With summer in full swing, now’s the perfect time to get clued up on some top tips for travelling to Europe during peak times. As the only complete month of the UK’s six-week school holiday, August brings a sharp increase of visits to places such as France and the Netherlands. Many a family set off on their annual escape during this period, so you can expect roads to be extremely busy – including those leading to our ports at Dover and Hull. Here’s all the information you need to prepare for a smooth, stress-free journey when travelling by ferry.
It ought to go without saying but if you’re going on holiday in the height of summer, taking time to plan your travel arrangements is recommended. As well as planning ahead, make sure you safety check and maintain your vehicle in advance of setting off. If you’re a person that likes to make last minute plans, it’s sometimes possible to turn up at the port to buy your tickets on the day, but this isn’t sensible during peak periods as the ships fill up fast. Remember too that an added bonus of booking online with plenty of time to spare is that you’ll also get our best fares. If you have any burning questions, you’ll probably find the answer on our handy FAQ page.
Give Yourself Extra Time
Driving to the port during peak times can be stressful. You’re likely to experience an increased volume of cars on the road, resulting in the slow movement of traffic. Leaving even a few minutes early will keep you from rushing and will reduce the likelihood of unexpected accidents and construction work making you late for your ferry. Remember, the route that may take the least time without traffic may actually take more time during rush hour, so it may be a good idea to take the scenic route. Many satnavs offer real-time traffic updates, and those or radio bulletins can help you keep up to speed on congestion spots on your way.
Check Our Sailing Updates
We’re always on hand to provide the most up-to-date information on your journey. Our dedicated Customer Communications team are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on P&O Ferries Sailing Updates Twitter page, and we have a separate account offering Freight Updates too. If you want to be extra vigilant during peak periods, you can also tell us your mobile number for SMS sailing updates in case of any disruption. To do this, you can input your mobile number on the My Account page on the P&O website if you booked online, or just call us on 0800 130 0030 if you booked over the phone.
Dover TAP Project
If you’re bound for France, bear in mind that the Dover TAP (Traffic Assessment Project) may be in place. Limitations include a 40mph speed restriction which applies to all vehicles approaching Dover from the west via the A20. At the moment, this operates all day, every day during peak periods. Lorries will be held in the left lane and by traffic lights in Dover until space is available at the port, so plan your journey and give yourself enough time to get through any traffic. You can read more about Dover TAP here.
At the Port
When you get to the port, be prepared to queue during busy periods. You might want to take some refreshments with you for the journey from home to ferry and plan toilet breaks en route, because there are limited facilities at the ports themselves. Leave yourself at least 90 minutes to complete all checks, especially if you’re travelling with pets.
Most importantly, passport checks close 30 minutes before departure. Have your passport ready to get through control quickly and efficiently, and keep it to hand along with your booking reference as these documents will also be scanned at the check-in point. Telling us the correct vehicle registration and number of people travelling in advance will also help speed up check in.
Travelling to France
Once you’re on the ship from Dover to Calais, it takes just 90 minutes to cross 26 miles of water. Once there, you can double check your journey using the free WiFi available at the Port of Calais in the lanes after you have checked in. As well as quick links to Calais city centre and local attractions, the ferry port provides easy access to the French motorway network, known as the autoroute system.
Weekends can be extremely busy on the French highways, with thousands of holidaymakers driving through France each summer. Unsurprisingly, travelling on Saturdays throughout August will be more complicated, and you’re advised to delay journeys until Sunday if possible. If you do have to leave on a Saturday, it’s best to set off as early as possible. These are some of the key days to avoid:
- Saturday August 12th in the Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne area and in the south of France and France’s Mediterranean coast, which will see an influx of Italian and Spanish holidaymakers.
- Saturday August 19th on roads heading back to cities.
On your way back to the UK you may be held in what is known as the ‘buffer zone’ at the port of Calais. This happens when there are delays at Border Control, while the French police carry out extra checks for your safety and security. In the unlikely event that you are held in these lanes and miss your ferry, P&O will place you on our next available sailing at no extra cost and you’ll be on your way as soon as possible.
Travelling to The Netherlands
August is the perfect time for long bicycle rides in the beautiful Dutch countryside and camping in the sand dunes. Many people flock to the Netherlands during summer to bask in the sunshine and relax in the parks and canal-lined cafes. If you’re travelling to the port of Rotterdam this time of year then, be ready to wait in queues for longer than normal. On your way into dock, your ship will pass places such as Hoek van Holland Beach and the imposing Maeslant storm barrier that protects the city from flooding.
As is the case in the UK, the morning rush hour in the Netherlands tends to start around 7am and lasts until 9am, while the evening peak is generally between 5pm and 7pm. If you plan your trip to avoid these times of day, you’ll avoid the crowds. The Dutch word for motorway is ‘snelweg’, which translates as ‘fast road’, and using these during low congestion hours is the fastest way to get around the Netherlands. However, many Dutch roads have lanes that are only accessible during peak times. If you spot a green arrow on the matrix sign above the road, this lane can serve as an express lane. However, if there’s a red ‘X’ above the lane, then switch back to the normal highway lanes again. Making use of all of the lanes efficiently can help you to avoid traffic jams altogether.
Take a look at our Adventure Page for more inspiration.