Follow these travel tips for having a saner, smoother Thanksgiving holiday.
The things that make Thanksgiving special can be the very things that make it stressful. Nearly everyone gets a four-day weekend, which most of us spend eating lots of food with our loved ones. When else, besides perhaps Super Bowl Sunday, are so many Americans so firmly on the same page? When else are so many of us on the roads or in airports at the same time? Here are some suggestions for keeping your Turkey Day travels as smooth as Grandma's pumpkin pie.
DODGE THE TRAFFIC, JUMP THE LINES What's the best day for light traffic and short lines? That depends on how you travel, according to a recent survey by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Drivers will find the heaviest traffic on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. But planes, trains, and buses are three times more crowded the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after than on the feast day itself. Fares are cheapest Thursday, too.
TAKE AN EXTRA DAY—OR WEEK Tacking a vacation day onto the weekend gives you more bang for your buck: You get five days off and use only one vacation day. (Make that day Monday and you'll have two short workweeks. Bonus!) You'll also avoid traffic by traveling when everyone else is back at work. Note: The week after Thanksgiving is one of the slowest travel periods of the year, which can mean fantastic deals and no crowds.
BED DOWN AT A HOTEL Nearly three-quarters of Thanksgiving travelers stay in the homes of family or friends. Yes, it saves money. But splurging on a hotel room can more than pay for itself by giving everyone a little breathing room.
DON'T GO HOME Tell the family you'll see them at Christmas, then head to Mexico or Canada for off-peak prices and smaller crowds. Don't want to ditch the relatives? Take a cruise with the whole clan and bond at sea. Contact the AAA Travel Agency at aaa.com  for itinerary help.
PLAN AHEAD—OOPS, TOO LATE If Aunt Gladys is expecting you at a particular hour, don't count on being able to wangle a discounted last-minute flight to get you there on time. But flexible travelers may still score deals. Web sites such as www.expedia.com , aaa.com , and www.lastminutetravel.com  have weekly email newsletters that alert subscribers to late-breaking holiday offers.
FILL UP FRUGALLY About 80 percent of us drive during the holiday—just when gas prices shoot up. Check www.gaspricewatch.com  or www.gasbuddy.com  for the cheapest gas along your route. But don't stray far; you'll burn savings getting there.
MAKE TRAVEL TIME QUALITY TIME Search for new ways to keep those long drives interesting. In Motion Pictures delivers portable DVD players, movies, and everything you need to set up a car theater—in the backseat, of course. A four-day package costs $76.63 (www.inmotionpictures.com ). Prefer more interactive play? Check www.billybear4kids.com  or www.familyeducation.com  for free Thanksgiving-themed games, puzzles, and other activities you can print out at home and bring along for the ride.
USE THE FLIGHT TO DECOMPRESS Bring a favorite book or pick up David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. It will make you laugh and may even help you appreciate your own family's quirks.
Illustration by William Duke
This article was first published in November 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.