Thanksgiving Road Trip Survival Guide

Holiday travel tips on everything from safely transporting treats to applying make-up in a crammed moving car.

By Gina Salamone

Heading out on the road this Thanksgiving to celebrate with family or friends? You’re far from the only one. Consider this your go-to guide on everything from what time to leave to avoid the biggest rush, to the safest spot to stow that stuffing so it doesn’t land in your lap if you stop short. Plus, our expert, Porsche race car driver Patrick Long, reveals how to keep your body in top shape while getting to grandma’s house.


The long Thanksgiving weekend is among the most crowded time for Americans to be driving.
“As it’s one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, based solely on the fact that more people are on the road, it is a more dangerous time to drive,” says AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Brough. “We want people to look out for the three deadly “D”’s of driving – drowsy, distracted, or drunk.”

Plan to be on the road in the mornings. “The higher risk times are in the evenings because people are drowsy,” says Brough. “Also, the later it is in the day, the more cars will be on the road and the more traffic there will be.”
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, particularly from noon through the evening, is one such high-risk time due to people heading out on their trip. Coming home, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is also one of the biggest high-risk days.

Unlike other holidays – like Memorial Day, New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July — when fatalities are more likely caused by drivers being alcohol impaired — Thanksgiving Day crashes and fatalities have more to do with the high number of cars on the road and longer distances driven.

According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while 42% of driving fatalities on Memorial Day were linked to drunk driving, only 34% of driving fatalities on Thanksgiving Day were blamed on alcohol impaired drivers.


Whether you’re traveling alone or with others, your car will likely be crammed with overnight bags and, if you’re a good guest, gifts, plus your homemade casserole and a bottle of wine.
Besides being uncomfortable for passengers, all of those extras can become dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident. In the event of hard braking, they could pose a serious threat to your clothes. (That casserole won’t look cute on your new fall coat.)
“Anytime there’s a loose object in your vehicle, it presents a danger to the vehicle occupants,” Brough explains. “So whatever you’re transporting, whether it be people, a pet or boxes, food, they should be secured.”

The safest spot is always in the trunk (not the people and pets of course.) “But even if it is in the trunk, make sure you strap it down securely because there are some cars where things could come through the back seat pass-through,” adds Bough.

It’s the same for Fido. “Secure the pet in some kind of safety container, harness or seat belt,” Brough says. If you have to stop quickly, it increases the pet’s safety and decreases the threat to other occupants of the vehicle.


We all know it’s not safe to drink and drive. But stuffing yourself with food and getting back in the car isn’t a great idea either — especially when turkey’s involved. The Thanksgiving bird is known for packing high levels of Tryptophan, an amino acid that brings on sleepiness. And the side dishes that usually accompany the main course, like stuffing and pie, aren’t doing you any favors either. These carb-heavy dishes produce sleep-promoting melatonin and can add to your drowsiness..

“Especially over holidays, a lot of us try to work all day and then put the family in the car and rush to get to our destination after a long day’s work,” says Brough. “Or we have all that turkey and we’re tired and drowsy and we choose to get in the car. We find that over holidays, there are more vehicle incidents due to drowsy driving because we try to do it all. So sleep off your turkey before you get in the car to go home.”

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