So you're heading out of town for Thanksgiving. Be warned: You're wading into a vast sea of people doing exactly the same thing, moving across the United States on one of the hugest travel weekends of all -- with a lot of rough weather in the mix.
Fortunately, we've gathered a virtual roundtable of people who know what they're talking about when it comes to travel under intense conditions. Whether you favor planes, trains or automobiles, they've got handy advice on how to get you where you're going -- and home again -- with safety and minimal headaches.
Holiday drivers can usually tell in advance what route they should take -- if they pay attention to weather patterns from thousands of miles away, says the warning coordination meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
"Look west," Greg Carbin says, "and you'll get a sense of what's coming."
Weather patterns typically cross the country in three to four days. So if there's stormy weather on the West Coast on Monday and in the Rockies on Tuesday, you can figure out what Wednesday and Thursday will bring.
It takes anywhere from 12 to 24 hours for a weather system to pass over a specific location in the United States. So people can avoid driving in bad weather if they are willing to shift their start times. "Do I want a head start so I can beat it, or wait until it passes?" he asks.
Carbin uses his son, Jon, a cellist, as an example. Jon Carbin played with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in Kansas City two nights before Christmas in 2009 -- just as a winter storm bore down on the family home in Oklahoma.
"I told him, 'You have to get going as soon as the concert is over or else you are not going to make it,'" Greg Carbin says. "He wanted to sleep." That year, Jon Carbin joined the family Christmas dinner via Skype and ate pizza in a hotel.
-- Kelly P. Kissel, Little Rock, Ark.
THE AIR-TRAVEL SPECIALIST
It might seem obvious, but the best thing a Thanksgiving traveler can do is arrive at the airport early.
There aren't necessarily more people flying; it's just that more of them are less experienced. Business travelers typically don't check bags, wear slip-on shoes for security and aren't trying to buckle fidgety toddlers into seats. So the influx of once-a-year fliers creates long lines.
"Air travelers set themselves up for failure by playing fast and loose with the clock," says George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. "It's hard for type-A personalities to wait around at airports."
There can be traffic, parking lots tend to fill up on holidays and you never know how long check-in and security lines will be.
Most airlines require your bags to be checked up to an hour early. That means you need to be at the front of the line with luggage tagged. And be at the gate at least 15 minutes before departure or you risk the plane leaving without you.
"If you find yourself with time on your hands, grab a meal before flight. More airports have very good restaurants these days," Hobica says. And if you arrive early, you might even get an earlier flight.
--Scott Mayerowitz, AP Airlines Writer, New York
THE DRIVING EXPERT
In snow, ice or rain, speed is the enemy.
Driving too fast for conditions is among the biggest mistakes people make when navigating wintry weather, says Bill Van Tassel, manager of driver education for the American Automobile Association.
"It's much harder to get into trouble if you're going at a speed where your tires can maintain traction on the surface," says Van Tassel, who holds a doctorate degree in safety education.
--Make sure you have decent tire treads and wiper blades.
--Keep eight or more seconds of driving distance behind the car in front of you.
--Expect ice on every bridge.
--Don't steer and brake at the same time.
--If there's a crash in heavy freeway traffic, generally stay belted until vehicles behind you have stopped. Only then should you move away or get out to help.
--Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer, Detroit
THE PACKING ARTIST
First, pack a suitcase with everything you'll need. Then take half of it out. That's the not-so-tongue-in-cheek advice from Rudy Maxa, who knows a thing or two about packing.
Maxa hosted National Public Radio's "Savvy Traveler" show and is heard on more than 140 radio stations. On Tuesday, unsurprisingly, he was traveling.