The annual trip to be with family and friends on Thanksgiving does not have to be painful. Here are suggestions and other information from transportation officials on how to make it to your destination in one piece:
This is the first year that Virginia toll plazas are part of the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system. That means Smart Tag users can zip through tollbooths from Virginia to Massachusetts without waiting in long lines.
Try to leave before 2 p.m. Wednesday. On the Sunday return trip, avoid driving between 2 and 7 p.m.
Have an alternate route planned in case of heavy traffic. AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends two routes:
* If heading south from the Washington area, take Interstate 66 west to Interstate 81 south to Interstate 77 south through Charlotte. From Charlotte, drivers can pick up interstate highways leading to South Carolina and Georgia. The route is longer than taking Interstate 95 but can be faster if I-95 is congested.
* Northbound travelers can avoid I-95 by taking Interstate 270 to Frederick, then Route 15 north to Harrisburg, Pa., and picking up I-81 north, which provides access to Interstates 78 and 80 for travel to eastern Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey or Interstates 84 and 88 for points in Upstate New York and much of New England.
Maryland and Virginia transportation officials said they will open lanes that have been closed for construction or maintenance work on many roadways from noon Wednesday till at least noon Friday.
The farther north you drive, the higher the price of gasoline. The reverse is true going south from Washington. The average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in the D.C. area is $1.96, compared with $1.53 last year. Other current average prices: Virginia, $1.87; Maryland, $1.96; South Carolina, $1.86; Georgia, $1.82; New York, $2.13; Rhode Island, $2.04; Connecticut, $2.06; Massachusetts, $2.01; New Jersey, $1.92; Pennsylvania, $1.44.
Taking a turkey in the car? The Virginia Cooperative Extension suggests this as the safest method to transport the bird: Cook it a day early, then carve it and refrigerate the meat in a clean, shallow container. When departing, pack the meat and other perishable foods in an insulated cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
Traveling with children? Consider taking books on audiotape, coloring books and compact travel games. You might want to surprise children with a new toy or game at the beginning of the trip. Make sure everyone has had enough to eat and drink before setting out. While traveling, avoid too much sugar and caffeine, and pass around a bag with individual servings of healthy snacks such as carrots, cheese sticks, apples, pretzels, crackers and juice in spill-proof containers.
Allow plenty of time for the trip, accounting for meal, bathroom and exercise breaks.
Arrive a few hours before scheduled departure -- not only because of the post-9/11 security procedures, but also because of the crush of holiday passengers.
Reagan National Airport
Free shuttle bus service is available all day from parking areas and Metro to terminals. A pedestrian tunnel with moving sidewalks connects Garage A with Terminal A. Pedestrian bridges with moving sidewalks connect Garages B and C to Terminals B and C.
Call 703-417-4311 for recorded information on parking lots and rates; call 703-417-7275 to speak with a parking representative.
Dulles International Airport
Dulles provides more than 25,000 spaces for daily, hourly, economy and valet parking. Free shuttle bus service operates all day. Dulles has two daily garages with covered access to the terminal.
For more information, call 703-572-4500 for recorded information or 703-572-4580 to speak with a parking representative.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport
BWI is reducing parking rates through Jan. 15 from a maximum of $30 a day to $20 a day at its hourly covered garage adjacent to the terminal.
The airport has a free cell phone lot for those waiting for a phone call from an arriving passenger. The lot is at the entrance to the Daily B parking lot on Elm Road. Patrons also can use the hourly garage in front of the terminal for pickups and drop-offs; the first hour is free.
For more information, visit www.bwiairport.com/directions_parking/parking_info.
Amtrak, which usually has a 30 percent jump in passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday compared with the rest of the month, said it is adding 60 trains along the Northeast corridor, as well as extra cars to existing trains serving Chicago and the West Coast. In all, Amtrak will add 30,000 seats during the holiday.
From Tuesday through Nov. 29, Amtrak will offer all-reserved service on many trains that normally do not require reservations, including most trains between Washington and Boston. Arrive at the departure gate at least 45 minutes before scheduled departure.
-- Compiled by Diane Mattingly