Projecting travel for Thanksgiving

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One of the biggest holidays American celebrate (and it’s my fave, too) is Thanksgiving. But with all the turkey and trimmings laid out for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner comes something else, too – an enormous amount of travel across America, mainly by road.

That means traffic congestion – and this year, it seems, roadway volumes are only going to increase, albeit slightly.

AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association) projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday “weekend” – defined as running from Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25 – which is an increase of 0.7% over the 43.3 million people traveling during Thanksgiving back in 2011.

This increase marks the fourth consecutive year of growing holiday travelers since 2008 when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25% (no doubt due to the extra helping of “Great Recession” served along with the turkey that year).

Here are some other highlights from the 2012 AAA Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast:

  • Some 90% of Thanksgiving holiday travelers – roughly 39.1 million – will travel by automobile, an increase of 0.6% over 2011
  • Holiday air travel is expected to decline to 3.14 million travelers from 3.2 million in 2011
  • Median spending expected to drop 10% to $498, compared to $554 last year. Spending remains consistent with historic averages as Americans continue to prioritize travel while finding ways to economize
  • Average distance traveled is projected to decline 16.7% to 588 miles from 706 miles in 2011, due in part to a decrease in the number of air travelers and the desire to “economize” budgets, AAA’s survey reports

“While we do not yet know the full impact that Hurricane Sandy will have on travel from the Mid-Atlantic region, we do know that the impact for many Americans in that region is substantial,” noted AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet.

“Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” Darbelnet (at left) added. “But since that year we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets so they can gather around the holiday table to carve the turkey.”

AAA also estimates that the national average price of gasoline will drop to between $3.25 and $3.40 per gallon by the time the Thanksgiving holiday rolls in; a range similar to last year’s average of $3.32, which was the most expensive average ever on Thanksgiving.

Despite the historically high fuel prices paid by motorists this year, the national average has declined by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early October and should continue to drop through the end of the year, the group added. As an aside, AAA noted that the national average price of gasoline for Thanksgiving between 2007 and 2011 is about $2.75 per gallon.

Here’s a key factoid from AAA’s survey truckers should pay close attention to: Among those surveyed, the majority of Thanksgiving holiday travelers plan to leave the Wednesday before the holiday (45%) and return the following Sunday (36%) with another 25% expecting to return on Monday, Nov. 26.

All I can add is this: let’s hope all of those holiday journeys, no matter the mode or the distance, are completed safe and sound. 

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