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Holiday Travel Surges: Second-Highest Number in Over Two Decades

As the year-end holiday season approaches, AAA predicts that Americans are gearing up for a significant surge in travel, marking the second-highest level in over two decades. The organization forecasts that 115.2 million people will embark on journeys of at least 50 miles away from their homes between December 23 and New Year’s Day, reflecting a 2.2% increase compared to the previous year.

This robust travel projection, while impressive, still falls short of the pre-COVID-19 pandemic record set in 2019, with 3.8 million fewer travelers this year. In 2019, a record-setting 119 million people traveled during the same holiday period.

“This year-end holiday forecast, with an additional 2.5 million travelers compared to last year, mirrors what AAA Travel has been observing throughout 2023. More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places,” noted Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel.

AAA anticipates that winter holiday travel across various modes of transportation—planes, buses, trains, and cruises—will surpass the record levels seen in 2019. Approximately 7.5 million people are expected to take flights during the holiday period, potentially making airports the busiest they’ve been in the 10-day timeframe since 2000. In comparison, 7.33 million people flew during the same period in 2019.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has observed an “increased travel volume” around Thanksgiving, anticipating a similar uptick leading up to the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Travel by buses, trains, and cruises is expected to see a substantial 10.7% annual increase, reaching over 4 million, representing a 4.1% growth compared to the 2019 figures.

In a continuation of the trend observed during Thanksgiving, the majority of holiday travelers—almost 104 million—are expected to opt for car travel, making it the preferred mode of transportation. Only 2019, when 108 million people drove for the holidays, surpasses this year’s projection.

As AAA releases these predictions, it aligns with the trend observed during Thanksgiving, where the travel period saw the “third-highest” levels since 2000. The resilience of travel enthusiasm despite challenges indicates a strong desire among Americans to reunite with loved ones and explore new destinations during the festive season.

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