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AAA forecasts more than 53.4 million people expected to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday.

HUNTINGTON — Beth Combs of Bancroft says she will be traveling this Thanksgiving, but not very far.

“I will be going to my parents’ home in Charleston,” she said. “We are just having a small gathering this year.”

Combs’ just over 40-mile round trip is far short of the national average of just over 200 miles taken by travelers during the Thanksgiving holiday.

While rising vaccination rates against COVID-19 have increased travelers’ comfort levels, most Americans are still opting to stay home this holiday season, according to a new national survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association conducted by Morning Consult.

The survey found that 29% of Americans are likely to long-distance travel for Thanksgiving — an increase from 21% compared to 2020.

AAA, however, says while it’s less than pre-pandemic levels, more than 53.4 million people expected to travel, the highest single-year increase since 2005.

“This Thanksgiving, people are ready to get back to traveling,” Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central, said in a release about AAA’s travel forecast. “With restrictions being lifted and travel more accessible than in 2020, making new holiday memories with family and friends is once again a priority for Americans.”

AAA is predicting Thanksgiving holiday travel to increase as much as 13% from 2020.

“This brings travel volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with air travel almost completely recovering from its dramatic fall during the pandemic, up 80% over last year,” the forecast said. “As restrictions continue to lift and consumer confidence builds, AAA urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.”

With 6.4 million more Americans traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers, AAA says people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded.

“Despite gas costing more than a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of travel,” AAA said. “Before heading out, motorists should ensure their vehicles are road trip-ready to avoid a breakdown along the way.”

AAA expects to rescue more than 400,000 Americans at the roadside this Thanksgiving.

“Motorists should take their vehicles to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out on a road trip” AAA advised.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel, saying that the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.

Fred Pace is the business reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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