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Number of holiday travels on the rise

December 23, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

erinc@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - Micah Tinkler did not visit his family in Hagerstown last Christmas or the one before that. But on Wednesday, his mother was waiting for his flight to arrive at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Tinkler's home in Gulfport, Miss., was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast this summer. He has been staying in a recreational vehicle near the frame of the home in which he once lived.

Tinkler told his family he was coming home this year, in the wake of Katrina, because he needed a "big family hug," his mother, Linda Sappington, said.

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He managed to take an extra day off from his job so he could leave Wednesday, instead of Thursday, and avoid the holiday rush.

According to AAA, nearly 2 percent more people will travel this holiday season than last. Of the 63.5 million people nationwide who will travel over the holidays, 1.29 million of those will be from Maryland.

Tinkler was among the 14 percent of holiday travelers nationwide who planned to make their trips by plane.

Jane Ryerson of Hagerstown flew out of Hagerstown Regional Airport on Wednesday night to Raleigh, N.C., to visit her son and daughter-in-law over the holiday. She said she was leaving early to avoid crowds and planned to return Dec. 29, also to avoid large crowds at the airport.

According to AAA, 201,600 Maryland residents were expected to travel by plane, joining 8.75 million travelers nationwide who will fly.

Five percent of all travelers nationwide will go by train, bus or other means. Of those, about 60,000 will do so in Maryland, according to AAA.

Of those traveling, AAA estimates that 81 percent nationwide will drive. AAA estimates more than one million Marylanders will travel 50 miles or more by car.

AAA said the overwhelming majority of Americans who plan to drive will pay more for gasoline than they ever had during the holiday season.

Gas prices in Maryland are averaging $2.23 - down $1.04 since Labor Day, but still 38 cents higher than they were in December 2004, according to a written release from AAA.

Police in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia are expecting travel to pick up over the Christmas and New Year's Eve weekends, said Sgt. Eric Burnett of the West Virginia State Police detachment in Martinsburg, W.Va.

State police are planning to increase patrols on local roads and Interstate 81 to control speeding and drunken driving, Burnett said.

The average price of regular gasoline in Martinsburg is $2.24 a gallon, up about eight cents from last week, according to the AAA East Central Web site. Other parts of West Virginia are averaging in the mid $2.30s.

Maggie and Mollie were happily doing what was expected of them in the pet area at the Interstate 81 rest stop south of Greencastle, Pa., Thursday night as their owners, Steve and Denise Girourd, took turns holding the leashes or going inside.

The couple and their little brown and black mongrels pulled into the rest stop on their way from Asheville, N.C., where they have been living since 1998, to Athol, Mass., and home to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, their SUV loaded with presents.

"My brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles are there," Denise Girourd said.

The Girourds were among a handful of people at the rest stop around 8 p.m. Thursday.

Juan Salazar, his wife, mother and three sons were climbing into a red Dodge Caravan on their way from Knoxville, Tenn., to the Secaucus, N.J., area to spend Christmas with family.

Inside the rest stop, Bob Merchante, 70, said he was headed to Dutchess County, N.Y., to be with his grandchildren for the holiday.

"Why else would I be on the road this time of year?" he asked.

He lives in the French Quarter, a section of New Orleans that he said was spared by Hurricane Katrina.

Merchante and Michele Garrison of Danville, Va., said traffic posed little problem on their trip.

"It's nonexistent," Garrison said.

Garrison, her husband, Kevin, and son Alexander, 6, were driving to Kinnelon, N.J., to be with her father for the holidays.

The family will spend the night in a motel en route, she said.

"We got off to a late start," she said.

Staff writers Richard F. Belisle and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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