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Holiday Travel Makes a Huge Comeback

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Americans who had to cancel getaways and get-togethers last year because of the pandemic are making up for lost time this holiday season.

More than 109 million people – a 34% increase from 2020 – will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road in cars, board planes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. 

That dramatic bounce-back – 27.7 million more people traveling – will bring this year’s numbers to 92% of 2019 levels. Airlines will see a 184% increase from last year. 

“Clearly, people are more comfortable visiting family and friends this year. The key will be preparation, and remaining mindful of pandemic restrictions,” said Cyndi Zesk, vice president of travel at AAA Northeast. “Everyone is anxious to celebrate in person again.”  

With so many planning to venture out this holiday season, AAA Northeast recommends keeping in mind the “3 P’s” of holiday travel: patience, preparedness and protection. 


More than 100 million will drive to their destinations during the holidays. More than 6 million are expected to travel by air, while 3 million will book buses, trains and cruises.  

In short, a lot more people will be traveling and that’s something we just aren’t used to like we once were. Add in staffing shortages throughout the hospitality industry, an influx of international travelers visiting the U.S. and reduced inventory, and packing your patience becomes the key to reducing holiday stress.  

“A little patience and a kind spirit will go a long way,” Zesk said. “Adding in some extra time for your flight or drive is especially important now. Airports and restaurants may be a little more crowded and have less staff, all while trying to create a safe environment for customers.”  


Zesk also urges travelers to be prepared before, during and after their holiday get-togethers. That means knowing COVID rules and restrictions for your destination to avoid any last-minute surprises or disappointments.  

“Does your destination need proof of vaccination for indoor dining? Do you need to take a COVID PCR test before arriving? Traveling today requires more information than ever before, so access all the resources you can, including professional travel advisors. If they don’t have the answers, they’ll know where to find them,” Zesk said. “AAA has a number of resources that will take the guesswork out of your travels and turn you into an empowered and informed traveler.” 

AAA suggests anyone gathering or traveling for the holidays to consider at-home antigen tests as another tool.   

AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map helps travelers understand closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S.  

With more than 100 million Americans planning to drive over the holidays, travelers also need to be prepared for slowdowns and breakdowns. AAA expects to respond to as many as 917,000 calls for help.  If you’re taking your personal vehicle, which may have been driven less during the pandemic, remember to check well in advance of travel for things like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. 

If you’re renting a car, inventory shortages have rebounded somewhat following a shortage over the summer, but with the increased demand expected around this time of the year it’s important to book as early as possible.

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Your trip is an investment – one you want to safeguard, Zesk says.  

“Protect your travel plans as you would any other investment,” she said. “A professional travel advisor can provide information and advice, and serve as your advocate before, during and after a trip. Their expertise also allows them to also help travelers decide on what travel insurance is best for them and what to do if last-minute changes to a trip are needed.”  

AAA highly recommends travel insurance to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions.  

And don’t get rid of your hand sanitizer and masks just yet, Zesk said. Masks are still required for everyone on planes, buses, trains and other forms of U.S. public transportation and within transportation hubs such as airports and stations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public places in an area of substantial or high transmission. 

Other Considerations 

Clean Accommodations  

When booking a place to stay, look for accommodations that prioritize cleanliness and have implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Hotels that meet AAA standards for cleanliness earn AAA Diamond designations. Earlier this year, as part of the Diamond program, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation, and inspections now include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that have been inspected since that new testing started and now meet these new standards are recognized as Inspected Clean. A current list of AAA Diamond hotels, including those recognized as Inspected Clean, can be found here. 

Travel Guidelines  

When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, requirements vary by destination but all air passengers returning to the U.S., regardless of vaccination status or nationality, must show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than one day before travel into the U.S. Refer to the CDC for more information. 

Need help planning your holiday travel? Reach out to a AAA Northeast travel advisor!


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