Driving for Christmas? You won't be alone.

December 17, 2015 11:20 AM

Santa travels by sleigh, but millions of Americans will get behind the wheels of their cars, trucks and SUVs to do their traveling this holiday season.

More than 100 million expected on roads, rail and airways
AAA, which tracks such things, estimates a whopping 91.3 million of us will take the highways between Wednesday, Dec. 23 and Sunday, Jan. 3.

For the first time, the mass migration should top 100 million Americans in motion when you add in air travel.

"The holidays are a time for joining with friends and family," said AAA's president and CEO, Marshall Doney, "and the record number of people traveling this holiday should make for a joyous travel season. Rising incomes and low gas prices are helping to fill stockings this year, and more people than ever will choose to spend those savings on travel this year."

It's the seventh year our number of holiday travelers will rise
AAA's prediction only counts families who have 50 miles or more to cover on the way to Grandma's house (or whatever the festive destination.)  The total number of travelers is expected to spike 1.4 percent over last year. What's more, it's the seventh-straight year of increases as the economy slowly climbed out of doldrums of the Great Recession.

"A gallon of gas will cost just $2.24 on New Year's Day 2015."

At the heart of these higher expectations for miles traveled are two dynamics: More job security for a growing number of Americans plus the continued ridiculously-low gas prices available for drivers in almost the entire nation.

The labor market has even improved enough to convince sourpusses like Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to take her foot off the brake on interest rates, as she and her financial colleagues did on Wednesday. With the unemployment rate holding at nearly 5 percent, which the sharp-pencil types figure is as close to full employment as we'll get, the average American is standing a better chance of finding and keeping steady work.

It's no surprise that the increased confidence that the paychecks will keep coming is showing up as a greater willingness to pay for the gas, meals and maybe even hotel rooms required for winter holiday travel. The low price of that gas also helps explain the phenomenon. Sticking with AAA figures, a gallon of gas is expected to cost a nationwide average of just $2.24 as the ball drops on New Year's Day 2015. That's $1.08 less than it did as the strains of Auld Lang Syne died out last year.

Put a tune up on your holiday prep list
It's probably a good idea for travelers to consider spending a bit of that extra jingle in their pockets to make sure their rides are safe for cross-country Christmas and holiday trips. Your local auto repair franchise can check everything from fluid levels to whether your spark plugs have the pop to start on cold holiday mornings far from home. So consider adding a tune up to your list of holiday tasks before setting off on any highway holiday excursions your family has planned.

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