Nov 26, 2008

Lifestyle - Recession keeps more Americans home for holidays

Jasmin Melvin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More Americans will stay close to home during the holiday season because of financial woes instead of traveling to see family, marking the first decline in Thanksgiving travel since 2002, a motorist group said.

The American Automobile Association expects 600,000 fewer people to travel more than 50 miles from their homes this Thanksgiving, the fourth consecutive U.S. holiday where travel has declined.

"The overall state of the economy continues to present real challenges for some Americans looking to travel," Chief Executive Robert Darbelnet said in a statement.

The trend may continue into December as well.

As job losses and home foreclosures continue to mount, travel is an expense that can no longer be justified, and many Americans are concerned about how the recession will hit their bank accounts in coming months.

"I was planning on taking a trip to India over the holidays, but this time I decided to forgo the big trip," said 32-year-old Rachna Sethi of Fairfax, Virginia.

Sethi said she is concerned the company she works for may not give annual holiday bonus checks this year, so she canceled plans to visit her family.


Still, some 41 million Americans will trek home to be with family and friends this Thanksgiving, AAA said.

About 60 percent of people said spending time and money on holiday travel was a small price to pay to be with loved ones, according to a poll done for the Travel Industry Association.

"While there are many apparent financial reasons to stay home this year, Americans in general value holiday travel, and I think that they're going to stick to it as much as possible if they can," said Suzanne Cook, a TIA senior vice president.

The poll showed 63 percent of unemployed respondents said holiday travel was worth the money, compared with 58 percent of part-time workers and 59 percent of full-time workers.

Women and older Americans are most attached to the tradition, the survey said, and families with young children also put aside financial worries in favor of holiday travel.

"I am not changing any plans," said Dana Wilcox, 25, of Alexandria, Virginia, who will drive to Maryland and Pennsylvania to visit family and friends, as she does every year.

"Holidays equal family time, and, as cheesy as this sounds, there are two things you can't do with time: get it back or put a price on it," Wilcox said.

Wilcox and the more than 33.2 million other Americans who the AAA projects will travel by car for Thanksgiving will get some relief at the pump.

Gas prices have fallen below $2 per gallon, the best price motorists have seen since March 2005.

But other prices are up.

Car rentals are forecast to be 4 percent more costly this Thanksgiving, the AAA said.

Plane tickets are 8 percent more expensive for the nearly 4.54 million people planning to fly this Thanksgiving, the AAA said, and those travelers face new fees for checking baggage.

(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; editing by Jim Marshall)

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