As car ownership declines among younger Americans, many of those hitting the road were jumping onto buses. Intercity bus service has risen in recent years with curbside companies like Megabus.
At a Greyhound terminal in downtown Denver, Eileen Lindbuchler, a 32-year-old massage therapist was hauling her bulky massage table through the line to board a bus. She uses her iPhone to coordinate bus schedules and connecting routes, and believes ditching her car this year for the 65-mile journey to visit family in Colorado Springs will save her money.
"I think it's going to be a lot cheaper," she said. "I want to see how it works. I've always had to travel by car."
Aided by smartphone apps, social media and other technology, consumers are getting better at sniffing out deals and realize they need to be flexible with dates and even with which airports they chose when booking, said Courtney Scott, a senior editor at Travelocity.
"I think people are really becoming smarter, more creative travelers and shoppers," Scott said.
Sometimes, though, no amount of creativity with an airline booking can avoid breaking the bank for those with large families.
So, Linne Katz and her five children had to hit the road, leaving their home in Haledon, N.J., at 1 a.m. Wednesday in hopes of getting to her father's home in Tennessee while the sun was still up. But driving has downsides, she said.
"My oldest keeps having to go the bathroom. ... I think he's getting carsick," Katz said, as she stopped to take pictures of her children under the "Virginia Welcomes You" sign at an I-66 rest stop near the Manassas National Battlefield.
For all the options out there, some couldn't make the journey at all.
Lisa Appleton, 42, of Sandy Springs, Ga., said she lost her job as an accounting manager during the holidays last year and had to forgo her usual Thanksgiving road trip to visit family in northeast Ohio this year because she couldn't afford it on the lower salary of her new job with an ice skating rink.
"This is the first year that I have not gone in like five years," she said. "It seems weird to me."
So she and her 23-year-old son were planning to spend the holiday at home, eating and watching football. After checking airline prices, she decided they'll also stay in Georgia for Christmas.
"It breaks my heart, but it's something you've got to do," she said. "If you don't have the money, you just — you can't do it."
Associated Press writers Dave Kolpack in Fargo, N.D.; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, P. Solomon Banda in Denver, Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio; and Matthew Barakat in Chantilly, Va., contributed to this report.