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This Is the Worst Day to Travel Before Christmas

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 12/13/2018 Katherine LaGrave
a close up of a car © T.M. Detwiler Thinking of hitting the road this holiday season? You won't be alone: According to the annual holiday season travel forecast from AAA and INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, more than 102 million people will stuff their cars for a Christmas road trip. As a result, congestion in major U.S. cities could be as much as four times higher than normal. Subtext: Yeah, you're going to need a lot of audiobooks.

That 102 million number is notable, and not just because it's, um, a lot of people: It's a 4.4 percent jump over the number of holiday drivers last year and is the highest number AAA has seen since they began tracking holiday travel 17 years ago. (The holiday period is defined as Saturday, December 22 through Tuesday, January 1, 2019.) Chalk it up to a rising disposable income, and a recent drop in national gas price averages: a gallon of gas in the first two weeks of December was two cents cheaper than it was a year ago, according to the data.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 21:  Travelers catch trains  at Union Station on November 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Fifty-four million Americans are expected to travel this Thanksgiving Holiday, more than 700,000 by rail, Amtrak's busiest travel period of the year.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) © Getty CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 21: Travelers catch trains at Union Station on November 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Fifty-four million Americans are expected to travel this Thanksgiving Holiday, more than 700,000 by rail, Amtrak's busiest travel period of the year. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) Too late to change your driving plans, or just undeterred by the millions of people also angling to be on the road? Whatever you do, avoid traveling on Thursday, December 20, which Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX, called the "nation's worst day to travel." If you must, Reed suggests adjusting departure times: "Our advice is to avoid traveling during peak commuting hours," he said. "If schedules allow, leave bright and early, or after the morning commute."

Helpfully, the report also outlines some of the biggest cities in the U.S., the worst day to travel in or through those cities, and the worst time to be driving in those cities. Atlanta drivers, for example, will want to avoid being on the road on December 22 from 3-4 p.m., as congestion will be four times higher than normal—and normal is already pretty bad. In Detroit, the worst time is on Christmas Eve, from 2-3 p.m.; in Los Angeles, it's on Thursday, December 20, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Seattle? Skip driving on Wednesday, December 19 from 4-6 p.m. if you can, as traffic will be more than twice as bad.

Of the 102 million drivers on the road, AAA expects to rescue more than 960,000 motorists during the holiday period due to dead batteries, lockouts, flat tires, and more. As with most things in travel, preparation is key: As we've previously reported, check the tire pressure, oil, washer fluid, windshield wipers, and all of the lights in your car a day or so before you're slated to leave. Pack an emergency kit, or update the one you have: bottled water, non-perishable snacks, jumper cables, flashlight with extra batteries, warning flares, a shovel, and warm blankets are just a few of the items you should have.


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