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

Driving home for Christmas

That’s right, it’s only December 1st and we’re already dropping our Christmas driving advice guide. We’re excited, alright? Get Chris Rea going on Spotify and let’s plan the big family reunion.

The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with our past two Christmasses, with nasty variants resulting in way fewer people than usual traveling home. This year, however, things are back to normal, and we’re expecting very busy roads around the holidays.

To make things a little easier, we’ve looked at the last few ‘normal’ pre-Covid years to figure out the busiest and quietest times to travel home for Christmas, as well as when to drive on the 25th itself as well after the big day.

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

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What are the best days to travel before Christmas?

The last working day 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 a huge number of people driving home so they can make the most of the time off.

In 2021, almost 6 million leisure trips were made on this day alone - so it’s definitely worth avoiding hitting the road on Friday 23 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 as well as Christmas Eve, which is second only to Frantic Friday in terms of the number of cars on the road. So try to avoid driving on 17, 18, 23 and 24 December.

Midweek in the week of Christmas could be a good time to travel, especially if you avoid the morning or evening rush hour. So have a think about heading off after 10am on 19-22 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 19 to 22 are the best days to drive home for Christmas
December 19 to 22 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 on the big day, tired out 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. This is your chance to get a head start against the traffic.

What is the best day to travel after Christmas?

Boxing Day and Tuesday 27 December are predicted to be extremely busy this year, with the combined draw of the shopping sales and an extra day of bank holiday impacting the roads.

From 28 December to New Year’s Eve, the roads will be quieter - but, with people back at work, rush hour will return in the mornings and evenings. Try to avoid driving at these times. Although these will be quieter than an average week, UK roads will still see a lot of traffic.

During the day on 28, 29, and 30 December, however, the roads will be much quieter than a normal day, and are the best days to travel home after Christmas.

New Year’s Day, a Sunday, typically sees the least traffic of all the days over the festive season - so that’s a good option too, if you’re spending the entire holiday at home.

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
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 can alert you to any 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 at least 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 easier than normal.

Remove the car break-in risk Many cars at this time of the year contain gifts or full shopping bags. If you leave the car 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. Over 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 31st March 2023