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Getaway planning gets complicated

In some ways, planning Christmas week getaways is easier, and in others more complicated.

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic says his group's annual survey of travel plans found that almost four of every 10 people in the Washington area plans to travel 50 miles or more from home by automobile during the 12 days of Christmas, despite the weak economy and higher gas prices than a year ago.

That would be make this the busiest travel season of the year. But there probably won't be days as intense as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after. Many travelers are options to spread out Christmas travel that aren't available at Thanksgiving. Still, that can make the decision-making more difficult. Consider these issues and advisories.

-- Snow. Today, good for a getaway. Saturday, very bad. Many people have stored away this week and next for a trip. Keep an eye on the Capital Weather Gang for Saturday snow updates, but they also will help you plan your getaway beyond that. If you try to leave the Washington area on Saturday, you may drive into worse conditions than you find around here.

-- Federal employees can take the afternoon off on Thursday, Christmas Eve. [See the Federal Eye blog.] Will that ease traffic them and others? Not necessarily. Many of them will be gone already. Others will add to an early rush-hour. Some will do some last-minute shopping at the malls. Many have to wait till the schools close. Wednesday is likely to be a very difficult travel day. Readers have been asking whether to leave early afternoon or in the evening. Of those two options, I recommend evening, as late as possible.

-- There's less road work now than there was at Thanksgiving, but it should once again help travel when the transportation departments suspend road work around the heaviest getaway and return points. Some work -- the Beltway HOT lanes, Dulles Metrorail and the Telegraph Road/Beltway interchange projects, for example -- plan to be active on Monday and Tuesday evenings, so factor that in if you're looking at a late-night escape.

-- For reaching local airports, public transit is a good option, because you can avoid airport parking fees and because it gets crowded in the parking areas around the holidays. Reagan National Airport gets particularly crowded, so check here before leaving home. Metro will be adding buses to the 5A route to Dulles Airport and to the B30 to BWI Marshall, as it did at Thanksgiving. But the buses -- especially the 5A -- still are likely to be crowded. Think of that when considering how much luggage to take.

-- Metro is adjusting its service plan for the holidays. All day Christmas Eve, it's a regular train and bus schedule. Metrorail closing at midnight and running six-car trains. On Christmas Day, Metrorail will operate on a Sunday schedule, opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight, with six-car trains.

-- Looking for alternative driving routes? Consider some of the options I described for Thanksgiving travelers on The Post Commuter page.

I'll post more advisories and suggestions later, as transportation plans shape up. But please post your own suggestions in the comments, or write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 18, 2009; 10:17 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips  
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Next: Tips on preparing for snowy travel

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