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7 Google Maps tips to help you travel home Thanksgiving weekend

Don't get into your car this holiday weekend without committing these tips to memory. They could save you hours of aggravation.

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Angela Lang/CNET
This story is part of Holiday Survival Guide 2019, featuring tips on the best ways to manage the holiday season.

If the thought of driving in winter storms and bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic this weekend makes you want to close the drapes and lock the door, Google Maps on your Android device and iPhone ($600 at Amazon) is ready to help you get outside and avoid traffic congestion and long lines at stores and restaurants this Thanksgiving weekend.

The American Automobile Association predicts more than 49.3 million Americans will jump in their cars to travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving, the most since 2005. With traffic congestion expected to hit three times normal in some cities, a few minutes planning your trip in Google Maps now could easily save you hours in traffic later.

Google Maps of course can give you turn-by-turn directions to your location and even let you build in stops along the way so you have the most efficient route from Point A to Point B to Point C. It can tell you how fast you're going. And it can help you navigate each leg of your commute. But Maps can also take on other travel tasks, such as alerting your family if you're running late and finding lost travel companions. 

Here are seven great ways Google Maps can make sure you're on the road -- and out of lines -- as little as possible. And here's our complete Thanksgiving survival guide, with other tips to help keep you cool, calm and collected during the hectic long weekend.

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Avoid holiday traffic 

If your goal over this Thanksgiving weekend is avoid traffic and shoppers, you're in luck: Google used its big database brain to analyze 2018 search and Maps travel patterns in 25 cities to offer advice on the best times over these four days to hit the roads and avoid the lines. 

In addition to guidance on when to be on and off the roads, Google charts out when bakeries, grocery stores, liquor stores, movie theaters and shopping centers are busiest, if you want to reduce the time you spend standing around with strangers.

Track your trip itinerary in Google Maps 

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In Maps, see what you've booked.

Google

Of course, Google Maps can chart your travels over the four-day weekend, but it can also quickly show you your weekend flight, hotel, car rental and restaurant reservations, saving you the hassle of searching through your email for check-in times and confirmation numbers.

To see your upcoming reservations:

1. In Google Maps, tap the three-line menu up in the top-left corner, and then tap Your Places.

2. Tap Reservations tab.

Here, you'll see a list of upcoming reservations you've made that Maps has pulled from emails in Gmail.

3. Tap an item to see more about the reservation, including date and location.

4. You can also search for "my reservations" in the Google Maps search box to see a list of what you've booked.

Share your ETA right from Maps

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Send your ETA while on the road.

Clifford Colby/CNET

Stuck in traffic and need to tell your hosts you're running late? Here's what to do:

1. Once you've started your trip and Google is helping you navigate, tap the caret icon (the upside-down V) in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

2. Tap Share trip progress and then select who you want to notify. Maps will keep your hosts up to date with your current location and arrival time. 

If you're rather not take your hands off the wheel to send your ETA, you can ask Google Maps to do it for you on your Android or iPhone: 

1. In Maps, say, "Hey, Google."

2. After you hear the ding that shows Google Assistant is listening, say, "Send my ETA."

3. Google Assistant will ask whom you want to send your message to. 

4. Confirm your recipient, and Google will send a text message saying you're on your way with your expected arrival time.

Find EV charging spots on your trip

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Find a charging station on your route.

Clifford Colby/CNET

If you're taking your electric vehicle out for Thanksgiving dinner, Google Maps can help you find the EV charging stations on your route, along with estimated wait times for a charging port. 

1. In Maps, tap the caret icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen.

2. Tap Search along route, and enter "EV charging stations."

3. Maps will display nearby charging stations and your wait time for a port.

4. Tap a charging station on the map to have Maps add it as a stop on your trip.

(You can also use this trick to search for other places along your route if, say, your passengers want to hit Denny's for lunch before the big dinner.)

Not cooking? Reserve a table right in Maps

Planning and preparing a Thanksgiving dinner can be a multiday chore. If you'd rather spend time with family and friends instead of sharp knives and hot stoves, Google Maps can help you book a lunch or dinner reservation. 

1. In Maps, tap the Explore button at the bottom of the screen.

2. Tap the Restaurants button at the top of the map to see a list of places to eat, sorted by cuisine or distance.

3. Tap a restaurant that looks good, and in the window that pops up, reserve a table or join a waitlist, if it gives you that option (not all do).

Use Maps offline

Heading someplace remote where you may not have a mobile network connection? Google Maps can still give you directions when you're offline.

1. Before you head out, in Maps search for the location you'll want directions in.

2. In the location's window, tap the location name or address at the bottom. 

3. In Android, tap Download and then, in the next window, tap Download again; in iOS, tap the three-dot menu in the top left corner, tap Download offline map and then tap Download. Maps will download a map to your phone of the area you selected.

Now, as you use Google Maps for directions in the area you downloaded a map for, when you lose your cellular connection, Maps will switch to the offline map to guide you. Because you're offline, Maps won't be able to offer real-time traffic info, of course.

Share your location

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Locate stray companions with Maps.

Clifford Colby/CNET

Is anything more crazy-making during a group activity than when the group gets split up and no one can find each other? Google Maps can help bring you all back together.

1. In Maps, tap the three-line menu up in the top left and tap Location sharing.

2. Select who you want to share your location with and for how long you want to share it.

3. Tap Share, and Maps will send your location to everyone you've selected.

4. If you want to see someone else's location, tap that person's icon up at the up of the window and then tap Request.

If, after all this, you'd rather not go outside this weekend, here's how to skip Black Friday and do your Amazon shopping from home, how to use your Prime benefits to your advantage while shopping this weekend, and the best online Black Friday deals we've found. And if you don't intend to leave your couch for four days, here are our picks for the best TVs this fall.