Business & Economy

Labor Day 2015: Lots of travel, low gas prices, how to throw a BBQ and more

Monkey Business Images/iStockphoto.com

September is here, and so is one of the biggest travel days of the year: Labor Day. About 2.5 million Southern Californians (4 million Californians total) will hit the road to check off their last-minute summer travel destinations.

It makes sense — lots of people have the day off, including most public employees, like garbagemen (your garbage pickup will be delayed), mailmen (your mail delivery will be delayed) and non-essential government employees (the running of certain parts of your government will be delayed).

The number of people traveling is a percent higher than last year, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. This year the state is also expected to see the lowest gas prices in years.

Here's what all that means for you:

You can definitely expect traffic

Especially if you're headed out of state to places like Nevada or Arizona. Interstate freeways 10, 15 and 40 will have reduced lanes due to construction.

"People like to use the 40 to go out to Laughlin and to the river, to Havasu," said  Terri Kasinga, Caltrans chief of public affairs. "This is the last summer weekend of the year that people get time off. ... The I-10 is another widely used freeway for those who head out to places like Arizona. 

"There is a chance that we're going to see up to a four-hour delay on Monday coming back to the state on the westbound direction on both the 40 and the 10," said Kasinga. "And then again on the southbound direction on Monday."

If you plan to return home on Monday, before noon or after 8 p.m. is probably the best time to avoid most traffic, Kasinga said.

Heavy flow is also expected on the Cajon Pass on Friday coming southbound on the 15, entering the Inland Empire from the High Desert, Kasinga said. "We're estimating about 7,ooo vehicles an hour starting at about 1 p.m., continuing in the evening," she said. Four lanes will be open.

Caltrans suggests the following tips to make the rides a bit better:

  • Travel early morning – before 10 a.m. all weekend through Monday
  • Bring water
  • Bring snacks and necessary medication
  • Have a full tank of gas
  • Make sure your car is in good running condition and that you've taken care of preventative maintenance
  • Bring a charged cell phone, with a car charger

If history is any guide, flights are likely to be packed as well. Get an early start and check our guide on what to do if your flight gets delayed over the Labor Day weekend.

The bright side: Lowest gas prices in 5 years

This year, gas prices are expected to be the lowest in five years in several areas.

"We've had another week of double digit declines in gas prices — good news for holiday drivers," said Marie Montgomery, spokesperson for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "Today's average price in the L.A. area is $3.52 a gallon, and that's 10 cents less than this time last week," Montgomery said Thursday.

Oil prices have hit record-breaking lows nationally, which helps bring down gas prices locally, even though some areas continue to be higher than average.

"Most drivers will be paying about 30 to 40 cents less a gallon than this time last year," Montgomery said. 

If Californians head out of state — especially to popular destinations like Arizona or Las Vegas — they'll see much lower prices, she said.  

So where are most SoCal residents heading this weekend?

These are the top five destinations, according to the Auto Club:

  1. San Diego
  2. Las Vegas
  3. San Francisco
  4. Central Coast
  5. Grand Canyon

How to throw a barbecue if you're staying home, and fun facts for if you're avoiding everything

Not everyone is hitting the road — plenty of people stay home or head to a friend's house for a Labor Day barbecue, for instance.

Back in 2007, L.A. Times food writer Russ Parsons gave KPCC's Off-Ramp the secrets to putting on an excellent barbecue: Remember why you're doing it, make the non-grill stuff ahead of time and only make things you know you can do. Sorry, fancy food fetishists.

"Why are you doing this? You're not doing this to show people what a wonderful cook you are. You're doing this to get people you like together, and break bread with them," Parsons said.

He also gave us the recipe for the perfect tri-tip steak — check it out at the link. (If you prefer a more flamboyant Labor Day fare, check out a few grill recipes from L.A. gourmands here).

Not hungry or interested in spending the weekend with other folks? May we tell you a little about the day's history?

The holiday dates back to 1882. Its origins are in dispute — you can find out more in our piece about 10 little-known Labor Day facts. but it's a day to honor the working person, with a strong tie to unions. Here are a couple tidbits to get you going: 

Have a great holiday! And if all else fails, remember to check Filmweek for some Labor Day cinematic picks.