If the nation's travel patterns are any kind of barometer for the state of the economy, the travel forecast for Thanksgiving week suggested a slight upward nudge as people and businesses recover slowly from the 2007-09 recession in which Americans lost nearly a quarter of their wealth.
About 43.6 million Americans were expected to journey 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday, just a 0.7 percent increase from last year, according to AAA's yearly Thanksgiving travel analysis. After a couple of years of healthy post-recession growth, this year's numbers suggest it will take a stronger economy to lift travel demand significantly, the travel organization said.
More people are driving, fewer are flying and the average distance traveled was expected to be nearly 17 percent — or about 120 miles — shorter than a year ago, it said.
As car ownership declines among younger Americans, many of those hitting the road were jumping onto buses.
"I can't afford to own a car; it's too expensive," said 21-year-old web design student Kayla Sprague, of Minneapolis.
She was setting off on a 235-mile bus trip to Fargo, N.D. From there, her parents planned to drive her the rest of the way to a family gathering in Grand Forks.
Army Pfc. Jordan Clark, of Biloxi, Miss., said he was only able to fly because relatives pooled their resources to buy his ticket.
"It's been difficult. My parents help out, my grandparents," the 20-year-old serviceman said before getting on a flight from Chicago to San Antonio. He wasn't so lucky over the summer, when he had to make the same journey by bus in what became a three-day ordeal thanks to breakdowns. But it saved him more than $200.
Aided by smartphone apps, social media and other technology, consumers are getting better at sniffing out deals and realize they need to be flexible with dates and even with which airports they chose when booking, said Courtney Scott, a senior editor at Travelocity.