How far did we travel for the holidays?

It’s a normal quarterly five-hour journey for Plainsboro resident Samuel Rosado to drive to New England to see his family for holidays and other special occasions, but that doesn’t mean that the trip has become any more pleasant.

“It is a struggle,” Rosado said. “The road trip through Connecticut isn’t fun, nor is the traffic. It can wear both myself and my car out if I do this too often. ”

Although he calls the trip a “chore,” he said that it is worth it for him in the end because he doesn’t get to see his family as often as he would like. Plus, he knows that “considering the traffic,” he isn’t alone in the holiday travel season — Christmas Eve to the Sunday following New Year’s Day this year.

Rosado is definitely not alone. The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects that 98.6 million Americans trekked more than 50 miles from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 4 percent from last year. According to Sue Madden, specialist in Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, this is a pretty significant upsurge — it’s the highest holiday travel volume on record (since 2001) and the highest growth rate since 2009.

So what brought about this dramatic increase in holiday travel, in which the average American went 275 miles?

“The biggest factor that impacts the amount of holiday travel is money,” Madden said. “Now, thankfully, the economy is picking up, unemployment rates have decreased, and low gas prices are giving folks extra cash in their pockets, making them more likely to put that money towards taking vacations that were out of reach in years past.”

More people traveled this holiday season than any other year on record.

More people traveled this holiday season than any other year on record.

The average price of gas in New Jersey during the holidays was $2.45 a gallon, 74 cents less than this time last year and the lowest level in five years. This has provided more disposable income for families, enabling them to set aside money for holiday travel.

The second reason for the surge in holiday travel is the calendar, said Cathleen Lewis, regional director of public affairs and government relations for AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on Thursdays, creating a longer holiday travel season — the longest since 2008. This enabled people to make a long weekend without taking multiple vacation days.

However, weather was one factor that wasn’t exactly on travelers’ sides. David Robinson, state climatologist at Rutgers University, said that rainfall hit 1 inch to 1.5 inches over most of the state for Dec. 23 and 24, although there was no snow or ice. He said that this led to several travel issues on the road and in the air.

Weather was one factor that led to about 790 traffic deaths and 84,200 injuries across America during the holiday travel season, according to the National Safety Council. Generally, the number of travel injuries and deaths increases 23 percent during the holidays. AAA came to the rescue of 1.1 million motorists from Christmas Eve to the weekend following New Year’s Day, with the primary reasons for breakdowns being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.

To no surprise, visiting family and friends is the biggest reason that people travel during the holiday season, accounting for 43 percent of travel plans versus only 24 percent during the rest of the year.

Lindsey Guerra is another one of those people. She traveled 785 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Long Valley, New Jersey, for the holidays, a trip she makes about five times a year. Because the airport is about two hours from her home in Chattanooga and she is a recent college graduate, the trip is one expensive chore yet one she plans to make in the future.

“It’s an inconvenient trip for me, plus the last thing I want to spend my paycheck on is a flight home,” Guerra said. “However, I will make this trip in the future because my family and friends are here and they make all the travel nightmares worth it.”

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

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