Fewer Americans will be traveling this year to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. The downturn is laid at the feet of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not only raised health concerns about traveling but also led to fewer Americans being employed this year and less able or willing to spend on travel.
According to AAA, the number of Americans who plan to travel for the holiday this year will reach about 50.5 million, down from more than 56 million last year. That total represents the largest traveler decline since the Great Recession and follows 11 years of continuously rising travel volume.
Research firm IHS Markit, which conducts the annual survey for AAA, estimates that 47.8 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of 4.3% year over year. Air travel is forecast to fall by nearly half (47.5%) to 2.4 million, while other forms of travel (buses, trains and cruise ships) face a decline of more than 76%.
The decline in Thanksgiving holiday air travel is the largest year-over-year decline on record, and the vast majority of the decrease in other forms of travel is due to the ban on cruise ship sailings.
One positive note for auto travelers is lower prices for gasoline. According to AAA, gas prices average about 50 cents a gallon less than at this time last year.
AAA recommends that travelers take several precautionary steps to ensure a safe trip. First, plan ahead by checking with local authorities at planned destinations to learn about what’s going on with the pandemic and if there are any local restrictions on visitors.
Second, follow public health guidance by always wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing and frequent handwashing to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19. Travelers should pack disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer along with extra water and snacks to minimize stops along the way.
Third, call ahead to hotels and car rental firms to ask about steps the businesses have taken to protect customers. At hotels, find out 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. Ask auto rental firms what they have done to clean the vehicle and use personal disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.
AAA expects some 413,000 calls for assistance from motorists. To keep from being among that number, make sure your vehicle is in good repair and ready for the trip.