Hitting the road for Thanksgiving? Our smart traveler tips make it easy as pumpkin pie

More Americans will hit the roads, rails and skies this weekend than any holiday season in the past decade. (It’s an economic indicator: Americans have money to spend and are feeling festive.)

Unfortunately, roads aren’t bigger than they were last year. That will make for crowded travel at times.

Here’s our advice to get you where you’re going with the least amount of stress. That pumpkin pie is waiting.


There is good and bad news on the weather front. Rain is expected to hit Northern California late tonight. The first rainfall of the season will mix with oil on the pavement and make roads slippery.

Though summer seemed to last into November this year, winter is coming. In the mountains, snow is expected down to as low as 5,500 feet of elevation; that’s at about the Strawberry area on Highway 50 and Yuba Gap and Blue Canyon areas on Interstate 80.

Carry chains because the snow will be sticking on the pavement at Donner and Echo summits by Wednesday afternoon.

Rain will continue on Thanksgiving Day and Friday, heavy at times, and will continue with showers into Saturday.

Clean air!

The nasty inversion layer that has trapped Camp Fire smoke in the valley is about to lift. Rain and winds that accompany it will finally push particulate matter up and away, opening the possibility of healthy air for Thanksgiving strolls, fun runs and some front-yard football. That is, if the rain lets up.

Another warning, though, from the weather service if you are outdoors: Rain and gusty winds could lead to downed trees and branches.

Busy highways

Traffic is frequently heavy over the holiday weekend. Some major crossroads in the Bay Area, for instance, are projected to have traffic three times as heavy at times than during the morning workday commute.

The worst time to be on the road is Wednesday afternoon and evening. Freeways could be congested Friday afternoon as well.

According to a Google analysis, the best time to travel is early morning on Thursday and Sunday.

Flooding risks

Given the rainy weather, drivers should watch out for localized street flooding. The first rains of the season wash grime, debris and leaves into over-matched gutters and drainage systems. If rains hit hard, watch for pooling water on freeway slow lanes or alongside sloping highways.

State officials are warning about flash flooding in low-lying areas, and are alerting drivers in the hills about mud and rock slide danger, notably on hillsides denuded by summer and fall wildfires.

CHP in your rear-view mirror

Fifty people died on California roads last Thanksgiving weekend, the California Highway Patrol reports.

The CHP will launch what it calls a “maximum enforcement period” between 6 p.m. Wednesday and midnight Sunday, when officers will be on the lookout for speeders, people talking on cell phones or otherwise distracted drivers, erratic driving and even driving without a seat belt.

The No. 1 safety and sanity secret: “Give yourself plenty of time for your trip so you and your passengers can arrive safely,” CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said.

(And, if you secure your pumpkin pie in an ice chest, it should be fine.)

Where is everyone going?

So where is everyone going over the Thanksgiving weekend? The AAA reports that 6 million Californians will travel out of town.

But most people stay in town. Where do those people head to, according to a Google national analysis?

The bakery, for one. This is where you can get pumpkin pie. Google reports bakery visits peak at mid-day Wednesday. Same goes for grocery stores and liquor stores, where aisles are busiest on Wednesday afternoon.

On Friday, it’s about fun. Most popular destinations appear to be shopping centers in the afternoon and movie theaters in the evening.

Parking at the airport

Expect crowding, starting in parking lots.

Sacramento International Airport is expecting its busiest holiday season ever. Unfortunately, the airport’s least expensive parking lot, the economy lot, is only partially open this year and could be filled and temporarily closed at times during the weekend.

The airport has set up a temporary supplemental parking lot near the cell phone waiting lot. Check here at the airport’s website for parking info before you head out.

Travelers should get to the airport at least two hours before their flight to get checked in and through security — and to get coffee. Seriously, the wait times in the Peet’s and Starbucks lines often take longer than the TSA checkpoint.

The big question, of course: Can you bring your pumpkin pie on the plane? Yes, TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said. TSA officers won’t touch your pie. But they may do some additional screening of it.

To see if other foods are allowed as carry-on, TSA has a “what can I bring” website. Or you can tweet questions to @askTSA or visit Ask TSA on Facebook.

Holiday tourism

Where are people flying this weekend? Many no doubt are visiting family. But many aren’t.

AAA bookings show the most popular flight destinations this holiday are: Orlando, home to Walt Disney World; New York City; Anaheim, home to Disneyland; and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, also known as the Coconut Coast, home to luxurious beach resorts.

Some of these locations are known to have pumpkin pie. Punta Cana may have coconut pie. We’re not sure.


Amtrak San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor passenger train systems have added service for the holiday week, expecting a lot of college students to use their rails to get home and back to school. The extra trip from Chico, though, was canceled because school has been closed there for the week due to bad air quality caused by the nearby Camp Fire.

For train travel tips, go to this Capitol Corridor website page.

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