What Are the Busiest Travel Days of the Year?

Thanksgiving and the year-end holiday are among the busiest times of year to take to the air and the roadways, ranking just behind a few days in the summer, according to National Public Radio. However, winter holiday travel can be even more hectic, with college students, families with children and elderly people all en route to the homes of family and friends through the worst weather of the year. Despite the fact that airlines actually have a better track record for on-time flights during the year-end holiday season, those flight delays that do occur may affect your holiday plans more seriously, causing you to miss out on some of the festivities of the season.

Avoid the Crowds on These Days

The Research and Innovative Technology Administration reports that 91 percent of holiday travelers who have more than 100 miles ahead of them opt to cover the distance by car. Just 5 percent take flights and the remainder choose bus, train or sea transport.

More drivers with less than 50 miles to cover hit the road on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the holiday week. Those driving more than 100 miles for a turkey dinner are equally likely to choose any day from Wednesday through Sunday of Thanksgiving week for their travels. Americans who take other modes of transportation, including air and rail, more often opt to get started on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday. The following Sunday is the most popular day to return home.

The busiest travel days during December depend upon the calendar. If the holiday falls early in the week, for example, most people set off on the prior weekend. According to smartertravel.com, the least busy days to hit the road or the skies for 2013 are Dec. 16 through 20, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Those days that promise to be most congested are Dec. 21, 22, 28 and 29.

Busy travel days are likely to make your trip longer. If you are driving, you will encounter more traffic delays on the roadways. If you are flying, forget about the luxury of an empty seat beside you you where you can spread out your belongings. In fact, you may discover that because the airline overbooked, you don’t even have a seat of your own. Also, due to tight scheduling, a flight cancellation or delay causes more missed connections and fewer options for a quick fix.

Strategies for Simpler Holiday Travel

The best strategy for simplifying your winter holiday trip is advance planning. Many people shop for holiday tickets prior to Labor Day to get the prices and the schedules they prefer. You also have the best selection of accommodations and rental cars by reserving them well in advance of the holiday season.

However, even if your plans gel at the last minute this year, you may still have some leverage to make your trip less costly and hectic. One way to get where you need to go despite full holiday flights is to try an alternative airport. For example, if you cannot find a flight to Seattle on Dec. 23, try flying into Portland, OR, and rent a car to complete your journey on time.

To avoid overnight schedule delays, leave early in the morning. This holds true both for auto and air travel. If you are driving, you will find the interstate less crowded in the predawn hours. If you are flying, you will have more time to get on an alternative flight should yours be delayed or canceled due to weather.


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