8 Thanksgiving Car Travel Tips You Shouldn't Ignore

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Family road trip (Photo: @crystalmariesing via Twenty20)
Editor’s note 11/19/2020: The CDC has issued updated guidance urging Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving this year due to the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country. Read the full guidelines on travel from the CDC here.
There aren’t many times of the year that can compete with Thanksgiving when it comes to traveling. Huge numbers of people travel at Thanksgiving to see their friends and family, be it by plane, bus, train, or car. And though Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different this year for many families, more than 48 million Americans still plan on traveling by car during the holiday period.
Having a successful Thanksgiving road trip during COVID-19 means being prepared with all the right holiday car travel tips so that the drive can go smoothly. It’s especially important to have the right car travel tips for Thanksgiving in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has made safe travel even harder and even more important.
But don’t worry, you can still have a (mostly) stress-free Thanksgiving. Read on to find out how.

1. Timing Is Key

Timing is always a key part of having a good road trip, but it’s doubly true during the holidays. The day before Thanksgiving is the single most busy travel day in America, with hoards of people getting out and visiting loved ones.
If you can travel prior to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you’ll save a good amount of time and hassle. If you do have to travel on that day, try and leave early to beat the rush, and check to see when traffic is the worst for getting out of your city.
The longer you can wait before making your return drive, the better, as you’ll be able to avoid a lot of traffic by doing so.
Every city and state is a little bit different in terms of Thanksgiving traffic. A little research can help you figure out the smartest time to get on the road.

2. If You’re Visiting Family, Isolate and Get Tested Before You Leave Home

The best thing you can do if you plan to visit people outside of your immediate household for Thanksgiving this year is to self-isolate before your trip, ideally two weeks ahead of time if possible. You should also consider getting tested for COVID-19 before you go (opt for the more accurate PCR test rather than the less reliable rapid test) and don’t leave until you receive a negative test result.
Of course, a negative result is only a snapshot in time, and you may be contagious without being symptomatic even after your test. Infected people typically do not test positive (or show symptoms) until five or more days after the infection. And, most worryingly, those infected with COVID-19 are believed to be most contagious in the few days before they are symptomatic. It’s possible to test negative and be asymptomatic, yet still be contagious. So, while getting a test can reduce risk, there’s no way to completely eliminate it.

3. Prepare for No-Contact Travel

It’s very important during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid contact whenever possible while traveling, to ease the spread of the virus. There are a lot of easy things you can do to be responsible while driving at Thanksgiving.
First, be sure to have an adequate supply of hand sanitizer, and use it before leaving your car, and as soon as you get back in your car.
Second, keep some disinfectant wipes in your car so you can clean things that have been touched by other people. Wrap your hand in a wipe (or use a disposable glove) when you have to touch a gas pump or when you use a public restroom.
Third, if you have to stop for food or coffee, try and use drive-throughs to limit exposure. Always wear a mask when going through the drive-through (or anywhere in public), and if you can pay with a card rather than cash that’s preferable.
And fourth, avoid crowded areas whenever possible.

4. Plan in Advance

One way to make driving at Thanksgiving easier is to plan things in advance. If you pack snacks, meals, and coffee, then you won’t need to stop as many times on the road. This is extra important at Thanksgiving, when areas off of busy roads are filled with travelers, and just stopping for coffee might take half an hour.
If you’re going to be driving for multiple days, book your hotel ahead of time, so that you know where you’re going and don’t have to worry about vacancies.
Planning things in advance makes the drive go quicker and smoother, and also limits your exposure to people during the pandemic.

5. Be Prepared for Anything

It’s always a good idea to be prepared when driving. Before leaving, check travel times, traffic, and weather for your route. Once you’re on the road, check in with your GPS app of choice to see where traffic is picking up, if there are accidents on the road ahead, and if any faster alternate routes have developed.

6. Tips for Car Travel with Dogs

It can feel daunting to make a long holiday road trip with a dog, especially if you’ve never done so before. But there are only a few dog car travel tips you need to keep in mind.
Make sure that you have lots of water for your pup. They can get dehydrated in the car, even with the air conditioner on. Also bring more food than you think you need, just in case the trip gets delayed or you get stuck in bad traffic.
You’ll need to stop so they can go to the bathroom, so try and find rest stops that have a pet area. Look for less crowded areas where you can maintain proper social distancing. And don’t let anyone outside of your bubble pet your dog, either. While the CDC does not currently believe COVID-19 can be spread by pets, there’s much about the virus we still do not know. And, more importantly, if someone is close enough to pet your dog, they’re close enough to pass the virus on to you.

7. Tips for Car Travel with Babies and Toddlers

It can be similarly daunting to travel at Thanksgiving with young kids, but there are two easy tips you can practice.
First, make sure they have all the stuff they’re used to having at home. Bring a lot of toys, books, stuffed animals, and snacks, so they have everything they need to be happy and comfortable.
Second, let them know you’re going on an adventure and that it will be fun. Don’t spring a long drive on them as a surprise. Advertise it as something fun they get to do and they’ll likely be excited.

8. Bring Your Own Food and Wear a Mask When Visiting Family and Friends

Finally, once you’ve arrived at your Thanksgiving celebration, be sure to continue practicing social distancing by staying the recommended six feet apart during dinner and during any entertainment, such as sitting together watching football after the meal. If the weather is warm where you are, consider dining outdoors if possible. (Pretty sure that’s what the Pilgrims did, anyway!)
Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils. Avoid areas like the kitchen where food is being prepared, and opt for single-use items like paper plates and plastic utensils. (Bonus: Fewer dishes to wash this year.)
The CDC also recommends wearing snug-fitting masks inside at all times when not eating, especially if you choose to gather with people outside of your immediate household for Thanksgiving.
Traveling at Thanksgiving doesn’t need to be stressful, even during a pandemic—unless you plan to talk politics, that is, in which case we really can’t help you!