Pam Hoppe has been a travel agent for 40 years.
At Travel Hub in Waterford Township, she'll be booking cruises to warm-weather destinations, trips to Las Vegas, and spring break getaways as the Christmas season approaches and passes.
For Thanksgiving? Not so much.
"We've done a few trips, but nothing like Christmas and spring break," Hoppe said. "It's more of a driving thing."
That's true for Andrew Schreck, his wife and their two teenage children who will take to the road from Rochester Hills to reach suburban Chicago and celebrate the holiday with relatives.
They'll head out for the typical five-hour drive Thursday morning and expect to arrive at his aunt's home in time for appetizers, followed by Thanksgiving dinner.
The Schrecks are among 1.7 million Michigan residents AAA Michigan expects to travel for the Thanksgiving weekend
It's a trip that Schreck, 43, had made dozens of times, going back to his days in college. Since getting married 20 years ago, the couple and their children travel to the Windy City every other year for Thanksgiving. On alternating years, relatives in Illinois will come to Michigan to visit them.
"I'd say the traffic is never that bad unless there's (inclement) weather. There's construction traffic, but not stop-and-start," said Schreck, director of marketing for Achates Power. "Traffic out of Chicago is much worse. "
The Schrecks take other vacations and trips during the year, but always have driven when going to suburban Chicago for Thanksgiving because mass transit is less outside the city limits and they want to use their own vehicle while in the area.
Andrew Schreck said he would give marginal consideration to traveling by train to Chicago for Thanksgiving weekend in the future.
"It's a pretty easy trip, not stressful. I do not mind driving, "he said. Although this year, Schreck and his wife are discussing whether to let their 15-year-old daughter – who recently received her driving learner's permit – gain some experience by letting the teenager handle a stretch.
While in Illinois, they also plan to visit some of his wife's relatives in the area and head back home Saturday.
"There's something nice about waking up at home on that last day" of the long holiday weekend, Schreck said.
For the ninth year, more people are expected to travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend than the previous year, and most will be driving.
AAA Michigan estimates 1.7 million Michigan residents will travel 50 miles or more, 90 percent of them by car.
Thanksgiving, falling on Nov. 22, is a little earlier this year than is often typical, and a week after the opening of the firearm deer hunting season.
"In Michigan, a lot of people are heading up north," said Nancy Cain, spokeswoman for AAA Michigan. "We expect travel to be up everywhere across the state."
That's true locally, as well, with America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit, and the annual Detroit Lions Thanksgiving football game drawing thousands to the city.
According to AAA Michigan:
- The number of people expected to travel over the Thanksgiving weekend is the most since 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession, and the ninth year travel is expected to increase.
- People driving during the long holiday weekend should expect congested roads from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday as early travelers mix with daily commuters, and again on the Sunday after Thanksgiving when travelers return home. High traffic areas could experience quadruple the normal drive time, AAA warns.
- About 1.5 million people will drive to their Thanksgiving destinations, and another 144,000 are expected to fly. About 45,000 will take buses, trains or cruises over the holiday.
- AAA expects to provide roadside assistance to 360,000 motorists over the holiday weekend, primarily from dead batteries, lockouts, or flat tires.
- Average gasoline prices a year ago were $ 2.57 a gallon. As of Friday, the average was $ 2.52.
Hunting and traveling
For Ron and Linda O'Shea of Macomb Township, Thanksgiving means hunting and travel.
For the more than 37 years they've been married, Ron has gone up north with friends to go deer hunting. Linda opts to travel.
She considers it a hobby she enjoys at different times of year, sometimes with her husband, sometimes without. At Thanksgiving, however, she'll visit relatives without him in other states or travel with them to other destinations.
Home is not always where the turkey is. This week, Linda O'Shea and her son's fiancé plan to drive with her future daughter-in-law's 8-year-old daughter to Chicago to enjoy the holiday.
Perhaps the most memorable and non-traditional Thanksgiving vacation trip she took was flying with her mother to San Diego where they rented a car and drove up the California coast to San Francisco. While in the city by the bay, she saw an advertisement for the Napa Valley "wine train."
On Thanksgiving, the site-seeing trip began immediately in late morning with champagne in a train car designed for best viewing. The train headed out for two hours, and passengers sampled different wines during the ride, taking in the scenery. Then, they took the return-two hour trip that included – what else? – a complete Thanksgiving dinner.
"It was a very nice experience," she said.
Two other times around Thanksgiving, O'Shea drove to Knoxville, Tennessee, for a few days to spend time with in-laws. From there, she headed to Fort Myers, Florida, to visit her mother.
Traveling by plane, train or automobile, the traditional busiest travel time of the year is not a stressful one for Linda. They key, she said, is to research your routes.
For driving trips, she said it's helpful to plan the hours behind the wheel to avoid morning and afternoon rush hours – such as in Atlanta – and mid-day traffic slowdowns. She said it's good to know in advance where to stay at a hotel when breaking up a long road trip over multiple days, and even when to stop for food and gasoline, particularly in areas where gas stations may be several miles apart or not open 24 hours.
"Always have an alternate route, especially if you're going alone," she said.
When planning to travel by plane for a Thanksgiving week trip, she usually buys airline tickets in September to save money. She echoes the advice of airline and airport officials who urge travelers to arrive three hours early, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving when lines at security checkpoints will be longer. She said it's not worth it to cut it close and risk missing a flight.
By arriving early or to deal with lengthy layovers, she said travel stress can be reduced by exploring shops and restaurants in the airport. Know where the gate to reach a connecting flight is located before exiting the first plane, she said.
Above all: Relax.
"People that I travel with just say, 'Just listen to Linda,'" she quipped.
Gas prices do not play much a part in the decision to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA.
"I think they're making people happy," said Cain at AAA. "They'll travel with or without the prices but it gives them more disposable income than last year."
However, AAA believes that the improving economy since the Great Recession a decade ago has encouraged holiday travel, in part because many people relocated to find jobs.
"The economy has been getting progressively better," Cain said. "People have a little more disposable income. Thanksgiving is one of the times when people want to travel to be with family. When the Great Recession hit, their kids moved to other states for jobs or they moved to other states for jobs. "
On Thanksgiving Day
The consumer credit website Wallethub.com annually puts together fun facts about Thanksgiving:
- The average person will consume 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, and it takes the average male 10 hours and 41 minutes to burn that amount of calories.
- Nine percent of Americans will have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant.
- The average cost of a dinner at home for 10 people is $ 49.12.
- 45 million turkeys will be served for Thanksgiving.
- Nationally, the most favored Thanksgiving foods are turkey, 39 percent, stuffing, 23 percent, cucumber pie, 12 percent, mashed potatoes, 9 percent, sweet potatoes, 6 percent, and cranberry sauce, 3 percent.
- 80 percent of Americans will have turkey or ham for dinner this year, 77 percent will have mashed potatoes and green beans, and 72 percent will have apple or pecan pie.
With more people taking to the roads for the holiday weekend, the risk for traffic accidents increases.
The four-day Thanksgiving weekend may be a time for reconnecting with family and friends, but it is also the second-most deadly of the state's six holiday weekends for traffic crashes, according to the Michigan State Police.
The holiday weekends are Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Memorial Day, July Fourth, Christmas, and New Year's.
In the 46 years since 1972, 842 Michigan residents have died in Thanksgiving car crashes, second to Labor Day at 877, and ahead of July Fourth at 828, Memorial Day at 769, New Year's at 594, and Christmas at 577.