Google Maps data may help you avoid Thanksgiving crowds on the roads


When’s the best time to leave on your Thanksgiving road trip? When are movie theaters, grocery stores, liquor stores, shopping malls and bakeries most crowded during the week? How can you avoid getting stuck in holiday traffic?

Google analyzed data from Google Maps to help you manage the rush this year, and provide insight into the places you and your neighbors visit, when you visit them and when to get on (or stay off) the road. 

You can consult an interactive Mapping Thanksgiving site Google has put together to find information in the state and metropolitan area where you live or travel.

Google’s “chief traffic avoider” at Google Maps, Genevieve Park blogged: “Getting to Thanksgiving dinner is always an adventure – but an understanding of Google Maps traffic patterns can help make your ride more predictable.” 

Some of the data won’t come as much of a surprise: Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving is the worst time to hit the road, but traffic clears up significantly by 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. You’ll also want to avoid the rush again Friday or Sunday afternoon.

Google, of course, wants you to rely on Google Maps and search to make your travel decisions. You can check estimated wait times in Google Maps, for instance, before you head to the grocery for the pumpkin pie you’re bringing to a family dinner.

Among the various insights: Liquor store visits peak the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; heading to the movies is a popular pastime on Black Friday.

Where do you want to go on Turkey Day?

Google also analyzed the number of times people requested directions to places they intended to visit during the holidays. Nationally on Thanksgiving Day, for example, popular spots were, in order: tree farm, outlet mall, electronics store, ATV rental service and video game store. 

The next day, Black Friday, those national search results look very different: scenic overlook, place of worship, tree farm, football field, rest stop.

And yes, search trends are represented as general categories instead of exact searches. 

Separately, Google lists “uniquely popular” search trends, compared to the rest of the U.S. For example, in New York State on Thanksgiving Day, the top five unique searches are government office, music venue, art center, athletic field and car race track. 

By contrast, the Thanksgiving Day list in Texas consists of: cultural center, athletic field, ballroom, rodeo and off road race track. 

In California it is: soccer store, cabin rental agency, beach, place of worship and mission.

And in Florida, the listed five are: university, club, event management company, comic book store and tool store. 

A word about methodology: For search trends analysis, Google considered the “Thanksgiving Holiday Period” to start the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and end on Black Friday. Trending categories are determined by comparing the total number of direction requests during the Thanksgiving period to the total number of direction requests two weeks before and two weeks after Thanksgiving week.

The categories with the highest ratio increase during Thanksgiving week are considered top trending categories. The trending categories in each state were then compared to the ratio of trending national direction requests during Thanksgiving. Categories that were searched more frequently in a state than nationally were considered “uniquely popular” in that state.

Check Google’s mapping site for the area that interests you, and as Park referenced in her blog, to not “be a turkey.”

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter

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