Thanksgiving is top time to eat turkey, travel to see family

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The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest traveling day of the year -- by plane or by car -- so a traveler's best course of action is to be prepared.

"Get to the airport earlier because the lines might be longer," advised Ruth Nagy, managing director of travel operations for AAA East Central.

If driving, take extra precautions.

"If traveling a great distance, taking breaks every 2 1/2 hours will keep you alert and aware of the busyness.

"A lot of drivers use GPS today, but if there is an accident and a road is closed, you may want to have a map handy to work your way around the clog in the roadway the old-fashioned way," Mrs. Nagy said.

AAA projects that 43.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday period -- Wednesday through Sunday -- for a 0.7 percent increase over last year's number of travelers.

The increase marks the fourth consecutive year of total holiday travel growth.

The number of those traveling by air, however, is down from 3.2 million in 2011 to 3.14 million this year.

Ninety percent of all travelers, or 39.1 million people, are expected to travel by car.

"Thanksgiving is a tough one to predict where people are going, as most are visiting family and friends, so it is not a typical vacation of going to a beach," Mrs. Nagy said.

One place travelers are not going is overseas, according to Richard J. Ponzio, president of Ponzio International Travel Inc. of Mt. Lebanon, who specializes in international travel.

Even though schools are closed, which means families have enough time to make cruises and island travel doable, Thanksgiving trips are decidedly domestic, he said.

The good news for his business is that togetherness spurs thoughts of more of the same.

"This is what we call 'planning time for 2013' as people traditionally make plans during this time of family-gathering for winter and summer vacations together, so we receive inquiries about trips to Europe or the Caribbean or Hawaii,'' he said.

Mr. Ponzio, who has 54 years of experience in the industry, also has personal evidence that grandma and grandpa -- and not exotic locales -- are among Americans' favorite Thanksgiving destinations: His children and grandchildren are coming to visit him in cars and planes from throughout the country.

Lynn H. Dileo, owner of Travel Rite in Murrysville, said her bookings are largely for motorists who want hotel reservations or rental cars.

Families are finding it more cost-effective to drive to visit relatives than to fly as airfares are high right now, she said.

Ms. Dileo said Christmas is more popular for extended travel as children have more than a week off school.

"It used to be you stayed home, but now, if they have the money, people travel," she said.

During Thanksgiving, the average distance traveled by Americans is expected to be 588 miles, a decline of 16.7 percent from last year's 706 miles.

AAA estimated the national average price of a gallon of gasoline will drop to between $3.25 and $3.40 for the holiday, similar to last year's average of $3.32, which was Thanksgiving's most expensive average ever.

The national average price of a gallon of gasoline at Thanksgiving from 2007 to 2011 was $2.75.

Driving is still cheaper than flying, said Ellen Rosen, who is driving to Philadelphia with her husband, Avram.

The Mt. Lebanon couple plan to dine at a Thanksgiving buffet in the 18th century City Tavern, which has been in continuous use as a restaurant since 1763.

"They serve food like stews and braised meat as they would have done back then and a lot of farm-to-table dishes," Mrs. Rosen said.

For Christmas travel, Paul Busang, owner of Gulliver's Travels in Shadyside, said the reservation window is gradually shrinking.

"You might get a hotel reservation on Christmas in Paris, but you are not likely to find a room on New Year's as it is a citywide celebration. It is huge," he said.

For summer travel, he said, it is never too early to make arrangements.

"I just booked a cruise to Alaska, but by the time [my clients] get there, that ship will be full. So now is the time to plan,'' he said.

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published November 21, 2012 12:00 AM


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