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When to get on the road for Thanksgiving, according to Google Maps data


(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Thanksgiving can feel like the best of times and the worst of times. On one hand, you have delicious food, football and family. On the other hand, you have nightmare traffic, unpredictable weather and family. The folks over at Google Maps and Google News Lab have done their best to tackle at least one of those worsts by sharing important data for people driving.

“We’re providing insight into the places people visit around the holidays and the best times to get on (or stay off) the road,” Google’s Mapping Thanksgiving site reads.

The assist doesn’t stop there. Those willing to do a little homework can scan the Mapping Thanksgiving database to uncover all kinds of insight. For example, when everyone’s Googling places to buy ham (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at noon, FYI), you should probably avoid the grocery store. Users can look at national and some city-specific findings to tailor the research.

Here are some of the main takeaways as you plan your Thanksgiving.

Don’t hit the road the night before.

Across the country, the data is clear: Traffic peaks the night before Thanksgiving. The situation looks particularly bad between 10 p.m. and midnight, so if you can, avoid leaving during the traditional after-work hours. You might want to avoid traveling on Wednesday altogether, as tie-ups hit in the morning and after noon, too.


(Google Maps and Google News Lab)

Come home from Thanksgiving on Saturday.

Eat, bond, relax and leave on this day to really beat the crush. The Mapping Thanksgiving site shows that road conditions on the Saturday after the holiday look similar to regular Saturdays.

Those sticking to tradition and heading back Sunday will be hit with gridlock on the way home. People looking to leave immediately after the turkey is ingested will be looking at backups, too; Thanksgiving-night traffic sees a bump post-dinnertime.

Prepare for Black Friday traffic, but not much.

Shopping on Black Friday? You may be in luck. According to Mapping Thanksgiving, the morning after Thanksgiving won’t have nearly as bad congestion as the holiday itself. You can expect to see patterns similar to your typical Friday-morning work commute. Whether things are orderly inside the stores themselves remains to be seen, though.

Consider holding off on the Christmas tree.

Around noon on the Friday after Thanksgiving, enough Americans are searching online to find Christmas tree farms that it earned a spike on Mapping Thanksgiving’s chart for Most Uniquely Popular National Searches. If you’re looking to decorate for Christmas right after you eat some leftovers, consider holding off on the tree until Saturday or later for better odds of avoiding foot traffic at the lot and car traffic on the return home with your spoils.


(Google Maps and Google News Lab)

While Google created its database with sound science in mind, the holidays are unpredictable. Use the tool to map out your game plan, but then check traffic updates regularly and remain flexible.

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