About 43.6 million Americans were expected to journey 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday, just a 0.7 percent increase from last year, according to AAA's yearly Thanksgiving travel analysis.
After a couple of years of healthy post-recession growth, this year's numbers suggest it will take a stronger economy to lift travel demand significantly, the travel organization said.
More people are driving, fewer are flying and the average distance traveled was expected to be nearly 17 percent — or about 120 miles — shorter than a year ago, it said.
As car ownership declines among younger Americans, many of those hitting the road were jumping onto buses.
“I can't afford to own a car; it's too expensive,” said 21-year-old web design student Kayla Sprague, of Minneapolis.
Army Pfc. Jordan Clark, of Biloxi, Miss., said he was only able to fly because relatives pooled their resources to buy his ticket.
“It's been difficult. My parents help out, my grandparents,” the 20-year-old serviceman said before getting on a flight from Chicago to San Antonio.
He wasn't so lucky over the summer, when he had to make the same journey by bus in what became a three-day ordeal thanks to breakdowns. But it saved him more than $200.