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Thanksgiving travel: Millions of Americans hit the road

Cars are seen on a Southern California on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012.
November 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Thanksgiving is a day away, and millions of Americans are expected to hit the roads to make their getaway.

According to AAA, about 43.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday. This marks a steady increase from 2008 when the nation saw a big downturn from the financial crisis.

The travel organization also said more than 2.9 million Southern Californians are expected to hit the road this Thanksgiving weekend. More people are driving, fewer are flying and the average distance traveled was expected to be nearly 17 percent (about 120 miles) shorter than a year ago.

Those hitting the roads face high gas prices -- they're up slightly from this time last year.

The average price of a gallon of regular gas is $3.83 in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area, a 5-cent increase from last year; $3.78 in Orange County, a 2-cent increase from last year; $3.79 in the Inland Empire, a 1-cent increase from last year; and $3.83 in Ventura County, a 5-cent increase from last year.

But other travelers are ditching their car keys for train tickets. The Thanksgiving holiday is Amtrak's busiest travel time of the year. The rail line says nationally, 720,000 people took the train during the holiday last year -- the most ever in Amtrak's history.

The Surfliner that runs between San Diego and San Luis Obispo is its second busiest line in the country. According to passengers, taking the train is more relaxing than driving or flying. Obviously, the train takes longer to get to destinations; however, Amtrak says its strongest selling point is fewer hassles than flying.

"At an airport, you're showing up two hours ahead of time. At Amtrak, you show up 10 minutes ahead of time, you get on your train, it's less stressful. It's much cheaper than flying on an airplane," said Michael Dwyer with Amtrak.

From a passenger's point of view, there's something else about traveling by train that can be very enticing.

"I love the view when we're riding in the train because it's always so beautiful," said Reggie Webber of Camarillo. "You're always surrounded by greenery and it's just really gorgeous outside most of the time."

At Los Angeles International Airport, a union strike left a typically bustling LAX surprisingly quiet on the travel day before Thanksgiving.

"There's no crowds, everything seems to be calm," said Susan High of Dickenson, Texas, who stopped in at LAX after a Hawaiian cruise. "It is shocking to me, especially for L.A. I've heard some bad things about LAX, but so far, so good."

High and fellow traveler Sharon Parish showed up early, expecting a flood of holiday travelers and extra delays because of the labor protest, just outside the airport.

"We saw it on TV, that they were having strikes and all that, but so far I haven't seen anything," said Parish.

Michael Brophy of Travelocity says there has been a change in the way both travelers and the airlines are looking at the holiday.

"What has evolved with Thanksgiving travel, certainly before the holiday, is it becomes a five or six-day process, the Saturday through the Wednesday," said Brophy. "You've got a lot of schools giving kids the whole week off, a lot of folks take off for the whole week, as well as airlines have essentially taken a lot of inventory out of the system. They don't fly as many planes as they used to."

But the holiday crush is looming. LAX officials say the Sunday after Thanksgiving is their busiest travel day of the year, with travelers returning from their destinations.

So where are Southlanders flocking to this Thanksgiving? Las Vegas ranked as the top destination, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. San Diego, San Francisco, the Central Coast and the Grand Canyon round out the top five on the list.


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