Thanksgiving travel numbers way up this year: How to keep your holiday headache-free!

Published: Nov. 17, 2018 at 11:27 AM MST
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Traveling for Thanksgiving? Get ready to join with your 54.3 million closest friends!

AAA is projecting the highest travel numbers in more than a decade for this year's Turkey Day. More people are expected to hit the roads (48.5 million) and the skies (4.27 million) than any time since 2005. Travel by bus and train -- as well as Thanksgiving cruises -- are also expected to be up.

"Consumers have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season: higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA Travel senior vice president, in a statement last week. “This is translating into more travelers kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on a positive year for the travel industry.”

But with more travelers comes -- you guessed it -- more traffic. Global mobility analytics company INRIX is projecting that travel times in our country's biggest cities could be a whopping four times longer than usual. The worst congestion is expected in the evenings Thanksgiving week.

And the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, avoid if at all possible -- it is historically the busiest travel day of the year.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Our advice to drivers is to avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes.”

This goes for air travel as well; AAA expects Monday between 5:30-7:30 to be the worst time to travel to DIA.

If possible, Thanksgiving Day is the best day to travel, experts say. If you're enjoying a late Thanksgiving, you're also in luck, as Black Friday and Saturday are also supposed to be good days on the road.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, congestion is expected again, as the masses make their way home after the holiday.


  • There's no getting around it -- they're called "peak travel days" because they are the worst, whether the roads, the air, the rail.  If at all possible, avoid the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after.
  • Even avoiding the worst days, traffic will be up starting Monday.  Give yourself plenty of extra time to get where you are going!
  • Map your route in advance and know your alternate routes just in case! 
  • Speaking of alternate routes, it might take a little longer, but with fewer people on the road, that scenic route might just be the less-stressful route!
  • Pack light if flying -- if you can get away with just a carry-on, you can avoid those crowded ticket booths altogether!  Plus, no risk of the airline losing your luggage!
  • Make sure your vehicle is fit for travel to avoid any mishaps on the roadway.