When you get behind the wheel, hopefully you’ve planned ahead and picked the right days (and avoided the wrong days) for December travel.
Sure, U.S. travelers have a fair idea of the worst days to travel during the holidays. For instance, the day before Christmas and New Year’s Eve regularly appear on lists of the worst days to travel.
But there’s way more to the holiday travel-day issues than traveling on the worst holiday dates. That’s because choosing the best ones is something of an art form.
Crunch weeks: Dec. 23 to Jan. 3
First, know that most travel days around the holidays aren’t exactly hassle-free. According to AAA, roughly one-in-three of Americans will take a trip this holiday season, with 100.5 million expected to journey 50 miles or more from home.
“Rising incomes and low gas prices are helping to fill stockings this year, and more people than ever will choose to spend those savings on travel,” says CEO Marshall Doney at AAA.
AAA, which notes the year-end holiday travel period this year is defined as Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, to Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, says travel on U.S. roadways in that time frame should result in a new volume record – cold comfort to revelers hitting the road in the last two weeks of December.
Travel sites pick best and worst days
So which days are the best to travel?
The most recent Orbitz Insider Index pegs the best day for Christmas travel as Sunday, Dec. 27, while the busiest day is Wednesday, Dec. 23.
The crowdsourcing traffic and navigation app Waze has a different No. 1 pick: Monday, Dec. 28, a day where most Americans are back at work and the nation’s roadways are more vehicle-free.
Like Orbitz, Waze advises consumers to avoid Wednesday, Dec. 23, especially between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. as commuters clog the roadways. If you get behind the wheel that day, get an early start. The Sunday after Christmas is another non-starter for trips. Waze predicts an 88% increase in traffic jams as U.S. drivers rush home to get ready for work on Monday.
Travelers share insider tips
Of course, Americans have their own ideas about what are the best and worst times to drive around the Christmas holiday. Some say it’s not the date, but the time of day that matters most.
“Having made the 16-hour one-way trip from Florida to Indiana far too many times, we finally came to the conclusion that the best time to drive was overnight,” says Christina M. Durta, a certified public account in Panama City, Fla. “We started that after our child was born because it was easier on everyone if she slept. … Just make sure to get enough rest prior to leaving.”
Other holiday roadsters merge drive time with train time to reduce travel hassles.
“I'm driving my Tesla from Washington, D.C., to Florida Thursday (Dec. 17), when the roadways are light, and taking the Amtrak Auto Train back on Dec. 26, when travel is heaviest,” says Dan Nainan, a New York City-based comedian and actor. “Of course, the Tesla has to be charged every couple of hundred miles, but there is a network of Superchargers around the country for just this purpose. So, I’ll be in good shape when I travel.”
So whether it’s Christmas or New Years Eve, there really is an art form for knowing when to hit the open road in visiting family and friends this holiday season. Half the battle is knowing when everyone else will be on the road, and the other half is avoiding those roads on high-volume travel days.