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Don’t Bet On Happy Trails If You Travel At Thanksgiving

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With so many millions of Americans traveling over the Thanksgiving period it is no wonder that the experience is anything but thankful

In most countries when half the population picks up and moves at the same time there’s been an invasion, a major natural disaster or a significant civil war. In the US, they call it Thanksgiving. Whilst in news footage in Africa those people are escaping a nightmare, in America people drive hundreds of miles out of their way to join in with one. Oh I know, some Thanksgiving gatherings are just like the adverts on TV, all shiny and happy and full of joy, but a lot of them are a little less utopian.

One of the things none of those plastic people trying to sell us things ever appears to have done is spent hours in traffic, wrestled their way through a major airport or had to put up with the customer service deficiency that is rail travel in the US today. Their makeup is flawless, their demeanor buoyant and the image of thanksgiving they portray devoid of all reality, however much they attempt to “keep it real” there’s no disguising the saccharine sweet undertones.

The commercial aspect aside the tradition of Thanksgiving travel as we know it today really only stems back to 1941 when Roosevelt legislated the date of the holiday for the entire country. Up until that point the country’s various states celebrated it as and when they felt like it, and even when Roosevelt legislated only half the states opted for his choice, Texas took the new one and kept the old one, until Roosevelt once again hit the statute books and the fourth Thursday in November got fingered.

The organized chaos that is Thanksgiving travel is an inherent accompaniment to the orchestrated nature of the holiday. Far from being the original harvest festival that would have occurred, oh I don’t know, say when the harvest was done wherever it was you were harvesting, the nationalization was merely an economic consolidation extending the Christmas shopping period of the 1940s. That we all now give thanks on the same day and need to travel to do so, apparently, is a construct, not a tradition at all.

The Road To Hell

The legislation of a single day of Thanksgiving was an economic choice that was gambling news from the consumer led economy would be better, a gamble made all the more important by the war that then engulfed the world. Of course in the 1940s travel wasn’t as accessible nor as swift as today but still many an American made the pilgrimage home to the family table to realize just how much they wanted to spend Christmas with anyone other than these people.

Mass Transit For Thanksgiving

  • 91% of journeys by car
  • Drivers stay mobile betting on the traffic
  • Air travel also a popular nightmare

The development of this economic aspect to the holiday is massively evidenced by the growth of both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the shopping involved in at least the former just adds to the travel chaos, not for the journey to Thanksgiving but always for the journey back, especially if you’re traveling by car. Of course most people do travel by car for Thanksgiving, a whopping 91% in fact, and with journeys up 54% from normal that’s a lot of cars on the road.

It’s quite tricky to enjoy Thanksgiving when a large portion of it consists of a claustrophobic slow moving journey in a metal box with fidgeting children, a moody spouse and the ever present danger of a road accident making things worse. Of course there are far more accidents over Thanksgiving, what with the celebratory drinks to be had, making it statistically the most dangerous holiday next to Christmas.

Of course one of the big factors in that is the weather and hoards of drivers take to the internet betting in the US that the weather report will be favorable for their drive, knowing that if not conditions could be dicey. A cold snap from the north can render an easy road trip into an epic struggle against the hostile elements, and provides very few reasons once it’s over to be thankful for anything but not having to drive back if you drink enough.

Up, Up, And Away

Air travel is increasingly popular at Thanksgiving as the average journey distance increases over time and with only a 10% decrease business travel and a 54% increase in Thanksgiving related travel overall it’s one of the worst times to be anywhere near an airport. The TSA like to make a show of keeping everyone safe, which means queues of miserable people await their papers to be checked like some horrific Kafka-esque nightmare, so they can get in a tube of other people’s farts and sail up into the wide blue yonder.

Certainly air travel is as fast now as its likely to be for the foreseeable future, but the expansion of air travel doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone will ever enjoy it again, the terminals are ever more like shopping malls that happen to have a runway, there’s the almost dehumanizing manner in which the polished airline staff treat you like cattle, albeit cattle to whom they have to be polite, and throughout it all there’s that feeling that the TSA are just itching to give you a cavity search for their own amusement.

Rail travel is no longer as popular as it was, which is a shame, until you try it, then you realize why and never think about it again. However public transport was never going to be competition for the love affair Americans have with their cars, and indeed a few thanksgiving thoughts will be muttered around the table that their vehicle got them safely to their destination despite needing a good servicing from a mechanic not a quick tinker before the off by the driver.

The travel nightmare of Thanksgiving is repeated every year, with those traveling far often caught up in the commercial insanity of the early Christmas sales, whilst online gambling sites in the US and elsewhere give you the option to bet on the commercial success of the season, in the end, safety comes first, and no one’s sanity is safe trying to travel the highways and byways of America at the same time as another 45 million people attempt to do exactly the same.

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