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Americans end the year on the move

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This year-end holiday season will see more than 107 million Americans take to the roads, rails, skies and water between Saturday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Jan. 1. Thanks to a booming economy, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts this will be the highest year-end travel volume on record.

All types of getting around will see an increase, with travel by car going up 3 percent, by plane soaring 4 percent, and rail, bus and cruise ships notching a more than 2 percent gain. By year-end, motoring and flying -- mostly to visit family and friends -- will leap by more than 25 percent from 2005 levels, said AAA, the nation's largest federation of motor clubs .

"In fact, this year across the board, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday," said its Senior Vice President Bill Sutherland, who attributed the wanderlust to a "strong economy and growing consumer confidence." Thanksgiving holiday travel this year also rose 3 percent.

AAA also cited the unemployment rate, which has fallen to 4.1 percent from 4.8 percent at the start of 2017. Consumers are spending at stores and on the internet, where retail sales are expected to top $1 trillion between November and January.

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Motorists will ignore gas prices, which have lately been at a national average of $2.47. That's 28 cents more than this time last year. However, AAA predicts gas prices will drop a few pennies before 2017 is over.

Another boon for travelers is holiday airline fares, which are almost 20 percent cheaper and, at $165 for many round-trips, at a five-year low. Arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to departure and expect long lines to board. And you might want to check with your airline to see if it's necessary to arrive even earlier, AAA said.

It's no surprise that the top destinations are the homes of Disney theme parks in both Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California. Other popular places for travelers fly to, or cruise to, include Cancun, Mexico, Honolulu, Hawaii and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Hotel prices at AAA-rated lodgings are lower by 2 percent to 5 percent. But car rentals are 11 percent more expensive.

The organization tempered the good news with a few warnings. Having more than 97 million people on the roads will definitely lead to serious traffic snarls in major cities, with the worst occurring in New York, where the usual bumper-to-bumper delays will be "magnified" by a factor of three. Other cities that will see slow going include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Ironically, the worst of the delays will happen prior to the holiday driving season when hasty travelers set out on Wed., Dec. 20, and Thur., Dec. 21, to beat the "rush" and find themselves head-to-head with morning commuters who still have to go to work and fight their way home.

"Leave early morning or after the morning commute," advised AAA. And if you can, travel on the actual holiday, when everyone else will already be where they're going.

Unfortunately, all the extra traffic on the roads will result in an excess of holiday casualties, which could reach as high as 1,000 deaths. In 2015 -- the last year when full figures were available from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1 -- there were 960 fatalities.

To put the odds in your favor, remember to check your tires, battery and lights before traveling, recommended AAA. Carry an emergency kit, cell phone and charger with you, and use the free AAA or Waze app if you get stuck in traffic or lost.

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