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Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Be Prepared to Beat the Traffic and Make Your Thanksgiving Trip Easier

Are you planning to head out of town this Thanksgiving? You are not alone. More than 55 million travelers are making plans to kick off the holiday season with a trip of 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, according to AAA forecast

This is the second-highest number of Thanksgiving travelers since AAA began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005. Overall, an additional 1.6 million more people will travel compared with last year, a 2.9 percent increase. The vast majority of holiday travelers, according to the research, plan to drive to their destinations. INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, expects Wednesday afternoon to be the worst travel period nationally, with trips taking as much at four times longer than normal in major metros.

See AAA research on Thanksgiving traffic.

The Pacific Northwest is no exception. According to AAA research, 1.3 million Washingtonians are planning trips this Thanksgiving. Seattle is one the country’s 10 worst metro areas for traffic. Seattle’s traffic is expected to be worst on Wednesday, November 27, from 4 pm to 6 pm, with delays of up to 2.7 times.

Drivers heading south from Bellevue on I-405 will face the biggest slowdowns, with travel times nearly three-and-a-half times longer than normal, closely followed by I-405 north from Bellevue (2.7 times Longer), I-5 south from Seattle (1.8 times longer) and I-5 north from Seattle (1.7 times longer).

But even if you are not traveling during peak hours, advanced planning, flexibility and the knowledge of real-time information on traffic and weather, your holiday road trip can go smoother. 

Be Flexible

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Heavy holiday traffic can start as early as Tuesday before the Thursday holiday, with delays of two to three times above normal on some freeways. Based on data gathered form previous holidays, the best days to travel are on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday. Freeways will likely be jammed on Sunday with the mad rush to make it home before the work week. So, travelers with a more flexible schedule can avoid heavy traffic by waiting until Monday to return home.

Stay Informed

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Several online resources, including INRIX and Google, offer real-time traffic updates that could be useful in navigating the roads during the busy holiday travel season. Federal and state agencies also have smartphone apps with real-time information on ferry lines, as well as traffic and weather reports on freeways and mountain pass. Tune in to make sure you’re aware of unexpected changes.

Make it Over the Mountain Passes

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The Pacific Northwest’s unpredictable weather can throw a hitch into travel plans, especially in late fall when the region’s mountain passes can get hit with snow and ice. Traction tires or even chains may be required. 

Some mountain passes like the North Cascades Highway and Cayuse and Chinook passes close for the winter. Meanwhile, other heavily traveled passes such as Stevens and Snoqualmie also can be closed temporarily for snow removal or avalanche danger. Check the Washington DOT updates. The state of Oregon also provides weather and mountain pass updates.

When driving over mountain passes be prepared, pack flashlights, batteries, blankets, food, water, winter gear and a first-aid kit. In addition, bring along window scrapers, tire chains, jumper cables and road flairs. The city of Seattle and King County has more winter weather travel tips for the Northwest. As always, call AAA if you are a member in need on the road.

Ferry Sailings

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Traveling to the San Juan Islands or Port Townsend, during the Thanksgiving holiday? Washington State Ferries allows reservations on some of its the busiest routes across the Puget Sound. Be prepared to arrive 45 to 60 minutes prior to their reserved departure time. 

Alternatively, you may plan to board as a wall-on passenger and arrange for a pick-up at the other end. For real-time information about ferry schedules and alerts, download the Washington State Ferries app from Google Play or the Apple App Store, or follow @wsferries on twitter for alerts and updates. 

If you are planning to visit Vancouver Island or the Southern Gulf Island via Tsawwassen, B.C., make reservations with B.C. Ferries. In addition, plan to arrive at the ferry terminal ticket booth 45 to 60 minutes prior to your scheduled sailing time, or risk losing your reservation and being demoted to stand-by status. You also may consider downloading the B.C. Ferries app to stay up to date.

Crossing the Border

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The ski slopes at Whistler or Stanley Park in Vancouver are popular destinations for families during the Thanksgiving holiday. if you are traveling from Washington state, take Interstate 5 and cross the Canadian border at the Peace Arch near Blaine. You also may opt for the border crossing at Sumas east of Bellingham. 

Remember, U.S. citizens and permanent residents traveling to Canada need to show proof of residency. Adults and children 16 and older should pack passports. Younger children will need their birth certificates. 

Find more information and updates on crossing the border. Travelers from Washington state should check state updates on crossing the border as well as federal updates.  

–Written by Greg Lamm

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