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Ready for Thanksgiving Travel? Here’s How to Prep and When to Drive

by | November 21, 2023

Thanksgiving is always a busy time when it comes to travel, and the experts are warning that the numbers should hit a record this year. So, it helps to prepare yourself and your vehicle ahead of time. And Headlight.News can also tip you off on the best times to travel to avoid the rush.

The long holiday weekend means millions of people will be on the road for the weekend.

Turkey Day is going to see an all-time record when it comes to travel, according to both the Transportation Security Administration and AAA. Nearly 3 million Americans a day are expected to pass through airport security checks through this weekend, says TSA. And the road travel service predicts 55.4 million Americans will drive at least 50 miles between Wednesday and the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Storms targeting parts of the South and sections of the Atlantic Coast could complicate matters for many of those millions. But, even if you’re traveling from one sunny clime to another, it helps to prepare ahead of time. And, indeed, picking the right time to travel can make a big difference. Here are some tips on how to make for the smoothest Thanksgiving road trip.

Prep your car

It’s always surprising how many American motorists simply forget – or postpone – the most basic steps to avoid a breakdown while traveling. These are some of the basics you should focus on:

  • Check your tires. First, make sure you’ve got good tread and, if you’re planning to head into snow country, consider switching to all-season or winter tires if your car currently is shod with summer rubber;
  • Check tire inflation. Under-inflated tires are likely to hurt gas mileage. They’ll also impact vehicle handling and could wear out prematurely. Over-inflated tires can fail catastrophically, especially during long highway drives when heat builds up. It never hurts carrying a tire gauge, though many new vehicles can read out the pressure of each tire on your instrument panel;
  • Keep your view clear by replacing worn windshield wipers and making sure your windshield washer reservoir is topped off. On especially long trips consider carrying an extra bottle;
  • How old is your battery? Make sure it’s up to a long trip, especially if you’re heading into a storm or a cold climate;
  • Top off your antifreeze and consider an oil change before your trip if its overdue. Old oil can damage your engine, while proper levels of antifreeze can prevent overheating.

Pack an emergency kit

Even the best-laid plans can go astray. And there’s nothing worse than finding yourself – with family – stuck on the side of the road. Be aware that even the best road service providers are likely to be overwhelmed, leaving you waiting some time for a tow or gas. So, it pays to play Boy Scout and be prepared for a potential breakdown. An emergency kit should include:

  • Extra warm, dry clothing. Even if you’re bundled up you may have to change after fixing a flat in the rain or snow. Consider a thermal blanket, as well;
  • A flashlight;
  • Jumper cables;
  • A smartphone and charger or backup power supply;
  • Flares or reflectors to alert oncoming traffic;
  • Water, snacks and other non-perishable food;
  • Basic tools, including a screwdriver and wrench.

When to travel

Thanksgiving week is much like traveling in rush hour – only worse. You likely already adjust your schedule, when possible, to avoid the worst traffic. You can do the same thing over the extended Turkey Day holiday, thanks to some help from traffic tracking service Inrix.

  • Wednesday traffic is likely to be lightest before 11 AM and heaviest from 2 PM to 6 PM;
  • Thanksgiving Thursday traffic is lightest both before 10 AM and after 5 PM, heaviest from 11 AM to 3 PM;
  • Friday traffic is typically best before 11 AM and after 7 PM, worst between noon and 4 PM;
  • Saturday traffic is lightest through noon and heaviest from 3 to 5 PM;
  • Sunday traffic can be maddening all day as folks head home so try to get on the road before noon and avoid traveling, if possible, from 3 to 5 PM.

Be at your best

… because other drivers may not be. Just like Thanksgiving dinner itself, traveling with family can be a lot of fun. But it also can be a source of stress for whoever’s behind the wheel, especially in bad weather. And you never know what it’s like for the other driver.

Those trips can bring out the worst as motorists have to deal with storms, crying kids, or struggling to figure out where the next turn might be. Sadly, some drivers will have had too much to drink. Others will be staring at their smartphones.

So, you need to be at your sharpest and ever alert. No matter how anxious you are to get to your destination you don’t want to risk a crash just to save a few minutes.

Prep wisely, drive safely and have a wonderful Thanksgiving trip!


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