AAA expects New York traffic to be nearly three times heavier the evening after Christmas. (Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP)
Santa isn’t the only one in need of a holiday travel plan.
A record number of Americans decided to venture away from home this holiday season, according to the American Automobile Association, which estimates that 115.6 million will travel by car, plane, train, bus or cruise from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1. (Sadly, they didn’t provide any statistics on travel by one-horse open sleigh.)
That makes for 4.3 million more than last year and the most since AAA began recording numbers 19 years ago.
Here’s the breakdown on the most wonderful times to travel this holiday season – and which days and times fall under the naughty list.
Avoid driving Thursday evening
Post-Christmas travel will make for the least holly jolly time for those driving, according to INRIX, a global transportation analytics company that partners with AAA to compile holiday travel data.
Traffic jams are likely to peak on Thursday, Dec. 26, from about 4 to 6 p.m., when major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington could see delays up to three times longer than usual travel times.
“With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience only incremental delays throughout the week,” INRIX transportation analyst Trevor Reed said in a news release. “Although congestion will be lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season.”
Seattle, Boston and Houston are likely to see their worst road congestion the following evening, Friday, Dec. 27. INRIX expects to see traffic in those cities running 1.2 to 1.8 times heavier than usual from 4 to 6 p.m.
Bottom line: If you’re traveling for Christmas or Hanukkah (this year from Dec. 22 to Dec. 30) you may want to consider heading home a day or two after opening gifts.
Did reading that sap a bit of your holiday spirit? Well, here’s the good news: Gas prices, which have declined since last month, are expected to continue to drop this month, AAA says.
Airports will be packed leading up to Christmas
The days leading up to Christmas will be busy ones at the airport, and Sunday, Dec. 22, leads the pack. AAA predicts the 21st and 23rd will follow closely behind in volume.
The New Year’s crowds will be a doozy, too. TripAdvisor projects 44% of holiday travelers will fly on or right after Dec. 30.
Pro tip for those looking to book last-minute flights: For cheaper alternatives, AAA recommends taking flights on Christmas Eve, when tickets are cheaper, averaging $527. The day after Christmas nabs the highest average price of the week at $692.
Flying south for the winter
Warmer cities, unsurprisingly, make up a majority of the top destinations, according to AAA travel bookings. Several of the top 10 cities are repeats from their list of preferred Thanksgiving weekend destinations, including Anaheim, California (home to Disneyland); Honolulu and Maui, Hawaii; Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Four of the top 10 cities are in Florida: Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa. Just one cold-weather favorite made the list: New York City.
International travelers also look for warmer getaways: Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Los Cabos, Mexico; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, make up the top five destinations outside the USA.
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