips and those lovely luggage fees.  (Who knew your bag would have to pay too?!)  My advice—make a packing list and don’t wait until the eleventh hour to get started!

When it comes to air travel you have to think smart and be a minimalist.  Ideally, try not to check bags.  One incidence with lost luggage and you will swear never to check your bags again.  You can usually get away with a roller suitcase and a carry-on if your trip is under a week.  Fortunately, new ergonomically designed and lighter luggage options exist for the traveler who chooses to carry her bags on board.  While schlepping your bags down the terminal concourse, jet-bridge and airplane aisle sounds exhausting, think of it as your strength work out for the day.  You will also have peace of mind that your belongings all made it safely with you to your destination.  The key is to board early, so you secure that much coveted overhead bin space.  Traveling for more than a week or for a winter ski trip with bulky clothes?  Most likely you will need to check at least one bag, so don’t forget to ask your airline about baggage fees before you go.

Helpful Tips for Frequent Travelers

If you travel frequently – especially if you prefer to carry on all of your luggage – consider creating a go-to wardrobe capsule for specific destinations or business travel.  You might have the ultimate pinstripe power suit for presentations and interviews.  When I pack for a ski trip I have staple outfits for skiing and après ski.  My “Nanook of the North” boots come out of hiding along with my rock-star tee with the fur-trimmed sleeves.  Having favorite go-to outfits for different destinations will speed the packing process and provide confidence in any situation.

Just as with your everyday wardrobe, start by building the basics.  Determine a color palette.  You might begin with the best neutral for you – black, navy, brown or gray – and choose your accent pieces, shoes and other accessories around that color scheme.

Fold clothes together to avoid sharp creases.  For delicate items, use the plastic bags from your dry cleaner for added protection.

Line the inside of your suitcase with plastic bags (from stores or dry cleaners) to prevent moisture from getting to your clothes.  It could be raining when you land!

Keep trial size products stocked and travel-sized bottles filled, so that area of packing is already checked off your list when it comes trip time.

For a touch of home, pack a scented sachet or travel candle in your suitcase. The sachet keeps your clothes smelling fresh and the candle can be placed next to your bed at night to help you relax from a long day.

I have to be honest.  If I’m traveling by car, the “packing light” rules do not apply.  Ahhh, the beauty of car travel!  You can take as much as your vehicle will hold without the guilt or the extra luggage fees.  You might spend a few more bucks in gas with a heavy load, but it’s worth it to have everything you could possibly need when you arrive at your destination.

Now that you are packed, here are some common sense travel tips to keep you healthy no matter what your mode of transportation.

  • Hydrate! Drink lots of water, especially for air travel.  It’s a fact that you dry out at high altitudes.  Ask the flight attendant for an extra cup of water and try to avoid alcohol.  Instead have an Airborne cocktail.  Carry a roll of Airborne tablets or another product packed with antioxidants and plop one in that second glass.  Tired of water but want something low-cal?  Crystal Light and other companies now make one serving powder packets that you can add to a 16 ounce water bottle for instant sugar-free lemonade, peach tea or other flavors.
  • Sanitize! Every form of public transportation is a breeding ground for germs.  Carry hand sanitizer in the car and the trial size variety on the plane.  Clean your hands frequently, especially before touching your face.  Even wipe down the tray table and arm rests with hand sanitizer or an antibacterial wipe.  You risk looking like a germaphobe to your seat mate, but it’s worth it.
  • Ventilate! You’ve got a chatty seat mate who likes to spit when he talks.  Then he sneezes to boot.  Ugh!   All of these saliva droplets from sneezing, coughing and conversation are flying through the air in closed spaces like planes, cars, and buses.  Turn the vent above your seat to medium flow and position it so the air current moves slightly in front of your face.
  • Pack Snacks! The days of free food and snacks in coach air travel are over.  Feel like you’re in first class (use your imagination) and fill a few baggies with your favorite mixed nuts, crackers or baked chips and throw in a couple of cheese sticks or Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedges.  You’ll satiate your hunger pangs with your packed picnic and save a few bucks, while your seatmates will wonder why they didn’t think of that.  Try to skip the fast food urge if you have a layover!  For car trips keep the essential munchies and beverages in a mini cooler within easy reach.
  • Layer! The days of free blankets in coach are also over!  (Never saw that one coming.)  Pack or wear a cardigan sweater or pashmina wrap that can double as a blanket in the event your plane, train or car is cooled to sub-zero temps.  Dressing in layers has its benefits when traveling, like allowing you to adjust to a wide variation of temperatures.  You can always shed your blazer or cardigan if you get too hot in transit or once you de-plane in a tropical destination.  Layers keep you prepared in any climate!

It pays to be pro-active when traveling.  A little preparation goes a long way on the road to paradise.  Happy Packing and Happy Trails!

These are my packing and healthy travel tips for any destination.  Feel free to share yours below!

Memorial Day Motorists Expected To Hit 10-Year High

If you’re hitting the road this weekend, you won’t be alone. AAA Carolina’s Tiffany Wright says 1,029,500 North Carolinians are expected to come along for the ride.

“That’s the highest number that we’ve seen in ten years, so lots more folks on the road this Memorial Day holiday,” says Wright.

Wright posits two reasons for the projected increase: an improving economy and lower gas prices.

“They’re considerably lower than they were this time last year. You’re saving about $1.07 per gallon.”

The average price for a gallon of gas in North Carolina is $2.55. Asheville has the state’s highest average gas price at $2.61. Wilmington is not far behind, with an average price of $2.59.

Wright says you can always expect to pay more at popular destinations.

“They’re always going to typically have the higher prices at the pump, and that’s just because they can. More folks are going to be willing to pay as they’re on vacation.”

Air travel is on the rise as well, with 82,800 North Carolinians expected to fly this weekend. The top destinations are Orlando, Baltimore and Seattle.

Wright reminds motorists, if you are driving, put away your cell phone and keep distractions to a minimum.

Freezing Rain May Lead to Slippery Commute Wednesday

Winter has officially settled in across the Tar Heel state, and our area is no exception. After seeing heavy rain early Monday morning, temperatures have fallen and led to the possibility of some icing as we continue through the week.

The National Weather Service has issued alerts – including a Winter Weather Advisory for Orange County and a Winter Storm Watch for Durham and Wake Counties – that will go into effect late Tuesday and remain through mid-day Wednesday.

NWS Meteorologist Shawna Coakley says Tuesday we expect to have lingering drizzle, but the real problems may develop late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

“We’ll have temperatures right within a few degrees of freezing, and that brings with it a chance of freezing rain,” she says.

Coakley says we are not expected to see major accumulation, but “certainly you could get some glazing on surfaces. And you might see some difficulty with travel on roadways and walking on sidewalks.”

Coakley adds the chance of inclement weather will be rather widespread.

“We’re looking at the whole area for this, the entirety of central North Carolina,” she says.

The Wednesday morning commute may be a slippery one, if the variables of the forecast develop over the next 24 hours.

After that, Coakley says the temperatures will climb above freezing for the foreseeable future and the chance of rain will diminish to close out the week – taking any chance of inclement weather with it.

NC Gas Prices Continue to Trend Downwards

AAA Carolinas reports that the gas prices in North Carolina are the lowest they have been in more than a month and drivers are paying less this July than the July of last year; this trend is predicted to continue as the summer progresses.

Public Relations Manager at AAA Carolinas, Tiffany Wright, says that the drop in gas prices this past month is certainly impressive, and that this current trend in prices is not going to stop yet.

“Gas prices are trending downward, and that’s something I think is going to continue,” says Wright. “When you look at the fact we’ve seen North Carolina’s average gas price drop 12 cents in a month, I think that’s saying a lot.”

She attributes to the recent decline in prices to a greater reliance on gathering oil within the U.S.

“They’re trending down right now because right now we are producing a ton of oil domestically,” she says. “So, as we rely less on overseas oil and, at the same time on our end, consume less, that results in declining prices at the pump.”

Because of this dependency on oil we have accessed on our own soil, Wright says that gas prices are not being heavily affected by the conflicts going on in the Middle East.

“It’s a little opposite of what you think would be happening right now, everything that’s going on overseas,” says Wright. “Despite that, oil prices are expensive, and they remain expensive, but they’re relatively stable right now because oil production and export levels, they haven’t really noticeably changed that much. So, we really aren’t having to rely that much overseas.”

While the unrest in Russia progresses as well, Wright says she believes that as long as we stick to our oil supply, we will not encounter much difficulty.

“It’s hard to tell,” she says. “As long as we keep producing as much as we’re producing domestically, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Wright says she expects travel to continue to as usual, and gas prices will continue to fall below less than what they were around this time last year.

“July and August typically are the busiest driving months of the year, but right now gas prices, they’re really in a good position,” says Wright. “For the remainder of what we call the ‘summer driving season,’ gas prices might actually cost less than in recent years this August, just as long as the refinery production continues and remains strong.”

To see the AAA Carolinas gas price chart that compares prices from this year to last year, click here.

NC DOT Awaits Snowfall

GREENSBORO – North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Maintenance Engineer Brad Wall says preparation for this winter weather began Monday night into Tuesday morning.

“We put salt brine out on the interstates, (loaded the trucks with salt, and topped off the fuel tanks),” Wall says. “When we get the fallen precipitation, we’ll get them out on the routes, and they’ll begin to address the storm.”

He says the primary roads were also treated with salt brine; that process concluded Tuesday before noon.

Wall is in the NC DOT’s Division 7, which services Alamance, Guildord, Rockingham, and Caswell counties along with Orange. He says Orange will likely be the hardest hit of his division.

“With the temperatures, we expect it to start sticking immediately,” Wall says. “So as soon as we get some accumulation on the pavement, then we’ll start putting out salt.”

He says the trucks have been affixed with plows in addition to filling them with salt and topping off the fuel.

“We being with the routes that carry the most traffic,” Wall says. “We start with our interstates as well as our major primaries.”

You might get the urge to follow closely behind a truck that’s plowing snow to get the clearest route, but Wall says it’s safest for you to give the truck some room to work.

“The trucks will be putting out salt, most likely,” Wall says. “I would stay several car-lengths back—anywhere from 300 to 500 feet back.”

Triangle Expressway Toll Increases 5% With New Year

TRIANGLE – Commuters using the Triangle Expressway will pay more in 2014 as the rates increased nearly five percent Wednesday to pay off the bond that helped build it.

The increase was scheduled to take place and isn’t a change in the plan. But, now commuters traveling on the road every day will pay an extra $67.60 per year.

The first phase of the project opened in December 2011; phase two opened in August 2012; the third phase opened December 2012.

With the discounted rate using an NC Quick Pass, the rate to travel the full length one way is $2.77 up from $2.64.

Gas Prices Down, Labor Day Travel Up

CHARLOTTE – You can expect more people on the roads this weekend compared to previous Labor Day weekends.

“A big factor is gas prices, which are the lowest—this year going into Labor Day—than they’ve been since 2010,” AAA Carolinas Communication’s Director, Angela Vogel Daley, says. “We are seeing about an eight-percent decrease from where they were last year.”

She says with the combination of the national unemployment rate down nearly one full point compared to last year and a point-and-a-half from two years ago, the stock market on the rise, and gas prices down, Daley says all those factors provide higher likelihood of travel for the last vacation of the summer.

“Domestically, supplies are good,” Daley says. “Another factor this time of year is hurricanes, and we haven’t seen any major hurricanes comes through the Gulf so far. Obviously September is peak time for that, so that’s something we’ll be monitoring.”

And, Daley says this is a continuing trend of the nation slowly returning from The Great Recession.

“I think we’ve seen a slow and steady increase over the past several years,” Daley says. “There’s always other factors involved; obviously gas prices play a role, but this summer we’ve seen lower gas prices than we did most of last summer. So, we are seeing just a slight increase year over year.”

She says this year’s tropical activity, or lack thereof, has also contributed to favorable gas prices.

“Last year we were dealing with Hurricane Isaac, so that affected the weather, and it did cause a spike in gas prices last year,” Daley says.

Daley says the current conflict in Syria could contribute to added gas price increases. The United State and its allies are deciding whether or not to get involved after allegations of chemical weapons being used against civilians.­­­

Traffic Decrease Expected Ahead of Deadliest Day for Drivers

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CHARLOTTE – With the July 4 holiday coming up, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is warning drivers to be careful, as a recent AAA study found that Independence Day is the deadliest day for car crashes.

Public relations manager for AAA Carolinas, Angela Daley, says July 4 is consistently the deadliest day for car accidents because, unlike other holidays, it always falls on the same date.

“For Memorial Day and Labor Day, it changes based on the year, so July 4 is always going to be the holiday for every year,” Daley says.

In its study, AAA attributed the high number of traffic fatalities to the higher number of drivers on the road and the fact that many people drink during Independence Day celebrations, impairing their driving.

July 4 also has more drivers than other prominent holidays because, according to Daley, summer has the highest traffic volume of any season.

AAA estimates that 988,500 North Carolinians will be driving during this year’s July 4 holiday. But, this is actually a two-percent decrease from 2012.

Daley points out that gas prices have risen eight percent in North Carolina since 2012, but she also adds that last year’s travel numbers may have been inflated.

“Most years, the July 4 holiday is a five-day weekend, so depending if it falls on a Thursday, like it is this year, the travel holiday is through Wednesday to Sunday,” Daley says. “But every seven years, it falls on a Wednesday, and that’s what happened last year.”

By comparison, North Carolina traffic during July 4 in 2011 was around 940,000.