What you need to know if you’re traveling for Thanksgiving

Try to get out ahead of the traffic this year if you're driving to your Thanksgiving dinner destination.

Right around the corner is Thanksgiving – the annual time of year in which families and friends come together to share memories and give thanks. Serving as the kickoff to the holiday season, this is also traditionally the biggest travel season of the year. Despite plane tickets being more expensive, travel volume is expected to be high this year as well, according to estimates.

Roughly 50 percent of all air tickets for Thanksgiving and Christmas are sold between October and November, according to travel booking website Expedia. Thanksgiving flight fares have increased by 17 percent year-over-year, with the average ticket price being $467.

"More than 43 million Americans drove to their Thanksgiving destination in 2013."

Nevertheless, the airline industry expects that roughly 24.5 million passengers will get to their holiday destinations by air this year from Nov. 21 through Dec. 2, with the busiest travel days expected on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward, according to air travel advocacy group Airlines for America.

However, with gas prices less than $3 per gallon in many parts of the country, you can expect that highway travel to be busy as well. Since 2010, at least 40 million Americans each year have traveled by car during the Thanksgiving period, according to IHS Global Insight, with 43.4 million driving last year. Nationwide, prices for unleaded regular averaged $2.91 per gallon as of Nov. 10, based on price estimates from GasBuddy. That's down 5 cents from one week ago and more than 33 cents lower than this time last year.

With many people looking to take advantage of lower gas prices, there's reason to believe that the roads could be quite crowded in the hours leading up to Thanksgiving. The following travel tips should help you get to your holiday destination as quickly and as safely as possible.

  • Drive during non-peak hours. As with the morning and afternoon rush hour that commuters experience on a daily basis when traveling to and from work, there's a busy period for Thanksgiving motorists as well. According to traffic data and information firm INRIX, pre-Thanksgiving traffic tends to increase on Wednesday in the early afternoon hours. It usually reaches its peak by 3 p.m., with volume remaining elevated to shortly after 7 p.m. From then on, though, volume levels fall substantially. This would suggest that you plan on leaving for your Thanksgiving destination either early in the morning hours or late at night, ideally after 8 p.m.
  • Have your cellphone with you. Ideally, you and your family will get to where you're going without a problem and right on schedule. But it can be difficult to predict what will happen once you get on the road, as high volume, accidents, and weather can cause delays. Be sure you have your phone with you so that you can inform your extended family or friends about when they can expect you to arrive – just be sure not to text and drive!
  • Have insurance information available. Likely the last thing on your mind during Thanksgiving is your auto insurance policy. However, should you be involved in an accident, having basic information about your policy can make things go more smoothly. Check your plan to see if it has a card with pertinent data that you'll need to exchange with another driver after a fender bender. Information should include your name, the name of your insurance carrier, along with contact details.
  • Take advantage of rest stops. If your trip is 100 miles or more, keep an eye out for rest stops. These are ideal if you need to stretch our your legs or use the facilities.

As the highways and byways fill with traffic in the coming weeks, be sure to make safety a top priority, and have a happy Thanksgiving!