More Americans opting to stay home this Thanksgiving

Families gathered round the table this Thanksgiving may be missing those who traditionally traveled from out-of-town. Fewer are planning to travel this holiday season mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing health concerns and financial woes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer Americans are planning to travel for Thanksgiving this year. AAA says it will be the largest decline since the Great Depression.

In its annual forecast, AAA projected that 50 million would travel this year nationwide, compared to 56 million last year, and only 2.76 million Floridians are expected take a trip.

And the numbers may go even lower due to recent surges in case counts, new restrictions being put in place and the potential for additional travel notices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“AAA acknowledges that the decision to travel is a personal one,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “The CDC says staying home is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. For those who still decide to travel, we urge you to take every precaution possible to protect yourself and others.”’

AAA has some different advice for those who are planning to take a trip this year.

First on the list is to check with state and local authorities along your route and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.

For example, people in Pinellas County are required to wear face masks in indoor places. AAA says you should know in advance what the requirements might be in places you will stop in as well as the final destination.

Travelers also are advised to wear a face mask regardless of requirements. They should practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly to minimize the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.

AAA advises travelers to pack plenty of face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer. In addition, also pack plenty of water and other drinks, as well as snacks to minimize the need to stop along the way.

If you plan to stay at a hotel, AAA advises that you call ahead to make sure it is open. Ask about what precautions are being done to protect guests, including face mask and social distancing requirements.

If renting a car, ask what is being done to clean the vehicle. Take extra disinfecting wipes and wipe down door handles, the steering wheel, gear shifter and control panels.

AAA says those that are planning to travel are likely to take shorter trips and reduce the numbers of days away from home. About 95% will travel by automobile

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Jenkins. “The majority of travelers will go by car, which provides more control over social distancing and flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

The highest volume of traffic will be Wednesday afternoon, according to AAA’s partner INRIX – the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Although traffic volume is expected to be less than in years’ past, travelers in major urban areas will experience increased delays at popular bottlenecks, up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels.

“Though fewer people will be traveling this Thanksgiving, we expect more holiday drivers than we had over the last few holidays during COVID-19,” said Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst at INRIX. “Drivers should plan alternate routes and departure times to avoid traffic jams."

On average, gas prices are about 50 cents lower than last Thanksgiving. On Nov. 19, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.12 compared to $2.60 on the same date in 2019. Floridians were paying 2.04 a gallon and the pump price in Pinellas was $2.

“Thanksgiving gas prices should remain lower than last year, but drivers shouldn’t be surprised if they inch higher in the coming weeks,” Jenkins said. “The fuel market is excited about the news of a possible coronavirus vaccine and the hope of an eventual return to normalcy. Crude oil and wholesale gasoline prices both increased this week, which should stop gas prices from falling much further.”

AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel volume will be nearly half of last year. At 2.4 million Americans, it would be the largest one-year decrease on record. AAA notes holiday airfares are the lowest in three years.

If flying, AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available. Also, as a precaution, those planning to fly are advised to wipe down their seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.

Travel by “other modes” also is forecast to hit record lows. Travel by bus, train or cruise is expected to decline by 76%.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Wednesday, Nov. 25, to Sunday, Nov. 29.