More than 55 million Americans will drive somewhere for Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA. That's 2.8% more than did so last year, and the most holiday drivers since 2005. As a result, there may be more congestion on the roads this year. AAA predicts that trips in major metro areas on the day before Thanksgiving may take four times longer than they would on your average Wednesday.
More time on the road means less time with family. And sitting in traffic can take a financial toll, too. You might pay congestion or surge pricing on your ride-share, for example, or have to spend more on on-the-road expenses like gas and snacks to cover those extra hours idling in traffic. Studies have also found that congestion increases the likelihood of multivehicle accidents, which can lead to unexpected medical and repair bills.
To travel efficiently and save time as well as money, here's a breakdown of the best and worst times to drive around Thanksgiving, according to Google Maps.
Wednesday at 4 p.m. is predicted to be the worst time to drive, but traffic that day also spikes from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. If you must drive out on Wednesday, ideally leave before 4 a.m., or at least before 6 a.m., depending on how far you're going.
Expect some variation by city. (Check out the Google Maps chart below.) In Seattle, a trip could take three times longer if you leave anywhere between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, according to AAA. But in Atlanta, the worst window of time for traffic is 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
If waking up before dawn on Wednesday isn't appealing, try leaving on Thanksgiving day by 6 a.m. Traffic during this time will be light, according to Google Maps data. If you plan to drive back home after dinner, note that there is a traffic spike around 4 p.m. It may be best to wait until Saturday or Sunday if you have a long return trip.
Black Friday may cause a little congestion as shoppers race to snare top deals and doorbusters, but don't expect significant traffic. In fact, Black Friday morning traffic is "the same as a typical Friday morning commute," according to Google Maps.
If you don't mind driving in the dark, Friday at 4 a.m. is the best time to hit the road for a longer trip.
The afternoon can get congested in some cities, though. For example, in Sacramento, Friday at 4 p.m. is a bad time to make your journey home.
Generally, traffic on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend doesn't differ too much from typical weekend patterns, according to Google Maps data. That being said, lots of cities — among them Philadelphia, St. Louis, Phoenix, and Los Angeles — will have heavier Saturday afternoon traffic, making traveling more time consuming.
Sunday is one of the most popular travel days of Thanksgiving week. Road traffic on Sunday will be significantly heavier than usual. In Cleveland, Sunday at 4 p.m. is the worst time to drive home; in New York, that's Sunday at 3 p.m. If you must leave on Sunday, try to get out of the house around 6 a.m. in order to beat the rush.
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