"It's probably a welcome holiday gift to travelers, giving them a little bit more money to spend on their trip," Averella said.

The average Marylander traveling for the holidays is expected to have a 765-mile round trip, a 2.4 percent increase over last year, which Averella attributed to the rise in air travel. Air traffic might be up because holiday airfares have dropped about 3 percent compared with last year, AAA said.

Dean said he did not have estimates on flight costs from BWI, but the airport is on track to have its busiest year ever, topping 2011's record for passenger traffic. In December 2011, the airport served 1.72 million passengers, he said.

Scott Barbely and daughter River, 8, of Frederick, were waiting at the airport Tuesday for a trip to the Florida Keys, where he recently purchased real estate. Barbely said the AirTran tickets cost just $56 each way, thanks to a return date of Christmas — which Dean said is generally a slow point amid the holiday hussle.

River, who was wearing a pink elf hat, will miss four days of school, but her teacher gave her work to complete during the trip.

"I already finished all my math homework," she said, "so I don't have to do it when we're down there."

Dean said passenger traffic generally picks up Friday afternoon, when many large school systems, including Baltimore's, begin winter break. Construction at BWI will have "no effect" on travelers' schedules, he said.

Lori Russo, who lives in Odenton, hopes her travels go smoothly. She plans to fly Saturday morning with husband, Mark, and 14-month-old son Blaine for a week in Key West, where her in-laws live.

"It is a vacation, but it's to visit family," she said. "We're going down to spend some time with them and get some sun."

Russo bought tickets for herself and her husband in August for $1,000, and they will hold Blaine in their laps. She booked 7 a.m. flights in hope of avoiding crowds.

"Especially traveling with a little one for the first time, I wanted to try to get ahead of the crowd," she said. "But it will be interesting to see if everyone else had the same idea."

For others, flying is out of the question.

Travel can be expensive, especially for students, said David Bouchard, 21, who lives downtown and will start at the University of Baltimore in the spring. He decided to travel cheap, booking tickets home to Mississippi on megabus.com.

For less than $100, he'll get picked up in Washington, sleep on the bus overnight and get dropped off the next morning in Memphis, about three hours from his hometown.

"It's cheaper, a lot cheaper," he said.

At Penn Station, Adrian Pearl, 19, a freshman at the Johns Hopkins University, waited for a train to Manhattan, where he's from. He said the option was cheaper — at $74 — and easy.

"Door to door, it's faster and cheaper than a flight," he said.

Regardless of the mode of transportation, there are also differences in the type of travel Marylanders are embarking on this year.

For one, more are traveling without children. Traditionally, most Marylanders who travel during the holidays do so as a family. But this year, nearly half are traveling with just one other adult, while 24 percent are traveling with the family, according to AAA's projections.

"We're not exactly sure why that is," Averella said.