Need another encouraging sign that the U.S. economy is slowly on the mend?
Look to this year's Thanksgiving holiday travel forecasts.
AAA predicts that 43.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend, up almost 1 percent over the 43.3 million who traveled last year.
That's the fourth consecutive year for holiday travel growth since 2008, when Thanksgiving travel plummeted 25 percent as the economy tanked. AAA defines the holiday period as Wednesday through Sunday.
Nationally, 90 percent of travelers will take to the road rather than fly, up about half a percent.
The Midwest is likely to mimic the nation's modest improvement, said Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA in Missouri and eastern Kansas.
"Certainly the economy has improved somewhat in recent months," he said. "Consumer confidence is up over what it was last year."
But because Thanksgiving is such a family-oriented holiday, people often find a way to get to Grandma's house even if they're still pinching pennies and have to economize in other ways.
"People will go pretty much regardless of their economic condition unless they're in really bad shape," Right said.
One major piece of good news that's likely to encourage travel is the recent drop in gasoline prices after sky high rates this summer.
"We'd had weeks and weeks of record high prices, so we're in good shape right now," Right said.
Missouri and Kansas have enjoyed some of the biggest price declines per gallon of any states in the nation, down more than 60 cents per gallon since mid-September. Prices in Kansas City are expected to average $3.04 per gallon, compared to $3.13 at this time last year, Right said.
But this year's travel indicators aren't enough to send champagne corks flying.
While overall travel will go up slightly this holiday, the increase isn't as dramatic as it was in 2010 and 2011, when demand grew by 6 percent or more. It will take a much more robust economy to spark a significant increase in travel, according to the AAA forecast.
"Despite mild improvements in unemployment, the housing market and greater consumer optimism, the economy is still struggling to keep its head above water," the agency said.
For those traveling by plane, airports will be busier, and planes will be packed, according to Airlines for America, the nation's leading airline trade association.
Source: Kansas City Star | LYNN HORSLEY