Driving or flying before feasting? Here are some tips for Thanksgiving travelers

Nov 20, 2023, 11:03 AM

In this image made with a long exposure, motor vehicles move along Interstate 76 ahead of the Thank...

In this image made with a long exposure, motor vehicles move along Interstate 76 ahead of the Thanksgiving Day holiday in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. More than 55 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home for Thanksgiving this year. And while misery loves company, there are some steps travelers can take to improve the experience. (Matt Rourke, Associated Press)

(Matt Rourke, Associated Press)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Getting a big holiday meal on the table can be stressful for the cook (see “The Bear,” Season two, Episode six.) But for guests, just getting to the table also can be difficult, and there’s no Butterball hotline for harried travelers.

The number of people traveling 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from home for Thanksgiving is expected to reach 55.4 million this week, a slight increase over last year, according to AAA projections.

And while misery loves company, there are some steps travelers can take to improve the experience:


Most travelers — more than 49 million — are expected to drive to their Thanksgiving destinations. Traffic is anticipated to peak on Wednesday, the day before the holiday. The worst time to be on the road will be between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. that day, according to INRIX, a transportation data and insights provider.

Not only will traffic jams slow you down, they can result in crashes caused by distracted drivers, said Megan Jones, senior actuary at Arity, another company that analyzes mobility data.

“When traffic is moving at a more steady pace and you don’t have as much of that stop and go, folks are less inclined to pick up their phones,” she said.

However, speeding also increases around the holiday, she said, with the greatest rate of high-speed driving of more 80 mph (129 kph) on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Drivers should be thoughtful about their own behavior and alert to those around them, Jones said.

“It’s something to be cognizant of as you’re coming home. There are others on the road, and those high speeds do present a higher risk of accidents, and more costly accidents when they occur,” she said.


Road trips with children pose additional challenges, including breaking up backseat fights and keeping carsickness at bay.

While those traveling on Thanksgiving Day might be tempted to hold off on meals or snacks given they are headed to a feast, that could be a bad move, said Dr. Mona Amin, a pediatrician and parenting coach.

“An empty stomach can make symptoms of nausea worse, so make sure anybody prone to carsickness has a satiated belly and is hydrated,” she said.

Additional tips include avoiding screen time, opening the windows for fresh air and having the child look at the horizon.

“Sometimes, messes may happen,” she said. “Stay calm in your voice and tone and reassure them.”


About 4.7 million people are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving travel period, according to AAA. That’s an increase of 6.6% compared to 2022 and the highest number since 2005. When it comes to air travel, Sheryl Skaggs, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said a little empathy goes a long way.

“Go in with the mindset that the planes are likely to be incredibly crowded,” she said. “Seasoned fliers are more attuned to that and prepared for that, but you have so many other people that aren’t necessarily regular fliers that are going to be traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday.”

She urged travelers to be tolerant and understanding, rather than taking issue with crying babies or picking a fight over reclining seats.

“This isn’t particularly comfortable for anyone,” she said. “But if you show respect to other people, that can also have a chain reaction.”

Skaggs co-authored a study published earlier this year exploring nearly 1,000 incidents of passenger misconduct on airplanes over a 20-year period. Consumption of alcohol was a significant contributor to misconduct, which the study defined as behavior that was abusive or unruly, antagonized others or compromised the safety of flights.

Oftentimes, the drinking starts well before passengers board the plane, Skaggs said.

“Don’t be afraid to say something to flight attendants if you think that something’s not right or that you see something potentially escalating,” she said.


Thanksgiving travel also can be an emotional journey depending on where travelers are headed.

Holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including complicated family dynamics, unrealistic expectations and disruption of routine, said Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, chief medical officer at The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention.

“There can be a lot of anticipatory anxiety about the holidays, thinking about what’s happened in the previous years or wondering about how things are going to go,” she said.

To ease that anxiety, she recommended spending some travel time focused on mental health and preparing for what’s to come.

“If you’re going to be around family members you typically have conflicts with, my advice is to decide in advance how you want to interact with them. Things get a lot harder once you’re in the situation — old patterns can come out quickly,” she said. “So think ahead of time about what’s going to make you feel the best.”

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Driving or flying before feasting? Here are some tips for Thanksgiving travelers