Travelers are expected to come out in record numbers this Independence Day, and Charleston is predicted to be the second-most popular destination for people in the Carolinas who opt to drive.
An estimated 2.055 million Carolinians, including about 688,500 in the Palmetto State, are predicted to travel this week, according to AAA Carolinas. Nationwide, about 49 million Americans — more than ever recorded by AAA — are expected to take a trip in connection to the July 4 holiday.
Of travelers in the Carolinas, 1.84 million are likely to drive, up more than 4% from last year. That's about 10 times more than those expected to fly, though the number traveling by air grew slightly more, by just over 5% compared to 2018.
Charleston ranks just behind Myrtle Beach and ahead of New Orleans as the most popular destinations for drivers in the Carolinas, according to AAA bookings. Those opting to fly somewhere for the holiday are likely to jet off to Iceland, Italy or France.
Though they have been declining for several weeks, gas prices nationwide started climbing leading up to the holiday, reaching an average of about $2.71 Monday. North and South Carolina both saw the steepest jumps in the U.S. with weekly price increases of 13 cents.
Despite the increase, South Carolina's average price per gallon, which was $2.37 as of Monday, is still among the lowest in the country and down about 15 cents compared to the same time last year.
The Charleston area had some of the lowest gas prices in the state Monday with an average of $2.33 per gallon, 10 cents less than the same day in 2018. The highest gas prices in the state were in Hilton Head and Spartanburg which were the only areas with averages higher than $2.40 per gallon.
“It’s typical to see an increase ahead of the holiday, but we may see prices continue to jump throughout the month due to a few moving parts," Tiffany Wright, a spokesperson for AAA Carolinas, said in a written statement.
AAA cited several factors that are driving up gas costs, including a recent jump in crude oil prices.
The roadside service provider also cited the permanent shutdown of Philadelphia Energy Solutions' South Philadelphia refinery, which is the oldest and largest on the East Coast. The closure will likely drive up transportation costs for some retailers.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, is also meeting this week in Vienna to discuss production cuts. The global oil cartel agreed Monday to extend its current deal to cut oil production by nine months, which could further drive up crude oil prices.
The price of crude oil accounts for as much as 60 percent of the retail cost of gas.
Despite the recent price hike, gas prices are still down compared to last month and last year, so the impact on travel volume may be minimal.
Since Independence Day falls on a Thursday this year, many travelers are expected to take the full week off work take a long weekend to make time for a trip, Wright said.
Travelers are likely to pay a little more for airfares and car rentals this year, with average prices up about 10% and 5%, respectively.