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A guide to driving on holiday

Whether your holiday is in the UK or overseas, driving can still be a challenge. From managing to fit everything in the car, to navigating foreign roads.

Holiday driving

Almost 19 million people take their car on holiday each summer, either to see a bit of the country en route to their destination, or to spend quality time with family or friends. But it’s not just a case of jumping in your car and shooting off into the sunset.

Squabbles, boredom, hunger, car troubles…they’re all very possible when packing up the family for a long-distance car journey. A successful road trip takes planning and preparation, and we have some handy tips and advice for your holiday getaway…

Check your car before you set off

It’s understandable why we may easily forget about our cars in all the excitement. This is especially the case if we’re busy checking that we’ve packed all the right items in our cases and are strapped for time.

However, the time it takes to make little, but essential checks is nothing compared to the time lost if your car breaks down on holiday, so simple, pre-holiday checks are highly recommended:

  • Check your tyre pressure and top up if it seems low. Extra luggage loads and more passengers will put additional strain on your tyres
  • Make sure your oil, water, screenwash and brake fluid are all topped up
  • Help prevent overheating by ensuring your engine coolant and fan are working correctly
  • Check that your car boot has a warning triangle. This will come in useful in the unfortunate event that you break down and should be placed at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind your car. It's also compulsory to travel with one in France

Plan your route

Even if you’re planning to use a sat-nav, you should still plan your journey to make sure you know exactly where you’re going. Check online to see if any traffic problems are likely to affect your route and consider finding a new one if necessary. Don’t end up getting lost by hoping your GPS will take you from A to B.

Head away during peak holiday times and you’re almost certain to hit congestion. Try and avoid roads that are famously congested during the holiday season (M5, M1 and M6), and possibly opt for more scenic routes, like a coastal path, hilltop route or via some pretty towns, where you can plan a quick stop off.

Even the best laid plans can go out the window if there’s a broken-down car on the road or unplanned roadworks. Switch on your radio’s traffic alerts (the ‘TA’ function) or use congestion-avoiding apps such as Waze or Mapkin, which can redirect your route if there’s trouble ahead.

Pack the essentials

First of all, pack snacks, a lunch and plenty of drinks to keep you refreshed and hydrated on the trip. A cool bag will keep everything fresh, and a flask of hot tea is always a saviour on a traditional British road trip.

Make sure you have any in-car chargers you can get your hands on, to keep your phone and devices topped up if you need them – particularly if you’re using them for directions. But remember, using your phone while driving can land you six penalty points and a £200 fine, so make sure you have a dash-mounted holder for your phone if you need to use it for directions, or ask a passenger to navigate. You should also have a first aid kit packed in case there’s an emergency.

Blankets are also a good idea in case you break down and it gets chilly. While games, magazines and books are always helpful if you get stuck in a lengthy tailback.

Print any important documents

If you’re staying in a hotel, have a car park booking, or tickets to an attraction, make sure you have everything printed out before you go.

It’s also advisable to print out a map and directions. Although we barely go anywhere without our phones these days, it’s difficult to know if you’ll have signal. Having a printed copy of the route could save you hours if your 3G/4G drops.

It’s also a good way of getting the kids involved, as they can follow the map, eliminating the dreaded question – “are we there yet?”.

Plan some entertainment

Making a playlist that alternates everyone’s favourite songs is the perfect way to keep everyone engaged. Even if it’s a song you’re not a fan of, it’ll only be a couple of minutes before you’re singing along to a classic of your choosing.

Download movies and TV shows to a tablet or device that the kids can watch to pass some time, or you can go down the retro route and plan some good, old-fashioned car games. Here’s a few of our favourites…

  1. The tunnel game – see who can hold their breath the longest when driving through long tunnels.

  2. Spot a Mini – both easy and entertaining. See who can spot the most Minis on the journey. This can also work with yellow cars if you’re playing with young children.

  3. 20 questions – think of a famous person, musician or even an animal, and the other passengers can ask 20 questions – that can only be answered with yes or no – until someone guesses correctly.

  4. I-spy – Simple, but still a classic. Someone spots an item and says, “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with…” and states the first letter of whatever item they’re thinking of. Passengers can make as many guesses as they like until they get the right answer.

If you’re travelling with children, get them excited for the different landmarks along the route by giving them a list that they can tick off as they spot them. The Dartford Crossing? Tick. Blackpool Tower? Tick. The ocean? Tick.

Quarrel solutions

If you’re travelling with kids in the car, you’ll be very lucky to escape your restless little ones squabbling on the back seat during a long journey.

Plan ahead with a reward system. Give them coins, chocolates or buttons and every time they start bickering or moaning, charge them one. Whoever has the most left at the end of the trip wins a reward.

Driving abroad

Holidays are meant to be relaxing, fun and memorable. Unfortunately for some, driving abroad can be anything but relaxing, definitely not fun and could be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Some of the key docs you’ll need to take with you are:

  • Your driving licence

  • Your passport

  • Both travel and motor insurance information

  • Depending on the country, a visa and/or International Driving Permit

  • Insurance documents (if you're taking your own car)

It’s worth remembering that your GB driving licence can be used in all EU countries, and that a GB sticker is a must for the back of your car (if you're not hiring).

And most importantly, stick to the rules

If you're a UK motorist heading off abroad, it's key to do your homework on the driving laws of the country you intend to drive in before you leave home. Driving overseas presents a totally different challenge to the roads at home, in terms of both etiquette and rules.

Every country is different. For example, in Spain, never wear flip flops while driving, and in Italy only park in the direction of the flow of traffic. Read our guide to some of the quirkier foreign driving rules.

Don't forget...

  • Several European nations now require drivers to carry headlamp converters, first aid kits and reflective jackets

  • You should check our terms for driving your insured car abroad

  • If you're hiring a car, a DVLA-generated code has replaced the traditional paper licence

If you’re looking for more information about driving abroad, the gov.uk website is a great place to visit.

Stay safe and have a great holiday!

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