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Survey: Gas prices limiting Thanksgiving travel

Alisa Buzzard fills up on a cool Wednesday afternoon at Speedway in Butler. AAA said gasoline is 47 cents a gallon more expensive than it was at this time last year. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

It’s over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house that Pennsylvanians will go this Thanksgiving — but only if grandma is within an hour’s drive.

A recent national survey shows Pennsylvanians are only prepared to travel 67 miles to visit family this Thanksgiving, due to high gas prices. One in five would suggest that family or friends chip in for gas money. About half said they would rather stay home Thursday and use the saved gas money on Black Friday deals.

While COVID-19 altered or canceled people’s plans for the last two Thanksgivings, it appears that a return to a more normalized holiday celebration may have to wait yet another year. That is, according to a poll of 7,233 Americans by the Florida-based Gunther VW Coconut Creek, which revealed that millions of people will be scaling down their Thanksgiving plans this year due to the rise in inflation and gas prices in particular.

The study found that the average Pennsylvania family is only prepared to travel 67 miles to visit friends and family this Thanksgiving. This is compared to a national average of 82 miles.

Anything further than that distance, and the survey says they will more likely opt for a more low-key celebration in their own homes.

Jim Garrity, director of public affairs for the East Central section of AAA that includes Western Pennsylvania, said surveys by the motor club indicate “more people will be traveling this year. It’s about 55 million just shy of pre-pandemic numbers.”

But, he added, “There may be more traveling, but they are not traveling as far.”

Garrity said fewer travelers are opting to drive over 50 miles this year, according to the AAA surveys.

That could be because gasoline costs 47 cents more a gallon this year than at the same time in 2021, said Garrity.

Gas prices in Pennsylvania average out to $4.07 a gallon in 2022, according to AAA.

It may give holiday travelers pause, but it won’t keep them off the roads, said Garrity.

“In June, the gas prices in Pennsylvania were the highest they’ve ever been, $5.06 a gallon. But even with those prices, people were ready to get out on the Fourth of July,” said Garrity. He said people were taking steps, driving less during the week, combining errands to one trip, to prioritize their leisure travel.

The Florida-based survey also revealed, 19% said they would suggest friends or family to contribute to their travel costs (gas essentially). And perhaps the high cost of gas is the reason two-fifths of respondents say they are more likely to spend Thanksgiving with local friends and neighbors this year, rather than family who live further away.

No matter how far they are traveling this Thanksgiving, Garrity advises drivers to plan their routes ahead of time. He advised leaving earlier in the morning or later in the day to avoid commuter traffic.

“And give yourself plenty of time in case you run into delays,” Garrity said. “If you leave early and encounter a delay you will arrive on time. If you don’t hit a delay, then you arrive early.”

The weather shouldn’t be a factor, at least in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, said Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

“Monday and Tuesday should have a slight, warming trend, but don’t get used to it; sunny with highs in the 30s on Monday and 40s on Tuesday,” Hendricks said.

“It will be fairly mild at least through Wednesday. On Thanksgiving morning, an approaching system could bring rain,” he said.

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