Christmas Traffic: Best and Worst Times to Travel

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Plan your holiday journey wisely with insights on Christmas traffic – discover the best and worst times to travel for a stress-free festive season.

two women in Christmas costume hugging each other
Capturing the magic of Christmas lights. Image credit: teksomolika/Freepik

The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration, but it can also be a time of stress and frustration when it comes to travel. Whether you are flying, driving, or taking a train, you may face challenges such as crowded airports, Christmas traffic, or bad weather. How can you avoid these pitfalls and enjoy your holiday trip? The answer is simple: plan ahead. In this holiday travel guide, we will share with you some tips and insights on how to travel smartly and safely during the Christmas season. You will learn how to choose the best time to travel, how to pack efficiently, how to deal with potential problems, and more.

Table of Contents

The Worst Time to Travel During the Christmas and New Year Holiday

If you are planning to travel by car during the Christmas and New Year holidays, you might want to avoid some of the worst times to hit the road. According to Inrix, a global leader in transportation analytics, the worst times to travel during the Christmas holiday are usually two days before Christmas and two days after. To avoid the Christmas traffic, it’s best to stay away from these days if you can. Specifically, traffic tends to be the worst in the late afternoon and early evening on Thursday and Friday leading up to Christmas, especially in big cities.

a small gnome surrounded by Christmas lights
The most wonderful time of the year is here, and so is this adorable gnome. Image credit: Freepik

On the bright side, Christmas traffic will be much lighter than Thanksgiving, which is one of the busiest travel days of the year. This is because the Christmas travel period is longer and more spread out, while Thanksgiving travel is concentrated in a few days. Additionally, it’s worth noting that, according to data from the United States Department of Transportation, road traffic still hasn’t returned to pre-COVID levels.

To help you plan your trip, we have researched recent years’ data and identified the following dates as the most problematic for traveling this year:

  • Friday, December 22, 2023
  • Saturday, December 23, 2023
  • Tuesday, December 26, 2023
  • Wednesday, December 27, 2023
  • Thursday, December 28, 2023

US Cities with the Worst Holiday Traffic

Aside from the busiest travel days of the year, knowing the congested areas can help you smoothly navigate through the holiday rush. According to Inrix, Christmas traffic is expected to be especially heavy in major cities like Chicago, Seattle, and New York City. To avoid the worst congestion, here are the areas and times you should steer clear of during this festive season:

New York City

  • December 27, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
  • 358% above normal on Interstate 278 South from Interstate 495 to 3rd Avenue.


  • December 27, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
  • 270% above normal on Interstate 95 South from Interstate 395 to Virginia State Route 123.


  • December 23, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
  • 240% above normal on Interstate 290 West from Morgan Street to Wolf Road.


  • December 28, 4:45 to 6:45 p.m.
  • 215% above normal on Interstate 5 South from Washington State Route 18 to Washington State Route 7.


  • December 23, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m.
  • 209% above normal on U.S. Route 23 North from 8 Mile Road to Interstate 96.


  • January 2, 3:45 to 5:45 p.m.
  • 198% above normal on Interstate 85 South from Clairmont Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.


  • January 2, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
  • 195% above normal on Interstate 10 West from Sjolander to Texas State Highway Spur 330.

Los Angeles

  • January 2, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
  • 194% above normal on Interstate 405 South from Sunset Boulevard to Interstate 105.


  • December 23, 1:45 to 3:45 p.m.
  • 155% above normal on Interstate 93 North from Quincy Market to Route 28.

San Francisco

  • December 23, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
  • 166% above normal on Interstate 80 North from Interstate 580 to San Pablo Dam Road.

Best Days to Travel for Christmas and New Year Holidays

For smooth and affordable travel during the holiday season, we recommend these dates for your trip, based on the traffic and flight price trends we have analyzed:

  • Monday, Dec. 18, 2023
  • Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023
  • Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023
  • Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023
  • Monday, Dec. 25, 2023

If you’re hitting the roads on these dates, it’s best to start your holiday journey early, before 7 a.m. or after the morning rush between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., regardless of the day you plan to leave. You might also want to explore alternative routes to avoid major city traffic during peak holiday travel times. If your schedule allows, consider leaving on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, when there are typically fewer cars on the road. This can make your travel experience more relaxed.

Additionally, we recommend planning your return from holiday travels on these days to ensure you’re back home before New Year’s:

  • Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023
  • Friday, Dec. 29, 2023

Returning on these dates can help you avoid the rush and ensure a smoother journey as you head back home.

How to Prepare for Holiday Travel

Once you’ve figured out the best days to travel, it’s crucial to ensure you’re well-prepared, especially if you’re traveling by car. Take these steps to avoid any unexpected issues and make your trip smoother:

Vehicle Check-Up

  • Get an oil change and have a certified mechanic inspect your vehicle thoroughly.
  • Check the battery, fluid levels, lights, windshield wipers, brakes, belts, and hoses.
  • Ensure tires are in good condition and consider the appropriate seasonal adjustments, such as putting on winter tires or chains when necessary.

Preparation the Night Before

  • Load up your car the night before departure.
  • Pack enough snacks and water for the trip.
  • Don’t forget to bring a spare cell phone charger.

Emergency Preparedness

  • Pack a roadside emergency kit with essentials like jumper cables.
  • Ensure your spare tire and jack are in good working order.

Roadside Assistance

Consider signing up for services like AAA or other roadside assistance policies. This ensures you have someone to call for help if needed.

Weather Monitoring

  • Stay informed about changing weather conditions.
  • Be aware of potential delays and road closures, especially due to snowstorms.

Preventing New Year’s Eve Accidents

As New Year’s Day approaches, it’s crucial to recognize the risks of drunk driving during the festive season. Data reveals that drunk drivers account for 40% of fatal car crashes between Christmas and New Year’s, especially with the extra volatility of the weather conditions during this period. This spike is likely due to holiday parties, as many people are off work and school. The combination of late-night celebrations and alcohol consumption can lead to hazardous conditions, including reduced vision, delayed reactions, poor judgment, and loss of control.

If you’re planning to partake in the festivities and anticipate enjoying some drinks, it’s essential to plan ahead and prioritize safety. One way to do this is by securing the services of a professional chauffeur, ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Leave the transportation to Blacklane, your trusted partner for hassle-free and smooth travel experiences. With our chauffeured services, you can enjoy the convenience of immediate booking, arriving in style, and traveling in comfort, all while relying on our top-quality service.

The Best Way to Deal with Christmas Traffic

We’ve shared some useful planning tips on dealing with Christmas traffic. If you want to make your Christmas and New Year travels even more relaxing and comfortable, why not book a ride with Blacklane? Blacklane is the ultimate choice for hassle-free transportation, whether you’re going to a family gathering, a holiday party, or a winter getaway. You can choose from our range of high-quality vehicles, including sedans, SUVs, and vans, to suit your needs and preferences. All our rides are carbon offset, ensuring a responsible choice for your footprint. Simply select the best time for you, and let our professional chauffeurs take care of the rest. Worried about changes? No problem. You can easily modify or cancel any pre-booked ride for free up to 1 hour before your scheduled ride. 

A picture of a chauffeur opening a car door for a guest.
Experience the comfort of a traditional chauffeur service with the convenience of booking a ride within minutes through Blacklane. Image credit: Blacklane

For an even more seamless travel experience, consider replacing your short-haul flight with our City to City rides. Say goodbye to the stress of mass transit, and hello to the simplicity of chauffeured rides. With door-to-door service, you can skip the lines and avoid the hassle of switching between modes of transportation. Experience the comfort of a private journey, tailored to your schedule and preferences, making every mile of your trip as enjoyable as the destination itself. 

FAQs about Christmas Traffic

What is the best time to travel on Christmas Eve?

For Christmas Eve travel, the best time to hit the roads is from Monday, December 18, to December 25. Aim to start your journey early, before 7 a.m. or after the morning rush between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., regardless of the day you plan to leave.

When is Christmas traffic the worst?

The worst times to travel during the Christmas holiday are usually two days before Christmas and two days after.

When does Christmas traffic start?

Christmas traffic usually starts to increase in mid-December, as people begin to travel for shopping, visiting, or vacationing. 

What is the best time to travel between Christmas and New Year’s?

Generally, it is advisable to avoid the days and times when most people are returning from their holiday trips, such as December 26, 27, and 28, and January 1 and 2. 

How to avoid Christmas traffic?

To dodge Christmas traffic, plan ahead by checking traffic conditions, weather, and road closures. Opt for less congested routes, alternative transportation, or off-peak departure times. Stay flexible, be patient, and have a backup plan for unexpected delays or emergencies.

Is traffic bad the day after Christmas?

Traffic can be bad the day after Christmas, especially in the morning and afternoon, as many people return from their holiday trips or take advantage of post-Christmas sales. 

Is Christmas Day busy at airports?

Christmas Day is usually not very busy at airports, as most people prefer to travel before or after the holiday. 

Which two days before Christmas Day are usually the least crowded at airports?

The two days before Christmas Day that are usually the least crowded at airports are December 23 and 24, as most people try to avoid traveling on these days. 


Ellie Smith

Ellie is an avid traveler, writer, and adventurer, with a passion for exploring the world and sharing her experiences through storytelling. Working for global chauffeur company Blacklane and having lived in cities like Dubai and Berlin, she has gained valuable first-hand experience in uncovering hidden gems worldwide.