For the first time since the economy tanked and the country went into recession in 2008, fewer Marylanders are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday than did the previous year.
Don't get your hopes up for an easy commute, though. While less than last year, the number of travelers this year still is expected to be higher than in any other year since 2007. And weather forecasts call for a good chance of rain, which always complicates traffic, on the key travel days of Tuesday and Wednesday.
About 903,000 Marylanders will travel more than 50 miles for their turkey dinners this Thanksgiving, 1.2 percent fewer than last year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. That's about 15 percent of the state's population.
More than half, 53 percent, will be adults traveling alone or with one other adult — and most will be headed to reconnect with family or friends.
Julie Spokus of Hamilton is among those taking off for the holidays for the first time in years. She and her husband are flying to Texas to gather with her college friends.
"I'm glad to get away because it's been a while," she said.
She and her husband have no children, and for several years, the ease of staying at home, eating out and grabbing a movie seemed preferable to spending money on travel, she said.
"Even if you have a job, it's hard to say, 'OK, yeah, let's go someplace and spend that kind of money,' when we can just sit at home and order in or we can make [dinner] ourselves," Spokus said. "You have bills and you're like, 'Do I go on vacation, or do I pay X, Y, Z or make sure I have money for next month's mortgage?' That's been a lot of it for us."
Spokus got a new job last year, though, and this year seemed like the time to take a trip.
Others are watching their wallets.
Economics are always a factor, according to AAA, even though gas prices this fall are at a three-year low.
"While the economy continues to slowly improve, economic uncertainty and an overall level of consumer pessimism remain heading into this year's holiday," said Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "As a result, it appears that some travelers are choosing to skip the Thanksgiving holiday trip this year."
This might be particularly true in Maryland — where the economy is more dependent on federal spending — because of the government shutdown in October and the threat of another after the start of the new year.
Still, this year's traveler estimate is just the second to exceed 900,000 since 2007, so expect Maryland roads and airports to be jammed as usual. Nationwide, AAA expects 43.4 million travelers, down 1.5 percent from last year.
Across all modes of travel, Americans and Marylanders will be traveling farther this year. Marylanders are expected to go 602 miles round trip on average, up from 529 miles during the holiday last year, AAA said.
AAA said more than 90 percent will go by car, and officials across the state are bracing for a long weekend of traffic.
Between Tuesday and Dec. 1, the Maryland Transportation Authority expects about 2.7 million travelers in its tunnels and on its bridges and highways, with more than 735,000 going through Baltimore's Fort McHenry Tunnel.
The State Highway Administration is telling drivers that if they don't plan, they will be sitting in traffic — especially the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Police agencies are preparing for problems.
"Every year, too many lives are lost during the holiday season in traffic crashes," said Col. Michael Kundrat, chief of the MdTA Police. "Our goal is to increase public awareness and to save lives."
In 2012, claims skyrocketed for accidents between 8 p.m. Wednesday — a big party night for many — and Thursday morning, according to a study by Progressive Insurance.
Maryland was at the top of the list, with claims jumping 61 percent that night compared with other Wednesday nights this time of year. Nationwide, parking and rear-end accident claims increased 24 percent, collision claims rose 17 percent and property damage claims went up 14 percent.
Despite the headaches of holiday travel, the Thanksgiving turkey trot shows no signs of dropping off, AAA said.
"It's a sentimental holiday and it's deep in a lot of family tradition, and it's the one holiday out of the year where I think travelers are driven by those factors," said Christine Delise, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "I think everyone wants to be with family and friends — the guilt from mother to come for Thanksgiving."
For Andrew Casper, 22, it's less guilt and more the lure of his mother's cooking.
Casper lives in New York City and works in the United Nations' broadcasting division. He has to work Wednesday and Friday, but will go to Potomac in Montgomery County for Thanksgiving with the family, he said.
Casper plans to take a late Amtrak train Wednesday night, spend Thursday at home, and then take another train at 4 a.m. Friday to be back in New York in time for work.
His mom "is cooking her as-usual delicious dishes," he said, but this year is special. Family members from Florida are coming, and he expects his mother, who is Jewish, will go all out for "Thanksgivukkah." (This year, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincide for the first time since 1888.)
"I am excited to see if she finds any interesting and delicious 'Thanksgivukkah' dishes or deserts or anything," Casper said.
By the numbers
903,000: Maryland travelers (expected)
43.4 million: American travelers
90: Percentage of Marylander travelers taking vehicles
7: Percentage of Marylanders traveling by air
602: Average miles round trip by Marylander travelers
72: Percentage of Maryland travelers visiting family or friends
53: Percentage of Marylanders traveling alone or with 1 other adult
Source: AAA Mid-AtlanticCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun