CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Millions of travelers are now hitting the roads and taking to the skies in an all-out effort to be home for the holidays.

AAA Carolinas says a record 2.8 million North Carolinians will travel at least 50 miles from home this holiday season, and 90.5 percent of them are driving.

Overall, AAA says almost 49,000 more travelers will be on the road and in the air this year compared to last, with people feeling better about the economy as one reason why.

Cornelius resident Dan Helou is driving to Florida, but stopped for a cup of coffee at a rest stop off I-77 in South Carolina.

Nine-and-a-half hours, Helou said, while describing his trip.

Helou is joined on the road by Josh Boyer and his family, heading from Pennsylvania to Aiken, S.C., which is his hometown.

It's about a 10 to 11 hour drive depending upon how many times we stop for the kids, Boyer said.

AAA says drivers will find the same gas prices in North Carolina as last year, hovering at $3.23 per gallon. It's one reason for the increase in drivers.

The economy has improved from last year, the stock market is up, housing is better, unemployment is relatively high but it's gone down from last year, so people feel better about traveling over the holiday, said AAA spokesperson Angela Vogel Daley.

Friday at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a busy departure day with a majority of passengers leaving now expected to return next Thursday or Friday.

Desmond Haygood is flying to Dallas.

Everything is pretty good so far. Hopefully no delays or anything like that, just safe travels to everyone, he said.

AAA says airfares are down 3 percent from a year to top U.S. destinations.

The airport says expect congestion, expect flights at or near capacity and expect high demand for parking. The recommendation is pack some extra time and patience into your travel plans.

Traveling long hours and lots of miles on the ground or air is part tradition, and part reward of being home for the holidays.

We've just had a long semester, so a quick flight is the least of my worries right now, said Michael DeSimone, a student at Davidson College.

Ready to let the hair down, relax and enjoy the season, Boyer said.

AAA says the average trip for North Carolina travelers this holiday is 965 miles, up 200 miles from last year.

Safety is always a concern on the road.

Last year, 37 people died on North Carolina roads during the holiday travel season. The overwhelming majority of the deaths involved drunk drivers and people not wearing seat belts.

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