Over 55 Million Americans Set to Travel for Thanksgiving Holiday

Top 3 Thanksgiving Travel Destinations In 2023 Are All Florida Cities


Based on new AAA research, 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period. This year’s Thanksgiving forecast is an increase of 2.3% over last year and marks the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000. The top two years were 2005 and 2019, respectively.

“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “Travel demand has been strong all year, and AAA’s Thanksgiving forecast reflects that continued desire to get away and spend time with loved ones.”

Most Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destinations. AAA projects 49.1 million Americans will get behind the wheel, an increase of 1.7% compared to 2022. Drivers could be paying less for gas than last Thanksgiving when the national average was $3.58. This year, the national average peaked in mid-August at $3.87 and has been coming down since, despite global tensions causing ripples through the oil market.

AAA expects 4.7 million people will fly over Thanksgiving, an increase of 6.6% compared to 2022 and the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005. Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the busiest air travel days ahead of the holiday and the most expensive. While Sunday is typically the busiest day to return home, AAA data shows Monday is also a popular day to fly back after Thanksgiving.

The number of people traveling by cruise, bus, and train over Thanksgiving is up nearly 11% over last year. AAA expects 1.55 million travelers will head out of town using these other modes of transportation, which took a huge hit during the pandemic but have rebounded nicely. “The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback,” Twidale added. “Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea.”

Best/Worst Times to Drive and Peak Congestion by Metro

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, expects Wednesday, November 22, to be the busiest day on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, with average travel times as high as 80% over normal in some metro areas. INRIX recommends leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.

“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.

“Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.”

Top Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Destinations

Warm weather destinations, theme parks, tourist attractions, historic sites, and cruise port cities across Florida top the list of domestic as 2 cities in Mexico top international destinations this holiday season.

The top three U.S. destinations this 2023 Thanksgiving weekend include Orlando, followed by Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Top international travel destinations by Americans this Thanksgiving holiday season include Cancun and Mexico City.

According to recent AAA research, a staggering 55.4 million travelers are anticipated to embark on journeys of 50 miles or more from their homes during the Thanksgiving holiday period. This year’s Thanksgiving travel forecast demonstrates a notable increase of 2.3% compared to the previous year, positioning it as the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA commenced tracking holiday travel data in 2000. The top two years were recorded in 2005 and 2019, respectively.

Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel, emphasized the intrinsic connection between Thanksgiving and travel for many Americans. She noted, “For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022.”

Twidale attributed this surge in travel demand to a consistent desire among individuals to reconnect with loved ones and indulge in leisure activities throughout the year.

The primary mode of transportation for Thanksgiving travelers continues to be driving, with AAA projecting that 49.1 million Americans will opt to hit the road, marking a 1.7% increase from the previous year.

Notably, travelers may find relief in lower gas prices compared to last Thanksgiving, when the national average stood at $3.58 per gallon. Despite global tensions affecting the oil market, the national average has gradually declined since peaking at $3.87 per gallon in mid-August.

Additionally, AAA anticipates a significant uptick in air travel, with 4.7 million individuals expected to take to the skies during the Thanksgiving period. This reflects a notable increase of 6.6% compared to the previous year and represents the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005.

Preceding the holiday, Tuesday and Wednesday are projected to be the busiest days for air travel, with higher ticket prices. While Sunday typically marks the busiest day for return flights, AAA data indicates that Monday is also a popular choice for travelers heading back home after Thanksgiving.

Furthermore, there has been a notable resurgence in alternative modes of transportation such as cruises, buses, and trains, with an increase of nearly 11% compared to the previous year.

AAA estimates that 1.55 million travelers will opt for these modes of transportation, which experienced significant setbacks during the pandemic but have since experienced a remarkable rebound. Twidale highlighted the resurgence of the cruise industry, noting that Thanksgiving cruises are in high demand, with many travelers seeking to spend the holiday at sea.

In summary, the AAA Thanksgiving travel forecast underscores the resilience and enduring appeal of holiday travel, with Americans eager to reunite with loved ones and explore various destinations.

Whether by road, air, or sea, Thanksgiving travelers are poised to embark on journeys that promise memorable experiences and cherished moments with family and friends.

Optimal and Suboptimal Travel Times and Metro Congestion Patterns

According to INRIX, a transportation data and insights provider, the day preceding Thanksgiving, November 22nd, is anticipated to witness the most significant traffic congestion during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

In select metropolitan areas, average travel durations may surge to 80% above the normal rates. INRIX advises commuters to plan their travels for the morning hours or after 6 p.m. to circumvent the peak holiday congestion.

Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, remarked, “The day prior to Thanksgiving is notorious for experiencing heightened traffic volumes on our road networks. Travelers should brace themselves for prolonged delays, especially in and around major metropolitan regions.

” He added, “Awareness of the timing and locations where congestion is likely to develop can aid in mitigating frustrations associated with holiday traffic. We encourage drivers to leverage traffic applications, notifications from local Departments of Transportation (DOT), and 511 services for real-time updates.”

Top Destinations for Thanksgiving Holiday Travel

Among domestic destinations, warm climate locales, theme parks, tourist attractions, historic landmarks, and cities with cruise ports in Florida dominate the list this holiday season.

For international travel, two cities in Mexico emerge as the favored destinations for Americans during Thanksgiving.

Orlando ranks as the top U.S. destination for Thanksgiving weekend travel in 2023, followed by Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Cancun and Mexico City secure the top positions as international travel destinations for Americans during the Thanksgiving holiday season.

Clare Trapasso
Clare Trapasso
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