Caution is key for Thanksgiving travelers

Weather, heavy traffic can complicate holiday plans
Nov. 26, 2013 @ 04:59 AM

Approximately 1.29 million North Carolinians — about 13 percent of the state's population — will travel more than 50 miles from their home for Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA Carolinas.

Almost all of them will drive to their destination, the motor club estimates, adding that anyone out on the roads needs to be extra careful for the rest of the week.

"Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous annual holidays due to its five-day length, with increased highway traffic concentrated particularly on Wednesday and Sunday," AAA said in a press release. "Last year, 15 people died in crashes on North Carolina highways over the holiday weekend."

The need for vigilance is heightened given the treacherous weather walloping much of the country this week. These conditions have already been blamed for motor vehicle deaths in Texas, New Mexico and other states, and forecasters expected the storm to bring rain and wintry precipitation to the South before hitting the Northeast.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory Monday, in effect through noon Tuesday, that includes several North Carolina counties.

AAA also noted that most road construction will be suspended for the holiday, but that at least one project — in Elizabeth City — will continue. For up-to-date information on construction delays around the state, visit www.ncdot.org.

But not all travel remains inside state lines. One Sanford travel agent said a popular destination for Thanksgiving fliers this year came as a surprise even to her.

"Disney's been huge this year, way more than usual," Terri Brown, manager at Wonderful World of Travel on Woodland Avenue, said. "I'm not sure why. Maybe with people being farther apart, they're going on family vacations instead of meeting at someone's house."

But for people remaining in the state and traveling by car, truck, van, RV or other vehicle, it might be best to fuel up nearby. According to AAA, Fayetteville had the cheapest gas in the state last week, at $3.17 per gallon for unleaded. The state average was $3.23, and the highest gas prices in the state were found in Asheville, at $3.30. But even that's cheaper than the state average from last Thanksgiving, which was $3.31.

For people traveling outside the state, the gas news is even better, AAA reports: "North Carolina motorists can expect to see lower gas prices in the bordering states of South Carolina ($3.07), Virginia ($3.13), Tennessee ($3.08) and Georgia ($3.22)."

For those flying now and throughout the rest of the holidays, Brown said it's best to buy tickets as soon as possible.

"We've had a lot of airline consolidations, and there's just not as many planes in the sky as there used to be," she said. "Getting seats, and getting cheap seats, is not as easy as it used to be. You're not going to find anything if you wait 'til the last minute."

As for more general holiday travel tips, Brown said it all comes down to being properly prepared: "Get there early. Pack a lot of stuff for the kids to do ... and do everything ahead of time that you can possibly do. Don't wait 'til the day of."