This Is the Worst Time to Leave When Traveling for Thanksgiving

Hitting the road for Thanksgiving travel? Read this first before you pack up the car.

According to Google Maps, the busiest time to hit the road for Thanksgiving travel is the Wednesday before T-Day (ooops!). The busiest time is around 3 to 4 p.m. (double ooops!), Travel and Leisure says. Google suggests either leaving earlier in the day, or waiting until around 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to depart. Coming home is another story. Here’s how to do it.

Where to stop along the way

GoogleMaps found that during Thanksgiving, people are searching for ham stores, outlet malls, tree farms, and electronic stores. If you want to avoid the crowds at each, here’s how to do it: First, go to the outlet mall, which reaches peak popularity on Black Friday at noon. Then, head to the tree farm, which gets busy also on Black Friday. The electronics store starts getting customers throughout the Thanksgiving holiday but hits a lull the night before T-Day (or also that morning). Finally, go to the ham store on the morning of Thanksgiving if you can pull this one off (make sure it’s open first). Wherever you’re headed, make sure to follow these essential winter road trip tips.

Rush hour during the holiday

We all know not to leave the house at 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. during the weekdays because of traffic. But during this holiday? The worst time to be on the road is Wednesday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. The best time is Wednesday at 4 a.m. and Friday at 4 a.m., according to Googletrends.

How many people?

Sit down for this one—or at least get outta the car. More than 55 million people plan to hit the road for Thanksgiving, driving at least 50 miles, according to AAA. That makes this the second-busiest Thanksgiving for road travel since AAA began tracking in 2000. “With record levels of travelers and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” says Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.” Yes, it’ll be crowded, so you’ll really want to avoid these most dangerous highways in America.

The busiest cities

There will be record levels of travelers the day before Thanksgiving, and delays on the road will be up to nearly four times their usual volume in some spots, AAA says. More specifically, avoid driving in Atlanta between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, stay away from Los Angeles between 5 and 7 p.m., and New York will be a traffic jam between 5:15 and 7:15 p.m.

Fill up with cheap gas

You may be sitting in traffic, but at least you won’t be shelling out a fortune for gas this time. Gas prices are currently less expensive than the average price last year, though they’re fluctuating quite a bit. AAA expects them to be around the same price during the Thanksgiving holiday as they were during the last Thanksgiving holiday. So you can expect to pay around $2.57 per gallon, depending on where you’re based. Phew!

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Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.