The 21 Worst Cities for Thanksgiving Travel

November 17, 2015, 10:00 AM UTC
Motorists make their way out of downtown Los Angeles headed east on the Interstate 10 freeway on August 30, 2013 in California, where more Southern California residents are taking Labor Day weekend trips this year compared to in 2012, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Some 2.44 million residents have plans for a trip of at least 50 miles from home this Labour Day weekend, with about 1.93 million expected to drive, up 6.2 percent from 1.82 million last year, according to the Auto Club. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Frederic J. Brown — AFP/Getty Images

Traveling during the holidays can be stressful. Airports are overcrowded, the roads are congested, and retail outlets are crammed full of shoppers looking for the seasons’ hottest items.

And Google has the data to prove it.

Using anonymous traffic data from Android devices, Google (“GOOG”) has ranked the cities with the worst traffic. The data comes from last year’s Thanksgiving week, which the company defines as the Tuesday before the holiday through the Sunday after.

In total, the search giant ranked the 21 most sluggish cities. The three worst places to be on the road during Thanksgiving week in 2014 were Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, respectively. On the other hand, traffic has improved in Philadelphia, Miami, Austin, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Honolulu, with the cities moving up in rankings from the last time the study was conducted in 2013.

According to Google’s data, you can avoid the heaviest traffic rush by not traveling on Wednesday afternoons. The majority of cities reported traffic at its worst between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day. Although, Honolulu, Providence, and San Francisco reported heaviest traffic on Saturday, presumably as people return home.

Below is a list of the 21 cities ranked by Google in 2014, starting with worst:

  1. Los Angeles
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. San Francisco
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Dallas
  6. New York City
  7. Chicago
  8. Houston
  9. Austin
  10. Miami
  11. Tampa
  12. Denver
  13. Portland, Ore.
  14. Charlotte, N.C.
  15. Seattle
  16. Detroit
  17. Boston
  18. Pittsburgh
  19. St. Louis
  20. Honolulu
  21. Providence, R.I.

Google’s data suggests travelers should skip returning home on Saturday, returning on Sunday instead. Saturday’s traffic can be “up to 40% worse” than Sunday’s.

Traffic data combined with Google Maps search terms not only paint an interesting picture of what days are better for travel, but also what days you should avoid visiting certain retail locations.

For example, on the day before Thanksgiving, a last minute ham, pie, or liquor store run will likely leave you waiting in long lines. Compared to the typical Wednesday, people used Google Maps to search for “ham shops” 20 times more on Thanksgiving eve. Overall, ham searches also surged. “Ham shops” was five times more popular in 2014 than it was in 2012 and 2013. So in other words, get your hams, pies, and booze early.

On Thanksgiving Day 2014, the top searches were buffet restaurants, followed by movie rentals, outlet malls, and oddly enough, electronic vending machines.

And with Black Friday following Thanksgiving, it’s no surprise that the four most popular Google Maps search terms were electronic stores, outlet malls, appliance stores, and Christmas tree farms.

Concerns about the amount of data Google collects about its users notwithstanding, seeing large amounts of data compiled into a list such as this is fascinating.

To read more about Thanksgiving traffic and search terms, visit the Google Maps blog post.

Is Google Maps tracking feature an invasion of your privacy? Watch this Fortune video to learn more:

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