Car travel won't see a huge drop this Thanksgiving, with AAA expecting to rescue 413,000 US drivers roadside

  • Travel rates this Thanksgiving will be down across the board, but those who elect to travel will largely do it by driving, according to AAA.
  • Traffic and road congestion will be lighter than in years previous, but those in urban areas can expect heavier-than-normal delays in bottleneck areas.
  • Traffic in urban areas is expected to peak the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Traditionally, the days around Thanksgiving are the ones that would see some of the heaviest travel in the United States. But thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, travel will be a lot lighter this year.

With positive COVID-19 cases on the rise and renewed, tighter quarantine restrictions, AAA believes anticipates at least a 10% decrease in travel from 2019 — the "largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008," it said.

AAA predicts that all forms of travel — whether via cars, planes, buses, trains, and cruises — will decrease this year compared to last year. Bus, train, and cruise travel will fall from 1.5 million passengers last year to 353,000 this year, a 76.2% decrease; air travel will fall from 4.6 million passengers to 2.4 million, a 47.5% decrease; and car travel will dip slightly from 49.9 million to 47.8 million, a 4.3% decrease.

Road trips dominate

"Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health concerns and high unemployment, are impacting Americans' decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday," Julie Hall, AAA's public relations manager, told Business Insider. "Those who decide to travel are likely to drive shorter distances and reduce the number of days they are away, making road trips the dominant form of travel this Thanksgiving."

So if you're the type of dread holiday travel traffic, you can expect less of it this year.

But those living in major urban areas won't be so lucky. AAA projects increased delays at typical bottleneck areas of "up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels," Hall said, citing transportation analytics company Inrix's prediction that Wednesday afternoon will have the highest traffic volume.

Just be sure your car is travel ready so it won't break down on the way. AAA said it "expects to rescue more than 413,000 Americans at the roadside this Thanksgiving."

Know the risks

Knowing the risks involved is important to those choosing to travel this holiday. 

AAA highly recommends planning ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along the route you're planning on taking, and at your destination to find out about any potential restrictions that could be in effect.

And follow public health guidelines! Wear a mask consistently, follow social distancing protocols (at least six feet), and wash your hands regularly. Holidays can mean interstate travel and seeing relatives in close quarters, so it's worth bearing some caution in mind. Bring extra face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer so you can monitor your health.

If you're staying in a hotel, AAA recommends calling ahead to make sure it's open. Ask what precautions it is taking to protect guests, find out what the social distancing rules are, see if there are any capacity restrictions in common spaces, and ask if hotel staffers are required to wear masks at all times.

"Also be sure to understand what amenities are and are not available to guests — room service, fitness center, restaurants, et cetera," Hall said. "For extra peace of mind, wipe down surfaces using disinfecting wipes. In a hotel, that includes door handles, remotes, faucets and light switches."

If you are renting a car, be sure to ask the company what it's done to clean and disinfect the car between customers. And — just to be extra safe — wipe down high-touch areas such as door handles, steering wheels, shifters, control panels, and keys yourself with disinfecting wipes.

There is a silver lining through all this though: Those driving will experience cheaper gas prices.

"On average, gas prices nationally are nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year, with October averages the lowest in more than 15 years," AAA said.

For a complete guide on how to road trip during COVID-19, see Business Insider's previous coverage.

To see AAA's full study, click here.

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