Traffic on Thanksgiving Day 2023: Best and Worst Travel Times

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Traffic on Thanksgiving Day is a travel challenge. Find out the best and worst times to hit the road for a smoother holiday journey.

Close-up family members at dinner
With some thoughtful planning and adopting practical strategies, you can ensure that the holiday season remains a time of joy. Image Credit: Freepik

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner, and as you prepare to indulge in your favorite turkey feast and gather with loved ones, it’s essential to plan your travel effectively. Navigating the heavy traffic on Thanksgiving Day as most travelers hit the road to reach their holiday destinations can be a challenge. However, with some thoughtful planning and adopting practical strategies, you can ensure that the holiday season remains a time of joy, togetherness, and smooth travels, both in the skies and on the road.

Worst Time to Travel on Thanksgiving

According to Google Maps’ insights, the heaviest Thanksgiving traffic is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, typically around 4 to 5 p.m. These are the times when Thanksgiving travelers merge with the regular rush-hour traffic.

INRIX, a transportation analytics company, also predicts a national traffic peak on Wednesday afternoon. If you’re traveling on Thanksgiving Day, be aware that the busiest times are likely between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. INRIX recommends planning your drive in the morning or after 6 p.m. to avoid the worst of it.

On the way back from Thanksgiving, you’ll have more flexibility, but keep in mind that Black Friday shopping could cause traffic jams, particularly between noon and 4 p.m. on Friday, according to Google.

Best Time to Travel on Thanksgiving

According to Google, the ideal time to kick off your Thanksgiving journey is after 8 p.m. on Monday. Alternatively, if you’re hitting the road a bit later, consider getting started on Wednesday before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day, you can also plan your departure before 11 a.m. to avoid heavy traffic and ensure a smoother journey.

Early risers have the advantage when planning their journey back. According to INRIX, the best times to depart for those returning from their Thanksgiving holiday trips are typically at 6 a.m. or 8 p.m. local time. It’s wise to steer clear of the roads around 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

Where to Expect the Worst Thanksgiving Traffic

The largest metropolitan areas, particularly New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta, are likely to experience significant increases in traffic congestion, according to INRIX. Wednesday afternoon will be the busiest time for traffic in these cities, along with Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.

a busy city street with tall buildings
Your journey matters, so drive responsibly in traffic. Image Credit: Preet Patel/Unsplash

INRIX has also identified specific highways across the country that will witness the most substantial increases in traffic compared to a typical week. In New York, it is advisable to avoid I-278 south, as traffic is expected to be 158 percent worse than normal. In Los Angeles, steering clear of I-5 south and I-405 south is recommended, as traffic is forecasted to increase significantly. Atlanta residents should consider alternatives to I-85 south, as it is predicted to have much more traffic than usual.

The ranking of where to expect the worst traffic on Thanksgiving day, according to Waze, is:

  1. New York
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Atlanta
  5. Boston
  6. Miami
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Dallas-Fort Worth
  9. Chicago
  10. Houston

Best and Worst Days for Thanksgiving Air Travel

Flying on Thanksgiving day? NerdWallet’s recent analysis of Thanksgiving air travel trends over the past four years reveals some useful insights for travelers. It might give you an opportunity to avoid driving in the worst of traffic on Thanksgiving Day.

Surprisingly, Thanksgiving Day itself stands out as the least crowded day, making it an excellent choice for those who prefer a quieter journey. The Saturday before Thanksgiving is also a good option, offering a less congested experience.

On the flip side, the Sunday after Thanksgiving consistently emerges as the most crowded day during the seven-day period, while the Wednesday after Thanksgiving tends to be the least congested among the days after the holiday.

Speaking of air travel, why not enhance your Thanksgiving journey by considering Blacklane’s airport transfer service? Picture yourself stepping off a plane, feeling tired and achy. The perfect remedy for your discomfort is a Blacklane chauffeured ride directly to your destination. Additionally, by booking Blacklane’s airport transfer service, you can leave behind the stress of driving and parking hassles, ensuring a smooth and relaxed journey. Our world-class airport transfer services guarantee that your journey commences and concludes with elegance.

Thanksgiving Driving Safety Tips

Be Patient

First things first, expect traffic, so take your time. Avoid aggressive driving like speeding or tailgating. Keep a safe distance from the car in front, and always signal when changing lanes or turning. Remember, you’re on your way to celebrate with loved ones; enjoy the ride.

Prepare Your Vehicle

Make sure your car is ready for the journey. Check your windshield wiper fluid and tire pressure. Carry an emergency kit in case you need roadside help, including essentials like jumper cables, a flashlight, and basic tools. It’s good to be prepared for the unexpected.

Don’t Drive When Tired

While it might seem like common sense, it’s worth highlighting the importance of not driving when you’re tired, especially considering the potential combination of indulgent meals and turkey, which contains tryptophan, known for making you feel drowsy. That can seriously impair your driving abilities, and it’s not just about feeling drowsy. When you’re tired or sleepy, your reaction time can slow down, your attention span can decrease, and your decision-making skills can be compromised. In simpler terms, it can make you a less attentive and less cautious driver, which significantly increases the risk of accidents on the road. That’s why it’s crucial to prioritize rest and avoid driving when you’re feeling tired – it’s not just about comfort, but about ensuring your safety and the safety of others while traveling.

Staying Safe on Thanksgiving Eve (Blackout Wednesday)

Thanksgiving Eve, also known as “Blackout Wednesday,” is notorious for being one of the most dangerous nights for drunk driving in the United States. The night before Thanksgiving is filled with festivities as people reunite with friends and family. Unfortunately, this often leads to excessive drinking, making it one of the top nights for alcohol-related incidents. In fact, according to some sources, Thanksgiving Eve surpasses even New Year’s Eve as the worst night of the year for drunk driving.

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 Traffic on Thanksgiving Day

We’ve shared some useful planning tips on dealing with traffic on Thanksgiving Day. Now, as we save our best advice for last, remember that for a truly stress-free Thanksgiving journey, count on Blacklane. By booking your chauffeured ride with Blacklane, you’re choosing the most convenient way to reach your destination, saving you time and hassle.

a woman in a white suit walking toward a car.
A Blacklane chauffeur opens the car’s door for a guest. Image credit: Blacklane

With our top-tier sedans as well as larger SUVs or Vans for larger families, there’s an option for everyone, and you can feel good about your footprint since all our rides are carbon offset. Just choose the best time for you, and leave the driving to the professionals. Plus, if your plans change you can easily change your booking or cancel for free up until 1 hour before any city to city ride. It’s worth mentioning that our city-to-city service offers premium chauffeur-driven rides between metropolitan areas and is a compelling alternative to short-haul flights.

FAQs about Traffic on Thanksgiving Day

When is the best time to travel for Thanksgiving?

According to Google Maps’ insights, the ideal time to kick off your Thanksgiving journey is after 8 p.m. on Monday.

When is Thanksgiving traffic the worst?

Expect the worst Thanksgiving traffic on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings around 4 to 5 p.m.

When does Thanksgiving traffic start?

Thanksgiving traffic starts to build in the days leading up to the holiday, with the heaviest congestion usually on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

How bad is traffic on the Sunday after Thanksgiving?

The peak traffic time on the Sunday after Thanksgiving will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

How to avoid Thanksgiving traffic?

Planning your drive effectively is the key to avoiding heavy Thanksgiving traffic. According to Google Maps’ insights, the ideal time to kick off your Thanksgiving journey is after 8 p.m. on Monday.

Is traffic bad on Thanksgiving Day?

If you’re traveling on Thanksgiving Day by road, the most congested period is typically from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. To avoid heavy traffic, consider driving in the morning or after 6 p.m.


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.