What is the most traveled holiday of the year?

Before you hit the road for the holiday, think about all the other Americans doing the same exact thing. What is the heaviest traveled holiday period? You may need two guesses if you include road, rail, air and ship travel.

"The day before Thanksgiving is always the busiest day for that holiday week," AAA’s Robert Sinclair said. "But, many don’t realize the busiest travel period of the year is the week between Christmas and New Years."

AAA estimates about 55 million Americans travel over 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving holiday compared to nearly 120 million traveling during Christmas and New Year's Day.

Thanksgiving getaway traffic in Los Angeles.
Thanksgiving getaway traffic in Los Angeles.

"Depending on what day of the week the two holidays fall, the travel period could be ten days long," Sinclair said. "Well over 100 million travel during that period with kids out of school and most parents taking some vacation time. All other holidays pale in comparison."

Travel numbers have rebounded by almost 99% from COVID-19, but the economy could damper expectations.

"Bookings with AAA’s travel agency for next year are very strong, which could foreshadow a return to pre-pandemic levels," said Sinclair. "But I think inflation will be a drag on the return with high prices for airfares and hotels proving a restraint."

Christmas in New York
Christmas in New York

From December 23rd to January 2nd, a record 119.3 million Americans traveled in 2019, according to AAA. About 108 million people traveled by car, 108 million hit the highways, and 3.89 used other modes of transportation, like the railroad or a cruise ship.

The TSA reported that over 2.5 million people went through TSA checkpoints every day between December 23 and 27. Numbers dropped by only 100,000 on Christmas Day 2019.

The very worst times to be on the road are the afternoon and early evening of the 23rd and 24th, according to INRIX travel analysis.

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Crowds pack and fill Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida.
Crowds pack and fill Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida.

Top travel destinations:

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About 56 million people travel over the Thanksgiving holiday from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after. In 2019, 49.9 million drove, 4.6 million flew, and 1.5 million used other modes like a bus.

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Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Car travel times could double in large cities like Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, according to INRIX.

Top travel destinations are all domestic:

Fireworks exploding over the National Mall in DC.
Fireworks exploding over the National Mall in DC.

Travel for the fourth of July holiday can vary depending on what day the actual holiday falls on. AAA considers the holiday period to run from June 30 to July 4. In 2019 (the fourth was on a Thursday), 49 million Americans traveled. Over 41 million had road trips, 3.96 million boarded planes, and 3.55 took other modes of transportation.

Nationwide, cities can expect to add 50% to any trip time between June 30 and July 1 as travelers mix with commuters. Drivers in major cities like Los Angeles and New York can expect to more than double trip times, according to INRIX.

July 3 is usually the busiest day for car rental pickup in Orlando, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas and New York.

Tourists walking around the Coliseum in Rome.
Tourists walking around the Coliseum in Rome.

International travel makes an appearance in the top travel destinations:

Aerial view of Boston with Fenway Park in the foreground.
Aerial view of Boston with Fenway Park in the foreground.

Theme parks still top the destination list in the U.S.:

Over 43 million people usually travel over the Memorial Day holiday from the Thursday before to the Monday holiday. About 37.6 million drive, 3.35 million fly and 1.9 million use other modes of transportation.

American flags adorn each grave in Arlington National Cemetery in honor of Memorial Day.
American flags adorn each grave in Arlington National Cemetery in honor of Memorial Day.

Thursday is the busiest air travel day, and Monday is the lightest. On the road, Thursday and Friday afternoons are both busy. Major metropolitan areas can see trip times double, according to INRIX. New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. can expect trip times to triple.

The top destinations are generally the same as over the Fourth of July holiday.

Don’t think travel will be easy on a non-holiday, though. Over 68 million Americans take summer vacations, and 45 million take spring vacations. Over half of those are road trips.

"Spring Break is always a popular travel time, and those dates vary across the country in March and April," said Aixa Diaz of AAA. "With schools out for the summer, June, July, and August are popular travel months, especially for people taking cruises."

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A cruise ship docked in Sydney, Australia.
A cruise ship docked in Sydney, Australia.

While the single busiest day for airports in 2019 was Thanksgiving, with 2.88 million passengers going through TSA, days in the spring and summer are not far behind. Officers scanned almost 2.8 million people across multiple days in May, June and July.

Pre-pandemic, TSA screened on average of 2 to 2.5 million passengers per day.

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