The countdown is officially on to stuffing your face with all the turkey and pumpkin pie your body can handle, and for many, this means traveling to gather at the home of a relative or friend. While you might have enjoyed your Turkey Day feast over Zoom last year, you’re not alone if you’re planning to travel to see loved ones IRL this time around. Driving on Thanksgiving is notoriously frustrating, and this year it’s likely to be almost as busy as pre-COVID times, according to Ellen Edmonds, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association (AAA). But if you are able to plan ahead, you might be able to avoid the busiest travel times and make it to your destination without a hitch.
First things first: Make sure you are following state and federal guidance for COVID safety before heading out for your holiday gathering. Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D., the president’s chief medical advisor for COVID-19, shared good news for vaccinated families on a Nov. 21 episode of This Week on ABC. “If you’re vaccinated — and hopefully, you’ll be boosted, too — and your family is, you can enjoy a typical Thanksgiving meal or Thanksgiving holiday with your family,” Dr. Fauci said during his interview with Martha Raddatz.
According to the official holiday travel recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 is to “get vaccinated if you’re eligible” and to delay travel until you are fully vaccinated. CDC data states that as of Nov. 21, 59% of Americans are fully vaccinated, don’t be surprised if the traffic on Thanksgiving is shockingly worse than last year, when many people just chilled at home with their stuffing and gravy over video chat.
Figuring out exactly when to leave to avoid traffic on Thanksgiving Day or the days before and after might seem like a tall order, but a little planning goes a long way.
The Best Time To Drive On Or Before Thanksgiving
According to Edmonds, day-before-Thanksgiving traffic will be the heaviest of the holiday. “After noon on Wednesday [Nov. 24], roads will start to fill up,” Edmonds tells Elite Daily. What’s more is that the AAA also predicts there to be 48.3 million people traveling by car this year, up 8% from last year’s 44.5 million. Yikes. You’ll see brake lights for miles if you hit the road between noon and 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday, according to data from INRIX, a road and traffic data and analytics company. This means the best times to drive on Thanksgiving are early or after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 24, or on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, itself. Note the data also points to 11 a.m. and earlier as the best time to drive on Thanksgiving Day to avoid heavy traffic.
The Best Time To Drive After Thanksgiving
When it comes to heading back from your trip, the worst time to drive home from many major cities is Sunday, Nov. 28, according to Edmonds. And according to the INRIX data, peak traffic times will be between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. This means that in general, leaving early in the morning on the Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving — Nov. 27 and 28 — will be best to avoid Thanksgiving return traffic. Getting on the road before noon is ideal. If you have to head back on Friday or want to go out for Black Friday shopping, consider leaving in the early morning hours to avoid getting stuck on the road.
During the holidays, steer clear of long waits and annoying lines by avoiding grocery stores and shopping centers on weekend afternoons. According to 2021 Google Maps data, visits to popular shopping centers and grocery stores will probably peak at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, respectively. Google says post offices also tend to be extra crowded on Tuesdays around 3 p.m., so steer clear to avoid extra holiday delays.
Thanksgiving week might be one of the busiest travel periods of the year, but you can make your commute as stress-free as possible by planning ahead. This 2019 Google Maps data (the most recent available) is customizable by city, so it can give you a rough idea of which travel times might be better than others where you live. Check your city’s stats to figure out when you should embark on your Thanksgiving road trip to avoid holiday traffic — and get to the feast a little sooner.
Ellen Edmonds, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association (AAA)
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