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Travelling by Car from the UK to France via Calais: Tips

Bonjour! I was just writing about our trip to France when my little post naturally turned into a list of tips for travelling by car from the UK to France via Calais, so I decided to share those little nuggets of information. I am no travel expert, but I have four children and travel on my own with them. That must give me some credibility, surely!

Photo of my children in France, purely for cuteness.

If you’re after some tips to keep the children (and adults) happy during a road trip, have a look at this post. Otherwise, read on, as I am about to share my 10 top tips for travelling by car from the UK to France via Calais!

10 Tips for Travelling by Car from the UK to France via Calais

1- Eurotunnel or Ferry?

We always drive to France (large family!). We used to travel by ferry from Dover to Calais but a couple of years ago, I booked my first Eurotunnel crossing with the Tesco Clubcard points I’d been saving for ages. I’ve never looked back! The Eurotunnel really is my preferred option at the moment for a number of reasons:

  • It’s much quicker than a ferry crossing.
  • If you book early and are flexible with times, it’s not that much more expensive than a ferry crossing.
  • If you miss your crossing, even with a standard ticket, you will be put on the next crossing without any questions or waiting time. It all happens automatically at the check-in booth.
  • When you arrive early, you are transferred to an earlier crossing if there is space available.
  • The terminal is lovely (squeaky clean toilets, nice food and coffee).
  • You don’t have to leave your car (with four children, that is really the cherry on the cake for me).
  • There are always toilets close by during the crossing. They’re not great (think train toilets), but they’re toilets.
  • By checking in in Folkestone, we avoid all Dover traffic, which is generally substantial, so we save even more time. As soon as we leave the tunnel in Calais, we are on the motorway, so there is no faffing around town. 
  • There’s no risk of sea sickness or turbulent crossing.
  • Your pets can travel with you.

Here is a quick one-minute video about Eurotunnel Le Shuttle:

2- Time Zones

As soon as we get to France, I change the time on my watch and in the car so I don’t get muddled up with times. They are one hour ahead on the continent. My phone and electronic devices all do that by themselves (some of them might need to be restarted). 

3- French Radio

As we are about to start driving, I turn on the French radio, so it really feels like our French adventure has well and truly started. My favourite stations are RTL2, Europe 2, NRJ as well as various local radio stations. 

4- Getting to Places: SatNav or App?

I used to use a SatNav (always reminds you if you’re on the wrong side of the road) but since I discovered Waze (a free app), I’ve been using that. Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation app and it’s more accurate than any SatNav I’ve ever used. It works just as well in France as it works in the UK, although there are not as many users as over here so it won’t give you as much information (road works, traffic jams, up-to-date quickest route) as it does here. 

5- Warn Your Bank

Tell your bank you are going abroad. Otherwise, they might block your card thinking you have been a victim of identity theft or cloned card (just talking from experience). 

6- Bring a bit of Cash

I always bring some euros (at least 50) to cover tolls (you can pay by card too if you don’t mind card fees). If I need to exchange a small sum, I tend to go to M&S as their bureaux de change tend to offer good exchange rates. 

7- Motorways & Traffic in France

You have to pay for motorways in France, but they’re worth the money as they are generally quiet (bar Saturdays during school holidays) and in excellent condition. I also tend to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays as they are really quiet on French roads. Sundays are also generally good as lorries over 7.5 tonnes are not allowed on French roads between Saturdays 10 p.m. and Sundays 10 p.m. (all year round). 

 I never ever travel on a Saturday because Saturdays are change-over days for rentals all through France so it gets insanely busy all over the place. 

8- Family-friendly Service Stations

Travelling with Children

There are lots of service stations in France which means they’re not as crowded as Services are over here. They are of varying quality though and can go from amazing (clean toilets, local produce for sale, play park, zip wire, giant inflatables, great food) to quite frankly poor (nothing but Turkish toilets). Check this list of great service stations to stop at if you have children.

Travelling with a Baby or Toddler

If you have a baby, during school holidays, a special effort is made in a number of service stations to ensure your break is as comfortable as possible: clean changing rooms, rocking chairs, activities for baby and if you’ve run out of nappies or wipes, you can ask for supplies for free. In the summer months, there is generally a goody bag for each family with a baby in these service stations. Find a map and more information here.

9- EHIC

Another couple of things to consider: make sure your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) is still valid. It entitles you to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area country or Switzerland. It’s free and even if you apply at the last minute, no panic: as long as you have your card number, you are allowed to use it.

10- European Breakdown Cover

Make sure you get European breakdown cover for your trip. Hopefully, you’ll never need it, but if you do, it’s 100% worth it. I did some extensive research last year and found that RAC provided the best cover for my family and I. It is expensive, but I go for the comprehensive cover for the year. It’s cheaper than covering individual trips if you’re going more than once. With this cover, we get unlimited roadside assistance. money towards garage labour costs, accommodation expenses and many other benefits.

Our car broke down in my mum’s drive the day before we were due to leave. It had to be towed away to a garage to be fixed. We had to take a taxi to the garage with all our things so we could continue our journey. The people at RAC coordinated everything and all I had to do was answer the phone. I didn’t have to pay for the mechanics coming to assess the vehicle, towing, taxi or labour costs. I only had to pay 18 euros for the part they used to fix the car.

I hope you found these tips useful.

Have you got any other tips for travelling by car from the UK to France via Calais?

9 Comments

  1. Babies and Beauty
    07/09/2018 / 1:09 pm

    Some useful tips here, I”d probably opt for the Eurotunnel after reading this it sounds so much more convenient for kids.

    • Mel
      Author
      07/09/2018 / 4:30 pm

      It really is ace with kids!

  2. Francesca Jacklin
    08/09/2018 / 3:05 pm

    We always take the euro tunnel when we drive to France as it’s so flexible and quick. I always forget to call the Bank to let them know we’re going and then have to do it in a rush just before we leave.

    • Mel
      Author
      12/09/2018 / 11:50 am

      Ha! I’ve done that before. This year, I’d forgotten to check our EHIC cards and ordered the new ones minutes before we left.

  3. 08/09/2018 / 9:00 pm

    Brilliant tips, we’ve wondered about travelling to France but wasn’t sure the best way. Looks like the tunnel is the best.

    • Mel
      Author
      12/09/2018 / 11:46 am

      It’s the best for us at the moment, but if you have time and older children / no pets, then the ferry is also a nice option.

  4. Jen
    20/09/2018 / 9:33 am

    Did any of your kids use child seats? How do you decide on which to choose? Currently on the search…

    • Mel
      Author
      20/09/2018 / 4:34 pm

      They have car seats. The younger one has a MaxiCosi, we also have a couple of boosters with high backs I bought from Halford’s (one is Graco and the other one Britax) and we also have a Trunki BoostApak Booster Seat for my 10-year-old.

      • Jen
        24/09/2018 / 12:14 pm

        Thank you Mel! I found a guide to help me.

        I will also check out the Graco and Britax seats! 🙂

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