More than 103 million Americans—32 percent of the U.S. population and the most on record—are expected to travel for the year-end holidays, according to AAA. This represents 1.5 million more than last year despite one less travel day for the holiday season, which is defined as Friday, Dec. 23, to Monday, Jan. 2.
The increase is due to an improved labor market, rising wages and increased consumer spending. While gas prices are higher this year, $2.22 per gallon nationwide average compared to $2.01 in 2015, gas is still relatively cheap and helping to motivate lots of drivers to take a trip.
“The one-horse open sleigh has been abandoned for the private motor vehicle for the vast majority of those heading out for the festive season,” said Robert Sinclair, Jr., manager of media relations for AAA Northeast. Automobile trips will account for 91 percent of holiday travelers, 93.6 million, up 1.5 percent compared to last year. More than six million will travel by air, up 2.5 percent, in spite of airfares 17 percent higher than last year. Those flying to Los Angeles from Chicago and Houston will see huge increases for their airfare, with a round-trip ticket up 545 percent and 255 percent respectively. Travel by other modes of transport (cruises, trains, buses) will decrease slightly, to 3.5 million travelers.
Travel won’t be so merry for nearly one million drivers over the holiday. AAA expects to rescue more than 980,000 motorists over the 11-day holiday travel period with the top reasons for breakdowns: flat tires, dead batteries and lockouts. To help avoid trouble, drivers should have their vehicles inspected by a trusted repair shop before heading out for their trip.
With large parts of the country in the grip of severe winter weather, including snow and ice, AAA recommends some key behind-the-wheel tips, including driving more slowly, increasing following distances, and steering and braking gently on slippery roads to help prevent losing control. Drivers should carry an emergency kit containing a snow shovel, flashlight, ice scraper, jumper cables, warning devices and extra warm clothing for everyone in the vehicle.