The economy is up and gas prices are down. That’s reason to be grateful — until you hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. Record numbers of others will be traveling, too, feeling flush and filling their tank on the cheap.

According to AAA, more than 48.7 million Americans are expected to travel more than 50 miles from their home this Thanksgiving. That number represents a jump of 1.9 percent compared with last year. The vast majority of travelers — more than 89 percent, an estimated 43.5 million — will be in a car.

That does not necessarily mean you’ll face gridlock, if you know when to go.

The best time to hit the road is on the Sunday before Thanksgiving at 6 a.m., according to Google. Not happening? At the very least, avoid leaving at 3 p.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; it’s the worst time as workers cut out early and steer toward the family homestead.

After the holiday, consider returning home at the crack of dawn on Friday and avoid doing so Saturday at 4 p.m. Google based these recommendations on historical data from Google Trends and Google Maps.

Finally, smart drivers leave their smartphones in the back seat. Please avoid the temptation to chat on the phone, even via Bluetooth.

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that dangerous distractions exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. It’s about our brains: There’s only so much capacity and when we increase the mental workload, “reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in drivers not seeing items right in front of them including stop signs and pedestrians,” AAA reports.

Stay safe, drive carefully and have a happy Thanks- giving.

 

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.