AAA Expects 55.4 Million Americans to Travel for Thanksgiving

Group anticipates 3rd highest forecast since 2000, assisted by declining gas prices
Photograph: Shutterstock

About 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the 2023 Thanksgiving holiday travel period, AAA has predicted. 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.

Wednesday, Nov. 22, will 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, a provider of transportation data and insights, said.

  • Click here for expected peak congestion by metropolitan area, top holiday destinations and more.

“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.”

A Bird Too Far?

Separately, the average American is willing to embark on a 4.6-hour journey for a taste of home for Thanksgiving, according to a nationwide QuestionPro survey of 3,000 people conducted by Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based automobile dealer Gunther Mazda. Wyomingites, with their legendary spirit, top the charts, willing to drive an astonishing 14 hours to reunite with family and feast. Illinoisans, on the other hand, are prepared to travel 4.7 hours for home cooking this Thanksgiving. Contrastingly, Rhode Islanders show a preference for proximity, with a maximum travel threshold of one hour. When respondents were asked how far they would be prepared to travel for their in-laws' Thanksgiving cooking, the average respondent said 2 hours was the maximum travel time. 

As to what Thanksgiving dish motivates respondents to travel, 62% voted for the turkey, Pumpkin pie came in second at 24%. Stuffing enticed 10%, and 4% named sweet potato casserole.

The poll also revealed that Americans' favorite post-dinner pastimes include settling into the couch for some football, lining the streets for parades, sinking into a well-earned nap or mapping out the best routes for the Black Friday sales.

turkey travel

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