Thanksgiving traffic: Here’s when (and when not) to travel in Atlanta

This year is expected to be the busiest for Thanksgiving travel since 2005. Here’s how to plan accordingly.

More than 55 million Americans are planning to trek 50 miles or further for Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA.

More than 55 million Americans are planning to trek 50 miles or further for Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA's annual travel forecast.

That’s a 2.9% uptick from last year and puts this year on track to be the second busiest travel season since AAA started tracking the volume in 2000, surpassed only by the record-breaking numbers in 2005.

Experts say lower gas prices throughout the year has given many Americans some extra money, which has motivated millions to hit the open (or, crowded) road this turkey day.

“This year’s holiday will be busier thanks to a strong economy, higher wages, and increasing disposable income,” said Montrae Waiters, AAA spokeswoman.

If you’re among the millions of people with travels plans during this holiday period — between Wednesday, Nov. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 1 — there are some tips you should know to avoid being caught in the thick of traffic.

According to data compiled by AAA and INRIX, Wednesday afternoon will be the worst time for travel nationally. In Atlanta, you can expect your Wednesday afternoon travels to take 3.5 times longer than usual.

While the vast majority of Georgians who travel for Thanksgiving will do so by car — there may also be some snarls at the airport. (AAA says Monday, Nov. 25 is overall the best day to fly, while Thanksgiving day will be your best bet for a cheaper ticket).

According to the report, more than 1.6 million Georgians will travel in total for Thanksgiving. About 1.4 million will do so by car, which is a 3.1% increase from last year. Another 120,000 or so Georgians are expected to fly for the holiday, which is a 4.4% increase.

"With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country's major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays," said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. "Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week."

With so many motorists on the road, some will certainly experience some car troubles. AAA anticipates they will receive more than 368,000 calls for assistance, which is why they recommend making sure your vehicle is travel ready. The most common snags include battery problems and flat tires.

These are the best and worst times to travel in Atlanta, according to AAA and data from Google trends:

Worst travel times:

To leave:
5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 27 is when traffic is expected to be at its peak in Atlanta, according to the AAA report.
However, Google data suggests that you may hit the most headaches as early as 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

To return:
The worst time to return home is expected to be 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Best travel times:
To leave: 
Google says the early bird really does get the worm. The data says the best time to travel to your destination is at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning

To return:
The best time to return is expected to be around 6 a.m. on Saturday.