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The Worst Times to Hit the Road for Thanksgiving Travel 2019

They say misery loves company, right? There will be plenty of company, at least, on the nation’s highways (and airways) this week, as an estimated 55 million travelers embark on Thanksgiving travel.

And according to AAA, that’s a lot more than usual. This will be second only to 2005 for the busiest Thanksgiving holidays since the organization began tracking data in 2000. Roughly 1.6 million more people are expected to travel this year compared to last, a 2.9 percent increase.

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The vast majority of those travelers are expected to drive: 49.3 million, compared to 4.45 million people traveling by air. Some 1.9 million people are expected to travel on either rail, bus, or other modes of transportation.

Go Ahead, Make My Wednesday

If you’re planning to do your Thanksgiving travel on Wednesday this year, think again (or pack a ton of snacks). Wednesday is typically the busiest travel day of the year. And don’t say AAA didn’t warn you: “For the 49.3 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts major delays throughout the week, peaking Wednesday with trips taking as much four times longer as commuters mix with travelers.”

This likely comes as no surprise, of course. Most people have no choice but to travel on Wednesday either due to work or school (or both). But for travelers who can, AAA and INRIX recommend leaving on Tuesday or even Monday. Monday also tends to be a better deal, according to AAA, which says “[Monday] has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week.” Little late for that advice, but maybe worth remembering next year.

The Worst Times for Thanksgiving Travel in Your City

As for that Wednesday slog, here’s a look at just how bad the ride could be in a handful of major metropolitan areas.

Metro Area Worst Time Wednesday, Nov. 27 Delay Multiplier
Atlanta 5:30-7:30 PM 3.5x
Los Angeles 5:00-7:00 PM 3.5x
New York 5:15-7:15 PM 3.5x
Boston 4:30-6:30 PM 3.4x
Houston 5:00-7:00 PM 3.4x
San Francisco 2:00-4:00 PM 3.2x
Washington DC 3:00-5:00 PM 2.8x
Seattle 4:00-6:00 PM 2.7x
Detroit 5:15-7:15 PM 2.6x
Chicago 4:15-6:15 PM 2.4x

Bottom line? If you have to leave on Wednesday, try to be on the road before noon, prior to the mid-to-late afternoon crunch. And if you’re looking for alternative days to travel this holiday season, you can find them here.

Readers: Are you traveling for Thanksgiving this year?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Japan. I'd love to take a month off and visit the cities, temples, and countryside. I'm fascinated by the country's juxtaposition of ancient traditions and modern ambitions."

Travel Motto: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” –Terry Pratchett

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window."

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