It’s a relief, after the meticulous (and stressful) planning, to be off with no more to do but bundle up the sleepy girls (it’s 5 am and -9 outside) tucking them into our van packed to the rafters. We’ve stayed overnight at our friend, Purple’s house in Brighton. It cuts 3 hours off our total drive time and means we can do the entire journey in a day. Bonus.
Pulling out in the dead of night it’s much the same start to any adventure.
Our VW Transporter comes into it’s own on the 12 hours stretch to the Alps. The speed’s a welcome addition from the endless slog my husband and I have both done before countless times in old bangers revving out to do winters past. Apart from the augmentation of vehicle, not much else has changed from those carefree days 20 years ago. We’ve stuffed every conceivable piece of kit into the T5 along with over £400 worth of Lidl and Tesco dry goods. As we tank it down the motorway, the only real difference is the two kids we now have in tow and a few grey hairs!
1. GET A GOOD ROOF BOX
Put simply, we couldn’t have fit all our stuff into our van with the roof box. With a whopping 580 litres capacity we crammed in a ridiculous amount of kit into the Exodus 580 (Halfords’s own brand & half the price of Thule!). Ideal for a 2 week holiday or a 5 month ski trip – we were impressed with the space and performance of the Exodus 580l roof box (review to come)
With the pound on a daily rollercoaster ride it’s worth shopping around to eek out a few extra euros for your pounds before departure. I like to use www.money.co.uk which pinpoints the nearest places to you with the best rates either for collection or delivery. I was suprised Debenhams Travel Money came up trumps (I don’t want to talk about how the pound has soared today pending the Italian elections!) You can calculate exactly how much you want on www.money.co.uk and get a better rate than the in-house rate by either printing or having the voucher on your smart phone when you go in.
By stocking up at cheap UK supermarkets before crossing the Channel, you’ll save yourself a small fortune. Food prices have rocketed on the continent for us Brits now we’re getting shortchanged with the pound. We bought as much we could and can feel smug for a few weeks walking around French supermarkets.
Formule 1 motels have been our dirty little secret for a number of years. Cheap as chips F1 allows an affordable family stop-off on the long shlek through France. For as little as 28 quid for a room (yes a room, not per person!) you can pull off the motorway, get your head down & back on the road again toutsuite the following morning. Rooms are limited to a 3 person maximum so our trick with 2 young kids is to book ahead online and turn up late after 10pm (the receptionists clock off at 10pm, you check in automatically, kids then top and tail on the single bed). F1 = basic/non-ensuite/free wi-fi/bloody good value
Some people are dogged fans of either the ferry or the tunnel. Me? It depends how long our road trip is and at what point we’re hitting the Channel. I like the ferry no 1 for price but crucially the whole family can get out of the car, have a break, stretch and have a run around. This is brilliant if we’ve already done a long drive on the UK side just to get to the ferry & still have a long road ahead.
The tunnel though comes into it’s own if you’re watching the clock. With a 30 min crossing time, the Channel is all about speed. I love that I can use up all our saved up Tesco Clubcard vouchers and pay nothing. Boom! Plus being able to board 2 hours each side of your selected departure time means a stress free Channel bound journey.
Finally – roaming charges have evaporated from Europe. A bloody mazing! (until article 50 is triggered but lets not talk about that). We were dumbfounded on calling Vodaphone to be able to change our contract phones to a £36 monthly tarrif enabling us to call or text UK landlands & mobiles for free AND call any other European country or text landline or mobiles for free. Result! Woohoo! Amazeballs!
Order a french motorway toll tag to stick on your car windscreen enabling you automatic entry through tolls. These little gems can be a godsend in holiday season where toll queues can be manic. Plus they’re simple to order online and take only 2 working days to arrive at your UK address. They don’t, however, give any discount at the tolls, unless you’re a blue badge holder. It costs maximum 16 euros a year although there’s also a 20 euro refundable security deposit. Go to www.saneftolling.co.uk to order or for more information.