Travel | November 23, 2021 12:09 pm

What Are the Best and Worst Times to Hit the Road This Thanksgiving?

48.3 million are expected to drive to Thanksgiving this year. Here are the best (and worst) times to be driving, as well as the busiest cities to drive through.

What Are the Best and Worst Times to Hit the Road This Thanksgiving?

Just two days out from Thanksgiving, and travel is shaping up more or less exactly how we thought it would.

Per AAA‘s forecast, more than 53.4 million people are expected to travel this week, in what will be the highest single-year increase since 2005. The TSA, meanwhile, reported last week that it expected to screen 20 million passengers over the Thanksgiving travel period (yesterday, 2,081,064 people were screened at airport security checkpoints nationwide, making it the fifth consecutive day with checkpoint volume topping the two million mark).

With airports crowded again, get to the airport early — just like you did pre-pandemic.. The busiest days to fly? Historically, the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward are the ones to avoid. That said, if you’re flying — and you’ve already booked airfare — there’s very little you can do at this stage of the game as far avoiding what’s to come. All you can do is get to the airport early, carry on and try not to be a jerk.

The good news for those bound for the airport, though, is that, according to AAA, the overwhelming majority of travelers — 48.3 million, in fact — are still expected to drive, up 13 percent from last year.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” said INRIX Transportation Analyst Bob Pishue. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

If you are driving, chances are you have a little more leeway as far as arrivals and departures go. A few things to keep in mind before you hit the road this week:

  • If you can, leave Tuesday — it’s the best day to avoid Thanksgiving traffic.
  • The worst time to be on the road on Wednesday is going to be between 12 p.m.-8 p.m. The best time to leave is after 9 p.m.
  • If you’re waiting until Thanksgiving, avoid the hours of 12 p.m.-3 p.m. The best time to be on the road on Thursday is going to be anytime before 11 a.m.
  • If you’re headed home on Friday, the busiest travel times are anticipated to be 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Shoot to be out prior to 11 a.m. or wait until nighttime.
  • On Saturday, 2 p.m.-7 p.m. are predicted to get pretty congested. The best time to be on the roads will be before 12 p.m.
  • Similarly, the best time to travel by car on Sunday is going to be before 12 p.m. Avoid 1 p.m.-7 p.m.

Drivers within major metro areas should also obviously be prepared for major delays. According to INRIX’s analysis, the busiest cities are expected to be Atlanta (namely I-85 S, Clairmont Rd to MLK Dr), Boston (I-93 N, Quincy Market to MA-28), Chicago (I-290 W, Morgan St to Wolfe Rd), Detroit (I-96 W, 6 Mile Rd to Walled Lake), Houston (I-10 W, Sjolander Rd to TX-330), Los Angeles (I-5 S, Colorado St to Florence Ave), New York (I-495 E, Borden Ave to Little Neck Pkwy), San Francisco (I-80 E, I-580 to San Pablo Dam Rd), Seattle (I-5 S, WA-18 to WA-7) and Washington DC (Washington DC).

The top destinations this Thanksgiving, meanwhile, are expected to be Orlando, FL, Anaheim, CA, New York, NY, Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Honolulu, HI, Kahului, Maui, HI, Atlanta, GA, Tampa, FL and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. So — again — plan for heavy delays in those areas.

There have also been some reports predicting weather that is less than ideal in the wake of one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. In an interview with The Washington Post, chief meteorologist at AccuWeather Jonathan Porter warned of a “variety of impacts that are going to be poorly timed with the onset of Thanksgiving travel.” With rain and gusty winds potentially starting Sunday and Monday, travelers coming and going from the North East and Great Lakes states should exercise caution.