CONCORD, N.Y. (AP) — Putting a big holiday meal on the table can be stressful for the cook (See “The Bear,” season 2, episode six.) But for guests, just getting to the table can be difficult, too, and there’s no hotline. Butterball for weary travelers.
The number of people traveling 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from home for Thanksgiving is expected to reach 55.4 million this week, up slightly from last year, according to AAA estimates.
And while misery loves company, there are some steps travelers can take to improve the experience:
EARLY BIRDS GET ROADS OPEN
Most travelers — more than 49 million — are expected to drive to their Thanksgiving destinations. Traffic is expected to peak on Wednesday, the day before the holiday. The worst time to be on the road will be between 2pm and 6pm that day, according to INRIX, a provider of transport data and insights.
Not only will traffic jams slow you down, but they can lead to crashes caused by distracted drivers, said Megan Jones, senior actuary at Arity, another company that analyzes mobility data.
“When the traffic is moving at a steadier pace and you don’t have as much stop-and-go, people are less likely to pick up their phones,” she said.
However, speeding also increases around the holiday, she said, with the highest rate of driving at high speeds of more than 80 mph (129 km/h) on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Drivers should be mindful of their own behavior and be mindful of those around them, Jones said.
“It’s something you need to know when you go home. There are others on the road and those high speeds represent a higher risk of accidents and more expensive accidents when they do happen,” she said.
KEEP CALM, DO NOT STEP
Traveling with kids presents additional challenges, including breaking up backseat fights and preventing car sickness.
While those traveling on Thanksgiving may be tempted to skip meals or snacks since they’re headed to a holiday, that could be a bad move, said Dr. Mona Amin, a pediatrician and parenting coach .
“An empty stomach can make symptoms of nausea worse, so make sure anyone prone to motion sickness has a full stomach and is hydrated,” she said.
Additional tips include avoiding screen time, opening windows for fresh air, and having your child look toward the horizon.
“Sometimes messes can happen,” she said. “Be calm in your voice and tone and put them at ease.”
DEEP BREATHES, NOT GUTS
About 4.7 million people are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving travel period, according to AAA. This is a 6.6% increase from 2022 and the highest number since 2005. When it comes to air travel, Cheryl Skaggs, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said a little empathy goes a long way.
“Go in with the mindset that the planes are probably going to be incredibly crowded,” she said. “Experienced fliers are more attuned to it and prepared for it, but you have so many other people who aren’t necessarily regular fliers who will be traveling over Thanksgiving.”
She urged passengers to be tolerant and understanding, instead of accommodating crying babies or fighting over reclining seats.
“It’s not very comfortable for anyone,” she said. “But if you show respect to other people, that can also create a chain reaction.”
Skaggs co-authored a study published earlier this year examining nearly 1,000 incidents of passenger misconduct on airplanes over a 20-year period. Alcohol consumption significantly contributes to misconduct, which the study defines as behavior that is abusive or unruly, antagonizes others, or compromises flight safety.
Often, the drinking begins long before passengers board the plane, Skaggs said.
“Don’t be afraid to say something to the flight attendants if you think something is wrong or that you see something that could potentially escalate,” she said.
THE EMOTIONAL JOURNEY
Thanksgiving travel can also be an emotional journey depending on where the travelers are headed.
The holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including complicated family dynamics, unrealistic expectations and disruption of routine, said Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, chief medical officer at The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention.
“There can be a lot of anticipatory anxiety about the holidays, thinking about what happened in previous years or wondering how things will turn out,” she said.
To ease that anxiety, she recommends setting aside some travel time focused on mental health and preparing for what’s to come.
“If you’re going to be around family members with whom you normally have conflicts, my advice is to decide ahead of time how you want to interact with them. Things get a lot more difficult once you get into the situation – old patterns can come to light quickly,” she said. “So think ahead about what will make you feel the best.”