Connecting with family and friends for this year’s Thanksgiving Day holiday via trains, planes and automobiles will not only be more hectic than last year but one of the busiest travel periods on record.

AAA estimates that 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday period between Wednesday, Nov. 22, and Sunday, Nov. 26. The 2023 forecast is an increase of 2.3% over last year and marks the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since 2000.

AAA projects most U.S. Thanksgiving travelers, 49.1 million, will get behind the wheel, an increase of 1.7% compared to 2022. Drivers could be paying less for gas than last Thanksgiving when the national average was $3.58. This year, the national average peaked in mid-August at $3.87 and has been coming down since, despite global tensions causing ripples through the oil market, per AAA.

“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a blog posting. “Travel demand has been strong all year, and AAA’s Thanksgiving forecast reflects that continued desire to get away and spend time with loved ones.”

The U.S. Transportation and Safety Administration is predicting the 12-day travel period between Nov. 17 and Nov. 28 will see 30 million passengers take to the skies, the busiest Thanksgiving travel period on record.

“We expect this holiday season to be our busiest ever,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. “In 2023, we have already seen seven of the top 10 busiest travel days in TSA’s history.

“We are ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are prepared for this busy holiday travel season. We will also do our best to maintain wait time standards of under 10 minutes for TSA PreCheck lanes and under 30 minutes for standard screening lanes.”

Patricio Perez is reunited with his mother, Rosa Acuna, of Chilé, at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. The two had not seen one another in a year and a half. AAA estimates that 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday period between Wednesday and Sunday, Nov. 26. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Salt Lake City International Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said the freshly rebuilt, and still expanding, facility is expecting 30,000 passengers coming through the front doors each day on Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the holiday and on Friday following Thanksgiving.

Earlier this month, the Salt Lake Airport unveiled 13 new Delta Airlines gates and 12 new restaurants, marking completion of Phase 2 of the airport’s $5 billion reconstruction project.

Phase 3 of the project, which is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in 2024, will include eight additional gates and a tunnel connecting Concourse B to the main terminal.

Construction of the airport is projected to end by 2027 with the completion of Phase 4, which will expand Concourse B, according to airport officials.

Volmer said while the airport has more on-site parking options than ever before, including a newly expanded park-and-wait area, travelers should reserve their spots online and plan for extra time to navigate the holiday crowds. Suggested lead times for the holiday week include arriving two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international flights, Volmer said.

In a bid to make that extra airport time a little more enjoyable, Volmer said the facility has already put up its annual holiday decorations, including an enormous stuffed polar bear that is prime for travel selfies with a seasonal flair. And, a variety of live performers will keep things cheery at the airport throughout the day on Wednesday.

While air travel is slated to be up big this year, AAA projects overall Thanksgiving holiday travel will be down about 1.1% over peak volumes reached in 2019 with a 1.6% drop in those hitting the road to celebrate since pre-pandemic.

The Christensen family of Syracuse organizes their luggage at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. AAA estimates that 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday period between Wednesday and Sunday, Nov. 26. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Less traditional holiday travel modes are also expected to see some increased volume this year.

The number of people traveling by cruise, bus and train over Thanksgiving is up nearly 11% over last year. AAA is projecting 1.55 million travelers will head out of town using these other modes of transportation, which took a huge hit during the pandemic but have rebounded nicely.

“The cruise industry, in particular, has made a remarkable comeback,” Twidale said. “Thanksgiving cruises are mostly sold out, with many travelers looking to spend the holiday at sea.”

For those piling into a car to get to their Thanksgiving destinations, a little scheduling strategy will be key to avoiding the worst of the holiday backups.

INRIX, a transportation data and analysis provider, expects Wednesday, Nov. 22, to be the busiest day on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, with average travel times as high as 80% over normal in some metro areas. INRIX recommends leaving in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the heaviest holiday congestion.

“The day before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most congested days on our roadways. Travelers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major metros,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, in a AAA blog post. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help minimize holiday traffic frustrations. We advise drivers to use traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services for real-time updates.”

The Carnival Conquest cruise ship sits docked at port on Oct. 20, 2021, in Miami. | Rebecca Blackwell, Associated Press