Packing up your family into a stuffed car and heading for the Continent used to a pretty simple affair. But the double barrier of Brexit and Covid has drawn up the bridge for many who usually holiday for a couple of years now.
But, with pandemic travel now getting easier to negotiate, we thought it was time to visit my mother for the first time in over three years. She and my step-father had emigrated to a lovely spot in western France a decade or so ago and ever since we have been going every summer – no-cost accommodation and your meals cooked for you, too!
That all came to a shuddering halt in 2020 with the rise of Covid. We werenÕt going outside, never mind over the Channel. But we were eager to make the trip as soon as possible. We had a second child the year earlier, so – apart from a day at a family event – the grandson had spent no time with his grandparents at all.
The first plan was to go over at Christmas but that was soon kiboshed as a fresh wave of Covid hit. It would be no fun spending a trip away worrying if you would be allowed to get back home!
So when Easter rolled around, we packed our bags, hopped in the car and set off. But what is travelling like in the post-Brexit, post-Covid(-ish) world like? Here’s my experience…
First off, there’s the usual prep. Driving licence OK? Check. Road and travel insurance sorted? Check. European breakdown cover? Check. Reflective jacket and warning triangle? Left in the boot since last time.
Travelling in France always meant you had to buy the little reflective stickers for your carÕs headlights. I always misplace them after use so end up ordering a new pair online. But, what’s this? I also needed to order one of those GB stickers that I hadn’t seen since the 80s. A small expense down to Brexit but I did enjoy the retro vibe.
Now, there are two other things you need to be made aware of. One relatively simple, the other as clear as mud. Depending on where you are travelling, you might need to buy a clean air sticker. They cost £3.60 – worth it when being caught without one will cost you £120. Also worth noting that if you are travelling to Paris, older cars might well be banned at certain times of the day. So that’s worth checking first.
For more murkier is the possible need for an attestion d’accueil if you are staying with friends, family or a third party. This is a document that your hosts are required to get from their local mayor’s office. Both the UK and France government websites mention it but according to English-language French website The Connexion, very few people, if any at all, are being asked for it at the border.
We decided to risk it and all was fine but it’s more than possible we were just lucky. I still have no idea whether we needed it or not.
Rather than risk travelling with two children under five on a boat, we had decided to keep them under control at all times by sticking to the car and going over on the Eurotunnel le shuttle. After what happened to some ferry operators, it proved a very wise choice!
Other than checking our passports were all good (absolutely vital at the minute), we had to provide our vaccine status to ensure hassle-free travel. These was easily done through the NHS app (although you can get it through the post as well if you ask early enough). The rules are a litle different if you are not vaccinated. Measures can change – and change quickly – so stay up to date with the latest travel advice. For instance. at the moment masks are only required on public transport.
We had an early morning train so the roads were relatively clear and we got to the Folkestone terminal in good time. Obviously, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the travel news – especially if you’re making the journey at a busy time.
But we had a clear run. A scan of our number plate got us our tickets and getting through the passport control was AOK (even if we were picked out to go through the security deep-dive). The kids were especially delighted to get their passports stamped.
Loading and unloading on the Eurotunnel le shuttle is dead simple, while the journey itself is a swift 35 minutes. You do have to stay in your car for the duration and wind down your windows as well. Top tip: Make sure you take away anything your three-year-old will be tempted to throw out of the car first!
On the road France-side everything is as a remember it. The roads are pretty good, while the toll roads are well worth the money if you want to cut time off your journey. France is not immune from the spiralling price of petrol/diesel, although if you stay away from the motorway services you should still be able to fill up cheaper than you would in the UK.
After just one SatNav mishap (user error on my part) we made it to our destination in good time and were able to enjoy some fine April weather for the whole week. So, all in all, with a little bit of extra prep the journey to France was as hassle-free as it was before despite a few concerns initially. In fact, we’re already planning another trip in July. We have some lost time to make up for, after all.