The American Automobile Association (AAA) is predicting that 49 million people will hit the road over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s a scant 0.4% bump over last year and about 2.5% under pre-pandemic volumes, but enough to rank as the third busiest Thanksgiving since the Triple-A started tracking holiday traffic in 2000.
“Plan ahead and pack your patience,” says Paula Twidale, AAA’s Senior Vice President of Travel.
Timing is everything, according to Waze, the Google-owned navigation app, which has crunched historical data to predict when traffic will be at its best and worst over the holiday week, so drivers can time their journeys just right.
For those who want to encounter the lightest traffic on their way to visit family or friends, the best strategy is to leave on Monday, November 21, and return home on Friday, November 25. Waze is predicting that these two days will be when car volume is lowest during the week.
The very worst game plan is to leave Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and return Saturday, November 26. Popular with those who don’t take paid time off for the holiday, this plan is projected to involve the two busiest travel days of the week.
The middle of the road, so to speak, would be to leave on Tuesday, November 22, and return home on Sunday, November 27. Waze expects these days to have comparatively moderate traffic over the holiday.
Based on last year, Waze predicts that big East Coast metropolises will cough up the most traffic snarls. Of the 10 urban areas expected to have the worst congestion, six are in the East, compared to three in the Midwest or Central U.S. and just one on the West Coast.
The ranking of where to expect the worst traffic, according to Waze, is:
- New York
- Washington, D.C.
- Los Angeles
- Dallas-Fort Worth
When it comes to beating the traffic, the early worm gets the fewest hassles. According to AAA, those who are traveling by car should get on the road before 11 a.m., and try to avoid crossover with commuters on weekday afternoons. Above all else, avoid traveling between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the weekend days, Friday through Sunday.
AAA has also forecasted the worst times to travel in major metros. In the New York City area, for example, expect peak congestion between 2:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on travel days, while Atlanta’s crunch time will occur earlier, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, the national average for gas is $3.76, down 13 cents from a month ago and down 34 cents from a year ago, according to AAA data.