AAA says these are the worst (and best) times to travel this holiday season


Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock

The holiday season is in full swing, and travel disruptions and delays are showing no signs of slowing down. If you are flying or driving around the holidays, then you will want to be strategic about the days and times you begin your trip. 

The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects 115.2 million travelers will venture more than 50 miles from home over the 10-day holiday travel period (Saturday, December 23 to Monday, January 1). This is a 2.2% increase since last year and the second-highest travel forecast since the start of the century. AAA expects 90% of people to travel by car, 6.5% to travel by air, and 3.5% to use other means of transportation. 

The best and worst times to hit the road this holiday season

Around 104 million people are expected to travel by car during the 10-day travel period. Particularly congested travel days include Saturday, December 23, Thursday, December 28, and Saturday, December 30. Minimal traffic is expected on Sunday, December 24, Monday, December 25, Sunday, December 31, and Monday, January 1. Traveling on these days is preferable if you can be flexible with your schedule. 

These are the best and worst times to travel by car this holiday season, according to AAA.

Saturday, December 23

  • Worst time: 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM
  • Best time: Before 10:00 AM

Tuesday, December 26

  • Worst time: 1:00 to 5:00 PM
  • Best time: Before 12:00 PM

Wednesday, December 27

  • Worst time: 1:00 to 7:00 PM
  • Best time: Before 12:00 PM

Thursday, December 28

  • Worst time: 2:00 to 8:00 PM
  • Best time: Before 12:00 PM

Friday, December 29

  • Worst time: 2:00 to 8:00 PM
  • Best time: Before 12:00 PM

Saturday, December 30

  • Worst time: 5:00 to 7:00 PM
  • Best time: Before 12:00 PM

AAA also predicts peak congestion by metro area, with cities such as Denver, San Francisco, and Washington DC projected to experience over 60% of their normal traffic.

Christmas tree in airport
Mikhail Starodubov / Shutterstock

The best and worst times to head to the airport

Airports are also expected to be the busiest they have ever been, and AAA projects 7.5 million air travelers over the holiday season. According to USA Today, most people are expected to fly out for their trips on Thursday, December 21, and Friday, December 22. They are expected to return home on Thursday, December 28, and Friday, December 29. 

If possible, traveling before or after these dates is preferable. In fact, if you can be flexible with your travel plans, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day see significantly less airport traffic than the days leading up to and following the holidays.

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