By Sarah B. Davis
Carolina motorists are hitting the road in record numbers this Thanksgiving weekend, and paying less per gallon of gas to travel than last year.
Prices are 9 cents lower in South Carolina and 8 cents lower in North Carolina than Thanksgiving 2005 and nearly 60 cents lower than Labor Day travel.
Auto travel is expected to be up 3 percent from last year with nearly 1.59 million Carolinians (1.07 million North Carolinians and 523,000 South Carolinians) hitting the roads this holiday.
Air travel is expected to increase 3.2 percent from last year, totaling nearly 157,000 North Carolinians and 76,600 South Carolinians. They will pay an average of $7 more a ticket to total $175 on average, up from $168 last year. Air travelers also will encounter tough security measures with many experiencing the new liquid regulations for the first time.
Despite paying less at the pump, travelers will face much higher prices for hotels and car rentals, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index. Holiday hotel rates are up 16 percent for AAA-Rated Three Diamond hotels, as strong demand allows hoteliers to increase rates that they also raised last Thanksgiving. Expect higher rates for rental cars, as well, with an average rate increase of 21 percent.
Nearly 70 percent of travelers expect to stay with friends or relatives, up from 55 percent last year.
“Thanksgiving weekend travel continues to set records,” said David E. Parsons, CEO and president of AAA Carolinas. “The most dramatic change this year is the increase in people staying with friends and relatives, perhaps a sign of our times as we value our personal relationships more.”
The most expensive North Carolina gas prices are found in Asheville at $2.252 for a gallon of self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline, while the cheapest is in Winston-Salem at $2.16.
In South Carolina, cheap gas prices can be found in Spartanburg at $2.042 on average. The most expensive gas prices are $2.097 in Charleston. The national average is currently $2.23 per gallon.
Road trip safety
Crowded highways have the potential to be deadly. North Carolina’s 25 highway deaths during Thanksgiving last year was the highest number since 2001, when the state recorded 28 fatalities.
South Carolina recorded 10 fatalities last year, down from the 16 deaths in 2004.
With record numbers of motorists expected on the road this weekend, families should take extra measures to ensure safety on the highway.
– AAA recommends drivers take a break every two hours or 150 miles.Getting out and stretching a bit will reenergize your brain as well as pump blood to your muscles.
– On extra long trips, AAA recommends motorists switch drivers ó and preferably with someone who has been sitting in the back seat. Passengers sitting in the front seat with the driver are paying attention to the road as well and can experience just as much fatigue as the driver.
– Add about 15 minutes to every hour the trip typically takes. You’ll be less likely to speed and less likely to take out frustrations on the highway when you give yourself plenty of time to arrive.
– Get a vehicle checkup before hitting the road. Be sure to check fluids and your tires, especially the spare tire. In Safe Driving Day checks conducted by AAA Carolinas, nine out of 10 vehicles had a flat spare tire.
– Listen to your body. Our bodies want to sleep at night and mid-afternoon, so try to avoid driving at these times.
– Follow the rules of the road by not speeding, wearing your seat belt and never driving intoxicated.
Motorists in both states can expect lanes on major roadways to remain open during the holiday weekend with all construction halted.
Air travel suggestions
Along with the increased number of expected air travelers come stricter rules for carry-on materials. Those unfamiliar with the new liquid rules may hold up security lines, impacting check-in times.
The new rule, called the 3-1-1 rule, allows 3-ounce or smaller containers of liquids to be transported in carry-on bags, provided the liquid containers fit inside a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag. Only one bag allowed per passenger.
Passengers who show up with big containers of shampoo, toothpaste, aftershave or even liquor will force security screeners to make time-consuming hand searches of bags, resulting in slower security lines.
Some airlines suggest the new rules are slowing down security screening by as much as 30 percent.
The liquids crisis began Aug. 10 when British authorities arrested more than 20 men in London believed to be plotting to blow up U.S.-bound trans-Atlantic jets using liquid explosives taken onto planes in carry-on luggage.
Nationally, AAA estimates that 38.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 2.7 percent increase from last year.
AAA expects 4.8 million Americans to travel by airplane, up 3.2 percent from the 4.6 million that flew last Thanksgiving holiday. A projected 1.9 million travelers will go by train, bus, or other mode of transportation, up slightly from 1.8 million a year ago.
A whopping 69.5 percent of Thanksgiving travelers expect to stay at a friend or relative’s home. Hotels and motels are a distant second at 16 percent, followed by cabin/condo, 4.5 percent; camper/trailer/RV/tent, 2.4 percent; other, 3.6 percent; no overnight stay, 2.6 percent; and didn’t know, 1.4 percent.
Small towns and rural areas are the expected destination for 45.3 percent of Thanksgiving travelers, followed by cities, 35 percent. Mountain areas should see 8.3 percent of travelers, followed by oceans and beaches with 5.2 percent of travelers; 2.3 percent for lake areas, 0.6 percent for state/national parks and 0.3 percent for theme/amusement parks. Another 2.0 percent responded with other.
Research for Thanksgiving holiday travel is based on a national telephone survey of 1,500 adults by the Travel Industry Association of America, which conducts special research for AAA.
An affiliate of the American Automobile Association, AAA Carolinas was founded in 1922 as a not-for-profit organization that now serves more than 1.6 million members with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.
By Sarah B. Davis