How to Avoid the Worst Thanksgiving Traffic

November 22, 2016

Busiest travel day of the year

The family has gathered. The sweet potatoes are steaming. The candles are lit…. and you’re still behind the wheel on I-95, staring at the tail lights of the car ahead of you. Don’t get caught in Thanksgiving traffic if you can help it!

Here’s a heads-up on the most congested cities, plus tips for beating jams.

Where you’ll find the worst Thanksgiving traffic

The day before Thanksgiving actually isn’t the busiest travel day of the year. That honor (if you want to call it that) goes to Fridays in June, July and August, as families head out on summer vacations. Of course, that’s not very comforting when you’re creeping along the Interstate at 7 mph. From Miami to New York City, the East Coast sees the worst Thanksgiving traffic, reports driving data company Inrix. Here are the cities where things get hairiest.

Thanksgiving traffic in New York City

NYC thanksgiving traffic“Drivers should expect a normal 30-minute trip under free-flow conditions to take closer to 47 minutes in New York at the peak hour,” Inrix reports. Manhattan drivers will get the worst of it, and the biggest backup usually occurs on eastbound I-495, the Long Island Expressway, at the Northern State Parkway.

Thanksgiving traffic in Washington, D.C.

The Washington/Northern Virginia area has notoriously bad commuter traffic. Add thousands of Thanksgiving drivers, and you have a recipe for going nowhere, slowly. “Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. had the lowest average travel speed on the interstates and other prime travel routes,” the Washington Post reports.

Thanksgiving traffic in Miami

Not only are Miami residents hitting the highways before Thanksgiving, but travelers may be streaming into the city. Hotwire named Miami Beach one of its top Friendsgiving destinations (for people who prefer to celebrate with friends instead of fractious families).

Thanksgiving traffic in Boston

You can count on Bostonians to be contrary, and the holidays are no exception. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is the craziest day on the roads, the city found, with 9,323 traffic jams across the city. Trouble spots to avoid include Brighton Avenue, Harvard Street, Summer Street, and Washington Street.

Thanksgiving traffic in Los Angeles

On the West Coast, LA sees the heaviest Thanksgiving traffic. “Expect travel times to take at least 30% longer between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.,” Inrix advises.

Thanksgiving traffic in San Franciscoholiday traffic tips

San Francisco’s often-gnarly traffic isn’t the worst, pre-Thanksgiving, but it’s not the best either. Watch out for backups on I-80,which connects the city to Oakland. Oddly, the busiest holiday travel day of the year in San Francisco is Saturday.

Ways to beat the worst Thanksgiving traffic

  • Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Deciding when to leave for Thanksgiving is a lot like playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” You think you’re outsmarting the other guy — and then you realize he beat you to the punch. It won’t help to leave work two hours early, because that’s what every other person is doing. “Congestion in top East Coast cities starts to significantly increase around the 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. hours, receding between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.,” Inrix reports.
  • Be an extreme early bird — or a night owl. If you want to avoid holiday traffic, grab your coffee (just don’t spill it all over your car seats, but if you do, here’s a quick how-to guide to removing coffee stains quickly) and stumble out the door at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Or, you can sleep in and then depart in the evening, around 8 or 9 p.m. Just make sure you can safely drive late at night. If you’re exhausted, wait until Thursday.
  • Prepare for the worst. Even if you carefully plan your route and leave right on time, you could get stuck in an unexpected jam. So bring things to make the wait easier: snacks, drinks, audiobooks, music and entertainment for kids.
  • Download a traffic app. Waze, Google Maps and INRIX can all help re-route you in real-time if end up getting stuck in unexpected traffic. While they can definitely help, keep in mind that the heavy influx of drivers might mean they can’t help you avoid all holiday traffic.
  • Drive on Thanksgiving Day, if you can. thanksgiving travelRoads are usually clear on Thursday, so this is the best choice for shorter trips. Don’t plan to drive 500 miles, though, or you could miss the turkey altogether.
  • Don’t just think about the traffic in your own city. You might leave D.C. by noon on Wednesday and think you’re in the clear — but then you hit Philadelphia right as the rush is beginning.
  • Return on Monday, if you can. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, traffic again becomes very congested in most cities. Saturday isn’t much better. Experts recommend driving home on Monday or Friday.

Compare.com wishes you a safe and traffic-free holiday!

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