(The Center Square) –In spite of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders, Illinoisans grabbed their keys and hit the road over Memorial Day weekend in numbers not seen since before the pandemic reached Illinois.

Marketing firm Arrivalist uses cellular location data to track movements of people outside of their normal activity. The company's Daily Travel Index takes the anonymized data and filters it to exclude everyday work commutes, plane flights, and over-the-road truck drivers. 

Illinoisans took trips of at least 100 miles at rates as high as they did in February, before the governor's stay-at-home order, even exceeding the year’s spring break weekend level of travel. 

“Seeing those spikes in those mid-range and longer trips that really confirm what you see anecdotally in that people want to travel,” said Matt Clement, senior vice president of marketing at Arrivalist. 

“If it was open, people went,” he said.

Trips of at least 250 miles, more than enough for the majority of Illinoisans to cross a border into a state without lockdown orders, spiked 152 percent over the two weekends prior to the holiday. 

“Illinois is still pretty locked down,” Clement said. “That’s the story of the country right now. If you’re open during Memorial Day weekend then, very likely, you had a lot of visitors.” 

Businesses in Illinois’ bordering states that had reopened reported seeing spikes in Illinois-based customers.

Pritzker has repeatedly cautioned Illinoisans not to cross state lines, saying it could expose them to COVID-19, which could reintroduce it in the state.

Nationally, travelers in states still under shutdown orders appeared to do the same. Arrivalist found spikes in activity at popular tourist spots such as Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, for example, increased 18.2 percent over the same weekend in 2019. Crowded parties there made national news. 

Across the country, Arrivalist reported Memorial Day weekend had a 48.5% increase in travel compared to the previous weekend, the most significant increase in weekend-over-weekend road trips this year. This, Arrivalist said in a release, brings total road trip activity close to 2019 holiday travel levels.

“We’re seeing a volume of road trip activity we haven’t seen since early before the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Arrivalist Founder & CEO Cree Lawson said. “Travel patterns varied widely from place to place but the level of activity is reminiscent of previous spring break levels.”

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.