The Ultimate Guide to Avoiding Black Friday and Thanksgiving Traffic Using Google Maps and Waze

November 20, 2017, 10:41 PM UTC

Every year, Thanksgiving traffic is labeled the year’s worst driving, out-snarling Labor Day and other popular travel holidays in the United States. But through Google Maps, Waze and other GPS-enabled apps, drivers can use personalized traffic news to ensure they aren’t late for Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday shopping, or returning home after the holiday weekend is done.

Still, beating the rush isn’t as simple as downloading Waze or Google Maps and following the driving directions. Timing is everything when it comes to dodging local traffic—well, timing plus avoiding places that cause traffic jams like football games, grocery stores, and malls. To get the most out of Google’s GPS apps try these four tips:

1. Figure Out Your Best Time to Avoid Thanksgiving Traffic

Everyone’s got an opinion on the best and worst possible times to travel for Thanksgiving—just ask your uncle, cousin, grandmother, or parents for their take over stuffing and mashed potatoes. Google has its own approach too, and it’s one that takes into account local events that could cause complications:

But don’t think just because you don’t live in a major city, you won’t encounter congestion. According to Waze’s data, Beckley, W.Va. sees 2.4-times more rubber on the road over the holiday—the highest increase in the U.S. The app has put out a list of the metropolitan areas with the largest jumps in traffic around Thanksgiving.

Waze has also determined the hours with the worst traffic jams each day, advising drivers to stay off the road around rush hour on Tuesday and Wednesday, during lunch time on Thanksgiving, during the afternoon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and during rush hour again on Monday.

So, instead of going with the conventional wisdom, do some advanced preparation to see what’s best for you and the areas where you’ll be driving.

2. Don’t Waste Time Waiting in Lines

Long car trips often get off to bad starts by beginning at gas stations for fuel or convenient stores for snacks. Get off on the right food by gassing up and getting your goodies in advance. If that’s not possible, be smart about where you stop by avoiding pit stops that have long lines.

For example, if you’re picking up a takeout order on the way to Thanksgiving dinner, Google Maps now has a feature that will let you see what the wait time looks like at local restaurants. Released earlier this month, the wait times feature is currently only available on Android’s Google Maps app. But if you’ve got a Google-compatible handset, you could shave precious minutes off your journey by being smart about how long you’ll be idling curbside.

3. Plan Your Store Runs in Advance

Turkey might have everyone’s mouth watering come Thursday, but Wednesday belongs to the ham hock, at least according to Google:

That means you should obviously steer clear of the butcher the day before Thanksgiving, but there are other areas to avoid throughout the week, like outlet malls on Thursday nights and Friday afternoon, and Christmas tree farms on Black Friday.

But that’s not all. According to these popular Google searches, every state has its own unique place to avoid over the holiday week. Some, like Texas’s bike sharing locations are oddly specific. Others, like Arizona’s parking lots are unavoidable. Still, it’s smart to know your local pitfalls before you hit the road.

4. Shop Smart to Avoid Black Friday Traffic

Planning on hitting the big sales? Waze can help you map out a game plan to score those big, door-busting deals. First, as the app’s data suggests, realize that 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday are the peak shopping hours. So, get up early or don’t bother going at all.

Also, be sure to keep the app on while you’re shopping, because it could help get you out of parking lot traffic jams. According to Waze, 29% more people use the app during November and December than over the rest of the year. And, if you’re going to be stuck on the road surrounded by a bunch of other angry shoppers, you might as well all be sharing your data to get each other out of that mess.