Marin residents took to the road on Monday for a holiday travel week predicted to approach pre-pandemic levels.
AAA Northern California forecasts airports and roads to be packed with an estimated 53.4 million travelers around Thanksgiving. The projected jump in travel — a 13% increase since 2020 — was expected after the pandemic disrupted last year’s plans.
“Travel volumes have recovered within 5% of pre-pandemic levels, and air travel has almost entirely recovered from its dramatic decline during, up 80% over last year,” said Sergio Avila, spokesperson for AAA Northern California.
In California, more than 7 million people are expected to travel, a 14% increase over 2020. About 90% are predicted to travel by car, an 8% increase since last year.
This year’s holiday season is presenting new challenges, as inflation drives prices higher.
The average price for a gallon of gasoline was $4.68 on Nov. 15, the state’s highest record average price, according to data from AAA. California ranked second among the 10 U.S. states with the largest weekly pump price increase and first among the nation’s 10 most expensive markets, according to the AAA price report.
“The price of crude oil has reached a seven-year high, the demand for oil has exploded, the price has exploded,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis with GasBuddy, an online site that tracks the gasoline sector. “That’s why gasoline prices are at a record high.”
Last year, oil production scaled back dramatically as demand evaporated starting in March 2020 due to coronavirus-linked business shutdowns. But in many areas, demand is now back to pre-pandemic levels, De Haan said.
The gas prices didn’t stop Novato resident Anna Schlegel, who filled up her tank at Safeway in Novato on Monday for the family’s annual pilgrimage to the Portland, Ore., area for a traditional family Thanksgiving. She said the pandemic “isn’t making a big difference — it is what it is.”
“We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years,” she said.
At the Marin Airporter, San Rafael resident Charles Scull scooped up his bags to board the bus as part of the first leg of his journey to see his children in Austin, Texas. He said it will be his first time flying during the holidays since the pandemic began.
Scull, who has stage 4 cancer, said he was concerned that commercial flights might not be well ventilated, although he said he intended to wear an N95 mask.
“I’m not planning to travel much, but family is a priority,” Scull said.
Others had more ambitious travel plans in mind.
Fairfax residents John Benus and partner Margaret Yates, who have been visiting Mexico for the last two decades, were headed to Puerto Vallarta for a three-month trip cleaning up waste in the region.
“I’m a volunteer coordinator … doing the ‘war against litter’ campaign to save our oceans from being polluted with plastic and trash,” said Benus, who has been organizing the ventures for several years.
California travelers can expect mild weather through the holiday weekend. No rain is in the forecast through Thanksgiving weekend in the Bay Area, according to the National Weather Service.
Meteorologist Matt Mehle said dry days with temperatures in the mid 60s to early 70s were expected through the weekend.
“We’re forecasting dry weather, no real chance of rain,” he said, adding the next chance for a storm system in Northern California could be around Nov. 30.
Travelers heading to Southern California can expect Santa Ana winds, which ignited several small fires over the weekend, to die down, Mehle said.
Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis encouraged everyone to take pandemic safety protocols and get a COVID-19 vaccination booster.
“The holidays bring more opportunities for transmission, and at the same time the protection of the first series of vaccine starts to wane,” he said.
Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.