Holiday Travel Forecast

by Gwen Newell

There’s no doubt holidays this year will include a few, if not many, changes in how we choose to celebrate. With the recent surge of positive COVID cases across the United States, AAA forecasts a significant cutback on holiday travel with fewer Americans projected to take trips this holiday amid the pandemic. Health concerns and travel restrictions are two factors that play a major role in what is expected to be the lowest holiday travel volume in four years, and the largest yearly decline since the Great Recession.

AAA forecasts at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, a decline in travel of at least 29% – although as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3.

In North Carolina, the total number of projected holiday travelers is down nearly 30% – a decline of almost 1.1 million travelers and a significant cutback compared to 2019. South Carolina’s decline is roughly 480,000 travelers compared to 2019.

For those who make the personal decision to travel for the holiday, it is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to the CDC guidelines, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.

What to Know Before You Go

  • Plan Ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last minute surprises.
  • Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining. For added peace of mind, visit AAA.com/Travel to search AAA Diamond-rated properties that earned AAA’s Best of Housekeeping Awards.
  • Car Rentals. If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.
  • Helpful AAA Resources. Visit AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions.

Road Trips Top Holiday Travel Plans

Those who decide to travel are likely to drive shorter distances and reduce the number of days they are away. This makes road trips the dominant form of travel this holiday.

Road Trip Advice

AAA reminds those hitting the road to plan their route ahead. To minimize the number of stops along the way, pack meals, extra snacks and drinks in addition to an emergency roadside kit.

Before you head out, be sure your vehicle is ready for the trip to avoid a breakdown along the way. AAA makes it easy to request assistance – by phone, app or online – and members can track the service technician’s progress as they make their way to your vehicle.

Road Trippers to Find Lower Gas Prices this Year

Those who decide to hit the road for the holiday will find cheaper gas prices than last year. On average, US gas prices are nearly 50 cents lower than last Christmas.

AAA members can fill up for even less at Shell stations when they join the Fuel Rewards® program at AAA.com/Shell now through Dec. 31. In addition to the five cents per gallon everyday offer, members will receive an additional 10 cents off per gallon on their first three fill-ups after joining for the first time as a Fuel Rewards® member, for a total savings of 15 cents.

Additionally, while the decision to travel is personal one, the CDC states that staying home is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. For those who still decide to travel, AAA urges you to take every precaution to protect yourself and others. Preparation is key.

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