To most cultures outside the U.S., the time we call Thanksgiving might be just another run-of-the-mill (heh) harvest festival. However, you don’t have to be a devout Roman follower of Ceres to make this year’s cornucopia of fresh vegetables, gravies, and turkeys the highlight of your holiday. Whether you’re among the folks in Canada, Germany, Korea, and Grenada who finished their big crop haul last month, or you find yourself beside those in Japan, Liberia, and Norfolk Island who’ll be joining us in a few weeks, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate. Check out the latest travel tips and trends to make the most of Thanksgiving 2019.
Perfecting Travel Logistics
For generations, parents have attempted to discover the perfect time to book flights or hit the road for a stress-free Thanksgiving. Aligning the stars, licking their fingers to the winds, casting chicken bones – you know, the usual methods. Fortunately, with a travel economy largely booked online, we have decades of data to help bring some clarity to this seasonal rite of passage.
Although AAA notes that if you hadn’t purchased your tickets by Halloween, your best days are now behind you, Adobe assures us that the first week of November is the optimal time to book. During this week, average airline ticket prices are down 10%, though they can steadily rise 14% per week leading up to Thanksgiving.
“We’ve seen a strong level of growth in online holiday revenue share for the travel industries, and airlines in particular,” said Vivek Pandya, managing analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. “Part of that can be attributed to better and more seamless experiences online for booking, and also the fact that prices have been a bit down this year overall. That forces the demand up.”
This is a critical detail for destination marketing teams across the globe. The quicker, easier, and more intuitive your website purchasing system is, the more likely your site visitors are to book through you.
If you’re keen on beating the crowds – and who isn’t? – Google Analytics lists Friday, November 22; Wednesday, November 27; and Sunday, December 1 as the busiest American airport days, so try to plan your travel outside of those dates. Data from Hipmunk shows that Monday, November 25, Thanksgiving Day, and Friday, November 29 are the lightest travel days.
“Thanksgiving has consistent travel trends due to the fact that it’s always on a Thursday, and most non-retail and non-food service businesses close both for the holiday and on the Friday after, as do schools,” says SmarterTravel. “This means that most people are locked into certain travel dates: schools may be closed the day after Thanksgiving, but many are still in session the day before, forcing parents to travel on Wednesday afternoon.” This helps analysts gather consistent and reliable year-over-year data, making stronger forecasts.
Places to Go
If your Thanksgiving isn’t defined by returning to your parents’ hometown year after year, then the world is your oyster.
“[Airlines] charge a lot, as they know that travelers need to get home and won’t bat an eye at several hundred dollars for airfare, so planes remain jam-packed all week,” says Jon Shallbetter of Thrifty Traveler. “But international fares do not fit this price-gouging trend for the exact opposite reason. Travelers’ eyes are focused squarely on staying home, so interest in flying abroad craters. And unlike other holidays like Christmas and New Year’s, most other countries don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. And that’s a boon for travelers hunting for a good deal.”
Deciding where to travel on Thanksgiving calls for more consideration than spinning a globe and picking a location at random. Here are some insider tips for determining the best holiday destinations:
- Since the holiday is traditionally a stay-cation – or a short road-trip – consider more exotic destinations that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving that week.
- The global holiday calendar is packed to the gills, so if you want minimal crowds, visit somewhere that just finished celebrating a major holiday or is a couple weeks away from one.
- Conversely, if you’re looking for an entirely new cultural experience, go somewhere that has a completely different holiday than Thanksgiving that same week.
- Seasonal weather also makes a major difference. If you’re looking for good deals and small crowds, explore countries around the world that are in the midst of shoulder seasons – when it’s not warm enough to hit the beach but not cold enough for winter tourism. In addition to providing pleasant weather, these times typically offer lower hotel rates.
Applying these tips to pick your destination may still feel like throwing a dart at a map; fortunately, The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and Runaway Suitcase have compiled lists of top 2019 alternative destinations:
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- Dublin, Ireland
- Gatlinburg, TN
- Rome, Italy
- Miami, Florida
- Orlando, FL
- Paris, France
- Phoenix, AZ
- Turks and Caicos
- Vancouver, BC
Whether You Should Weather the Storm
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the National Climate Assessment, and thousands of other meteorologists around the world, accelerated climate change is having drastic and surprising effects on our planet’s weather system, such as increasing the severity and frequency of extreme storms. Even Seattle’s KUOW recently published a photo-documentary showing the effects of these new weather events on the sensitive Pacific Northwest ecosystem.
Both 2017 and 2018 delivered some of the worst weather ever seen on Thanksgiving, potentially breaking records that haven’t been matched in a century. If you’re planning to drive with bad weather in the forecast, be aware. A family holiday is not worth a family tragedy. No matter how many promises you’ve made or early holiday gifts you’ve perfectly packed into your trunk, stay home. Your immediate family can Skype in relatives from the main event and set their screens at the dining room table. A virtual Thanksgiving – with half the clean-up!
No matter how frequent of a flyer you are, Thanksgiving travel can throw some unexpected curveballs. I myself have traveled on Thanksgiving for nearly 15 years straight. I have arrived at ghost-town airports as well as crowded terminals that make you wonder if U2 is at Gate A9. I recommend getting to the airport extra early, as tens of thousands of people will be navigating ride shares, parking, check-in, and security at a pace befitting first-time flyers. Download your airline’s and/or airport’s app to get immediate updates on your flight status (and to potentially upgrade your seats on-the-go for a little extra holiday pampering). I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but if you’re traveling with kids, pack more-than-average entertainment and distractions for the unanticipated travel delays. And when those travel delays happen – and they will, something always goes wrong – be cool to the car rental agents, customer service representatives, or baristas who are trying to help you get through the problem. They didn’t create the situation or the policy that led to this circumstance, so be as kind and patient as possible. They’re working away from their family on the holiday while you get to be with yours.
The Siphoning of Sport Ball
Another time-honored American Thanksgiving tradition is gathering around the television to watch some good-old NFL while the tryptophan kicks in. However, as Front Office Sports and our own Destinology reports, holiday football viewership has seen some dramatic declines in recent years. While this can be most simply attributed to today’s wider selection of viewing options, additional factors such as generational disinterest, negative player behavior, league scandals, brain injuries, politics, and an over-saturation of in-game sponsorship and advertising have all contributed to the decreasing popularity of this Thanksgiving pastime. As an alternative, why not go out and join a Turkey Trot? Nearly every city hosts its own version of this guilt-reducing pre-feast 5K. Plus, you’ll get some fresh air to boot!
When placed together, those two words elicit one of two extreme responses in Americans: excited anticipation or deep moral aversion. Originating in the 1960s with exhausted Philadelphia police officers being overrun by tourists and shoppers trying to get a jump on their Christmas shopping, the day has lived in infamy as America’s greatest Celebration of Consumerism. If you’re a holiday gift bargain hunter, know that internet-enabled trends like Cyber Monday and retailers offering online “Black Friday” deals a week early have nearly eliminated the cause for such headline-consuming horror stories. We can move on from midnight mobs barreling into Big Box stores each year.
If leaving the warmth of your couch and the company of close relatives, purring cats, and a crackling fire to wade through raucous crowds at midnight isn’t your idea of a “family holiday,” then nature has you covered. Now in its fourth year, outdoor gear retailer REI’s #OptOutside initiative is giving the company’s 12,000 employees – both corporate and retail – Black Friday off as a paid holiday. Workers are encouraged to spend time with family and friends in the great outdoors. The National Park Service loved the idea so much they followed suit and began waiving National and State Park admission fees on the notorious Friday. So whether you’ll be standing in line for a Fortnite Jumbo Loot Llama Pinata or hiking in the Adirondacks, at least you’ll have plenty of reasons to get out of the house!
Whether you spend this Thanksgiving week at home or in an entirely new location, we hope these trends and insights help you make the most of your time with your loved ones and give you ample inspiration for your attraction this fall season. Happy holidays!
(Author’s Note: For the first time ever, I’ll be taking some of these travel trips personally by going on a trip to Paris, France for Thanksgiving 2019. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post about new tourism trends and insights from the City of Lights!)