This year, Elliot's mother and sister will join the adventure.

"We go for the thrill of it, the thought that there could be a fantastic deal out there," Dorsey said.

Last year, Dorsey said she found a play cottage for her two children, complete with a working doorbell, shutters and a kitchen for half price.

"It was worth it," said Dorsey, who has since had a third child. "The kids just love it."

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For Christen McCoy, of Ellicott City, Black Friday is a day to knock out at least 75 percent of her holiday shopping. For six years, she and several family members have traveled across the Bay Bridge to the Queenstown Premium Outlets.

"We as a family get so crazy that time of year, it's kind of nice to get it all done at one time," she said.

McCoy, armed with a three-page gift list, arrives around 10 a.m. and shops until about 5 p.m.

"We're there for the long haul," she said. "Boys are not allowed. They just slow up the process."

While both Dorsey and McCoy said their first priority is shopping for others, sometimes, they can't help but find a deal for themselves.

Last year, McCoy recalled finding shoes at White House Black Market for $10. Regular price is usually around $100.

"My mom and I were like scavengers going through the shoes," she said.

McCoy ended up with two pairs.

How to survive

Seasoned Thanksgiving and Black Friday shoppers say it's hard to predict which stores will have the longest lines. The Thanksgiving night Ravens home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers could impact those lines, as well as the time people begin their shopping.

But there are ways to survive the intensity of the days, shoppers said.

First, be prepared. Scan advertisements and research hours before heading out, McClellan said. Have a plan detailing where to go first.

McClellan usually visits big box retailers on Thanksgiving night. Then, she returns home early Friday morning for a brief nap, only to head out again after lunch.

And dress appropriately. Dorsey recommends wearing flats and comfortable clothing, as well as dressing in layers.

"Even if it's freezing out, dress like it's going to be hot," McClellan added.

Temperatures quickly rise inside crowded stores, she said. So do tempers.

"For the most part, people are kind and friendly," McClellan said. "But there are a few psychotic people."

Across the country, crowds of shoppers have broken doors, destroyed gates and even crushed other shoppers while trying to get inside.

One way to avoid large crowds and lines is to divide and conquer, shoppers said.

"Sometimes, one of us will get the cart and get in line while the other one runs around and grabs toys," McClellan said. "It's too hard to maneuver the cart around the store. It's out-of-control crowded."

And remember that while some deals are good, there are more deals — and shopping days — to be had throughout the season, Dorsey said.