News & Politics

What Are the Best (and Busiest) Times to Travel Out of DC for Thanksgiving?

Wednesday and Sunday will be bad. Thursday morning is the best.

Some 49 million people are expected to be on the roads this Thanksgiving. Photograph by David Andrews

The results are in! Once again, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving remains the worst day to travel through most metropolitan areas in the US. In the DMV, traffic will be even worse midday Sunday, with peak holiday congestion along parts of the outer loop of I-495 and I-95 from 11:15 AM to 1:15 PM.

AAA expects nearly 55 million people will be on the move, making it the third busiest Thanksgiving on record since the group started tracking travel rates in 2000. That’s a 1.5 percent increase in total Thanksgiving travel from 2021, and back to 98 percent of pre-pandemic Thanksgiving travel volume in 2019.

Some 49 million people are expected to travel by car, and another 4.5 million are expected to fly. That would represent an 8 percent increase in air travel from 2021. Another 1.4 million travelers are expected to board buses, trains, or cruise ships.

Some 1.2 million people were on the roads around the DC area last Thanksgiving, along with 76,000 Washingtonians who flew to their destinations.

Green Light

The transportation analytics organization INRIX recommends traveling early Wednesday morning—or late Wednesday night—on either end of the 12-hour logjam from 8 AM to 8 PM. Thanksgiving morning before 11 AM is a better transit alternative if you’re not in charge of thawing out the turkey.

Once the festivities are wrapping up, INRIX recommends avoiding travel between 4 PM and 8 PM on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Red Light

The worst weekend congestion will see an 85 percent increase of traffic along the outer loop of I-495 and between I-95 to VA-123—Tysons to Springfield. That’s a lot of cars, but still not as bad as the 144 percent increase of traffic outside Los Angeles Wednesday evening, or the 158 percent increased congestion New York will experience Wednesday afternoon.

Virginia travelers along I-95 can consult VDOTs map of historically congested times and areas during Thanksgiving travel, and Marylanders can check in with MDOT’s Coordinated Highways Action Response Team, for traveler information including live cameras and interactive maps.

Editorial Fellow