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AAA predicts busiest Thanksgiving travel season in years: Holiday travel tips

Thanksgiving 2023 is already shaping up to be an especially frustrating one for lots of Americans. That’s before you even get to the dinner table.

This year, AAA predicts that approximately 55.4 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles to get to Thanksgiving dinner, the vast majority of whom — 49.13 million — will be taking the journey by car, according to the organization’s latest projections. That would make it the busiest Thanksgiving travel season since 2019, and the third-busiest (after 2005 and 2019) since AAA started posting its forecasts in 2000.

With millions of motorists sharing the country’s busiest travel corridors in the days around Thanksgiving, it’s inevitable that many will get stuck in traffic for at least a portion of the trip. But drivers can reduce their chances of frustrating delays with a bit of forethought and flexibility, according to AAA.

AAA used data from INRIX, an analytics firm specializing in transportation, to determine which travel periods were projected to be the most and least congested between Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Sunday, Nov. 26.

The biggest takeaway? Drivers should get on the roads as early as they can.

‘Worst’ times to drive, according to AAA/INRIX (all times local):

  • Wednesday, Nov. 22: 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, Nov. 23: 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
  • Friday, Nov. 24: 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 25: 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, Nov. 26: 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Furthermore, the absolute worst time for congestion throughout the entire holiday weekend is the very first “worst” travel window on Wednesday, Nov. 22 (2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), according to INRIX.

If possible, the data suggests, drivers should be leaving home during more traffic-friendly hours, which generally occur earlier in the day or much later in the evening.

‘Best’ times to drive, according to AAA/INRIX (all times local):

  • Wednesday, Nov. 22: Before 11 a.m.
  • Thursday, Nov. 23: Before 10 a.m., or after 5 p.m.
  • Friday, Nov. 24: Before 11:00 a.m., or after 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 25: Before 12:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, Nov. 26: Before 12:00 p.m.

It’s worth noting that the travel windows mentioned above are thought to be the “best” and “worst” for U.S. drivers overall, but peak congestion fluctuates from city to city.