Here’s How To Travel For Thanksgiving Without Going Totally Crazy
This time next week, Americans everywhere will be unbuttoning their pants in preparation for the feast of a lifetime. Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing (from the bird, thank you), mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie. And gravy. Need I say more? But for many Americans, as grateful as we are to be one week away from a marathon of delicious food, this also means traveling. Usually traffic-heavy, infuriating travel. But don't worry about this year: our Thanksgiving travel hacks will save you time — and your mind.
Thanksgiving, you've probably heard by now, is one of the most heavily traveled days in the United States. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average long-distance trip to go gorge yourself on a giant bird with family you're so-so about is 214 miles.
And there are a lot of us doing it. Over the six-day travel period from the Tuesday before the holiday to the Sunday afterwards, long-distance trips increase by 54 percent.
About 91 percent of holiday travel is done by car, the majority of which is done on Thanksgiving itself, rather than the Wednesday before. But if you're planning on flying, or taking the train or bus, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is actually busier than the holiday itself.
The point is: traveling on or around Thanksgiving makes you something of a maniac. But we're here to help.
1. If You Can, Take The Train
When you're traveling by car on or around Thanksgiving, there's really no getting around the fact that there will be traffic. A lot of it. A lot, a lot. The kind of traffic to make you scream obscenities at the car ahead of you on the parking lot you once called 95.
But, according to those Department of Transportation statistics, only 2-3 percent of holiday travel happens by bus, train, or ship (???). Which means a lot less competition compared to the road.
I know, I know: the rail system in the United States leaves a lot to be desired. But it's still better than waiting in never-ending traffic and constantly needing to pay attention to the road.
And Amtrak, though at times frustrating, does offer some good deals on ticket prices. So keep an eye on its deals page. And, also know which Amtrak discounts you qualify for. The rail provider doesn't just have discounts for seniors, kids, and veterans. If you have a AAA card, for example, you can get money off of your ticket price.
Same goes for buses. Greyhound offers discounts, and you can also find discounts on websites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com.
2. If You Have To Drive, Do It Right
I hate to tell you this, but if you're planning on driving home last minute, you're going to have to get an early start. Google-analyzed data revealed that the best time to hit the road on Thanksgiving morning to beat traffic is a shudder-inducing 6 a.m.
You could also try to game the system and hit the road later, avoiding the hours of noon to 4 p.m., which is the worst time to drive on Thanksgiving according to Time. But, hey, that's up to you.
Regardless of when you leave, you need to make sure that being stuck in traffic won't make you lose your mind, so make a playlist that is at least twice as long as your trip would take on a normal day of traffic. That's not an exaggeration. Remember the insane 2016 Los Angeles traffic jam that some experts believe was the worst in the world?
And seriously: bring snacks. Even if you're driving on Thanksgiving, there's nothing worse than being stuck in a car while hungry. And hey, if you're over-prepared and the roads are clear on your way there, you can always listen to high-energy music and drink water on the way home. Fight that post-meal coma.
3. Fly On Thanksgiving
Flying on Thanksgiving is actually cheaper than flying on the Wednesday beforehand, according to USA Today. If you're feeling really wild, you could go for the cheapest itinerary: Thursday to Friday. Sure, it's only overnight, but you're a jetsetter. You can handle it.
All you need to do is make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the feast, even if your flight is delayed. Which means...
4. Check Security Lines Before You Get To The Airport
I have never seen longer lines at check-in than at the holidays. It's like everyone collectively forgot that you can now check in online with most major airlines.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) advises getting to the airport two hours early for a domestic flight, and three hours early for an international flight, but that's for general travel, and not the holidays.
You could also check how long the security lines are expected to be at your airport with the "My TSA" app — though how much faith you want to put in it is up to you.
Your best bet when it comes to fighting long holiday lines is to sign up for TSA Pre-Check. This is a travel hack for any time of the year, but especially if you'll be in an airport next week. It's $85 for a five-year TSA pre-check membership, and the average security wait-time for people with pre-check is five minutes. You just submit an application, do a 10-minute, in-person background check, and you're good to go.
You won't have to worry about people ahead of you in line wearing five belts and all their rings and ferrying six kids along with them. Instead, you'll just cruise through security — essential if you don't want to worry about arriving at the airport four hours early just to barely make it to your gate.
5. Don't Check A Bag If You're Flying
I mean it. Do not check a bag on one of the busiest days in American airports. Pack a carry-on with essentials: a few changes of clothes, travel liquids, and that's it.
This will save you time in several ways: you won't have to go to the check-in counter and can instead check in online. You also don't have to worry about standing around at baggage claim — or, for that matter, going through customer service if the airline loses your bag — which is highly likely around Thanksgiving.
But if you do lose your bag? Or have one of the other holiday travel misfortunes — delayed flights, bad plane seats, whatever — be nice. Customer service reps are people too — and more inclined to help people who remember that, especially during the high-stress holidays.
On that note, god speed, you brave traveler, you. And remember, above all else: eat turkey until you feel sick.