“The travel’s spread out, so it’s not as in a confined time frame like Thanksgiving or Memorial Day,” said Kelly Melhem, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates toll roads, bridges and tunnels through which many vacationers will pass.
Here are some tips for planning your adventures.
The December holidays don’t have the same intense getaway peaks as Thanksgiving, but there still will be plenty of travelers on the roads, in airport parking areas and in train and bus depots.
“The year-end holiday season remains the least volatile of all travel holidays as Americans will not let economic conditions or high gas prices dictate if they go home for the holidays or kick off the New Year with a vacation,” AAA President and chief executive Robert Darbelnet said in announcing the holiday travel forecast.
The number of air travelers is likely to increase, but so is the number of drivers, and nine out of 10 getaways nationwide are made in cars. AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will drop slowly through the end of the year and average $3.20 to $3.40 per gallon by New Year’s Day. Average gas prices dropped about 50 cents a gallon from September through early December, AAA said, but they remain at record highs for this time of year.
Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Tuesdays this year, so count on some people creating four-day weekends. But that doesn’t mean we’ll re-create the intensity of the Thanksgiving getaway scene. For example, many young families will spend Christmas Day at home before heading off on trips later in the week.
While Friday may not be the equivalent of Thanksgiving eve, the days right before Christmas offer special travel challenges, because they blend last-minute shoppers, regular commuters and people heading out of town. “That makes for a very uncomfortable mix on our roads,” said Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic. “They don’t handle one function very well, much less a mix of all three.”
David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, noted an extra difficulty factor for travelers: They will be sharing the road with drivers coming from holiday parties. “The bigger concern over holidays like this tends to be impaired driving crashes,” he said.
Many drivers heading south are interested in the rules for Virginia’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. Normal HOV rules will be in effect Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.
These restrictions are lifted on Interstates 95, 395 and 66 on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day before returning the day after each holiday.
On Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, the I-95/I-395 reversible lanes will be southbound until midnight, then will switch to northbound by 2 o’clock the following morning.