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Planning Holiday Travels

What is your getaway day? This year, the Christmas holiday will create a four-day weekend for many -- sort of a Thanksgiving weekend in reverse, with the holiday at the end of the four days.

Our region is likely to see its worst traffic congestion on Friday afternoon and evening. But John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic says an AAA survey suggests there will be several difficult travel days, starting with today:

"Wednesday, December 19, is the third biggest travel day in the period," he said in an e-mail. In the AAA survey 16.4 percent of travelers indicate they will be leaving today, and plan to spend the longest time away from home, averaging nine nights.

Who's able to get this early jump? People without children, of course. "In fact," Townsend said, "our research shows that nearly half of the overall traveling population this holiday will not be traveling with kids."

Then we've got Friday as the big getaway day. Townsend noted that long-distance travelers will join homeward bound commuters on our roads: "Since kids will be getting out of school this Friday and parents taking off work early, one can expect a lot of competition for the piece of real estate on area roadways. From Friday afternoon until around nine Friday night, it will be bumper to bumper, as hundreds of thousands ride the brakes out of the metro area."

Your fellow drivers during a holiday period are different from your companions on the daily commute, when solo drivers dominate the roads: The highest percentage of people traveling this holiday will have two or three people in their party, according to the survey. Still, Townsend said, more than a third of people traveling this holiday will be traveling alone.

He noted this about my comparison to the typical four-day Thanksgiving getaway: The highest percent of trvelers in the AAA survey are planning to leave Friday and return six days later. "So in this sense," he said, "the Christmas vacation period stretches a tad longer than Thanksgiving."

If Friday is the biggest travel day and Wednesday the third biggest, what's No. 2? Saturday.

And though New Year's Day also sets up a four-day weekend, the AAA survey found that far fewer people are likely to use that period as a weekend getaway.

Several readers asked about parking at our region's airports. Both Reagan National and Dulles International provide up to date information online about parking availability.

BWI Marshall does not have that same helpful system, but here's a link to BWI's parking information page and a parking map.

What other information should we share to make this a peaceful season for travelers?

By Robert Thomson  |  December 19, 2007; 6:28 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway  
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Comments

What's the take on Tuesday traffic?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I'm now leaving earlier on Saturday after reading that. My only suggestion is know where you are going. People slowing down or cutting over lanes of traffic to make their exits cause they're unsure of where they need to go seem to get worse during the holidays.

Posted by: Chris | December 19, 2007 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Anybody have thoughts on Christmas Eve? I'm leaving for Richmond (95 south) late on monday night. I'm sort of hoping traffic will be light, but I'm not banking on it.

Posted by: John | December 19, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

people cut across lanes of traffic because they are jackasses

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I don't blame non-commuters who cut across lanes. Many of them are normally nice people but given the rediculously confusing and non-intuitive road layouts with poor signage (Mixing Bowl/Springfield Interchange anyone?) that they only drive a couple times a year, we should cut them some slack...they are just trying to get to their exit. The commuters, who should know better, are the ones who deliberately select the wrong lane and are therefore jackasses.

I plan on leaving very early Saturday morning to drive up to NYC...via Pennsylvania. With the exception of 270, that construction zone on I-78 in PA, and the tunnels heading into Manhattan, its a very relaxing drive and only takes an hour longer than I-95 without traffic on it (which will not be the case Saturday).

For those heading out via the airports, BWI shouldn't have too many problems parking wise (they have a lot of off-airport parking options), and Dulles probably won't be too bad either (all on-airport, you might not get the lot you want, but there should be spaces in the economy lots). As for National, I wouldn't plan on parking there since it will very likely fill up.

If people are looking for a Metro-accessible parking area with reasonable rates, I've used the Ballston garage before. You can park for multiple days there, it costs $8 per day weekdays/$1 per day weekends, and the two block walk to Metro is all in buildings/covered walkways. The garage is fairly well patroled, certainly more so than any Metro lot. You can then take the Orange line towards New Carrollton, and change to a Franconia-Springfield bound Blue Line train at Rosslyn for National Airport, or a Glenmont bound Red Line train at Metro Center for Union Station.

Directions: From I-66 east take Exit 71, right at the second light, left at the first light past Wilson Blvd. From I-66 west, Exit 71, turn left, left again at first light past Wilson Blvd (about 5 lights from I-66).

to the Metro: take garage elevator to Mall level 2. Inside the mall, go to the left, then right at FYE. Through the doors and over the skybridge, then straight through the National Science Foundation building, across another skybridge into "Ballston Metro Center". Just past "My Eye Dr." there are some narrow escalators, go down them, walk straight through the doors and you'll walk right into the Metro escalators.

Posted by: Woodley Park | December 19, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

To John, who is planning on traveling from DC to Richmond on the night of Christmas Eve: I would suspect traffic will be quite light. Most travelers will have already completed their journey by then, especially since the prior 2 days are a weekend. I'm sure most folks will hit the highway on Saturday/Sunday, so by Monday evening you should be OK.

Posted by: CW | December 19, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm leaving on Saturday for Long Island and am expecting it to be bad. Normally I leave late on Friday night, but then I don't get in until 3ish and it takes days to recover from the exhaustion, so I'm changing things up this year. I guess I will take 50/301 instead of 95 up to Delaware, although on the night before Thanksgiving I missed the exit for 50 off of 295 thanks to the construction mess. Hopefully it will be easier to spot in daylight.

I'm planning to drive back during the day on Dec 31, hoping traffic won't be too bad then.

Posted by: another driver to NY | December 19, 2007 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm heading to Long Island, too. I'm leaving early Sunday (aiming for 6, but I will need to pack the car that morning, too) and will be back the following Sunday. If I didn't have to work New Year's Eve, I'd be driving back New Year's Day -- there's never anyone on the roads.

I'm just hoping it's smooth sailing like it was the weekends before/after July 4th -- 5 hours each way and that was with one stop for gas in Jersey.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | December 19, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Headed to Charleston, SC from west of Frederick on Saturday morning (early). Will either jump over to I-81 to I-77 to I-26 or US 15 to US 29 to I-85 (in Greensboro, NC) to I-77 to I-26. The US 29 method is about 15 miles shorter from my house.

My tips: pay attention, be courteous, use the turn signals and headlights.

Posted by: cb | December 19, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Looks like NY is the place to be!

Using 50/301 is probably a good idea. The exit for 50 east off of 295 is the next one following the Eastern Avenue/Quarles St. exit. Its poorly signed because of the construction, but when you pass Eastern Avenue just get into the right lane and take the next turn. Be careful, its a (temporarily) very sharp turn.

Posted by: Woodley Park | December 19, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

We're heading up to New England Sunday. I'd like to leave early to avoid at least some traffic but as hubby is driving we'll leave when he's ready. Delaware seems to be the worst part of the trip (rivaling Connecticut - and that's saying something) with alternate routes not much better than 95. My tip: just pay attention. If you miss your exit, especially on an interstate, it's very easy to go to the next exit, turn around, and get yourself righted. It's not worth the danger otherwise.

Happy holidays!

Posted by: College Park Gal | December 19, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

We left for Ohio at 11 pm Wednesday the 19th. Drove overnight with a 3-week old infant and it was heaven! No traffic, no foul weather, and no cranky baby.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | December 21, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

We too traveled to Long Island between Christmas and New Years Day. This year, we decided not to feed the toll monster and drove up 15 through Point of Rocks (we live in Loudoun) into PA. We then took I-83/81/78 all the way into New Jersey. The only big delay (and toll) was at the Holland Tunnel (we expected that) but it was an otherwise stress-free trip. And we did this with a four-year-old. It was only 30 miles longer than the I-95/Jersey Tpk/Outerbridge/Belt Parkway route, but we had more opportunities for breaks and places to eat. I think we've found a new way to NY.

Posted by: Ray | January 6, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

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