The 4 Worst Days to Travel by Car at Christmas
The 4 Worst Days to Travel by Car at Christmas
“They say the universe is expanding. That should help with the traffic.” – Steven Wright
UPDATE: The following days have been updated to reflect the worst AND BEST days to travel at Christmas! Let’s face it, as we prepare to hit the congested highways and deal with occasionally treacherous weather conditions this holiday season, we all envision a myriad of nightmare scenarios straight out of Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Fortunately, holiday travel doesn’t have to be all that stressful if you plan accordingly. By using this handy holiday travel guide, you and your family can minimize your travel pain and maximize your holiday joy during the Christmas season!
Picking the Right Time to Hit the Road
Christmas week – December 23 through 29 – is by far the busiest travel week of the year in the United States. Believe it or not, year-end holiday travel has increased by more than 25 percent since 2005. According to AAA, a record number of nearly 55 million Americans are set to travel during the holiday travel period this season. According to USA Today, Christmas is one of the “Top 10 Worst Travel Days” along with the day before Thanksgiving, Fridays during the summer, July 4, Memorial Day, Spring Break, New Year’s Eve, Labor Day, Easter and Mardi Gras. In addition, more than 90 percent of Americans travel by car to their holiday destination, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Therefore, it’s crucial to know the appropriate time to pack the presents in the car and head out on your winter journey. Note that the 3 worst days to travel by car at Christmas for the holiday season are predicted to be:
Saturday, December 21
Sunday, December 22
Sunday, December 29
Surprisingly, a Saturday sneaks into the best options for Christmas travel this year, thanks to the stacked weekday options. When it comes to the busiest travel days around Christmas, however, the days between Christmas and New Year’s see the highest volume, which any sane travelers would want to avoid.
In general, two days before Christmas and the day after Christmas are traditionally two of the worst travel days of the year and should be avoided if possible. Breaking it down further, you can expect traffic to be the worst during the late afternoon and early evening on the Thursday and Friday before Christmas in major cities since many holiday travelers want to get a jumpstart on their long holiday weekend. Since Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, many other drivers will hit the road on Sunday and head back home Wednesday for their brief holiday getaway. Conversely, some of the best predicted days to travel around Christmas time are:
Best Christmas Travel Days
Tuesday, December 24
Wednesday, December 25
Saturday, December 28
Therefore, the best times to head out on your holiday vacation are usually early morning (before 7 AM) or after the morning commute (between 9 AM and 11 AM) regardless of which day you plan to leave. Also consider taking alternative routes to avoid traveling through major metropolitan areas during those peak holiday travel times. If your schedule allows, you may even want to opt to leave on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day itself when there will be significantly fewer cars on the road. In fact, CityLab released a report last year stating that traffic congestion was lower on Christmas Day than on both the day before and the day after the holiday.
How to Prepare for Holiday Travel
Once you’ve determined the best day to embark on your Christmas holiday vacation, make sure that your vehicle is ready to make the journey. Follow these helpful tips so you and your family won’t get stranded at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere eating turkey loaf sandwiches and fries this holiday season:
Make sure your vehicle is in proper working order by getting an oil change and having the battery, fluid levels, lights, windshield wipers, brakes, tires, belts and hoses all checked out thoroughly by a certified mechanic.
Load up the car the night before you leave for your Christmas vacation and make sure to pack plenty of snacks and drinks for the trip (don’t forget to pack a spare cellphone charger as well!).
Pack a roadside emergency kit in your car with jumper cables and check to make sure that your spare tire and jack are in good working order.
Sign up for AAA or other roadside assistance policy so you won’t get stranded on the highway with no one to call for help.
Keep track of changing weather conditions, along with any potential delays and possible road closures due to snowstorms.
If you follow these rules to live by, then at least you've got a leg up on things when it comes to your vehicle, before setting out on the road for a blizzard of eating out, relatives' house visits, and festivities abroad!
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