Driving from the UK to France (the South)

End of June was hectic.

We had less than a month to leave our rented house and find a new flat in the North of the country. Keep in mind that it was hard to book actual viewings because of COVID-19. We ended up finding one, but the start of the tenancy was not for another two weeks, which meant that we were going to be homeless for more than a week.

So, what now?

We were left with several options. Option 1 was to find an amazing friend that would welcome us, along all of our belongings, in their house for two weeks. Option 2 was to pay for accommodation somewhere in the meantime. The final option, and the one that we chose, was to travel. At the end of the day, what’s better than traveling, especially after three months in lockdown?

The option we chose was definitely not the cheapest. However, when it comes to the freedom we wanted to have in terms of pace and activities, it was the perfect one. We could have also taken a flight and rent a car, but that would have ended up being way more expensive.

How can we travel to France with a car?

Now that we were decided on what we were going to do, we had to figure out how to travel to France with Foxy (yes, this is our car’s name). There are various options when it comes to driving to France, but these options are drastically reduced when you add a car to the equation. The two options are the Eurotunnel or the Channel Ferry.

The Eurotunnel was definitely the fastest option. But, due to how last minute our trip was, the costs were much higher than taking the ferry. If you want to read about how the Eurotunnel works and its pros and cons, this blog post explains it quite well. Josh and Sarah make a very detailed comparison of both the Eurostar and ferries, and talk about the prices.

Here we are – the ferry to cross the channel!

The whole process is quite straightforward. All we did was go on the website aferry to compare a few prices, and then we bought tickets from DFDS Seaways. It cost us £180 return. Now, keep in mind that we bought these tickets less than 24hrs before leaving and that it was mid pandemic, so the prices were inflated. All things considered, it was still cheaper than booking accommodation for a week or two, and it allowed us to travel safely for a little while. It even allowed us to extend our stay for an additional week at no extra cost. We chose the Dover to Dunkirk route.

Before boarding

We drove to the port and followed the signs; it was quite easy to find our way around. Make sure to arrive at least one hour before for the check-in. Once there, we went through passport controls (France and UK) – everyone in the car has to give their passport. They then gave back our passport alongside a hanging ticket that we had to hang in Foxy. After that, we drove to the lane indicated on the ticket to wait for embarkation. A similar process happened when disembarking, everything was very smooth.

How is it like on board of the ferry?

Laura looking at the sea and taking pictures. Driving to France, on the ferry

It was our first time taking the ferry to France, we did not really know what to expect. The inside left us impressed by how beautiful it looked. We felt like we were on a mini cruise.

The trip started with a little stop at the restaurant onboard – we were given meal tickets which we did not expect! We had a nice little lunch with beautiful views. Then, we went to some sitting areas with small tables, where we just waited and looked at the sea for the duration of the journey – approximately 2hrs. The ferry is massive, there is plenty to do, and there is even a casino! If you are traveling with kids, there is a little area for them to play. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, most things were closed.

Things to consider if you choose to travel by car to France (or anywhere in the EU)

  • Car Health

As for any long car journey, you should always carry out some important checks.

  1. Make sure your wipers are working, and that you have plenty of screenwash. Trust me you are going to need it. France has a lot of insects and your windscreen will get dirty.
  2. Check your tyre pressure and tread depth. This is essential for your safety on the road.
  3. Check that your oil level is not too low. You really don’t want to end up stranded in France, just because you did not think about checking it, do you?
  4. For the same reason as the above, check your engine coolant.
  5. Check your lights, all of them. That was the one thing that we did not do, and of course, the main beams were not working. We only noticed that once we were on the motorway and night came. We had to be the annoying driver who drives with full beams on. After that, we constantly made sure to be back on time before the sun sets until we managed to get the lights fixed in France.
  • Driving in France – Insurance

Before Brexit, if you were to drive in France with a car registered in the UK, or in any EU country, then you would not need a green card. After Brexit however, you need to check with your insurance if you require a green card. They are usually free to request and take a few days to arrive. You will also need to carry your Certificate of Motor Insurance and your V5C.

  • Driving in France – Laws and Legal Requirements

Make sure you are familiar with the French laws and legal requirements before visiting. First of all, when traveling to France you are going to need a GB sticker, a warning triangle, and a high visibility vest. We chose to buy an EU travel kit for just under £25. The kit includes everything listed above as well as a breathalyser, a first aid kit, one emergency bulb kit, and a super beam bender (which you need to drive legally in France).

  • Driving in France – Tolls (Peage)
Sunflower from a sunflower field while driving to France

Driving in France is so enjoyable! Along the road to the south, you get to see so many colours, from lavenders to sunflowers. You can drive faster on the motorway – be it because of the speed, understanding of lane discipline and because of the lack of traffic (most of the time, apart from the busiest holiday Saturdays). It is generally worthwhile to take the motorways (autoroutes) in France unless you want to take your time. Taking the motorway could save you up to two hours of driving. However, it can end up quite expensive – Paris to Montpellier cost about 50€ in tolls.

Here are a few tips to help you cut down on the cost of your trip:

  1. Never top up on the motorway. You are better off going a couple of minutes off route to top up. Wait for a major intersection and come off the motorway. All you have to do now is to find a supermarket where you can fill your car up. I always made sure to fill up before leaving and tried to find a cheap station on Waze where I could top up on the way. I made sure the stop was going to be when I had about 50-80miles left in the tank.
  2. Take toll motorway all the way to Clermont Ferrand and then exit the autoroute. Follow the A75. You can also get out at Millau, just before the Viaduct. Doing that allowed us to save approximately 12€, and only added 10 minutes to our journey. Be aware that these roads have quite a lot of turns, but the view is outstanding. You will be driving at an altitude of 3600ft (1100m) for more than 37miles (60km). If you are towing heavy caravans, I would not take this road unless you have a very powerful car. There are many steep climbs and descents. Our little Foxy struggled a little in some of them. Also, I would avoid it during winter as it tends to get blocked easily because of heavy snowfalls.

Some tips as well in terms of tolls. If you have no passengers, you are going to struggle to pay at the booth. Indeed, your car is a right-hand drive which means that you won’t have easy access to the pay meter that is on the left-hand side for French cars. I would recommend buying a tag online to save the hassle, and also to reduce the amount of queuing you would have to do. You can buy one here: emovis-tag.

Finally, we recommend sorting out your accommodation before traveling to remove some of the stress. We made sure we had somewhere to stay near Paris after having crossed the channel and driven some more. Then somewhere to stay in the South after driving most of the day. On the way back, we book a night near Paris, and a night near the port to make sure we could be at the ferry an hour before, and still get some sleep. We recommend using hotelscombined to find the best deals!

We hope that this post has been somewhat useful to you, and if you choose to drive to France from the UK, stay safe and show us some of your pictures!

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