Record Travel Projected for Christmas, New Year’s Holidays

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As the Christmas song goes, “Gee, the traffic’s sure terrific.” In fact, travel experts say they believe the final holiday travel period of the year — Dec. 23 through midnight New Year’s night — will set a new record.

AAA Auto Club, in its annual forecast for Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel, says 107.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the period, with more than 90% of them driving to their destinations. Overall, travel is expected to be a 3.1% increase from the 104.2 U.S. travelers for the winter holidays last year.

If the prediction holds true, it will mark the ninth straight year in which Christmas/New Year’s travel has risen, and volume will be up by 21.6 million travelers — more than 25% — since the 2005 holiday period. It also would result in every major holiday travel period this year increasing from 2016 levels.

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“Overall, our research shows that Americans are doing better than last year and want to go somewhere for the holidays,” Vicky Evans, assistant vice president of AAA Travel, said. “Whether they are going home or visiting a new destination, Americans have more money to finance their travel plans, thanks to a stronger economy and growing consumer confidence.

“Depending on where your travels take you, consider using a travel agent to plan your final trip of the year. Of course, winter weather can be unpredictable and cause unexpected issues like flight delays or cancellations. If that happens to you, the right travel insurance plan will help offset out-of-pocket expenses.”

Of the 107.3 million expected U.S. travelers, 97.5 million will drive, up 3% from last year. About 6.4 million people will travel by air, a 4.1% increase and the fourth year of consecutive air travel volume increases. Those using “other” modes of travel — trains, buses and cruise ships — will increase by 2.2% to 3.6 million.

In Georgia, 3.1 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more, up 86,500, or 2.9%, from 2016. Another 171,000 Georgians will fly, an increase of 5,700 people, or 3.5%, while 114,000 of the state’s residents will use “other” modes, up 3,600 residents,, or 3.3%, from last year.

As for where people are planning to go, not everyone’s heading to grandma’s house. The top 10 destinations, according to AAA, are Orlando, Fla.; Anaheim, Calif.; Cancun, Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; Kahului (Maui), Hawaii; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Miami, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and New York, N.Y.

Last year, the AAA survey came in below real travel. The prediction that 103.1 million Americans would travel last year turned out to be 1.1 million travelers low.

AAA also noted there are times to avoid travel in major cities you might be visiting over the holiday period. The eighth-worst was in Atlanta 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. this Thursday, when delays will be 1.5 times normal. The worst travel time, the survey found, is 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday in New York City, when traffic will be snarled three times worse than normal.

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