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Busy Thanksgiving travel season starts next week

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday travel season is expected to be one of the busiest in two decades, with most people traveling on the roads despite high gas prices.

PORTLAND, Ore. — If you're planning to drive somewhere for Thanksgiving next week, get ready for a lot of company out on the road. A new report from AAA forecasts an especially busy year for holiday travel, with the number of family gatherings roaring back to pre-pandemic levels for turkey day.

About 55 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this year, according to the AAA report, and the vast majority of them — 89% — will be driving.

"It is time, and travel is back," said Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA in Oregon and Idaho. "We crunched the numbers, and they are pretty impressive."

Dodds said about 777,000 of those travelers will be Oregonians going over the river and through the woods.

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"Last year people did venture out, and it was a fairly busy Thanksgiving, but we’re hearing from our members that for a lot of folks this will be the first Thanksgiving they’ll be back together with loved ones and family members," she said. "... This is up about 1.5% from last year, and when we look back, this will be the third-busiest traffic volume in the last two decades."

Another high-rising statistic this season: gas prices. The current national average for regular unleaded is $3.74, according to AAA, but Oregon’s average is a slightly more than a dollar over that, at $4.76.

"Gas prices have never been higher for the holiday. Here in Oregon our average is about 96 cents a gallon more than it was a year ago," said Dodds.

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But don't expect sticker shock at the pump to put a major dent in holiday traffic, she added — gas prices generally don't cause people to cancel their trips, although they do look for other ways to save during their travel.

According to AAA, the top three Thanksgiving destinations for Oregonians are Bend, Lincoln City, and Seattle.

For those traveling a little farther, a flight may be the mode of choice. About 8% of Oregonians will be traveling by air, and although Portland International Airport has not yet put out its detailed forecast, flyers can expect it to be just as packed as it is with most every Thanksgiving.

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That means it'll be critical to arrive early, pack your patience, and download your airline’s app to get push alerts for any air travel changes on your phone.

Back on the roads, the worst time to drive kicks off next Tuesday, with even worse traffic on Wednesday — and it'll only get worse as the afternoon moves into the evening — and then again on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

"During those busy times you can expect delays of two to three times what it would be on a normal commuting day," Dodds said.

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