By SUE QUIGLEY
Living far away from family has its disadvantages, particularly at holiday times.
As we kick off the 2019 winter holiday season this Thanksgiving, more than 55 million people will travel 50 miles or more to be with their family, the AAA travel organization reported.
Estimates so far will make it the second-highest travel volume since the AAA began tracking Thanksgiving travel volume almost 20 years ago.
Of those 55 million people, the majority will drive to their Thanksgiving destination; air travelers will take second place and the remainder enjoying train, bus or cruise trips.
The Thompson family, who live in Spring Hill, is one of the majority of Thanksgiving holiday travelers who drive to their Thanksgiving celebration destination.
“We have three young children and a dog,” said 39-year-old mom Emily. “Going by car is by far the most convenient way for us.”
According to the AAA research report, there are two leading reasons for choosing a car trip. There’s the flexibility of being able to stop anytime and anywhere along the way, being able to pack whatever and however much to take in the car and, of course, make a space for Fido or the family pet.
Gas prices also play an important part. Even though gas prices have been fluctuating of late, at an average cost of $2.36 a gallon in Florida, it’s cheaper than the national average at this time last year — giving us all a few extra dollars to spend.
For the Thompson family, it’s the sheer convenience that clinches taking a car trip to be with family and friends at Thanksgiving, even though it’s a long journey of about 1,400 miles.
“This is the second time we’ve driven to New York State for Thanksgiving,” said Emily. “We leave at about 3 a.m. in the morning and take turns to drive so we can go directly there.”
The Thompsons’ children are ages 2, 6 and 11 years old and good travelers.
“Thank goodness,” said Emily, “the journey takes about 18 hours in all.”
Emily explained that a car trip is the best solution for them because it would be prohibitive for them to fly.
“This way we avoid the high cost of 5 airline tickets, baggage fees and all the hassle at airport security, plus we would have to pay for our pet dog to go into a kennel while we’re away,” she said.
Although cost plays an important role in some families’ holiday travel options, the amount of time spent driving and the amount of wear and tear on both you and your vehicle should also be taken into consideration.
Another Spring Hill family, the Johnsons, prefer to fly for their Thanksgiving holiday.
“Our family live in Seattle and to drive there for a weeklong visit is just not feasible,” said 64-year-old James Johnson. “We’re not spring chickens anymore and the drive would be torturous for me and my wife, Joanne,” he said.
James said he starts researching low cost airfares about 10 weeks before Thanksgiving and locks in the ticket price well in advance.
“I also choose to fly on a less busy day like a Wednesday,” he said. “This is the best way to get top value price and not wait until ticket prices spike closer to the holiday date,” he added.
But, said James, “travelers should also look for hidden charges for things like carry-on bags, reservation changes, booking on the phone vs. online, in-flight wi-fi or selecting a specific seat.”
A frequent flier, James also said he saves his accrued reward miles to maximize their worth at holiday times.
Third choice as a travel option comes rail travel. According to the AAA, only 1.49 million people will take the train.
Mary Evans, of Ridge Manor, says she would rather travel by train and bring her car along with her.
“I’m retired so I’m really flexible when it comes to holiday travel,” she said. “Amtrak offers an excellent Autotrain service so I can bring my car along with me wherever I go.”
Mary, whose family live in Philadelphia, said the train is the best choice for her.
“I’ll be travelling alone this Thanksgiving and my eyes are not so good so I don’t like driving at night,” she said. “My costs all in for the round trip were about $260 and I get a comfortable wide seat and can eat dinner and breakfast and chat with fellow passengers.”
Mary also added that there is no security screening or mandatory seatbelts and was free to roam the train whenever she wished. “When people say flying is much quicker, they often don’t take into consideration the time you have to arrive at least an hour before takeoff, queuing up for security screening, runway taxiing at touchdown, disembarkation and traveling to their destination,” she said. “I can also bring two bags and two personal items without having to pay extra,” she added.
According to the Amtrak website, special deals include “Buy one ticket, get one free;” Autotrain rates from $89; and 10 to 20 percent discounts for Veterans and Seniors.
Whatever method of travel one chooses, it’s well worth spending some time weighing up all the options for transportation. Each form of travel has its benefits and drawbacks so your ultimate decision will always be based on what best suits you and your fellow companions.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.