Whether you’re visiting friends or returning to your family for the festive season, thinking ahead about how you’re going to get there can save you a travel headache on the day.
You’ve done your Christmas shopping, wrapped the presents and got some time off to catch up with your nearest and dearest over the holidays… and then you realise you’re travelling tomorrow and you’ve got no idea how you’re going to get there.
If this has ever happened to you then you know what a nightmare before Christmas this can be: no seats on the train, no petrol in your car, no taxis for love nor money.
A bit of simple planning ahead can make sure you get where you’re going safe, sound, on time, with your sanity intact and not horrendously out of pocket.
Book in advance
If you have to get a train, plane, bus, ferry or any kind of public transport then it pays to book in advance rather than buying your ticket on the day, not only to secure your seat but also because there are often substantial savings to be had.
When it comes to trains, the National Rail website will give you comprehensive information on train times, fares and current service disruptions.
According to travel recommendation site Trip Advisor, the best websites for point-to-point tickets are National Rail, East Coast or TheTrainline.com – although they may add a surcharge for credit card bookings – as well as First Great Western or SouthWest Trains, all of which offer what it calls “extreme savings” compared to on-the-day purchase.
Buying a railcard will save you even more – up to a third in some cases. Most cost £30, so if you spend more than £90 a year on rail travel you will make your money back. Go to http://www.railcard.co.uk to find out which one you qualify for.
One final piece of advice is to find the local taxi numbers for your destination before you go, so you can book one in advance to pick you up from the station, or at least know which to call when you arrive.
Driving in winter
If you’re travelling by car then it’s a good idea to carry out a few safety checks before you go to make sure your car is fit for winter driving.
According to the AA you should check the antifreeze in your engine. You need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system to avoid engine damage that could end up costing hundreds of pounds to repair.
Car tyres should have at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and be pumped up to the correct pressure – read the manufacturer’s handbook if you’re not sure what that is. Check your windscreen wipers clean your screen effectively, and replace them if necessary. Top up the screenwash fluid and include a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing, but don't use engine antifreeze as it will damage the paintwork.
If bad weather is forecast, consider taking a winter in-car kit with a torch, a blanket, a car charger for your phone, some de-icer for your windscreen, and so on, in case you get stuck or break down somewhere and have to sit it out for a while before you can get moving again.
Another way to get where you’re going by car, even if you don’t have one of your own, is to lift share, and all you’ll have to do is contribute towards the cost of the fuel. There are lots of websites – such as http://www.liftshare.com/uk – which can put you in touch with other people going your way.
Liftshare.com also has some tips for people planning on giving or taking a lift from a stranger. They advise that you avoid exchanging home addresses with your travelling companion before you meet them, and arrange to meet for the first time in a public place. They suggest you also inform a friend or family member of who you will be travelling with, when and to where, and make sure you see each their ID so you know you're travelling with the right person.
If you are very self-assured – or very skint – then hitchhiking is the cheapest form of transport but we'd recommend other travel options whenever possible. However, if you choose to hitchhike, you must take sensible precautions. The AA says you should hitchhike in pairs if at all possible, and tell a friend or relative your route. It also suggests you stay safe by announcing, when you get into the vehicle, that you're going to text the car details to your partner or whoever.
However, you may be lucky to get a lift at all. A recent AA/Populus poll showed that 91 per cent of drivers are unlikely to stop to give a hitchhiker a lift. Hitch-hikers in East Anglia and the North West are likely to be in for the longest wait at the roadside whereas those in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland probably stand a better chance of getting a lift – so as long as you’re starting your journey from there, you might be in with a chance.