Written by By Michael Lee, CNN
As the Americans step out of their homes and their holiday celebrations this week, they’re finding that pulling off a successful Thanksgiving road trip is anything but easy. With many roadblocks along the way, from wide-scale delays in airports to high gas prices to chaotic highway congestion, finding your way home is no walk in the park.
CNN Travel assembled a list of the most challenging and frustrating elements of the Thanksgiving holiday to predict whether you’re set for a trouble-free journey or if your Thanksgiving travel journey will prove to be another emotional time drain.
The pieces of the puzzle vary, however, from road conditions to aircraft delays. Even things as simple as food delivery are at stake.
On the flip side, there’s also some good news for Thanksgiving travelers, with the US Department of Transportation reporting a relatively low number of crashes since the start of the year.
After hitting a record high in 2017, a rate of crashes per 100 million vehicles has fallen by 11% this year, the DOT reports. Traffic fatalities have fallen 4.5% for the first 10 months of 2018 compared to 2017, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
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The four tenets of a successful Thanksgiving road trip
As car travel is set to increase over the next few weeks, CNN Travel compiled a list of the key elements to keep in mind when planning your own road trip to Thanksgiving.
1. General road conditions
Based on traffic congestion data from the DOT , there are some road conditions that can’t be predicted, including flooding, dense fog, lightning strikes and isolated roadblocks. AAA recommends travelers on any busy holiday should plan on sitting in traffic at least 30 minutes before departure — sometimes more — and expected delays vary depending on the destination.
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The airlines may be enthusiastic about a good Thanksgiving flight and Christmas travel, but things are far from perfect for those waiting at the airport. The latest figures from the DOT show 2017 was the worst year for the U.S. aviation system since 2008.
There are more flights flying between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than in any other time of the year. As a result, all week long, airports are slammed — making the lines at customs longer, while particularly bad is the stop at security, which is notorious for creating a headache.
Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel weekends of the year in the US, which means millions of cars will be on the road. On December 22, 2018 — one week ahead of the holiday — there were 861,571 total travel days in the US. That number was expected to increase to 1.7 million.
As much as many of the roadway conditions around the nation are bad, travel on the highways can be particularly bad. There were some 64 traffic deaths in November 2017 — the highest monthly total recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the month of November — and now the year 2018 is struggling to match it, with already 27 traffic deaths in the month of November.
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Traffic delays in Indiana: We used real-time traffic data from Waze to determine whether a drive through Indiana would be equally the worst out of any state on Thanksgiving Day. While many of the highways are reasonably busy, some of the worst traffic congestion is along Interstate 70, which regularly breaks through its 1.5-mile threshold as one of the worst roads on earth.
Even travel to Indiana’s famed Christmas lights village will be hit with delays on Thursday, December 13 — which is the day before Thanksgiving.
4. Gas prices
Most US drivers are paying a bit less for gas this Thanksgiving than last year, with the average price of regular gas in the US this week reaching $2.15 per gallon, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report . This is 20 cents less than last year, and half of what it was in 2011, according to GasBuddy’s most recent survey.
Cheaper gas prices will also make driving home easier for your fellow road travelers, especially those who get behind the wheel this Thursday, Friday and Saturday — the busiest travel days of the year.