With a clear forecast and decent gas prices, AAA is predicting another record-setting week for holiday travel.
In Massachusetts, an estimated 2.5 million residents are planning to travel 50 miles or more this week, and about 2.2 million will use a car, according to AAA. The federation is measuring this year’s holiday season from Dec. 22 to Jan. 1.
“This is the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for year-end holidays, so this is part of what’s been a consistent trend,” said Mary Maguire, AAA Northeast director of public and legislative affairs.
“We had record-breaking travel at Thanksgiving this year and we are projecting once again that we will see the highest travel numbers in Massachusetts in almost 20 years,” she said.
With Christmas falling on a Wednesday, Maguire said people have plenty of opportunities to travel.
“They’ve got two weekends on either side,” she said. “A lot of people take the two days before Christmas off. A lot of people take the two days after Christmas off. I think the fact that it’s in the middle of the week gives them a chance to build a five-day weekend on either side.”
Nationwide, AAA projects an increase of 3.9% over last year, or 4.3 million more people getting away for the holidays.
“Of those, almost 105 million will be driving,” Maguire said. “I think that’s due in part to the fact that here in Massachusetts, for example, we are seven cents lower for regular unleaded gasoline at this point in time.”
Locally, the average price will be $2.52 compared to last year’s $2.59, according to a AAA survey this week.
“I think relatively stable gasoline prices — that are well below the tipping point of $3 per gallon — really help people fill up their tank and get on the road to travel,” Maguire said. “It really empowers people to travel. When gasoline prices are trending upward, people might have second thoughts.”
With that in mind, the forecast may play a role in more people traveling. “I think that a tranquil weather week certainly bodes well for drivers,” she said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Kim Buttrick said Massachusetts is in “an extended dry period for a change of pace.”
On Monday through Wednesday, she predicts temperatures will be moderate and high above freezing. Buttrick said residents should welcome this extended dry period following the mix of rain and snow that Massachusetts has experienced in the past week.
“Now we’ve got a little bit of a calm period for the upcoming holiday,” she said.
When asked why travel volume is on the rise, Maguire said low unemployment could be a factor.
“We’ve been building the economy since the Great Recession of 2008-09, so that means more people at work,” she said.
“We’ve got record-low unemployment right now across the country and here in Massachusetts, running at about 3% — that’s the lowest unemployment in some 50 years,” Maguire continued. “More people have jobs, more people are working and more people have a little more disposable income to spend on holiday travel.”