The late John Hughes directed many successful comedies. In one of his most loved films, Steven Martin plays Neal Page, a man trying desperately to make it home to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, released in 1987, also starred the late John Candy, and is a holiday staple on basic cable.
Like a lot of folks, I hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday, a trip home to visit with family in Louisville. Three generations of us at dinner—that doesn’t happen very often. But, when it does, it’s probably a holiday.
And I was hardly alone. AAA estimated 55 million of us travelled 50 miles or more over the Thanksgiving weekend. Nine out of ten of us went by car. (It felt like I was sitting in traffic with most of them when I drove through Cincinnati.) Travel has “mostly” returned to pre-pandemic levels. That includes “planes, trains and automobiles,” as well as cruise ships and buses. Thanksgiving, from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening, is one of the busiest times of year for travel.
This year, restaurants were busier on Thanksgiving, too. Many media outlets reported on the relative value of dining out on Thanksgiving. The Consumer Price Index for groceries rose more than 9 percent over last year, much faster than the relative cost of eating out. But despite the costs, the reported shortages of turkeys, and the challenge of fitting 4.8 cubic feet of turkey, dressing and side dishes in the average 4.3 cubic-foot sized oven, most Americans ate Thanksgiving dinner at home. Someone’s home, anyway.
Franklin T. McAndrew wrote about why we are drawn to travel home at holiday time. Topophilia or “attachment to place” is the feeling of comfort or security that connects us to places. Where we live – or where we once lived, is “closely tied to our sense of who we are.” That sense of home can be fluid. A Pew Research study found that one-in-four Americans identify “home” as the place we were raised, followed by where we live now, or where we have lived longest. “No matter where they come from, people tend to think about home as a . . . place that represents order, a counterbalance to the chaos that exists elsewhere.” “Home,” wrote Robert Frost, “is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Trips home for the holidays are usually joyous occasions, times for family and friends to gather. Thanksgiving is a time to count one’s blessings. It is also an opportunity to think about the steps we can all take to help ensure those blessings continue. How is everyone’s health? Are there physical changes? How is your loved ones’ state of mind? What are they planning to do for the upcoming holiday season? Or the year ahead? Are there household projects or weekly chores that should be tended to? Is there time to talk about, and listen to, what is on their mind? We invest a lot of time and effort into our holiday travel. Setting aside some time for a conversation with our family members can be one of the ways that we make it “worth the trip.”
And, if your trip home leads to conversations about the health and well-being of a loved one, or the realization that caregiving duties are taking a toll on a family member providing care, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging offers a variety of resources and supports for information and services to support caregivers and empower people to age well.
Happy holidays, and safe travels.