Planning a trip abroad or more specifically to France ? Then here are a few tips we’ve picked up over the years that may help you plan your trip saving you time and money and hopefully make the experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
1, Budget range
This must include travel to your destination, accommodation and any extras eg if its a self catering property are linen and towels extra or included, if its a hotel is there any food included, if not what are the prices of the hotel or local restaurants. Luxury 5* or camping or something in between ? If you are taking your kids out of school make sure you include the fines in your budget. Also consider what entertainment there will be and whether this is free (walks, beach, on site activities) or not (aquariums, zoo, water park)
2, Travel options
plane, train or automobile ? Don’t forget the cheap flight may be turn out not so cheap when you look at the car hire , insurance and getting to/from the airport, airport parking plus tolls and petrol if the airport is a long way from the accommodation; the tunnel may be handy for those living nearby but the cheap crossing to France may be outweighed by the tolls and petrol and maybe even an overnight stop in a motel if you are traveling to the south or south west of France.
What ferry port to choose ? If you are close to Dover then the obvious choice is P&O ferries or the tunnel, but if you are closer to Portsmouth, Poole or Plymouth then there are good ferry routes with Brittany ferries to northern France. P&O also do Portsmouth to Dieppe. We can offer a 20% discount off Brittany ferry crossings when booking with us and can also give you a link to get 5% off P&O ferries too (read on to find out how to get these discounts without booking !) Being on a decent ferry can be like a mini cruise – the Portsmouth to St Malo route on the Bretagne ship (Brittany ferries) is our favourite and has a superb restaurant and the lovely Commodore cabins – it costs more but gets us 4 hrs drive closer to home than the Dover Calais route and the 60€ + of tolls and a potential stopover.
3, Region of France
there are now just 13 regions in France rather than 22, (as of 1st Jan 2016) The Charente Maritime will just no longer be part of the Poitou – Charentes region. instead it will be part of the Aquitaine Limousin Poitou-Charente region – a bit of a mouthful so they have until the summer to decide the permanent name . Maybe an acronym such as the ALP region but maybe that would be confusing !
Anyway enough politics – most tourists are more interested in 3 main things :
a/ whats the weather like – do you have to have ‘guaranteed’ sunshine or are you happy in your wellies and raincoats as long as you are with your loved ones
b/ how easy is it to get there – how far is the nearest airport and is there a link to your nearest airport in the uk; how far is it to drive and which is the best ferry port to travel from
c/ is there anything to do – what do you enjoy doing ? Are you after non stop activities or just want to chill out on the beach; do you just need to entertain the kids or do you need grown up activities too ?
4, Time of year
Everyone hates it but the price of holidays in the summer school hols can double (or more) and with schools fining parents for taking children out of school its a difficult decision . Unfortunately it’s a supply and demand thing – we can let our cottages in peak season 20 times over yet in June we have to fight to compete to get bookings; since the season is so short in Europe nothings going to change – even if school holiday dates are made more flexible, most people want sunshine and a tan so will still choose to go in July and August so it’s always going to be more expensive. My advice is if you are able travel out of season – do, May half term perhaps if you have school aged children, with pre school kids travel in June or September when prices for accommodation and travel are much cheaper – the weather at those times is just as good and just as reliable as the peak months.
Some of the cheap airlines only operate a service to certain smaller airports in peak season, so check first.
Another consideration on the time of year you are travelling is In peak season (July and August) there are several weekends that are terrible for traffic. To avoid spending hours sitting in a traffic jam visit http://www.bison-fute.gouv.fr/trafic-routier-2016.html which will tell you what the traffic is likely to be like on your date of travel. They have black days (standing traffic) red days (bad) and orange days (heavy) – avoid the black and red days on certain routes if possible. Some holiday accommodations have different changeover days so search out ones which will give you options for cheaper travelling days (like ours !!)
5, Motorway driving
Wherever you go or whichever route you take to our family holiday cottages you’ll likely end up on a toll road. Many of the motorways are free – around large cities usually, but you have to be pretty determined to avoid the ones that arn’t free.
A good web site to use to give you an idea of current charges along your route is www.autoroutes.fr just enter your route and it will give you an estimate of petrol costs and toll charges. Also drive-france.com and headlampconvertors.co.uk provide useful info on driving in France. Motorway tolls do take uk credit/debit cards, but have some euros handy just in case.
Fuel is still cheaper in France than the UK but the difference these days is not as much as it used to be. As with the UK avoid filling up on the motorways if possible as fuel will be a lot more expensive there than in the supermarkets.
There is no excuse to have a regular break on French motorways, there are rest stops pretty much every 20km or so; they may not be full services, just parking, a loo and a picnic area usually, but a definite plus when you have an active toddler who needs to stretch their legs.
6, When Flying
shop around and keep an eye out for the deals. Most airlines (and ferry companies for that matter) use twitter, facebook and google+ to let everyone know about the deals they are offering, yet its surprising how few people follow them to be first in the queue, by the time you hear about the deals they’ve gone – so start following your favourite airline to get the deals. Follow us on our social media then email us to get the 20% discount code for Brittany ferry crossings, you don’t need to of booked with us but we are sure we can tempt you for another year when you see what a great time families have.
Baggage charges are the biggest bug bear of cheap airline clients, so check the small print, how much can you carry, check the bag sizes and hand luggage allowances and remember to check in and print off your boarding card before you get to the airport.
7, Car hire
is very competitive and all the big companies offer deals just like the airlines, at different times during the year (usually early on before Christmas to get early bookers and then later in the season to rid themselves of empty seats/cars) Its probably wisest to check for the best deal through a price comparison site. Make sure you check the small print too – things like having to return the car full (or empty ) of fuel, cleaning it thoroughly (we’ve had guests think they’ve cleaned it yet still been charged) and charges for car seats (and whether there is anyone qualified to fit it for you) Consider taking your own car seats, If your child has their own airline seat with permission you should be able to take your car seat on board and your child can sit in it which makes them more comfortable and secure – you then have your own seat for the car which you know how to fit safely.
do you want 5* all the way in which case the large online companies are good ways of finding a place and the best deals – we find booking.com very handy when searching for hotels as they only show you hotels with family rooms/can accommodate your sized family which saves time – we then often book direct with the hotel as its said that a hotel will treat you better if you book direct as they havn’t had to fork out the commission !! (Whether that’s true or not I don’t know) we treat all our families the same and we advertise with booking.com too but are happier when families book direct !! If considering camping or a mobile home then think about the alternatives too, we have had numerous families come to us after camping and cannot believe they have a whole house slightly inland for less than a tent near the beach !
9, Safety and comfort
when traveling with young children then you need to be organised. Babies and toddlers need lots of equipment to make their lives comfortable and your life easier but it’s a lot to carry so look for places that offer family rooms, cots, high chairs, booster seats at the very least. Our own properties offer so much more as we specialise in accommodating families with young children. All our properties are equipped with stair barriers, full sized baths, high chairs, cots and booster seats, plastic crockery, cutlery and even hand blenders we can also offer steam sterilisers, play mats, change mats, pottys and toilet seats – just ask, if we have it, it’s yours ! Safety is also a consideration with young children, a campsite or holiday camp may be fun but you can’t allow your little ones to run to the swings alone, you’ll need to be with them all the time. A stand alone property may be more your style but then the kids will need entertaining and so that means you’ll have less time to relax . A small complex (like ours !! ) at www.grangedumoulin.com and www.lesvallaies.com may be just what you need.
10, A little planning
and discussion of all these issues before searching for this years holiday will save a lot of time and will make sure the holiday you pick is right for you and your family.
Wherever and Whichever way you decide to travel, make the choosing, planning, booking and traveling part of the excitement and enhance your holiday enjoyment. Remember to follow/like our social media pages to get your Ferry discount.
content by Wendy Blakeman