MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Grand Strand and Pee Dee drivers hit the road Wednesday for travel ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

In South Carolina, AAA predicts more people will hit the roads for Thanksgiving than before the pandemic. AAA said 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday is the worst time to travel this week. Other bad travel times are between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. the rest of the weekend.

AAA expects 850,000 South Carolinians will travel more than 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday, which is 13% higher than in 2019, despite increased travel costs.

89% of travelers are expected to drive, with gas prices just above recorded levels for the holiday at $3.18/gallon and hotels up 17%.

“I think people are just so eager right now,” AAA Carolinas spokesperson Tiffany Wright said. “For many people, this is their first big road trip in more than 2 years, so they’re not going to let inflation and higher gas prices stop them, so it’s great to see the travel industry roaring back and this Thanksgiving holiday, we’re going to see it even louder than it was pre-pandemic.”

Wright said more people are opting to drive because the cost of flights has gone up 22% in the past year.

“I think people are opting more to drive now because they can be in control of their environment,” she said. “They’re in control. They have more sense of comfort. They’re in control of their family and what their family’s exposed to. At the same time, they can control what time they leave, all of their stops, and what time they’re going to reach their destination.”

Wright said the increase in travel costs doesn’t seem to be slowing anyone down.

“I think people will find other ways to cut costs, and I say that because yes we know that right now it costs more to do everything,” she said. “It costs more to stay in a hotel. It costs more to drive. It costs more to fly. It’s not going to stop people from visiting their family, their friends and their loved ones. People are just really, really eager and you’re going to see it unleashed this holiday.”

Wright also encouraged people to stay off the roads Wednesday night if possible and be wary of drunk drivers on what is considered one of the busiest nights of the year for bars.

Meanwhile, at Myrtle Beach International Airport, spokesman Ryan Betcher said this year’s numbers should be just about the same as last year, but what the airport will see this week will be nothing compared with what the airport sees in the summer. 

“Thanksgiving and holiday travel, in general, is typically not as busy as what we see during the summer,” Betcher said. “Summers are always going to be the busiest time of year for Myrtle Beach. Even those peak days during the summer, we may see two, three times as many passengers going through on a daily basis than what we see for a Thanksgiving holiday travel period.”

Airport parking has been a challenge for the past several months. With all the growth in the area, the need for more parking spaces to accommodate passengers is present. For the holiday weekend, the airport will have extra lots, but they will not be as close to the terminals. 

“Our parking lots are going to become fuller much more quickly,” Betcher said. “They may reach capacity. We do have contingency plans for off-site, or not off-site, but near parking on airport property. It just may be a little further from the terminal building than what passengers may be used to.”

Passengers flying out of Myrtle Beach International Airport should allow more time to park.

In North Carolina, AAA predicts 1.5 million people will travel for Thanksgiving, which meet pre-pandemic numbers.