TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — ’Tis the season of holiday travel, but with it comes holiday traffic.
According to the American Automobile Association, 2022 is expected to be the third busiest year for holiday travel since AAA began tracking in 2000.
The association estimates 112.7 million people will trek 50 miles or more away from home between Dec. 23 to Jan. 2 — an increase of 3.6 million people over last year and closing in on pre-pandemic numbers.
“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s Senior Vice President of Travel. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”
AAA expects 102 million Americans to drive to their holiday destinations as gas prices are on track to drop below $3 per gallon by Christmas.
“This holiday season will see an additional 2 million drivers compared to 2021,” AAA said. “Travel by car this year is on par with 2018 but shy of 2019 when 108 million Americans drove out of town for the holidays, the highest year on record.”
Similarly, air travel will see a 14% increase over last year, as nearly 7.2 million Americans will take to the skies. Flights and airports are expected to be packed this holiday season, reminiscent of pre-pandemic days.
AAA expects the number of people taking holiday flights this year to come close to matching 2019 when 7.3 million Americans traveled by air.
“If the distance is not reasonable to drive, more people are taking to the air to maximize the time spent at their destination,” Twidale added. “Conversely, if the travel distances are reasonable and more than one or two people in the household are taking the trip, it may be more cost-effective to drive rather than buy multiple air tickets, rent a car, and spend too much money before the fun even begins.”
Other modes of transportation like buses, rail, and cruise ships are also rebounding in a big way. AAA estimates those methods of travel to rise to 3.6 million this holiday season — a 23% increase from last year and nearly 94% of 2019’s volume.
Best and worst times to travel by car
|Date||Worst travel time||Best travel time|
|12/23/22||4 -7 p.m.||Before 2 p.m., After 8 p.m.|
|12/24/22||12 – 6 p.m.||Before 11 a.m., After 7 p.m.|
|12/25/22||Minimal traffic expected|
|12/26/22||2 – 6 p.m.||Before 12 p.m., After 7 p.m.|
|12/27/22||3 – 7 p.m.||Before 2 p.m., After 8 p.m.|
|12/28/22||3 – 7 p.m.||Before 2 p.m., After 8 p.m.|
|12/29/22||3 – 7 p.m.||Before 2 p.m., After 8 p.m.|
|12/30/22||3 – 7 p.m.||Before 2 p.m., After 8 p.m.|
|12/31/22||Minimal traffic expected|
|1/1/23||Minimal traffic expected|
|1/2/23||4 – 7 p.m.||Before 3 p.m., After 8 p.m.|
“With pre-pandemic levels of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays in and around major metro areas, with Tuesday, December 27 expected to be the nation’s worst day to travel,” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours. If schedules allow, leave bright and early or after the afternoon commute.”
For purposes of AAA’s forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is the 11-day period from Friday, Dec. 23 to Monday, Jan. 2. The period is the same length as the 2021/2022 year-end travel period.