Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
Sometimes in this column I try to be useful, and the first weekend of December is such an opportunity. For many people, Christmas brings extra pressure and tasks, and often robs the traveller of time and forethought. So I thought I should prepare some tips about travel before and during Christmas.
Travellers may inadvertently overlook these important aspects of Yuletide journeys.
1 Airport security takes much longer, so allow plenty of time
Fellow passengers tend to have coats, hats and scarves because it’s midwinter – and bags filled with fragile gifts because it’s Christmas. The people ahead of you in the queue for security may be only occasional travellers, and not as versed in the ritual as you are. On the same subject…
2 Don’t wrap those presents before airport security
Long-suffering security staff are required to examine anything that looks unusual on their scanners – which could include your imaginatively sourced Christmas gifts. It will not be a great start to your festive journey if you have to stand and watch someone tear apart all your careful wrapping to have a better look. And…
3 Make it a snowdome-free journey
Plastic snowdomes frequently cause commotion at security. These flaky festive stocking-fillers are full of liquid – and do not have a quantity marked. Therefore the security staff are likely to want to appraise, and probably confiscate the decorative item.
Traditional 100ml-max liquids rules still apply at almost all UK airports. Oh, and leave those crackers out; some airports and airlines let them fly as cabin baggage, and some do not.
4 Don’t miss the party
Heading abroad for – or on – 25 December is an excellent idea, but in some eastern European countries the main Christmas celebrations happen on 24 December.
5 Not everything closes down abroad
The UK is an outlier in closing down the railways on 25 December; in most continental nations Christmas Day has near-normal service. Some top tourist attractions, too, remain open. The magnificent Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, for example, is open as normal from 9am to 5pm.
6 Christmas Day is an excellent day on which to fly
Assuming you can reach the airport (see below), crowds are likely to be much thinner and fares significantly lower than on days either side. From Gatwick to Malaga, for example, the cheapest Christmas Day fare on Vueling is £90 one way, compared with £150 on Christmas Eve (67 per cent higher) and £136 on Boxing Day (51 per cent higher).
7 Stretch your celebrations by going west
Wish it could be Christmas every day? Well, you could arrange to be in Ethiopia or an Eastern Orthodox nation for their festivities on 7 January. Or just extend 25 December by eight hours by flying to California and taking advantage of the time change. British Airways has a tempting fare of £597 flying Heathrow to Los Angeles on Christmas Day, returning two weeks later.
8 Long-distance coach companies are your friends
Trains in the UK stop completely on Christmas Day, and almost totally on Boxing Day. This Yuletide there are some particularly disruptive Network Rail and HS2 projects closing some key lines and London hubs.
But National Express will run almost 500 journeys across 34 routes on Christmas Day, including around 100 links between the capital and London Heathrow and Gatwick airports. FlixBus and Megabus are also working wonders. Many intercity links will operate on 25 December, and by the following day a near-normal Tuesday service should run.
9 Ferries close down too
From Dover on DFDS Ferries to Calais, the final sailing before Christmas Day is at 1.15pm on 24 December; to Dunkirk, it is 2pm. Both routes restart around 10am on Boxing Day. Eurotunnel’s LeShuttle, however, keeps going 365 days a year.
10 Sort out your holiday money in advance
Changing money at your departure airport will deliver a dreadful rate of exchange, and using your normal bank card abroad could trigger significant charges. Read our guide to holiday money for details of how to stretch your pounds.
As always, I am keen to hear your better ideas: emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or @SimonCalder on X will find me