Top 10 Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Thanksgiving is known for its large feasts and family get-togethers. Like with any other major holiday, however, traveling during the Thanksgiving period poses certain challenges, which can be successfully met if you follow these 10 time-tested tips:

1. Plan ahead

Try to have your Thanksgiving travel plans figured out by the end of summer © Matushchak Anton /

Trying to figure out your Thanksgiving trip on the fly is rarely a good idea. Not only are you likely to feel swamped at the last minute, but whatever good deals you may have struck by going early will already have been taken by other people. Ideally, you'd want to plan your trip at least several months in advance. This means reserving flights, booking hotel rooms and figuring out all the details of your trip by the end of summer. This will afford you the time to really hunt for the best deals, as well as giving you enough breathing room to prepare for the road ahead.

2. Choose your travel route carefully

Highway traffic
Whether you have to travel to the other side of town or across country, remember that highways will be packed and planes overbooked © 62art /

Some people don't have to go to great lengths to visit their families on Thanksgiving, in which case their trip will feel more like a commute, whereas others have to cross the entire country just to get to their loved ones. In both scenarios, however, choosing your travel itinerary wisely is a must. Highways will be packed, planes will be overbooked, and bus and train routes may not cover the distance you're looking for. Always consult maps that update in real-time in order to get an accurate assessment of how things look on the ground instead of just relying on your instincts.

3. Know what food to bring

Top view of table with traditional Thanksgiving dishes
While not impossible, bringing along your best Thanksgiving dishes could prove a little challenging © New Africa /

The Thanksgiving meal is a time-honored tradition, and you'd be remiss not to bring some of your best dishes with you wherever you go. But, between long drives and air travel regulations, bringing food along can prove to be quite the challenge. In general, it's best to opt for long-lasting dishes that can be safely packed and aren't easy to spill. If traveling by plane, go with solid foods as they will be allowed in your carry-on luggage. Liquid food, including spreadables and the like, will have to go into your check-in luggage unless you can freeze it solid beforehand.

4. ​Arrive early and depart late

Crowd of people inside an airport terminal
Arriving early and leaving late is a good way to avoid the crowds © JW_PNW /

No matter how well you organize your trip, chances are that the entire Thanksgiving period will still be rather hectic because of the sheer number of people who are moving back and forth. For this reason, aim for an early arrival and a late departure, as even a few days will usually make a significant difference when it comes to beating the crowd. If work is an issue, try to save up some vacation days that you can then strategically deploy around this period to grant you some leeway. And make sure that whatever location you've picked for your stay can handle your presence for a few extra days too.

5. Take the weather into account

Snowing on Thanksgiving
You might not get stuck in a blizzard, but bad weather does happen around Thanksgiving © LandJ Photo /

Depending on your location, the weather can also pose some issues for your Thanksgiving trip. Rain, fog and snowfall can all occur, making it harder to make progress on your travels. In extreme circumstances, trips may even have to be cancelled on account of the weather. Try to have a back-up transportation plan in case the first one falls flat due to weather, and if all else fails at least ensure that you won't lose money by opting for flights that offer trip cancellation refunds. And keep in mind that because of geographical differences, various other members of your family may face vastly different weather conditions than you, so be sure to stay in touch throughout the entire process.

6. Pack smart

Woman finishing packing her suitcase
A good packing job maximizes the space you have available © Boyloso /

It goes without saying that packing light should always be your goal no matter the specifics of your traveling agenda. But when it comes to Thanksgiving trips, it may be difficult to resist the temptation of cramming a bunch of food in your luggage as you hit the road, especially if you're going by car. In that case, at least make sure to employ smart packing practices, including rolling your clothes, stacking your tupperware properly and separating your clothing items from your food supplies. A good packing job maximizes the space you have at your disposal, thus ensuring that you carry the minimum amount of luggage with you.

7. Take safety precautions

Sick woman checking her temperature with a thermometer
From driving safely to the good old washing your hands after a visit to the bathroom, "better safe than sorry" wins the day © Ermolaev Alexander /

Whether it's the seasonal flu or reckless driving, going on the road means exposing yourself to different risk factors. So it's important to minimize them by following safety precautions such as driving carefully, washing your hands after going to the bathroom and not overextending yourself during this busy period. If you do come down with something, be sure to have some basic medicines on you since trips to the doctor can add even more chaos and unpredictability to your trip. This only applies to minor afflictions of course – if the situation warrants it, a visit to the doctor should not be delayed until after the holidays.

8. Consider travel insurance

Airport board listing canceled flights
Your Thanksgiving trip may be short, but travel insurance is still a good idea © August Phunitiphat /

While some people may balk at the idea of getting travel insurance for a relatively short Thanksgiving trip, it's still the best way to protect yourself against anything that might go wrong. Whether it's flight delays, lost luggage or unforeseen health issues, having some comprehensive travel insurance can dramatically reduce costs and ensure that you emerge unscathed on the other side. As always, only purchase insurance from reputable companies whose services you can trust, and take the time to carefully read your insurance agreement before you sign it.

9. Stay charged

Portable charger
Use portable chargers to keep your electronics powered without having to constantly hunt for an outlet © yangtak /

What with technology being invaluable to our day-to-day lives, staying charged is a must whenever you go on an extended trip. During Thanksgiving travel you're even more likely to rely on your devices for guidance and entertainment, so it's imperative that you bring along some portable chargers. These will allow you to recharge your phone and other electronics on the go, without having to stop and hunt for a power outlet. Remember that, while airports and other transportation hubs usually provide charging amenities, you'll be fighting for the same few plugs with hundreds of other anxious travelers.

10. Be thankful

Woman hugging her mother at the Thanksgiving dinner table
At the end of the day it's all about being thankful © Viktoriia Hnatiuk /

Last but not least, no matter how long or short your Thanksgiving trip may be, don't forget what the holiday is supposed to be all about. A day of gratefulness and remembrance and one that's about giving as much as receiving. Even if things don't exactly go according to plan, keep this in mind and practice patience and understanding wherever you go. It will go a long way towards making your journey that much more enjoyable and easy to complete.

If done right, traveling during Thanksgiving can be relatively easy and pain-free. For many people, it is also a necessity in order to be next to their loved ones during this special day. So be sure to plan your trip accordingly and you'll be enjoying that roasted turkey in no time.

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