A year of record-breaking travel across southern California is expected to end on a high, as nearly 10 million residents are expected to hit the roads and skies during the holiday season.
The Automobile Club of Southern California’s latest travel forecast, released Sunday, projects that more than 9.5 million people will travel between Saturday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Jan. 1 — a 3% increase from last year and a 2% increase from 2019.
Nationwide, AAA projects that about 115.2 million people will go 50 miles or more from home during the same period.
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The majority of travelers to southern California — roughly 8.5 million — are expected to drive to their vacation destination, according to AAA. Meanwhile, about 829,000 are expected to take a plane, and about 286,000 are likely to use other means of travel such as trains, buses or boats.
“With a new record for year-end travel by Southern Californians, we expect the roads, airports and cruise ports to be very busy this month,” Jena Miller, the vice president of Auto Club for travel products and services, said in a statement on Sunday. “Consumer demand for leisure travel has increased this year, and it appears that momentum is set to continue through 2024.”
In southern California, traffic congestion is likely to be worst on Saturday, December 27 along southbound Interstate 5 from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, according to projections from transportation data company, INRIX.
Wednesday, December 23 is also predicted to be a busy travel day, INRIX said, with northbound Interstate 15 between San Diego and Interstate 10 likely to see heavy congestion.
For these busy travel days, AAA says the best times to hit the road to avoid the worst traffic times are before lunch or after 7 p.m.
Regarding air travel, the busiest departure dates are likely between Thursday, December 21 and Saturday, December 23, according to a holiday travel survey from The Vacationer. The days after Christmas – Tuesday, December 26 and Wednesday, December 27 – are also likely to be busy at domestic airports with people returning home after the holidays.
As in previous holiday seasons, AAA says warm weather destinations, tourist hotspots and European cities are the most popular destinations for travelers.
For residents of southern California, San Diego can be one of the main places for holidaymakers, as well as Las Vegas, the coast of central California, Palm Springs and the Grand Canyon.
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With the upcoming travel season expected to be especially busy, here are some tips AAA offers to make sure plans go smoothly for those leaving home during the holidays:
- When traveling by car, make sure the vehicle’s maintenance is up to date. This includes checking if the car’s tire and battery are in good condition.
- If you’re trying to get to your destination by car at a certain time, plan to leave home earlier than you would for a non-holiday trip, add a cushion of time to account for either what traffic you may encounter.
- Air travelers should plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure on domestic flights. If you are traveling abroad, plan to arrive three hours before your flight. For those driving themselves to the airport, Auto Club also recommends booking a reserved parking space in advance.
- Use the airline’s app or website to check-in for any domestic flight to avoid long lines at airport kiosks.