Expect lots of traffic Friday heading into Memorial Day Weekend. (WJZ)
Jackie Green hasn't checked yet with her family and friends to see when everyone's free for a weekend in Ocean City or Rehoboth this summer.
But that's the beauty, she said, of going for long weekends instead of a whole week. It's not as much of a commitment, so last-minute scheduling is easier.
"You get a little break, you don't have to plan as much and it's less money," said Green, 30, of East Baltimore.
More and more Americans plan to make a few long-weekend getaways — as opposed to weeklong or longer vacations — as travelers look to make the most of their money and time off and remain flexible and spontaneous in their planning, according to Travelzoo, a publisher of travel and entertainment deals that studies travel trends.
The shifting vacation behavior could be a boon for Maryland destinations, which are a short drive away from much of the U.S. population and have adjusted their pitch to travelers.
"We're becoming increasingly savvy in the way we book and the experiences we put under our belt," said Gabe Saglie, Travelzoo's senior editor.
Visitors spending three days instead of seven at the beach might sound bad for the tourism business, but the weekenders tend to visit more often — and pack more activities into each day of their trip, said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
"It's nice to have a shorter stay," Meehan said. "They maximize what they're going to do in a shorter period. It actually is beneficial to the economy."
Ocean City's hotels and condominiums have adapted to the trend by offering discounts on Friday-to-Sunday or Monday-to-Thursday "mini-week" options, he said.
"We've really adjusted in our lodging availability to meet the demand," he said.
The long-weekend vacation appeals to travelers today for a number of reasons, Saglie said.
Shorter trips to nearby destinations allow for less planning and even spur-of-the-moment decisions to go. Weekend getaways also eat fewer vacation days and tend to cost less than a week away, he said.
Terrorist attacks — such as the bombing that killed 22 people and injured dozens more in Manchester, England, on Monday — have made travelers wary of going abroad, and the strength of the dollar has caused a dip in international travelers visiting the United States, he said.
Those factors have refocused the attention of tourism officials closer to home, both in-state and nearby.
The Maryland Tourism Board's website this week promoted a variety of short road trips to see the state's baseball venues or local art festivals, or simply to travel the state's scenic byways to see "charming towns, the splendor of nature and hidden gems."
State officials and the Brewers Association of Maryland launched a summertime "Baseball & Brew Promotion," encouraging people to check out the more than 70 local craft breweries across the state, filling out a baseball-themed scorecard for the chance to win prizes.
Aiming to draw visitors for more than just gambling, the newest of Maryland's six casinos, MGM Casino National Harbor, has booked more than a dozen concerts and other entertainment events, including singer Idina Menzel, rock legends The Who and Journey, and comedian Chris Rock.
Summer may be the offseason for the ski slopes, but Wisp Resort in Western Maryland sees an advantage in that. The resort sees far fewer visitors over the summer than the state's beaches, said Wisp spokeswoman Lori Zaloga, but that's a draw for many people.
"We might have a little traffic, but a little traffic to us might be six cars, as opposed to 600," she said. "You hear the bugs and not the buzz of the city. It's why I live here."
For those who opt for the mountains instead of the beach, Wisp offers a man-made mountaintop river for whitewater rafting and kayaking, canopy tours and zip lines, a mountain coaster, Segway tours, trails for hiking or biking, water sports on Deep Creek Lake and, of course, golf — with both little white balls and discs.
"Summer at Wisp is cool and less humid," Zaloga said. "It's as exciting as you want or as relaxing as you want."
The rise of social media has made a vacation's so-called Instagram potential a new consideration for younger travelers, and taking shorter trips to more destinations serves that purpose more than an extended stay in one place, Saglie said.
"A generation ago we were more into seven-night trips," he said. "Being able to travel one, two, three nights and being able to tout an amazing experience is very appealing to that sector of the population."
But millennial travelers aren't the only ones driving the change in vacation habits. Many parents looking to schedule a family trip amid camps, youth sports, summer jobs and other activities struggle to find a week where everyone's schedules align enough to take a long trip, Saglie said.
Ocean City has begun offering soccer camps with former Baltimore Blast player and coach Bobby Avan and a junior beach patrol program to entice parents to bring their kids to camp at the beach, Meehan said.
The rise of the long-weekend getaway adds more value to the summer's three big travel holidays in Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Memorial Day weekend alone is expected to bring 280,000 visitors to Ocean City's beaches, the mayor said. Nearly 834,000 Marylanders will travel this weekend, according to projections by AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA's forecast represents a 2.3 percent increase in travel, the biggest in more than a decade, mirroring a national trend. Of those getting away, 88 percent of them will drive, the auto club said.
While the trend of summertime weekend vacations is strong, the notion of a full week at the beach or in the mountains hasn't lost its luster for many people who have the money and time off available, said Ragina Cooper Averella, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman.
"For holiday weekends and throughout the summer, there's that population of people who like extended weekends, whether it includes a holiday or not," Cooper Averella said. "I think it depends on the person and their lifestyle. I personally like to do a little bit of both."
For those looking to get away on one of the popular travel weekends, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council studies the best and worst times for traffic. If you're heading across the Bay Bridge this weekend, the analysts recommend leaving either before 11 a.m. or after 10 p.m. to avoid the worst traffic. Another important factor: which day you drive.
"If you're going to take a three-day weekend, take a day on the back end," Ed Stylc, a travel analyst at the council. "Extend it after the holiday. Everybody on a standard weekend is leaving Sunday. If you can leave Monday, you're going to be a lot better off."
Low gas prices also will encourage spur-of-the-moment weekend trips, said Victor Henry, a travel analyst manager at the council.
"People are definitely going to want to take advantage of the ability to drive somewhere instead of flying," he said.
Mike Dorsey's wistful for quick weekend away. His family once spent a whole summer doing just that, driving from their home in Catonsville every week on Friday for long weekends at a beach house in Rehoboth, returning Monday. The weekly getaways didn't conflict with many weekday obligations, and they avoided most traffic.
They've since sold the Rehoboth house and go to South Carolina for longer vacations.
"That was probably one of the greatest summers of all time," the 58-year-old teacher said. "The dumbest thing I ever did was get rid of that place. We had a lot of three-day weekends there."
Dontay Bessick, 20, also of Catonsville, said he expects to make a few trips this summer, but likely none longer than a few days.
First up: a motorcycle rally in New Jersey. Then he anticipates a few long weekend trips to Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., and Ocean City. He doesn't have dates nailed down for those yet.