Pack your bags and take those vacation days, because Thanksgiving is almost here. As the holiday season kicks off, so does the season of over-crowded roads and airports. To make sure you get to your dinner on time, you’ll want to avoid the most congested travel times. Take note of the busiest Thanksgiving travel days and times for 2022 to help make your trip a little less stressful.
If you thought summer travels were busy, then you better prepare yourself for the holiday travel surge. AAA’s Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast for 2022 predicts 54.6 million people will travel over 50 miles or more between Wednesday, Nov. 23 and Sunday, Nov. 27. That’s 1.5% more than in 2021, and it’s “just shy” of pre-pandemic travel volumes, per the motor club federation’s 2022 press release. If you’re one of millions traveling to get your turkey dinner and pumpkin pie, crowded airport trams and bumper-to-bumper traffic might seem inevitable, but you can try to outsmart the holiday chaos.
It may seem like a fool’s errand with traffic-filled highways and packed grocery stores and shopping centers, but a little planning could go a long way. With so many places to go — and so many people out and about — you’ll want to steer clear of the absolute worst travel times during Thanksgiving.
What Are The Busiest Travel Days Around Thanksgiving?
People are on the move this season in “one of the busiest [times] for travel in the past two decades,” AAA’s senior vice president of travel Paula Twidale said in a Nov. 15 press release. For Thanksgiving, 89.1% of travelers will be driving, while 8.3% of holiday travelers will be flying to their destination. Catch the other 2.6% of travelers on a bus, a train, or a cruise ship.
Busiest Times To Drive During Thanksgiving Week:
AAA reported “INRIX expects severe congestion in several U.S. metro areas, with some drivers experiencing more than double normal delays.” So, have those road trip playlists and podcasts saved. According to AAA’s predictions for Thanksgiving 2022 and Google data looking at traffic patterns in 20 U.S. cities, these are the busiest times on the road (all hours are local time):
- Tuesday, Nov. 22: Traffic peaks between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. early in the week.
- Wednesday, Nov. 23: The worst time to travel is between 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the height of congestion coming between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
- Thursday, Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving): The worst time to travel is between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the traffic will continue to be a factor from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 25 (Black Friday): Traffic will start to get heavy around noon, and the worst time to travel is between 4p.m. and 8 p.m. Although, according to Google, the traffic at the end of night will be less than during the early evening.
- Saturday, Nov. 26: The worst time to travel is between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 27: Same as the day before, traffic will be the worst between 4p.m. and 8 p.m.
Oof, that’s a lot of traffic. The rule of thumb this Thanksgiving week is to avoid traveling in the late morning into the early evening.
Busiest Times At Airports During Thanksgiving Week:
Wednesday, Nov. 23 is expected to be the busiest day for Thanksgiving travel in 2022, per KAYAK, with Friday, Nov. 18 as the second busiest day. Data from Expedia shared with Elite Daily confirms Nov. 23 as the most popular 2022 Thanksgiving travel day, and Tuesday, Nov. 22 is right behind it.
For your return trip, airports will be packed on Sunday, Nov. 27 and Friday, Nov. 24, per Expedia.
Busiest Times At Train Stations During Thanksgiving Week:
According to intel from Amtrak shared with Elite Daily in a Nov. 18 email, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after will be the most crowded. So, if you’re hopping on a train Nov. 23 or Nov. 27, remember to pack your patience.
The Best Time To Travel During Thanksgiving
Before you let a sea of brake lights ruin your appetite, check out the best times to get to your Thanksgiving destination.
Best Time To Drive During Thanksgiving Week:
AAA’s 2022 Thanksgiving data and Google’s road traffic predictions also highlight when the roads will be the least congested (all hours are local time):
- Monday, Nov. 21: Beat all the traffic by leaving at 8 p.m. the Monday before the holiday.
- Wednesday, Nov. 23: The best time to travel on Thanksgiving Eve is before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
- Thursday, Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving): Hit the road early, before 11 a.m., to make it to your holiday meal, and stay off the roads until after 6 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 25 (Black Friday): Start your shopping before 11 a.m. or after 8 p.m. Very early risers will see clear roads at 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. as well.
- Saturday, Nov. 26: The best time to travel is before 2 p.m. or after 8 p.m. Set your alarm clock for open roads at 6 a.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 27: The best time to travel is before 11 a.m. or after 8 p.m. Again, the earlier the better, with 6 a.m. being the best time to leave, according to Google.
Overall, early birds and night owls will likely see the least amount of traffic.
Best Time To Fly During Thanksgiving Week:
To avoid crowds, steer clear of Nov. 23 and Nov. 27. That’s not to say you won’t encounter crowds on other days, but it will certainly be fewer.
Best Time To Take The Train During Thanksgiving Week:
While Amtrak didn’t provide specifics on the optimal time for train travel, you can expect slightly lighter traffic by avoiding the day before and after Thanksgiving. Amtrak’s travel tips suggest getting to the train station at least 30 minutes before your departure time — and always check your train status to make sure it’s on time.
Staying Safe While Traveling For Thanksgiving
Take a cue from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tips “for a healthy and safe holiday travel season.” As of Oct. 6, 2022, the CDC recommends you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines and a seasonal flu vaccine. You can check on the CDC website what that means for you. As of Nov. 1, 2022, the CDC says, “You are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines if you have completed a COVID-19 vaccine primary series and received the most recent booster dose recommended for you by CDC.” The latest updated (bivalent) booster became available on Sept. 2 for people 12 or older, and can protect you from the original virus and Omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5.
The CDC emphasizes delaying travel if you test positive for COVID-19 and to isolate for at least five days. Testing is not required to fly domestically, but it’s recommended you test “as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than 3 days) before travel,” per the CDC. Similarly, masks are no longer required on public transportation, but it’s still recommended to wear masks “in indoor public transportation settings.”
If you’re traveling internationally, check local requirements as each country’s COVID protocols may differ from the U.S.
It can be overwhelming to think of all the travel prep and figure out when to leave as to not get caught in a traffic jam. There’s no exact science to make sure you won’t run into any holiday crowds — even with all the intel, there’s a chance your “not-busy” Thanksgiving travel time period will be a little slower than you want — but it still doesn’t hurt to plan for off-peak travel times. So, set your alarm and hope for the best. A slice of pumpkin pie is waiting for you on the other side.
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