United States

Heading Out for Thanksgiving? Here Are the Worst Times to Leave

If you're planning on visiting family for Thanksgiving, we have the travel information you need to know — including the worst times to hit the road and 10 quick tips for an easier ride.

More than 1.2 million D.C.-area residents are expected to travel via car to their Thanksgiving destinations this year, AAA says.

Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are busy — real busy. Find out just how much more time you are likely to spend on the road when traveling for these holidays.

When's the Worst Time to Travel?

After a brief stint as the toughest travel day of Thanksgiving week, Tuesday might be handing the crown back to Wednesday this year. In particular, Wednesday between 3 and 5 p.m. is expected to be the worst, because that's shortly after many schools let out and families hit the roads, AAA cautions.

AAA is advising drivers to avoid the roads Wednesday afternoon and early evening and also on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, if possible.

However, VDOT officials say they still expect Tuesday to be the worst travel day in Northern Virginia for those on for I-95 and I-66.


Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information

DC socialite's historic Kalorama mansion hits market for $18.5M 

Local woman swimming from Bay Bridge to Inner Harbor

When Is the Best Time to Travel?

In general, leave late at night or early in the morning to avoid the worst backups on the road. This could mean going before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m., experts say.

Make sure you're alert and sober when hitting the road. 

What Should You Know About Traveling in Maryland?

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn urged drivers to allow extra time wherever they plan to go.

But be warned that work on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge will continue through Thanksgiving as crews replace the bridge deck surface in the right lane of the bridge's westbound span. That means a 24/7 westbound right lane closure, and the entire westbound span could be fully closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night. During those closures, two-way traffic will run on the eastbound span, with one lane in each direction.

"Drivers should expect major delays in both directions throughout the holiday period," the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) warns. Officials say bridge traffic volumes will start to build as early as Tuesday. They say Wednesday through Friday are expected to be the toughest travel days eastbound, and Thursday through Sunday are expected to be the worst for those headed west.

Cashless tolling hours will be expanded at the Bay Bridge during the holiday week, the MDTA said. It will be in affect from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day from Wednesday through Saturday. During this time only, drivers will be video-tolled at the cash rate if they don't have an E-ZPass.

With tens of millions hitting the road for a Thanksgiving trip this week, Mother Nature is threatening to make the journey a bit more difficult. Forecasters say will be a mess from coast to coast through the weekend, with rain, snow and ice already causing problems. NBC's Jay Gray reports.

What About in Virginia?

Virginia's Department of Transportation (VDOT) will suspend most highway work zones and lift most lane closures on interstates and other major roads from noon Wednesday until noon Monday. In addition, all HOV restrictions on Interstate 66 will be lifted on Thanksgiving Day.

Differing from AAA's prediction, VDOT officials are expecting Tuesday to be the worst travel day for I-95 and I-66 in Northern Virginia — but the misery will be spread across several days depending on where you are. See VDOT predictions on traffic for the entire state here.

VDOT offers a free mobile app that contains info on construction and traffic, plus as access to traffic cameras, weather and more. They also have an interactive travel-trends map that shows peak congestion periods on Virginia interstates during the past three Thanksgivings.

10 More Travel Tips:

1. Still don't have an E-ZPass? Get one. You'll save a significant amount of time. The transponders are available at a few retail locations. Visit EZPassMD.com or EZPassVA.com to see where you can get one in person.

2. If you do already have an E-ZPass, make sure the info associated with your account is up to date. Go to your state's E-Zpass site to verify that your credit card, license plate number and contact information are all current.

3. Don't have roadside assistance? Get it. Make a quick call to sign up for it through your car insurance company, or go online to register with AAA. You'll have help if the unexpected happens, both to keep you safe and to save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

4. Make sure your car is ready for the trip. Consumer Reports has a quick checklist you can run through, including making sure all your lights are working, your washer fluid is filled and your tire pressure is good. See the 

5. Don't text and drive ... or look at directions and drive ... or flip through your playlist and drive. Designate your front-seat passenger to be in charge of your phone, the playlist and the directions.

6. Take a safety break. You might be tempted to make as few stops as possible, but don't drive for so long that you become a danger to yourself or others. A break at a rest stop will refresh you or let you exchange driving duties with a travel buddy.

7. But plan ahead to avoid unnecessary stops. If you have small kids, you're probably used to packing water and snacks. But even if your car is adults-only this Thanksgiving, it's always a good idea to bring along the basics. You'll also save money and probably end up with healthier options than what you'd get at a rest stop.

8. It gets darker earlier during the fall and winter seasons. Look out for pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders, as well as road crews or disabled vehicles.

9. The MDTA has said that the risk of deer-related crashes is greatest during fall and early winter. Two-thirds of these crashes occur in October, November and December. Be extra cautious of the critters.

10. Watch out for patches of wet leaves. They can create slippery driving conditions.

Contact Us