Traveling for Thanksgiving? This is the worst time to leave

You might want to 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 Thanksgiving Day. And the busiest time is around 3 to 4 p.m., Travel and Leisure adds. That said, 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.

Avoid rush-hour traffic before and after 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 Google Trends.

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Beware of how many people are on the roads

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 map your highway route before setting out.

If you need to travel on Wednesday, try to get on the roads early.

If you need to travel on Wednesday, try to get on the roads early. (iStock)

Steer clear of 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.

Where to stop along the way

Google Maps found that during Thanksgiving, people are searching for stores that sell hams, 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 the holiday (or also that morning). Finally, pick up the ham on the morning of Thanksgiving if you can pull this one off — just make sure it’s open first.