These Are the Best and Worst Times to Hit the Road This Holiday Season

Holiday travelers, take note

Traffic jam at road.Background blurred
Jung Getty / Getty Images

If you're planning a holiday road trip over the next few days, be prepared for heavy traffic.

This year, more than 109 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, according to a new study from American Automobile Association (AAA) and transportation analytics company INRIX. Of that number, just over 100 million are planning to reach their holiday destinations by car—a 27.6 percent increase from 2020.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

While the roads will be near pre-pandemic levels this holiday season, there are two days in particular that travelers need to be especially mindful of. "The worst days for delay are actually right before New Year's ... so the 27th and 28th," Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, told USA TODAY

The best days for travel? Not surprisingly, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Daily Worst and Best Times to Travel
 Date Worst Travel Time   Best Travel Time
12/23/21 12–6 p.m.  After 7 p.m.
12/24/21 2–6 p.m. Before 1 p.m.
12/25/21 Minimal congestion expected  
12/26/21 1–7 p.m. Before 12 p.m.
12/27/21 5–6 p.m. Before 1 p.m.
12/28/21 1–7 p.m.  Before 12 p.m.
12/29/21 1–7 p.m.  Before 11 a.m.
12/30/21  1–7 p.m.  Before 12 p.m. 
12/31/21 2–4 p.m.  Before 1 p.m., after 5 p.m. 
1/1/22 Minimal congestion expected  
1/2/22 2–6 p.m. Before 1 p.m.
Source: INRIX

"With kids out of school and many Americans taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers will experience incremental delays throughout the week. Although congestion will be overall lighter than normal, knowing when and where major delays will likely happen will help save time and reduce stress this holiday season,” said Pishue in the AAA report.

While INRIX predicts "only marginal delays overall" the week between Christmas and New Year's, the company says that the biggest metro areas in the U.S. may see "more than double the delays versus typical drive times. The New York City metro area—specifically I-278 South from I-495 to 3rd Avenue—will experience the biggest delays, with a 358 percent increase above average on Dec. 27 between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Worst Corridors and Times to Travel
Metro Area Corridor  Peak Congestion  % Over Normal
Atlanta 1-85 South; Clairmont Rd to MLK Jr Dr 1/2/22, 3:45–5:45 p.m. 198%
Boston I-93 North; Quincy Market to MA-28 12/23/21, 1:45–3:45 p.m. 155%
Chicago I-290 West; Morgan St to Wolf Rd 12/23/21, 3:30–5:30 p.m.  240%
Detroit US-23 North; 8 Mile Rd to I-96 12/23/21, 9:45–11:45 a.m. 209%
Houston I-10 West; Sjolander to TX-330 1/2/22, 5–7 p.m.  195%
Los Angeles I-405 South; Sunset Blvd to I-105  1/2/22, 5:30–7:30 p.m. 194%
New York I-278 South; I-495 to 3rd Ave 12/27/21, 4:30–6:30 p.m. 358%
San Francisco I-80 North; I-580 to San Pablo Dam Rd 12/23/21, 5:30–7:30 p.m. 166%
Seattle I-5 South; WA-18 to WA-7 12/28/21, 4:45–6:45 p.m. 215%
Washington, D.C. I-95 South; I-395 to VA-123 12/27/21, 9:30–11:30 a.m. 270%
Source: INRIX

AAA concedes that their predictions could fluctuate over the next few days: With the U.S. seeing a seven-day moving average of 125,000 new COVID cases per day, we may end up seeing fewer drivers on the road as would-be travelers cancel their trips.

However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) assured travelers during an appearance on CNN on Wednesday: "I believe if people follow the recommendations of the CDC about indoor masking, take the advice of getting vaccinated and getting boosted, we should be fine for the holidays, and we should enjoy it with our family and our friends."

Article Sources
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  1. American Automobile Association. "'Tis the Season: More Than 109 Million Americans to Travel for the Holidays." December 14, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory." December 17, 2021.