Thanksgiving travel: Best and worst times to go

Thanksgiving traffic is seeing an uptick as families throughout the country plan to reunite now that there are coronavirus vaccines available.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that Thanksgiving travel will reach pre-pandemic levels with an estimated 53.4 million people hitting the roads. 

Utilizing traffic data from INRIX – a location-based analytics company that monitors motor vehicle movement – AAA was able to come up with an updated travel forecast that has narrowed down the best and worst times to drive around Thanksgiving week.

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According to INRIX’s traffic data, the best times to drive are on Wednesday after 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday before 11 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday before 12 p.m. 

The worst times to drive are on Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

INRIX’s Best Times to Travel on the Week of Thanksgiving

(Nov. 24 to Nov. 28)

Wednesday: After 9 p.m.

Thursday: Before 11 a.m.

Friday: Before 11 a.m.

Saturday: Before 12 p.m.

Sunday: Before 12 p.m.

INRIX’s Worst Times to Travel on the Week of Thanksgiving

(Nov. 24 to Nov. 28)

Wednesday: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Thursday: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Friday: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunday: 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

"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, in a statement. "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."

The 10 U.S. metros that will likely see the worst of Thanksgiving traffic on Wednesday are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. According to INRIX’s data, these cities will see traffic increases between 211% and 482% anytime between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Rising Thanksgiving travel numbers are the main reason why travel experts and bloggers are recommending holiday celebrants to leave earlier than usual. In some cases where flights are involved, experts are suggesting people arrive three to four hours early to ensure they get through security checks and other long lines without issue.

Last year the AAA predicted 50 million Americans would travel over Thanksgiving, but in actuality, there were 47.1 million. And the year before that, the association’s prediction of 55 million Thanksgiving travelers was exceeded with 56 million Americans who actually traveled during the holiday.

"This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year," said Paula Twidale, the senior vice president of AAA Travel. "Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday."

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