With so many people planning to travel, this week of Thanksgiving is almost like several holidays wrapped into one - with the added possible complication of winter weather.

That's why officials at AAA and others are advising travelers to make plans early, to allow extra time to get to your destination, and to look for off-peak times to travel. It's the best way to ensure a safe, relatively stress-free holiday.

Thanksgiving is a bit earlier than usual this year. That makes retailers happy, because with the Christmas shopping season traditionally starting on Thanksgiving weekend, shoppers get in the mood earlier.

In all, 54.3 million Americans are projected to travel at least 50 miles from home this year for Thanksgiving (48.5 million of them by road). There will be a lot of vehicles on the road, not to mention big crowds at airports. And that doesn't include the millions of people who will only travel a few miles to get to grandmother's house.

"The holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years," AAA projected. The 4.8 percent increase in travelers this year amounts to an additional 2.5 million people hitting the road, compared to 2017. That's despite rising gas prices, which are 31 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

Travel headaches may have begun Monday already, according to AAA. If you can arrange it, avoid congested areas during peak commuting hours.

The busiest days for travel will be today and Wednesday, with a lull on Thanksgiving, Friday, and Saturday. Expect an all-out rush to return home on Sunday.

The crush at airports will be complicated by traffic on highways heading to airports, which is another reason AAA is advising that, even if you're flying, allow extra time on the road.

Speaking of flying, the lowest airfares for Thanksgiving travel are usually on the holiday itself, and this year is no exception. Fares on Thursday are about $50 cheaper than they are today or Wednesday, according to an analysis by AAA. There might still be time to snag a good airfare to your destination.

Let's face it, though: No matter the congestion or cost, Americans love to travel for Thanksgiving. It's a time to be with families, to share good times and memories, to eat too much dessert, and to do some power shopping.

Just make sure you get an early start, and please travel safely.