If you're one of the millions of Americans planning to head home for the holidays, get ready to endure some nightmarish travel conditions, especially in New York State.

Highest Number of Travelers Expected

AAA Northeast is out with its annual projection of the number of Americans planning on traveling 50 or more miles for the holidays. They say this year will see a record number of people at the airport and on the roads.

Current projections say about 115.2 million Americans will hit the road this year over the 10-day year-end holiday travel period between Christmas and New Year's Day. Actually, the time encompasses the final 10 days of the year.

The company said in a press release:

This year’s total number of domestic travelers is a 2.2% increase over last year and the second highest year-end travel forecast since 2000, when AAA began tracking holiday travel. 2019 remains the busiest Christmas and New Year’s travel period on record with 119 million travelers. 

Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel, added, "More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places."

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Based on current patterns, next Christmas could actually break the record in terms of traveler volume.

However, 2023 will shatter some records previously set in 2019 when it comes to air fare and other forms of travel outside of auto.

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More than 7.5 million Americans plan on flying to their holiday destinations this year - a nearly 2.5 percent jump from 2019's record of 7.33 million individuals. The boost in travelers is due to lower ticket prices, with a roundtrip ticket to Orlando this holiday season down to $613 from last year's high of $735.

Said Twidale:

It depends on your desired route and destination. There are last-minute deals to be found, but if your preference is a nonstop flight with seat selection, AAA recommends booking well in advance and protecting your investment with travel insurance

Because of this, flyers are encouraged to check in as early as possible and get to the airport at least two hours before their flight.

Here is what AAA said about getting to the airport:

  • Reserve a parking spot ahead of time to save time and money.
  • Choose a well-lit, secure garage.
  • On-site garages tend to be more expensive but offer convenience and peace of mind given their proximity to the terminals.
  • If choosing off-site parking, look for reputable businesses like The Parking Spot which is securely fenced and offers a shuttle to the airport (AAA members get a discount).
  • Opt for covered parking, if you live in an area expecting inclement weather.
  • Remove valuables from your vehicle.
  • Lock doors and roll up windows.
  • Take a photo of your spot to remember where you parked.
  • Keep your ticket – and receipt, if you prepaid – handy to show when exiting. 

When it comes to other modes of transportation, like trains or busses, 4.05 million Americans plan on taking advantage of them.

In 2019, the number stood at 3.89 million.

How Congestion Will Look

With nearly 104 million Americans hitting the road, AAA believes the rise is due to lower gas prices. Currently, the average cost for a gallon of regular fuel is now $3.51 in Central New York, which is a four-cent drop from one week ago and an almost 20-cent drop since last month.

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The worst days to hit the road will be Saturday, December 23; Thursday, December 28; and Saturday, December 30. If you must do any sort of driving those days, the best time will be between before 10 in the morning or after 7 at night.

Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, warned:

Nationwide, drivers could see travel times up to 20% longer this holiday season. In major metros, especially in Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, drivers could experience nearly double the typical delays. Avoid peak commuting hours and use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services to minimize holiday travel traffic frustrations.

That said, if you are planning on hitting the road, do your best to avoid the "popular" travel dates and time. If that means skipping work, better put in that vacation or PTO request now so you can spend more time with those you love - and not next to a bunch of strangers stalling on the interstate.

The worst travel day for New York is expected to be the 23rd around 2:30 that afternoon, with the average commute between New York City to the Hamptons via Long Island Expy E nearly doubling in time to 2 hours and eight minutes.

Best Travel Times

AAA found that the best days to hit the road will be Sunday, Dec 24; Monday, December 25; Sunday, December 31; and Monday, January 1.

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Those four days will have the smallest traffic impact for obvious reasons.

AAA adds the best time to travel any day will be before lunchtime, as most people appear to want to hit the road after 1 p.m. on most days. The only days that will have a later start time to traffic town will be Thursday and Friday, December 28th and 29th, with motorists taking of after 2 in the afternoon.

Read More: Central NY Town Named Most Underrated Winter Destination in U.S.

Saturday. December 30, will have the latest start time with the most motorists hitting the road between 5 and 7 at night.

That said, if you aren't planning on heading to New York City around the holidays, you'll slice a big chunk out of your overall wait time since it's slated to be the 8th highst year-end destination in the world.

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