Like it or not, for most families the summer holiday will start and end with a car journey. It may be a long one: with a stuffed car and excited kids.
So here are five tips from Highways England to help you get your holiday off to a good start.
☼ Don’t break down!
You need your car to get you there safely. Just a few basic checks such as tyre pressures, engine oil, radiator coolant and making sure you’ve enough fuel can reduce the risk of breakdown (or worse) spoiling the first day of your holiday.
☼ Journey timing
As well as planning the route, make sure you know how long the journey will take. Then give yourself plenty of time, allowing for when the roads might be busy and a break every two hours.
For longer journeys (and especially with young kids) plan a bigger break: a lunch stop, somewhere with a playground perhaps, or even a mid-way tourist destination to make the journey feel even more like part of the holiday.
It may be easier said than done, but decide what time you need to set off and do your best to leave on time.
Wherever you travel there will unfortunately always be a risk of traffic incidents causing unexpected delays. Most journeys are problem-free, but it’s not a bad idea to build in a safety margin if you have a critical deadline such as a flight or ferry to catch. Remember too that any incident will have a greater effect on traffic if the roads are already busy.
You can check the live traffic situation for England’s motorways and major A-roads before you set off at www.trafficengland.com. Then keep up to date via the car radio, mobile traffic services (as long as you’re not driving) and digital information screens in motorway service areas.
☼ Packing and racking
Four out of five families say they get their packing done the night before and most make themselves a list of things to take. But it’s often those last minute items you almost forgot that can make you late setting off!
You might not want to pack the car itself the night before (especially if it’s left outside overnight), so pack loose items into foldable crates or boxes that can be quickly lifted into the car in the morning.
If you’re using a roof rack or bike rack for the first time, have a practice before departure day. Then make sure everything is well and truly secured. If anything falls off it’s inconvenient to you and very dangerous for the traffic behind.
☼ Sunshine all the way?
Let’s hope so! Remember though: a hot car can make the driver more tired (and little passengers more irritable), so pack cold drinks and allow more frequent breaks. Wet and windy weather on the other hand will slow down traffic and increase the risk of incidents.
Check the weather forecast so you know what to expect. It also means you’ll know whether to have the swimsuits or rain macs handy for when you arrive!
☼ Make it fun!
Most holiday car journeys are over three hours and almost a quarter are over five hours long. That’s a long time for anyone, but especially for excited children.
Long car journeys don’t have to be boring though. Make sure the kids have a supply of games, toys, comics etc. You can also play story-time CDs, family word games, I-spy, number plate bingo or even sing songs! Yes, a survey by Highways England found 23 percent turned their holiday journey into a family sing-along for at least part of the way.
You can find more journey planning information, traffic and weather forecasts on the website www.metoffice.gov.uk/summerhighways
Highways England patrols and control rooms will be working round the clock to help keep the motorways and major A roads as clear as possible during the holiday getaway and, rest assured, they will be on hand in the event of an incident or congestion our to help get traffic moving again.
You can help too by preparing your vehicle. A breakdown, collision, overturned caravan or insecure roof rack that closes a single lane for just half an hour can delay as many as 2,000 other families heading off on their holiday.
The ten things we are most likely to leave behind
Most people pack the night before and most people make themselves a list. Yet over half the time we manage to leave something behind. One in sixteen say they always arrive at their holiday destination having forgotten to pack something.
According to a survey of holidaymakers by Highways England the items we forget range from the slightly trivial box of matches to the rather more essential medicines, credit card, travel cot or “an entire case of my wife’s clothing”.
So when we set off on the motorway with holiday programmed into the sat nav what are the top ten things us forgetful Brits are likely to have left behind?
10. An item of beach or swimwear
8. Shoes or sandals
7. Razor or shaver
6. A coat or rain mac – well it is a summer holiday
5. Another item of clothing. One in five times it’s the underwear we forget
4. Various items of toiletries
3. A hairbrush or comb
2. Toothbrush and toothpaste – because we pack the night before, then forget
1. The item most often left behind: mobile phone charger