More Southern Californians will travel over this Christmas-New Year’s holiday than for any holiday since 2001, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California’s holiday travel forecast. More than 7.57 million Southland residents – and nearly 12.2 million statewide – are expected to travel 50 miles or more during the holiday travel period of Dec. 23 through Jan. 4. That’s an increase of 3.2 percent over 2013.
Eighty-nine percent of travelers, or 6.72 million Southern Californians and 10.82 million statewide, will travel by car to their destinations – a 3.4 percent increase from last year. More than 597,000 local residents and 961,000 Californians are expected to fly, which is a 0.5 percent increase over 2013.
Nationally, travel is also projected to set a record for this holiday period with 98.6 million travelers, an increase of 4 percent over last year’s Christmas-New Year holiday.
AAA is projecting an increase in holiday travelers because of greater household net worth, increased disposable income and a lower unemployment rate. Lower gas prices are also making getaways more affordable.
“Historically, the year-end holiday period is the most popular holiday time of the year for vacations, and even during the recession years, we saw relatively small declines in the number of travelers because of their priority to visit friends and family,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services. “This year, in addition to a new record number of travelers, we are also experiencing increased interest in getaways that allow families and friends to spend time together in a vacation destination.”
With the vast majority of travelers going by car, sharply lower gas prices will provide more money in their budgets for other travel spending. Regular unleaded now costs nearly 80 cents less per gallon than at this time last year, saving motorists $10 to $12 per typical fill-up. The last time that year-end holiday travelers in Southern California paid less than $3 a gallon for gasoline was in 2009.
AAA’s analysis of average hotel, air and car rental expenses for this year’s holiday shows that hotels and car rentals are about 4 percent more expensive this year than last year, while airfares are down an average of 7 percent.
The most popular destinations for Southern Californians over this Christmas-New Year holiday, according to a poll of Auto Club AAA Travel agents, are:
1) Las Vegas
2) San Francisco
3) San Diego
4) Grand Canyon
The top air destination is Hawaii.
While year-end holiday travel will be spread out over a number of days, the Auto Club advises travelers that local freeways beginning this weekend will likely be more congested with holiday travelers. And air travelers should plan to arrive extra early at the airport (two hours ahead for domestic flights) to ensure they have enough time to get through security.
Tips from the Auto Club to cope with holiday traffic and long trips include:
- Don't expect unclogged freeways, especially if you leave during the day and must travel along a popular route out of town. By adjusting your attitude to expect delays, you won't get as stressed out if you run into traffic.
- Call the California Highway Information Number at 800-427-7623, listen to local news traffic updates, or use real-time traffic maps on your computer before you leave, so you can know what to expect and choose the route that is best for you. Have a passenger use a real-time traffic app that can reroute you in case of a big backup.
- Leave an hour or even several hours ahead of when you would normally leave to drive somewhere if you must travel during peak periods. That will alleviate the stress of thinking you will not arrive in time.
- If traffic is really congested and your schedule allows, particularly if traveling with children, pull off the road and take a break. Stop at a restaurant or a park so everyone can stretch their legs.
- Don't text, read or otherwise manipulate electronic devices in a way that forces your eyes off the road and could cause a crash.
- Closely monitor the weather on travel days and dress appropriately. California has been receiving more rain this winter than in recent years, so road conditions may be more hazardous.
The year-end holiday forecast was conducted by IHS Global Insight on behalf of AAA. Historical travel data is provided by DK Shifflet, the world’s most comprehensive consumer travel measurement provider.