published Friday, December 20th, 2013

Holiday travel expected to reach all-time high

Traffic, including a festively decorated Suzuki, is seen backed up on the Shallowford Road I-75 overpass around 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Traffic, including a festively decorated Suzuki, is seen backed up on the Shallowford Road I-75 overpass around 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL BY THE NUMBERS

94.5 million - Travelers who will go more than 50 miles

85.8 million - Travelers who will drive

3.76 million - Travelers who will be rescued by AAA

805 - Average miles traveled

74 - percent of travelers who will visit friends or relatives

3 - percent of travelers who won't travel by plane or automobile

Source: American Automobile Association

In five days, Keri Todd will open presents with her family on Christmas morning — and then she'll pack everyone up and drive to Atlanta for breakfast with her 90-something grandfather.

"A very late breakfast," she admitted. "As long as he is still around, we always go to my granddad's for Christmas."

She's one of 2 million Tennesseans who will roadtrip more than 50 miles from home this holiday season, as the number of nationwide holiday travelers is expected to creep up to 94.5 million this year. That's the highest volume ever recorded for the year-end holiday, according to the American Automobile Association. But it's still just 0.6 percent higher than last year's travel between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1.

The gains are a bit stronger in Tennessee, said Don Lindsey Tennessee public affairs director for AAA.

"We're expecting actually a record year for Tennessee," he said. "We haven't seen these numbers in the 10 or 12 years we've been doing this. People are more confident. When you feel you can come back to a job that's still there or come back from a nice trip and still pay the mortgage, you're much more likely to take that trip."

About 91 percent of U.S. travelers will drive, while about six percent of travelers will fly, according to the AAA. The average holiday traveler will spend about $765 this year, a slight increase over last year's spending.

In the Chattanooga region, drivers may be able to save a few bucks on gas this year -- Chattanooga regional gas prices have dropped by about 5 cents in the last week, according to the gas-tracking website GasBuddy.

But that little dip most likely won't have a large impact on holiday travelers, said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.

"I don't think that drop alone is going to be anything that makes a difference," he said. "We certainly know that some households are very sensitive to fuel price fluctuations, but the good news is between now and the end of the calendar year, we expect these prices could still come down -- we could see some incremental, nominal decline through the end of the year."

Todd said gas prices never influence whether the family visits her grandfather or not. It's a established tradition.

"I'm glad they're low, it makes me happy, but it doesn't change things," she said.

With about 86 million drivers on the road during the holidays, it's important to expect extra traffic congestion, Lindsey said.

"We need to mentally adjust to the idea that there will be a lot more people out there, that there could be delays, and try to keep in mind what the season is all about," he said. "Frustration leads to risk taking, risk taking leads to road rage, road rage can lead to crashes. And when that happens, the holiday is ruined."

He added that travelers should try to ensure their vehicles are up-to-date on their maintenance schedules, and should doublecheck that tires, windshield wipers, headlights and batteries are in good shape before hitting the road.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury joined the Times Free Press as a business reporter in January 2013, after starting with the paper as a general assignment intern in July 2012. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint Hill Times. Outside the newsroom, Shelly enjoys ...

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