National News

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Posted December 14, 2017 9:41 p.m. EST

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.

The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other modes during the 10-day holiday period from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1. That's 3.2 million more people, an increase of 3.1 percent from last year.

Florida's numbers fall in line with the national trend: 5.6 million Floridians are expected to hit the road, an increase of 180,000 more residents or 3.3 percent over last year's figure.

"Overall, our research shows that Americans are doing better than last year and want to go somewhere for the holidays," AAA assistant vice president Vicky Evans said in a statement.

The number of Americans traveling has steadily increased for nine consecutive years now. It has also grown over major holiday weekends, with each Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving surpassing the last.

The biggest jump has come around Christmas and New Year's Day, which has seen 21.6 million more people traveling since 2005, a rise of 25 percent.

"Whether they are going home or visiting a new destination, Americans have more money to finance their travel plans, thanks to a stronger economy and growing consumer confidence," Evans said.

That will mean more traffic, however. The vast majority of those traveling Americans -- 97.4 million of them, or 91 percent of everyone traveling this holiday season -- are expected to drive to their destination.

Floridians, of course, will be among them. About 5 million residents will hit the road, which is about 161,000 or 3.3 percent more than last year.

As a result, drivers could experience trips up to three times longer than they'd normally be, according to transportation analytics company INRIX.

INRIX predicts that peak driving times will be the week before the holidays, Dec. 20 and 21, in the late afternoon when holiday drivers mix with those just leaving work.

While traffic is expected to get worse, drivers will at least get a reprieve at the gas pumps. The price of gas has dropped about $1 compared to prices in 2013. This year they should be on par with last year's prices, averaging around $2.40. Strong production and supply numbers could also cause prices to drop another 10 cents by the end of the year.

The next most popular mode of travel is flying. About 6.4 million will fly to their destinations, a 4.1 percent increase, or 250,000 more fliers. That is the highest number of people flying since 2004.

In Florida, 306,000 will travel by air, according to the AAA projection, an uptick of 12,000 people or 4 percent over last year. Air travelers are also getting a bit of a bonus this year: on average, airfare for holiday trips dropped about 20 percent from last year's prices, according to AAA.

More fliers, of course, means longer lines. Tampa International Airport suggests people arrive at least 90 minutes before their flight to account for the number of passengers coming through the airport this holiday season.

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.