Holiday Travel
Just under 92 million Americans are expected to drive or fly 50 miles or more from home between Dec. 23, 2011 and Jan. 2, 2012. REUTERS

The Christmas spirit is alive and well - at least according to a new AAA survey that finds Americans will travel in record numbers this holiday season.

Just under 92 million Americans are expected to drive or fly 50 miles or more from home between Dec. 23, 2011 and Jan. 2, 2012, according to the survey released Wednesday. That represents a 1.4 percent increase over the previous year and marks the second-highest year-end travel forecast in a decade, the association said.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight.

According to results, thirty percent of the U.S. population is expected to travel over the 11-day year-end holiday period, the longest holiday travel season of the year.

It's a positive sign for the travel industry that so many Americans are planning to travel this holiday season, collectively contributing to the second-highest year-end holiday travel volume in the past ten years, Brad Roeber, Regional President, AAA Chicago, said in a statement. As our lives get busier, it is so important to create opportunities for the rest and rejuvenation that result from vacation travel and connecting with family and friends, especially during the holidays.

AAA notes that while pent-up demand was projected to inspire significant Thanksgiving holiday travel growth this year, holiday travel at the end of the year is less cyclical, so pent-up demand has less effect.

Roughly 83.6 million people, or 91 percent of all holiday travelers, plan to take to the nation's roadways this year. That's a 2.1 percent increase compared to 2010-11 when the number of auto travelers was 81.9 million.

Air travel is down this year by about 10 percent. Roughly 5.4 million leisure travelers, or six percent of holiday travelers, will fly during the year-end holiday travel period. This year's air travel volume will be the seventh lowest in the past 10 years as nearly two million fewer travelers take to the sky than did during the decade's air travel peak in 2002-03.

AAA explains that year-end holiday airfares are expected to be 21 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip fare of $210 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Due to jet fuel costs and capacity cuts, this is the highest year-end holiday average airfare in the past five years.

Americans will not travel as far this year, with an average distance of 726 miles. In 2010-11, travelers logged an average of 1,052 miles. AAA notes that the decrease is largely due to a decline in air travelers.

The majority of travelers reported no economic impact on their travel plans, which, given the current economic conditions, AAA sees as a positive sign for the travel industry and another reminder of just how important traveling is to Americans.

Whether you're traveling by air or by land, check out these tips for holiday travel before you head out.

Tips for the Air

Get to the Airport Early - allow at least two hours for check-in and security lines, even for short domestic flights.

Travel Light - Traveling light will save you time and money, especially with increasingly hefty checked-bag fees.

Print out your Boarding Pass: Get this done at home before you leave and head straight to security when you get to the airport.

Check for Delays - Before you head to the airport, double-check for flight delays. You can also sign up through an airline's website for flight-delay alerts. Also, have a number for your airline handy in case of flight cancellations.

Don't Wrap Gifts - TSA urges travelers not to wrap gifts until they've arrived at their destination. Furthermore, food items such as jams, salsas, sauces, syrups and dips will not be allowed through the checkpoint unless they are in containers three ounces or less and in your one quart zip-top bag.

Don't Forget Your ID - Any passenger 18 and older will need a federal or state-issued photo ID at airport checkpoints. All passengers traveling internationally will need their passport.

Don't Stress - Relax, it's the holidays! Consider splurging on a day pass to an airline lounge for nice seats, tasty drinks, and less crowds.

Check TSA's 3-1-1 for Holiday Travel page for more trips for air travel over the holidays.

Tips for the Road

Know When to Travel - AAA estimates that 91 percent of holiday travelers will use the nation's roadways. If you can avoid traveling at peak times, you'll have a more enjoyable trip.

Know what to Pack - If you're stuck in traffic on the highway in the middle of nowhere, you're going to want to have some drinks and snacks on hand to hold you over. In addition to snacks, make a point of packing for automotive emergencies. Make sure your car has a flashlight, blankets, a car cellphone charger, a can of aerosol tire repair, duct tape, and motor oil ... just in case!

Check Gas Prices - The average price of gasoline is $3.40 per gallon, 51 cents higher than last year. Check AAA's Fuel Gauge Report or the website Gas Buddy to find the best spots to fuel up and save.

Check Road Conditions - If you are traveling in a cold or mountainous region, make sure to check the road conditions before you head out.

Rest Up - Get 6-8 hours of sleep the night before a long trip. Fatigue decreases reaction time and awareness. The last thing you need on your holiday is an accident.