By DAVID HILL
WASHINGTON (nov. 25, 2008)—The struggling economy has made many Marylanders wary of travel this Thanksgiving, but plummeting gas prices could cause them to reconsider in time for Christmas.
About 795,200 Marylanders are expected to travel this Thanksgiving, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic's October survey. That is 1.5 percent less than last year, marking the state's first year-to-year decrease in Thanksgiving travel since 2002.
But as gas prices continue to dip—a gallon of regular gas costs $1.89 in Maryland, compared to $3.58 two months ago—traveling by car this December is becoming an increasingly reasonable prospect.
"I think it would be safe to say that if gas prices continue to remain as low as they are or even go down lower in the coming weeks," said Ragina Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, "then that would probably bode very well for the Christmas travel holiday season."
Danielle Cohen will drive from New York, where she works, to Rockville this Thanksgiving to visit family. In the past she has made the trip by plane, train and bus. But ease of travel and lower gas prices have convinced her to hit the road.
"(Gas prices) definitely are lower, so that was a consideration," Cohen said. "It's easy to go when you want to go and return when you want to return without having to plan far in advance."
Gas prices are not the only travel consideration, of course.
"The economy is certainly in the forefront of everyone's mind," Averella said. "There are certainly factors that are contributing to the lower price of gas and most of that has a lot to do with the financial woes that we've seen."
As investment values decline and state unemployment rises to 5 percent—its highest rate since 1996—low gas prices have been a silver lining of sorts for many consumers. And while holiday car travel is down, it hasn't dropped nearly as much as holiday air travel.
Air travel this Thanksgiving is down 8.6 percent among Marylanders, thanks in large part to rising costs and inconvenience, according to AAA.
"It's not really worth me buying a plane ticket and having to worry about all the hassles," said Michele Miller, a University of Maryland student driving from College Park to Bensalem, Pa., a township northeast of Philadelphia. "I'm driving my friend home with me and she offered to give me gas money and I said it's not really a big concern."
The holiday season is when people are most willing to travel, even if it forces them to make financial sacrifices, Averella said. The relatively low cost of gas could make those sacrifices slightly less severe.
"The holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular, are the times when people are willing to do what they need to do," Averella said. "It's really, really important to spend time with families and friends."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.