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Experts predict rise in Thanksgiving travel

In the coming days, many Americans will be preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, the travel experts at AAA predict more people will be traveling than last, and we could see some of the highest numbers of travelers since 2000. 

AAA predicts 55.4 million travelers will go 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday from Wednesday, November 22 to Sunday, November 26.  That is an increase of 2.3% over last year and marks the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000. Higher travel predictions were seen in 2005 and 2019, respectively. 

Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a recent press release that “travel demand has been strong all year, and AAA’s Thanksgiving forecast reflects that continued desire to get away and spend time with loved ones.” 

According to the AAA predictions, all methods of travel are expected to rise this year — 49.1 million Americans will travel by car, an increase of 1.7% compared to 2022.  

While more drivers are expected, they will likely be paying less for gas. The national gas price average last Thanksgiving was $3.58. As of Friday, AAA shows the national average was $3.33 and falling. In West Virginia, the average price per gallon on Friday was $3.24 and heading down. 

The travel experts also estimate about 4.7 million people will fly over Thanksgiving, which is an increase of 6.6% compared to 2022 and the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005.  

While you may pay less for gas to get to the airport, AAA says the average price for a domestic flight in November and December is $681 – up 5% from 2022. However, international flights are down 5.7% from last year, averaging $1,231. 

Ahead of the holiday, Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the busiest air travel days and also the most expensive. While Sunday is typically the busiest day to return home, AAA data shows Monday is also a popular day to fly back after Thanksgiving. 

On the rebound from the pandemic, AAA predicts the number of people traveling by cruise, bus, and train over Thanksgiving will be up nearly 11% over last year with 1.55 million travelers expected to leave home using these methods of transportation.  

“The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback,” Twidale said. “Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea.” 

For the majority of traveling Americans who will be behind the wheel this holiday, heavy traffic could slow down your trip, particularly for those headed to or through major cities and other urban areas. 

Transportation data and insights provider INRIX expects the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 22, to be the busiest day on the roads. 

“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.” 

INRIX advises travel times in some metro areas could be as high as 80% over normal. Those leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. have the best chance of avoiding holiday congestion. 

If you plan to drive, the American Red Cross also offers tips to help keep you safe. 

They advise before traveling to make sure your car is in good condition for a road trip and pack an emergency preparedness kit with supplies and a first aid kit in your vehicle. 

Be sure to share travel plans with a family member or friend and check the weather before departing and along your route so you can plan for travel around any storms that may be coming. 

Anyone driving should be well rested and alert, follow the rules of the road, use caution in work zones, and give their full attention to the road, avoiding distractions like cell phones. 

During long trips, the Red Cross also says to make frequent stops and rotate drivers. If you are alone or everyone is too tired to drive, stop and get some rest. 

If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible and, of course, buckle up, slow down and don’t drive impaired.