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How to Prepare for the Busy Thanksgiving Travel Season This Year

5 minute read

More than 55 million people are expected to travel in the U.S. to share a Thanksgiving meal next week, marking what experts say is the busiest travel season of the year.  

Most people will be driving for the holiday making roads congested, especially on Nov. 22, according to data from AAA. But another 4.7 million people are also expected to fly out of their local airports during the holiday travel period. 

To ensure that people are making the most of their holiday and getting to their destinations as planned, experts say people should plan proactively. 

“For many Americans, Thanksgiving and travel go hand in hand, and this holiday, we expect more people on the roads, skies, and seas compared to 2022,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

TIME spoke to experts about how to prepare for Thanksgiving travel. Here’s what they said. 

Prioritize car maintenance before hitting the road

Some 49 million Americans are driving to see family and loved ones for the holiday. With so many people behind the wheel, experts say it is important to schedule a quick car service before making the trip. 

“Make sure your tires are properly inflated, your fluid is topped off, and your battery is in good shape. Now is the time to do that because you don't want to have something that could have been fixed with routine maintenance go wrong while you're on the road,” says AAA spokesperson Andrew Gross. 

Try to avoid road traffic

Data from AAA suggests that people should hit the road before 11:00 a.m. if they are planning to travel the day before Thanksgiving. Families who live 100 miles or less from the Thanksgiving hosts can also opt to travel that same Thursday if it's before 10:00 a.m. to avoid traffic. 

When returning from the holiday weekend, AAA research shows that streets are busiest between 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. You can check the peak congestion times of major U.S. cities like New York and Seattle, here

Gross adds that people should pack snacks and an emergency kit in the car to avoid unnecessarily stopping. “If you don't have to pull over to grab something to eat, that will probably help,” he says. 

Check for weather delays

Travelers should make sure to check for possible weather hazards days in advance in case it would be better to leave earlier or later than expected. 

A new Accuweather report forecasts a large storm across the central and eastern U.S. that is scheduled to hit on Tuesday and could pose a problem for travelers. "A storm will develop along a slow-moving cold front and will produce moderate to heavy rain from the Ohio and Tennessee valleys to the East Coast…," said Accuweather long-range expert Paul Pastelok. The storm  is expected to last until Wednesday, and could cause flight cancellations or extend travel time in several metro areas—including Atlanta, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. 

Disruptive weather should subside by Black Friday, experts say, making the return home much easier. 

Prepare to make the airport process smooth

Jo Franco, a well-known travel influencer, suggests people flying figure out their “security strategy” before arriving at the airport. That can look like enrolling in programs such as TSA Precheck or Clear to help save time, although wait times for these services are still going to take longer than usual during the holiday. She also says others can ease the security process by abiding by guidelines that can be found here, to avoid an additional security check for your luggage.

Gross says that people can also save time by reserving airport parking ahead of time if need be. He adds that those who are traveling for a shorter amount of time should avoid checking a bag, if possible. Downloading their airline’s app to be notified of any last-minute gate changes, delays or cancellations is also helpful. 

Booking last-minute flight deals

Since Thanksgiving is swiftly approaching, Franco notes flights will be limited and pricier. For those booking last-minute flights, the best option may be to mix and match different airlines. “Look at flying out with one airline and back with another or out of one airport and back into another. Comparing and contrasting dates, providers, departure airports and destinations will enable you to find the best deal available for your needs,” Laura Lindsay, Skyscanner travel editor, says.

Priceline data shared with TIME shows that flights cost less on the actual day of Thanksgiving. Travelers who extend their weekend and return between Nov. 27-30 can save nearly 30% on domestic flights, when compared to traveling on Sunday, Nov. 26. 

Consider flight alternatives 

If you are really on a tight budget, consider alternatives to flying like a bus or train. Tickets may appear more expensive, but Franco says people should remember that transportation to and from the airport is an additional cost. “It might look cheaper to fly somewhere,” she says, but things might change “when you factor in the stress of airport travel and the expensive ubers to the airports.” 

But ultimately, experts say that whatever mode of transportation you take, be aware that any trip will be longer than usual. “Thanksgiving, it's kind of viewed as an obligatory holiday. It's intensely family oriented,” says Gross. “It's probably the busiest holiday of the year.”

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