How to calmly survive your Thanksgiving road trip

Holiday traffic is inevitable. Here’s how to keep the stress in check.
Holiday traffic is inevitable. Here’s how to keep the stress in check. –Nue Chanthavongsay/

This year, you can expect some extra gridlock during your Thanksgiving travel.

According to AAA, about 46.9 million Americans plan to travel 50 miles or more from their home for the Thanksgiving holidays. That’s 300,000 more than last year and the highest level since 2007.

The good news is the uptick in travelers is the result of an improving job market and declining gas prices.

But the bad news is more travelers means more traffic. And this means better chances of road rage.

Ford Motor Company and the Emily Post Institute teamed up to create some simple tips to help drivers and passengers cope with the stress caused by holiday travel. Daniel Post Senning, author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, shared them with us.


Senning says it’s important for anyone driving during the holiday season to remember their responsibilities to their passengers, themselves, and other motorists on the road.

Holiday travel can be especially stressful because drivers are navigating unfamiliar routes, getting stuck in gridlock, and sometimes have to deal with passengers.

“The opportunity for stress juxtaposed with the happy time of year creates a perfect storm of environment for high stress social situations,’’ Senning said.

To help make holiday travel a little easier, Senning recommends drivers and passengers remember their respective roles before hitting the road. Getting on the same page ahead of time can prevent a lot of stress down the road.

Drivers should act the host

Most drivers will have a lot to think about during the journey, including the route, the trip itinerary, and the safety of their vehicle and its passengers. But Senning points out its also important for drivers to make their passengers feel at home.

“Drivers have certain hosting responsibilities and need to take into account their guests’ comfort,’’ said Senning. This can include driving at a certain speed that helps the passenger feel comfortable and showing the passenger the features of the vehicle, such as temperature controls, heated seats, or helping them find a USB port to charge their phone.


Passengers should act the guest

Passengers who are sitting up front with the driver should make an effort to help with the driving as much as possible. But at the same time, it’s important to not become a backseat driver in the process. Senning says this is a “tough balance’’ to strike, but it’s not impossible.

“Ninety percent of good etiquette is common sense,’’ said Senning. There are lots of ways passengers can play an important role in helping the driver with the trip.

“Drivers may need help with navigation, paying for gas, sharing the expense of a ride,’’ said Senning. “Passengers may offer to fill up the tank or pick up a snack and it can make the driver feel appreciated.’’

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An ounce of prevention, a pound of cure

Working out the dynamics between drivers and passengers can go a long way towards reducing stress inside the car. But what about the other motorists on the road?

Senning says its important for drivers to remember the Thanksgiving journey will be difficult before heading out.

“A big one, specific to road rage, is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’’ said Senning. In other words, remember to stay cool while you’re behind the wheel.

“Etiquette is a powerful tool to remind yourself to stay in control, that you are responsible for your actions and reactions to other people, and to keep yourself in check before you lose control,’’ he said.


Stay connected

Passengers should not automatically “disappear’’ into their cell phones or tablets without talking to the driver first. According to research from Ford, three out of five drivers think passengers should weigh in on the trip’s entertainment. Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“Have a brief conversation about the content you’d like to pass the time like podcasts or music,’’ said Senning. “It can be a source of stress if you don’t talk about it earlier.’’

And if a passenger needs to send a text message or answer an email, Sennnig says they should make it quick and explain.

“If you’re texting a friend or making a call for work, talk to the person first,’’ he said. “Tell them what you’re doing and how long it will take.’’

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