Top tips for surviving the Christmas holiday traffic rush

During the busiest times, such as Boxing Day, millions of drivers will take to the roads. Here are our top tips for avoiding the worst of the traffic stress...

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Claire Evans
17 December 2018

Car with Christmas tree
Car with Christmas tree

With millions of drivers taking to the roads to head off to visit family this Christmas, the increased number of cars on the roads will lead to traffic jams, longer journey times and stress – especially with ongoing travel disruptions on the trains.

Fortunately, by following a few simple rules, you can minimise the pain of travelling at the busiest time of the year. To help, What Car? has prepared this guide to surviving the Christmas holiday traffic rush.

1. Plan your route, and plan your time

The most important step is preparation. Firstly, ask yourself if it’s necessary to travel at peak times. If you can travel either early in the morning or late at night, you’ll miss the worst of the traffic.

There are plenty of helpful websites out there to help plan your route, with dedicated sites for Traffic England, Traffic Wales, Traffic Scotland and Traffic Northern Ireland all listing current events and incidents that might affect your route.

Most modern sat-nav systems will also be able to detect if there's traffic on your route and offer detours, but it’s worth having a map in the car just in case in case the technology fails you.

2. Avoid the busiest roads where possible

You won't be surprised to hear that the UK’s most popular motorways and road networks will be particularly busy over the Christmas holiday.

The roads most likely to be affected by extra traffic are those that lead to transport hubs, including airports, the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar. Motorways most likely to be affected by the Christmas holiday traffic surge include the M5, M6, M25 and M40.

3. Use your radio’s traffic announcement function or an app

If you don’t have a sat-nav system that can warn you of delays, you can still keep abreast of traffic on your route by using the TA/TP or Traffic function of your car radio. This will automatically switch the station whenever a traffic announcement is being played.

Alternatively, there are several smartphone apps you can download to alert you to traffic in your local area, including Inrix Traffic, Waze, Google Maps and The AA.

In the video below, we take a look at the best free sat-nav apps available right now.

4. Take a break

The Highway Code recommends that you take a break from driving for at least 15 minutes every two hours. There are plenty of motorway service stations that offer respite areas and refuelling spots, but you can also search online for less expensive restaurants and petrol stations away from the motorway. 

English Heritage's website contains a list of scenic stop-off locations close to major transport routes, which you can find here.

5. Keep passengers entertained

If have children on board, make sure you have got enough drinks, snacks and games to keep them entertained, in case you get stuck a traffic jam. A portable DVD player, tablet or laptop can help keep children occupied watching films and TV programmes, and you can also get miniature versions of board games specially designed for the car.

Children’s website Minitime also has a list of free games you can play with your children in the car, which you can find here, but classics like I Spy, 20 Questions and Hangman are always a safe bet.

6. Prepare your car

The last thing anyone wants is to break down in the middle of a holiday car journey, so take the time before you leave to carry out these basic vehicle checks:

  • Make sure the oil and coolant are topped up to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels
  • Check your tyre pressures and pump up the tyres – including the spare – if necessary and check tyre tread depth
  • Clean your car's wiper blades and check them for wear, and replace them if necessary
  • Turn on your car's headlights, indicators and brake lights and check they work


Top tips for surviving the bank holiday holiday traffic rush

7. And if the worst happens…

If you do end up at the side of the road with a broken-down car, you’ll want to call out a breakdown rescue service. You can eliminate a lot of the time (and cost) by signing up for breakdown cover before you travel.

You can buy breakdown cover from as little as £18 per year, and more expensive policies will also cover your onward travel costs and cover you in Europe as well.


Top tips for surviving the bank holiday holiday traffic rush


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