"Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go ..."
That’s the traditional holiday song many of us sang in school before Thanksgiving, expressing the joy of returning home to see family for the holidays.
Of course, today’s version of the song would not include "the horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow." Not many of us take the sleigh to grandma’s any more, certainly not in this part of the country.
Today’s version of that song would have to include something about fighting highway traffic and rising gas prices. Or perhaps long lines snaking through security at the airport. Or lost baggage. Or delayed or canceled flights. Sleeping at the airport while waiting for the chance to embark.
The song, penned by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, clearly was written in a day when travel was both harder, but in a way easier. Hence the irony: Our modern modes of transportation, driven by technology and the internal combustion engine, should make holiday travel a snap compared to the rugged days of horse and buggy. But it ain’t quite so.
And still, we head out. The auto club AAA estimates that some 38.7 million Americans will head out via air, road or train more than 50 miles to visit relatives this Thanksgiving. That’s up 1.6 percent from last year in spite of gasoline prices that have topped $3 in many parts of the country and are teetering right on it here.
The AAA data indicate that 80 percent of holiday travelers, more than 31 million, will go by car, so clearly the pump prices aren’t discouraging holiday visits. It may be that some folks are willing to cut back on unnecessary trips when possible to save a few cents, but when it comes time to gobble up grandma’s cornbread dressing and pecan pie, it’s worth the expense.
Our unscientific poll on gainesville times.com indicates that most of you stick close to home over the holidays. Either the family you want to see is right around the corner, or you just don’t want to fill the gas tank if you can help it.
Either way, gas prices aren’t going back down any time soon. Political upheaval in the Middle East, plus any number of other mysterious factors, have driven up crude oil prices to near $100 a barrel. That means pump prices that have fluctuated wildly in the past few years aren’t likely to head back down any time soon. In fact, when it’s time to load the kids and the presents in the car for our Christmas trips, we might be paying another 10-15 cents a gallon for regular unleaded.
If grandma’s too far off for a drive and you’re going by plane, there is some good news. The Pentagon plans to open up unused military airspace to commercial air traffic this holiday, freeing up more travel lanes for airlines. That could help ease flight delays and congestion for those who have to brave the airport gauntlet this Thanksgiving.
Nonetheless, air travel is a big hassle in any number of ways. Our need for security from terrorism has led to long lines and intrusive searches. In the best of times, it takes hours to get on a flight and hours more to get squared away when you land, so most trips these days can shoot a whole day or more.
So what to do? Relax. Take a deep breath. Be thankful that the airport screeners are there for our own good. For all the trouble it may be, few would argue that it isn’t worth it to remain safe, which our airlines have been since that fateful September day six years ago.
If you’re headed on the highway, take your time and be courteous to other holiday travelers. We may lose our cool in rush hour now and again, but Thanksgiving is no time to slip into road rage. Unclench your teeth, put a smile on your face and enjoy the time with family. Maybe you can even get the kids to peel off the headphones long enough to engage in some family conversation, games or music.
Above all, don’t sweat the trip and keep the destination in mind. With the warmth of family waiting on the other end of your journey, best savor the miles as part of the holiday experience.
And, as our traditional holiday song reminds us, despite the toes-stinging, nose-biting cold, it all ends well with "Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!"
Happy Thanksgiving, and have a safe trip.