Despite the many, many visits that Andrew and I have made to France over the years, we'd never managed to travel together by car. It was therefore with great excitement and no little nail biting that we finally decided to pack up the kids and try the right hand side of the road this summer. We picked Brittany for proximity (see: nail biting), Paimpol based on TripAdvisor reviews (see my next blog post: Family fun in Paimpol), bunged the kids in the backseat in the twilight hours, and set off for our first international family road trip. Here're a few tips we learned along the way.
Book your accommodation early
Like, a year in advance early. We thought we were so clever looking at Christmas for an August trip, but a lot of the Brittany bargains had long gone by then - we just got extremely lucky with the last AirBnB place we tried. Who are you super organised people?! We aren't quite feeling ready for tents - and you've probably got longer to play with on booking ahead if you're heading on a Brittany camping trip - so if you're after a gîte in high summer season, start looking for your next trip during the summer before. Hurry up, you're already running late!
Get your French driving kit
There's a bunch of stuff you're legally required to have with you (and in some cases, such as with a high vis jacket, it has to be in reach within the car), so just make sure you're fully kitted up before you get in the car. This AA kit did the job for us but there are various, similarly-priced versions of the same kind of thing elsewhere online. We went by Eurotunnel, and the first petrol station we came to in Calais also sold everything in the kit, in case you've forgotten anything.
Front passenger = toll payer
The many, many toll stops on French roads are well known, but despite my grumbling as to their cost, I will grudgingly acknowledge their efficiency. They really are designed to let you pass as quickly as possible with minimum disruption, but as a British driver, you'll be on the wrong side of the car to pay them. Cue frantic undoing of seatbelts, diving out of the car while rummaging for Euros...skip that. Your passenger needs to take care of all this with a ready credit/debit card, a bag of Euros and a willingness to pay at speed. I lost count of the number of couples we saw arguing over this, so believe me when I say sorting this out ahead of time makes for a better journey.
Because French motorway public toilets. You know what I'm saying. This is not the time to break out your brand new holiday shoes. And toilet roll and hand sanitiser are your portable friends.
Take turns and rest up
If you're in the fortunate position of having more than one driver in the car, use them. French motorways can be incredibly straight for long stretches, something I find sleep-inducing at the best of times, and dangerously hypnotic when you've set out in the early hours. Narrow lanes mean you'll often be driving closer to other vehicles than you may be accustomed to, with frequent overtaking and traffic joining the road at speed. Sharing the driving is simple due to the many rest stops along all routes, and being communicative as to when you're getting tired is key. I would strongly advise against bashing out a 9 hour drive in one sitting, if you can. Stay safe out there, people.
All common sense stuff, but all things we found invaluable. Happy trails, mes amis!