CARLSBAD, CA — If you traveled last Thanksgiving during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic is going to look a lot different in Carlsbad this year, especially if you plan to make the trip by car. It’s also likely to cost you more to get to your destination.
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and U.S. borders reopen to fully vaccinated international travelers, more than 53.4 million people are expected to travel this Thanksgiving, according to this year’s travel forecast released this week by AAA. The prediction marks a 13 percent increase from 2020.
This year’s forecast also reflects the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travel since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
“Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a news release.
Carlsbad travelers should prepare for both roads and airports to be noticeably busier this year, according to the auto club.
While travel by car is expected to increase by 8 percent over 2020, air travel is predicted to increase by nearly 80 percent. Travel by bus or train is also expected to increase a staggering 262 percent.
Where are people traveling? AAA booking data reveals big cities and tropical destinations are topping travelers’ lists this Thanksgiving. And despite gas costing a dollar more per gallon than at this point last year, 90 percent of people still plan to travel by car.
Whether you plan to travel by plane, train or automobile, those doing so in major urban cities are likely to see increased delays in areas where traffic bottlenecks are already common.
The transportation analytics firm INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the worst congestion heading into the holiday weekend as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.
Major metro areas across the United States could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times. Drivers in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City are likely to experience more than three times the delays.
According to a survey of Auto Club travel advisors, San Diego is the top destination for Southern Californians, followed by Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Santa Barbara/Central Coast.
Travelers are also likely to run into some higher prices and other changes from last year. AAA recommends travelers book flights, car rentals, accommodations and other activities as early as possible, as prices are not expected to decrease as the holiday nears.
Traveling by air: Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA estimates that the average lowest airfare will cost about $132, about 27.3 percent less than last year. Those wanting to book last-minute travel will find the best fares about two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, but availability may be limited.
Hotels: The cost of a night’s stay at mid-range hotels has increased about 39 percent, with average nightly rates ranging between $137 and $172.
Car rentals: Daily car rental rates are averaging about $98, a 4 percent increase over last year.
Planning ahead can prevent a number of travel headaches, according to AAA:
- Arrive at the airport early so you’ll have plenty of time to get through longer TSA lines and other travel checkpoints. For domestic travel, AAA suggests 2 hours ahead of departure time and 3 hours for international travel.
- Consider booking a flight during non-peak travel periods to cut down on wait times.
- Hit the road when there’s less traffic and allow for extra time when traveling to your destination.
- Plan ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
- Minimize stops along the way. Pack meals, extra snacks and drinks in addition to an emergency roadside kit.
- Follow public health guidance. Use face masks and remember to socially distance. Wash your hands regularly and be sure to pack disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health.
- Check with your hotel. Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions it is taking and what requirements are in place to protect guests.
For other helpful travel guidance from AAA, visit the organization’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions. You can also use TripTik.AAA.com to plan your road trip and help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route.