Why we’re getting away from it all a little closer to home

The school holidays are almost here, which means travel chaos and wet weather. But is an English holiday really that bad? asks Chris Bond.

YOU’VE been on the road since breakfast time but for the past hour you’ve travelled less than a mile, there’s a sea of traffic stretched out in front of you, the children are starting to squabble in the back and then you hear those dreaded words, “are we there yet?”

It’s a scene that will be familiar to many of those who have, at some point, opted to spend their two-week summer holiday in this country.

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Being stuck on the motorway is a pretty miserable experience at the best of times, but when it’s eating into your valuable time off it’s even worse.

But with schools shutting their gates for the next six weeks and the annual summer holiday stampede about to get underway, drivers are being warned to expect major traffic congestion this weekend.

The AA say jams are likely from tomorrow lunchtime, with around 14 million cars expected on the roads, and that routes to south west England are going to be among the busiest. Congestion is also expected on all main roads to the coast, at cross-Channel ports and at major airports.

It has prompted road safety minister Mike Penning to urge drivers to check traffic conditions before setting off. “For many people, this will be the longest car journey of the year, often on an unfamiliar route and we want to help them to avoid spoiling the start of their holiday.

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A few moments checking traffic conditions before you set off could take a lot of stress out of the journey,” he says.

What’s interesting is that many of those who do hit the roads this weekend will be heading, not to France or Spain, but somewhere in this country. With a strong euro making much of Europe an expensive option and ongoing unrest in the Middle East deterring holidaymakers from visiting countries like Egypt and Tunisia, more people are choosing to stay in the UK.

According to the latest figures, more than half the population are taking breaks in England compared with previous years. Sarah Long, of Visit England, the national tourist board, says it’s a trend that started in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis.

“The economy is a factor and that has encouraged people to stay at home. But our research showed that more than three quarters of people who had a holiday in England last year felt it was good value. It’s become a bit of a myth and a cliche that England is expensive. That’s not to say it’s cheap, but you can get good value for money,” she says.

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But then there is that big, soggy albatross – the not-so-great British weather. “The weather is fairly unpredictable, but it’s not like people don’t know this already and we’re not selling England as a sunshine destination. Whether it’s a holiday in the countryside or a city break there really is so much on offer.”

Sharron Livingston, travel editor at thetravelmagazine.net, says spending our summer holidays in this country has become popular again.

“The roads can be busy, but so are the airports and it can be stressful just going through security these days. If you are staying in the UK, you can plan your trip when the roads are likely to be quieter which you can’t really do if you’re flying.”

She says one of the reasons that more people are staying in this country for their summer holiday is that travelling abroad is not as cheap as it was just a few years ago.

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“There was a time that travelling abroad was cheaper than staying at home, you could get a flight to Europe for £30 and it was cheaper to do that than get a train to Scotland, but that’s no longer the case. Even the so-called low cost airlines are charging people more taxes and other costs.”

All of which starts to make the UK a more attractive option. “We have some great places like the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and even our seaside resorts have a lot more to offer than they used to.”

So despite the infuriating weather and traffic jams, a holiday in England appeals to a lot of people. “It’s become an option for holiday-makers and I think people are re-discovering what’s on their own doorstep.”