Tammy Silva of Ventura will join what is expected to be a record number of travelers this holiday break, heading to Big Bear with her family.

"We have a cabin up there, so we do go a couple of different times throughout the year. But we've never been up during the kids' Christmas break," said Silva, mother of four. "Our kids love to go and play with the snow."

Over the next two weeks, an estimated 7.3 million Southern Californians will hit the roads or sky and travel for the holidays, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. That's a 1.8 percent increase over 2011 estimates of those taking trips of 50 miles or more, AAA says.

Projections for travel nationwide also are up, with the automobile club expecting 93 million Americans to take holiday getaways.

"There are a few things going on," said AAA spokesman Jeffrey Spring. "The economy is picking up a little bit for a number of people. Gas prices are a lot lower than they were earlier this year. There seems to be a desire to take advantage of those things to go somewhere."

Gas prices have dropped in Southern California for the past two months, and drivers could be paying less to fill up than they did around Christmas 2011, the automobile club said.

Silva said timing was the deciding factor for her family. The kids will be busy with sports after the holidays, making getting away more difficult, she said.

Making a car trip with small children isn't always easy. She suggested packing DVD players, snacks and drinks for the drive. "If the trip is under three hours, then obviously the best thing is no stops," she said with a laugh.

In Southern California, most travelers -- about 6.5 million -- are expected to travel by car.

The holidays can be a busy time for tow truck operators, said Glenn Neal, executive director of the California Tow Truck Association.

Drivers can take a few steps to help avoid needing a tow, such as getting their vehicle checked out beforehand and knowing the best route and alternate ways to their destination, Spring advised.

"It's just important to plan ahead -- plan for some things that may not occur but could occur," he said.

Barry Hoyland, CEO of Barry's Auto Service in Camarillo, said he sees a lot of people coming in for trip inspections and normal maintenance this time of year. Business is about normal this year, maybe down slightly because the holiday falls in the middle of the week, he said.

It's hard to predict exactly when the roads will be busiest, Spring said.

"We don't typically see a peak (traffic day) during the Christmas holiday because it's spread out for such a long period of time for some people," he said. "Some college kids got out starting last weekend and they may not be going back for three weeks. Others may be just getting the week off."

The California Highway Patrol plans to increase DUI and other traffic enforcement over the holidays, said CHP spokesman Steve Reid.

The agency reported 14 fatalities statewide during Christmas weekend last year. Half of those killed were not wearing seat belts.

CHP officers also made 980 arrests for driving under the influence during a 78-hour Christmas enforcement period last year. This year's "maximum enforcement period" runs from 6 p.m. Friday through Dec. 25.

"Our message is what it always has been," Reid said. "Play by the rules behind the wheel: Buckle up, watch your speed, avoid distractions ... and don't drive while impaired."

Travel tips

By road:

Get your car checked before hitting the road.

Plan your route and possible alternates.

Bring an emergency kit, including blankets, a charged cellphone, a small shovel, a window ice scraper, flares, a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, warm clothes, water and food.

Be well-rested, whatever time of day you leave.

By air:

Leave early; plan for delays.

Bring a charged cellphone.

Put an identification tag inside of checked bags, not just on the outside.

Check out http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/what-know-you-go. ___

Loading Slideshow...
  • 11.7 Million

    People traveling at least 50 miles.

  • 10 Million

    People traveling by road.

  • 950,000

    People traveling by air.

  • 398,000

    People traveling by train, boat or other modes.

  • 838 Miles

    Average length of trip.

  • $56

    Average cost to rent a car for a day on the weekend.

  • $95

    Average nightly cost for a Two Diamond hotel.

  • $203

    Average cost per round-trip flight.