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Here's when you shouldn't drive or fly for Thanksgiving

Most the expected 55 million travelers will drive, and choosing the wrong time to leave could quadruple your drive time in some places.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Cars in traffic jam.

When should I leave? It's the question that permeates the minds of Thanksgiving travelers who want to avoid hours-long traffic jams or stand in winding security lines at the airport. AAA says more than 55 million travelers will travel more than 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving. That's 1.9 million more than last year.

The worst day to drive will be Wednesday afternoon, according to the traffic analysts at INRIX. They say trips in major metropolitan areas could take four times as long as a normal Wednesday afternoon.

“With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX in a statement. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”

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49.3 million people are expected to travel on the roads to their holiday destination.

If your Wednesday afternoon or early evening travels take you around one of these major cities, here's what INRIX says you can expect:

  • Atlanta - 3.5 times longer (5:30-7:30 PM)
  • Los Angeles - 3.5 times longer (5:00-7:00 PM)
  • New York City - 3.5 times longer (5:15-7:15 PM)
  • Boston - 3.4 times longer (4:30-6:30 PM)
  • Houston - 3.4 times longer (5:00-7:00 PM)
  • San Francisco - 3.2 times longer (2:00-4:00 PM)
  • Washington DC - 2.8 times longer (3:00-5:00 PM)
  • Seattle - 2.7 times longer (4:00-6:00 PM)
  • Detroit - 2.6 times longer (5:15-7:15 PM)
  • Chicago - 2.4 times longer (4:15-6:15 PM)

The TSA says it is expecting a record number of air travelers this holiday, with the busiest days being the Wednesday before with 2.7 million passengers and the Sunday after with more than 2.8 million people. Compare that to a typical weekday of 2.1 million.

If you haven't booked your trip, AAA and INRIX say the Monday before Thanksgiving is your best bet for the smallest crowds. And while Monday has the lowest average pre-Thanksgiving ticket price according to AAA data ($486), Thanksgiving day actually has the lowest average ticket price for the entire week ($454), and it's typically the lightest day of the week for air travel.

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