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Auto Club: SoCal Thanksgiving Travel Expected To Be Second- Busiest On Record, Almost To Pre-Pandemic Levels

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Photo by Roland Tanglao by/4.0/

Editors note: Visit for video soundbites of this news release from Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe.

Travel is continuing to rebound rapidly from the pandemic. The Automobile Club of Southern California projects that 4.4 million Southern Californians will take trips of at least 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving holiday period this year – a 16 percent increase from last year’s holiday. For Southern California, this will be the second-busiest Thanksgiving travel volume on record and just 3 percent less than the all-time record of 4.5 million local Thanksgiving travelers in 2019.

Nationwide, AAA is projecting this Thanksgiving to be the third-busiest on record, with 53.4 million travelers expected compared to 56 million in 2019 and 53.7 million in 2018.

Air travel and other modes of transportation such as cruises, buses and trains are seeing the sharpest increase in volume compared to last year, as more people feel comfortable using those forms of transportation with increased vaccinations.

Thanksgiving 2021

“This is a remarkable comeback for travel, especially considering that cruises and some other modes of transportation have only recently restarted,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services. “To help meet consumer demand, AAA is hiring travel advisors. We are also strongly recommending that people not wait to book trips in 2022 because there are deals and availability that are being offered now that will go fast.”  

Top Destinations

Nationally, AAA expects Anaheim to be the second-most popular destination for Thanksgiving travelers, with Orlando the most popular. According to a survey of Auto Club travel advisors, the top five destinations for Southern Californians are:

1) San Diego

2) Las Vegas

3) Grand Canyon

4) Yosemite

5) Santa Barbara/Central Coast

Gas Prices

Southern California travelers will be paying the highest gas prices ever for this time of year when they fill up for their holiday trips. With average gas prices above $4.50 a gallon in most local areas, a typical 15-gallon tank fill-up could cost drivers $70 or more. To find the cheapest gas prices closest to your location, use the AAA Mobile app, and visit to find the average gas prices at your destination or calculate the estimated gas cost for your Thanksgiving trip.

Travel Tips

  • Follow the CDC recommendations for safe travel. Bring plenty of masks, which will be required to be worn on any form of public transportation and are also recommended or required for indoor areas in some locations. You may also need your vaccine card to enter some locations. Use AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map to learn more about requirements at your destination.
  • If traveling by automobile, make sure your vehicle maintenance is up-to-date and your tires and battery are in good condition. The Auto Club expects to respond to more than 52,000 calls for help in Southern California over the Thanksgiving weekend. Visit to find a reputable AAA-Approved Auto Repair facility near you.
  • Air travelers should plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours ahead of time for international departures.

Busy Roads

According to the transportation analytics firm INRIX, Wednesday, Nov. 24 in the afternoon and evening will be the busiest time for Southland freeways. They project that the busiest local freeway segment for drivers will be Interstate 5 South from Colorado St. to Florence Ave, where traffic is expected to be 385% over normal levels on the afternoon and evening of Nov. 24. All outbound freeways are likely to be congested on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons before Thanksgiving, so drivers should expect longer travel times during those periods and plan to leave early.

Forecast Methodology:

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit—a world leader in critical information, analytics and expertise—developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes. The economic variables used to forecast travel for the current holiday are leveraged from IHS Markit’s proprietary databases. These data include macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.

Historical travel volume estimates come from DK SHIFFLET’s TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM. The PERFORMANCE/MonitorSM is a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. DK SHIFFLET contacts over 50,000 U.S. households each month to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends and forecast U.S. travel behavior—all after the trips have been taken. 

The travel forecast is reported in-person trips. In particular, AAA and IHS Markit forecast the total U.S. holiday travel volume and expected mode of transportation.


Media Contacts

Doug Shupe
LA-based media contact
(512) 659-1632
Marie Montgomery
(714) 420-0477 (cell)
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.