Driving home for Christmas: best and worst days and times to travel

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Driving home for Christmas
Best days
Christmas Day
After Christmas
Routes to avoid
Tips

Driving home for Christmas

We’re so excited about mince pies, tinsel, and gifts that we’ve already dropped our Christmas driving advice guide. So, get Chris Rea going on Spotify and let’s plan the big family reunion.

To help your journey go smoothly, we’ve figured out the best and worst times to travel home for Christmas and New Year, covering the whole festive period. We've also pinpointed some routes and motorways to avoid.

Here’s when you should and shouldn’t travel 👇

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What are the best days to travel before Christmas?

The last Friday before Christmas has been dubbed ‘frantic Friday’ thanks to the number of vehicles on the roads. There’s the usual commuter traffic, people heading to the shops for a panicked bout of gift-hunting, and also vast numbers of people driving to see family so they can make the most of the time off.

In 2022, almost 8 million leisure trips were made on this day alone, with journeys taking around 15% longer - so it’s definitely worth avoiding hitting the road on Friday, 22 December this year. This is the worst day to travel before Christmas, bar none!

Traditionally, roads are also very busy the last full weekend before Christmas and Christmas Eve, which is second only to Frantic Friday regarding the number of cars on the road. So try to avoid driving on December 16, 17, 22, 23, and 24… which doesn’t leave many driving days left before the big day!

Midweek before Christmas Day could be an excellent time to travel, especially if you avoid the morning or evening rush hour. So think about heading off after 10am on 18-21 December - roads will be way quieter than the days on either side, and, in our view, these are the best days to travel before Christmas.

December 18 to 21 are the best days to drive home for Christmas
December 18 to 21 are the best days to drive home for Christmas
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What is the best time to travel on Christmas Day?

If you’re heading off to meet friends or family, the best time to travel on Christmas Day is before 10am and after 5pm.

Most people won't be awake early, tired after a late night of partying or present-wrapping. Even those with children jumping out of bed before dawn to see what Santa has brought probably won’t want to get behind the wheel too early.

Although an estimated 3.5m trips are predicted, without commuter traffic, overall vehicle volumes should be lower. So take the opportunity to get a head start on your journey.

What is the best day to travel after Christmas?

Boxing Day and Wednesday, 27 December, are predicted to be extremely busy this year, with big sales impacting road transport.

And with workers returning to work between Wednesday and Friday 29, rush hour will also return in the mornings and evenings. Try to avoid driving during these periods. Although they will be quieter than an average week, UK roads will still see a lot of traffic.

From 29 December to New Year’s Eve, the roads will be much quieter than usual, and these are definitely the best days to travel home after Christmas.

New Year’s Day typically sees the least traffic over the festive season, making it a great day to get behind the wheel and head out.

What motorways and routes are worst at Christmas?

With the UK’s road network under so much strain over the festive period, it's best to avoid several notoriously busy motorways if you want to arrive at your destination without any additional stress. These are:

  • The M25, especially between the Gatwick Airport and M40 junction as holidaymakers head for the airport
  • The M6, especially around Birmingham
  • The M1 through Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire
  • The M60 around Manchester
  • The M5 between Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare

Plus here are some additional things to note this Christmas:

  • The Congestion Charge will not operate from Christmas Day to Tuesday 2 January 2024 inclusive
  • The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will not operate on Christmas Day
  • The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) operates every day of the year, including Christmas Day
Excited to see loved one, furry or otherwise? Drive safely this Christmas using our top tips
Excited to see loved one, furry or otherwise? Drive safely this Christmas using our top tips

Christmas driving tips

Christmas is particularly hectic for the UK’s breakdown services. With so much traffic, the emergency services are overrun with calls. To help, we’ve put together some tips for driving safely over the festive period.

Plan ahead. Before travelling anywhere, especially if you’re planning a long journey, make sure your car is prepared:

  • Fill up with fuel, or fully charge your vehicle
  • Check the oil level
  • Top up the windscreen wash and anti-freeze
  • Check tyre pressures and tread depth
  • Clean your lights and number plates
  • Make sure you pack the essentials such as de-icer, torch and spare batteries, first aid kit, warm clothes, a fully charged mobile phone, and something to keep the children entertained if necessary. Snacks and a flask of hot chocolate are also great to take with you.

Be prepared for bad weather. Wintery weather can be unpredictable, so it’s always best to be prepared for driving in ice or snow. Make sure your travel kit includes an ice scraper and snow shovel. Keep up-to-date on the weather conditions for your route, and be ready to re-think your plans if necessary.

Leave plenty of time. It’s always advisable to leave early for any journey, especially over Christmas. With the roads predicted to be extra busy, traffic queues and the resulting stress are likely. Sat navs and live maps on your phone can provide real-time alerts of hold-ups on your route, directing you around any major delays.

Don’t drive when you’re tired. Remember to take plenty of breaks when driving; motorways, in particular, can increase driver tiredness. The Highway Code advises a 15-minute break every two hours behind the wheel. Wind down your window, sing along to your favourite driving songs and find somewhere safe to park and get out of the vehicle for some fresh air.

Unaccustomed to driving? Be extra careful if you haven’t driven for a while or are driving a vehicle you’re unfamiliar with. Take things slowly and steadily until you feel more comfortable.

Remove the car break-in risk Many cars at this time of the year contain gifts or full shopping bags. If you leave the vehicle unattended, ensure they’re hidden, preferably locked in the boot. Once you reach your destination, unpack them as soon as possible.

The morning after You should never drink and drive, but remember, you can still be over the limit the morning after a big party. More than 20% of drink-drive cases stem from the night before, so don’t risk getting behind the wheel.

Make sure you’re insured. Back home for the weekend and want to borrow a family member or friend’s car? Or feeling generous and want to lend yours out to someone? Temporary insurance is perfect for just this and it only takes a few minutes to get a quote.

Drive safely, and have a very merry Christmas! 🎄

Updated on 21st November 2023