MISSOULA, Mont. - The holidays are upon us and it's shaping up to be the busiest Christmas travel season in six years.
AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 1.6 percent over the 91.8 million people who traveled last year.
More cars will crowd the highways around Montana this weekend, mainly due to high air fare and lower gas prices.
NBC Montana spent the afternoon speaking with travel experts and folks heading off to visit family for the holidays. We found out the busiest travel days of the year are expected to kick of this Saturday, December 22, and go until the first of January.
The price of gas has dropped an average of 50 cents a gallon from September to December and although that's still pricey, it's not going to stop Montanans from visiting their loved ones.
A down economy doesn't mean Montanans aren't traveling for the holidays. Doug Fullerton is headed back home to Ogden, Utah.
"I have to fit a bunch of trips into a short time and you know you just can't trust the roads," said Fullerton.
He's just one of 5.6 million Americans who plan to fly this holiday season.
"This trip up here is six and a half hours and I'm just coming off of a long trip to the east coast so yeah it's tough to get around if I don't fly," said Fullerton.
Travel experts say Fullerton isn't alone.
AAA spokesperson Kaelyn Kelly says the year-end holiday travel period is unique. "People are pretty unwilling to let economics factors keep them from traveling to go spend time with friends, family and loved ones," said Kelly. "I think that could be part of the reason we're seeing an increase in air travel over last year."
Frequent fliers like Fullerton have simple advice; get there early especially if you're traveling with your family.
"I would advise that you add yourself a little more time to get through the airport, get through TSA, because quite frankly you've got a lot of people who are not used to flying, they only fly once a year, or they're flying with kids back to see grandma or whomever," said Fullerton. "I think you need to be careful you need to get there early so you don't get caught in those long lines."
People who don't want to get caught in long lines or don't have far to go will drive. Estimates are about one in four Americans will drive to their Christmas or New Year's destination.
"After Labor Day prices start to drop off because the busy summer driving season is over," said Kelly. "I think that it definitely makes road travel around the holidays more appealing to people."
Expect to pay less at the pump and more on airfare but anyone will tell you it's worth it, the holidays only come once a year.
And don't forget however you decide travel this holiday season be sure to check our website NBCMontana.com for updated weather and road conditions.