I went to drive in France for the first time since Brexit and Covid
Pack your family in a plush car and head to the mainland used for a fairly simple affair. But the double barrier of Brexit and Covid has been a bridge breaker for many who have habitually gone on holiday for a few years now.
But, with pandemic travel now becoming easier to negotiate, we thought it was time to visit my mother for the first time in over three years. She and my stepfather had emigrated to a beautiful place in the west of France about ten years ago and since then we have been going there every summer – free accommodation and your meals cooked for you too!
This all stopped in 2020 with the rise of Covid. We weren’t going to go out, let alone by the English Channel. But we were eager to make the trip as soon as possible. We had a second child the year before, so – other than a day at a family event – the grandson hadn’t spent any time with his grandparents at all.
The first plan was to move over Christmas, but that was quickly canceled when a new wave of Covid hit. It wouldn’t be fun to spend a trip worrying if you’d be allowed to go home!
So when Easter came around, we packed up, jumped in the car and drove off. But what does a trip to the post-Brexit, post-Covid(-ish) world look like? Here is my experience…
First, there is the usual preparation. Driving license okay? To verify. Road and travel insurance sorted? To verify. European breakdown cover? To verify. Reflective jacket and warning triangle? Left in trunk since last time.
Traveling to France has always meant buying little reflective stickers for your car’s headlights. I always misplace them after use, so I end up ordering a new pair online. But what is it ? I also needed to order one of those GB stickers which I hadn’t seen since the 80s. A small expense until Brexit but enjoyed the retro vibe.
Now there are two more things you need to be aware of. One relatively simple, the other clear as mud. Depending on where you are traveling, you may need to purchase a clean air sticker. They cost £3.60 – worth picking up without one will set you back £120. Also note that if you are traveling to Paris, older cars may well be prohibited at certain times of the day. So it’s worth checking first.
Much more obscure is the possible need for a certificate of accommodation if you are staying with friends, family or a third party. This is a document that your hosts must obtain from the local town hall. Both the UK and French government websites mention it, but according to the French-to-English website The Connexion, very few, if any, people are asked for it at the border.
We decided to take the risk and everything was fine, but it is more than possible that we got lucky. I still don’t know if we needed it or not.
Rather than take the risk of traveling with two children under five on a boat, we decided to keep them under control at all times by sticking to the car and riding the Eurotunnel shuttle. After what happened to some ferry operators, this turned out to be a very good choice!
Other than checking that our passports were all good (absolutely vital at the minute), we had to provide our vaccination status to ensure a hassle-free trip. This was easily done via the NHS app (although you can also get it by post if you ask early enough). The rules are a little different if you are not vaccinated. Measurements can change – and change quickly – so stay up to date with the latest travel advice. For example. at the moment, masks are only mandatory on public transport.
We had an early morning train so the roads were relatively clear and we got to the Folkestone terminal on time. Of course, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for travel news – especially if you’re making the trip at a busy time.
But we had a faultless run. A scan of our license plate got us our tickets and going through passport control was AOK (even though we were picked to go through security thoroughly). The children were especially delighted to have their passports stamped.
Loading and unloading on the Eurotunnel shuttle is very simple, while the journey itself takes 35 minutes. You must stay in your car for the entire duration and also roll down your windows. Tip: make sure you pack anything your three-year-old will be tempted to throw out of the car first!
On the road on the French side everything is like a memory. The roads are quite good, while the toll roads are well worth the money if you want to reduce your travel time. France is not immune to soaring petrol/diesel prices, although if you stay away from motorway services you should still be able to fill up cheaper than in the UK .
After only one SatNav crash (user error on my part) we arrived at our destination on time and were able to enjoy the beautiful April weather for the whole week. So overall, with a little extra preparation, the trip to France was as smooth as before despite some initial hassles. In fact, we are already planning another trip in July. We have lost time to make up for, after all.