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Thanksgiving holiday travel kicks off — what you need to know:

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NEW YORK — One of the busiest times of year to travel kicked off Wednesday, as the largest number Thanksgiving holiday weekend drivers and jet-setters since 2005 took off.

About 51 million people are expected to travel during the holiday weekend, including 45.5 million drivers across the country — 5.5 million of whom will be in mid-Atlantic states, according to Robert Sinclair Jr., a manager of media relations at AAA.

That's a 3.3 percent increase over last year, and the largest number of travelers since 2005, with 1.6 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, according to AAA.com.

If you're wondering if cheap travel deals are to blame, or thank, Sinclair says that's not the case.

Gas prices are up 40 cents from last year, and despite airfares dipping about 23 percent, rental costs and hotel rates are up.

“So you can fly cheaply to your destination, but you’re going to give it back when you stay at the hotel, and rental car,” Sinclair said.

Why then are so many of us going on a vacation – rather than enjoying a "staycation"?

“Well, Americans get the fewest number of vacation days of any workers in the industrialized world. So when we get a free four days for the most part off, and maybe combine it with a vacation day or two, we take advantage of it,” Sinclair said.

A few things do make this year different, however, said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, Travel and Publishing.

"A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season,” Sutherland said.

Whether you're staying put or taking off for the Thanksgiving weekend, Sinclair warns travel times can double as daily commuters mingle with travelers, making for highly congested roads.

New York, unsurprisingly, has one of the worst airport commutes in the country, taking about two hours if driving from midtown on the Long Island Expressway, Sinclair said. The expressway also has the second worst traffic "hot spot" on routes 106 and 107.

Those looking to beat the traffic can take away at least one travel tip — the best time to return home is early, hitting the road before 4 a.m. Sunday.

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