New Jersey is at a much different stage of the COVID-19 pandemic than it was a year ago, and with that in mind, all modes of travel for the Fourth of July weekend coming up will be more in use than in 2020.

Tracy Noble, AAA Mid-Atlantic manager of public and government affairs, said many may add on to next Monday's federal holiday, July 5, by ending this work week early and bookending the weekend.

"When people are getting off work on Thursday, they are going to do an about-face and head off to their destination, and they're going to take advantage of a four-day weekend," Noble said.

In all, AAA expects 1.27 million New Jerseyans to travel between Thursday and Monday, part of 47.7 million Americans who say they plan to take a trip.

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That is a 36.5% overall increase in volume from 2020, though it may not approach the all-time travel records set just months prior to the pandemic in 2019.

With air travel even expected to reach 91% of pre-pandemic levels, however, 2021 could be the second-most traveled Independence Day break ever.

Approximately 110,000 New Jerseyans said they would be flying away for the holiday, a 165.5% bump from last year.

"That's an astronomical increase, and it just speaks volumes to the fact that people are ready and willing to get back out there," Noble said.

The overwhelming majority of travelers will be getting in their cars: 1.15 million New Jersey residents, or 90% of all those who are planning on going somewhere.

Despite an average gas price that stood at $3.09 for a gallon of regular as of Friday, one cent higher than the national average and 94 cents higher than one year ago, Noble said people feel that July 4th is the true kickoff to their summer plans.

They are tired of being cooped up and are willing to explore, no matter the price.

"We are expecting our roadways to be congested and those routes to the Shore to be very heavily traveled," Noble said.

If they will not be driving, they might still feel it in the wallet; AAA's analysis finds flight prices are down slightly, but costs for hotel rooms and car rentals have spiked.

Use of "other" transportation such as trains and buses could be up almost 65% this weekend, and that does include a small number of cruises, an industry that has ground to a halt since last March.

"There's been new announcements in the cruise industry as of late, and people are going to take advantage of it," Noble said. "They are more than ready and willing to spend money on vacation planning."

For those on the roads, Noble recommends taking it slow, eliminating driving distractions, buckling up, and planning alternate routes to save time, congestion, and aggravation.

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