Thanksgiving Travelers Have Lots of Company

If you plan on leaving home today to start your Thanksgiving holiday, you may find yourself driving slower than a float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The airports are no piece of pumpkin pie either -- today and Sunday are the two busiest days of the year.

No matter what your mode of transportation, try to make it there by dinnertime Thursday. The National Turkey Federation estimates that Americans will eat 45 million turkeys this Thanksgiving.

More Travelers Than Ever

For Thanksgiving this year, AAA predicts 37 million Americans will hit the road, which is up one percent over last year. And although it's just a marginal increase, McNaull says, the amount of travelers has never been bigger.

"We're not expecting any kind of letup, which is surprising to some, given the high gas prices," says Justin McNaull, an AAA spokesman.

High domestic airfares -- about 12 percent higher than last year -- didn't deter air travelers either, says Amy Ziff, editor-at-large at Travelocity, an online travel agency. AAA predicts that 4.5 million people will travel by plane this week.

"So many people have returned to travel," Ziff says. "This year, 2005, really marks a decisive travel increase and so we expect that and in fact are seeing that. Thanksgiving weekend is up about 4 to 5 percent increase over last year."

More people are taking nontraditional Thanksgiving vacations this week, too. Ziff says bookings both to Jamaica and to the British Virgin Islands have increased 30 percent compared to last year.

Hitting the Road

If you're stuck in traffic, remember your turkey probably had to travel a further distance to get to your plate than you do to get to your dinner. The average Thanksgiving long-distance trip (anything over 50 miles is considered long-distance) is 214 miles, according to the Department of Transportation. Sixty-five percent of all turkeys raised in the U.S. in 2005 came from Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Missouri and California, according to the USDA.

"On Wednesday after lunch, you get the 'get out of town rush' when you combine commuters, holiday travelers, and last-minute turkey shoppers," McNaull says. "If you can, leave earlier or later on Wednesday, or early on Thursday.

"Thanksgiving is the busiest day for long-distance drivers, but it's still a great day to drive because there aren't shoppers, commuters or commercial trucks on the road," he added.

Liz Curry and her boyfriend will drive from Hoboken, N.J., to Washington, D.C., to have Thanksgiving dinner with friends. In hope of missing some of the worst traffic, they plan to leave Hoboken after dinner on Wednesday night -- even though it means they won't make it to Washington before midnight.

"Traffic in New Jersey is bumper-to-bumper on Thanksgiving day and the day before," says Curry, a medical communications professional.

Anyone who hoped for empty roads because of high gas prices will be sorely disappointed. Americans won't trade tradition for a few bucks.

"The reality of Thanksgiving is that you're pretty much compelled to go to grandma's," McNaull says.

Although gas prices have been dropping steadily over the past few weeks, they are still $.32 higher than they were last year at his time.

"I'm not worried about gas prices particularly, since driving will still be cheaper than flying or taking the train," says Curry, who plans to fill her tank in New Jersey where gas prices are cheaper.

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