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The days are shorter and the air is crisper. In America, waning days of Indian summer mean one thing for sure: it's time to start holiday shopping. There's also not a moment to lose before making travel plans for visits to friends and family during those fleeting windows of opportunity when vacation time, holidays and the accompanying festivities converge. For Americans of all cultures, it's a time that family members gravitate to one another, so enduring endless lines at the airport for flights that will deliver us ever so briefly to our kin has become an annual rite of passage. This year, even as two major airlines struggle under Chapter 11 and a third hovers precariously on the brink, the travel industry hopes that holiday treks will spike the momentum that has been building in its recovery efforts following the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) which tracks U.S. residents' travel expenditures, reports that since 2001 consumer expenditures have slowly been recovering. According to Cathy Keefe, TIA's manager of media relations, For overall travel not one season in particular it is going to be a really good year. 2004 is the first year since 2000 that we are going to see gains in every single travel category. We expect overall travel to increase 3.6 percent this year.

As the travel market shows signs of a return to normalcy, American Demographics and Ipsos North America teamed up to investigate Americans' travel plans for the 2004 holiday season. Our survey was an omnibus telephone poll, rather than a study of recent travelers like the one TIA will perform later this year. Our results indicate that 35 percent of Americans plan to travel during the holidays. Some of the demographic groups that say they are more likely to take a trip are: people between the ages of 18 and 34 (44 percent), who may be traveling home to visit their parents; those with incomes over $50,000 (44 percent), who are able to afford the cost of travel and people who are employed full-time (40 percent), and who may have had to move away from their family and friends to pursue careers.

We also asked respondents to choose from a list of items and to indicate which they regard as the most important ones to take on a holiday trip, such as cell phones, laptops, gifts for family and friends and pillows. The No. 1 answer, by far, was cash, with 53 percent saying that cash was the essential item for travel. Cell phones ranked a distant second, with 23 percent of respondents stating they are the most important travel item. Gifts for family and friends edged its way into the top three, with less than 1 in 10 respondents saying that presents were the most important item to take along on a trip. Alarm clocks, pillows and snacks were the three lowest ranked items.

If there are about 210 million Americans over the age of 18, and slightly more than 1 in 3 of them will be traveling this holiday season, we expect just under 75 million Americans to be on the road or in the air in November and December.

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