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Ferries, hotels, route planners and European breakdown cover.

If you are taking your car with you on holiday, using it as your means of getting to and from your holiday destination, then there are a number of things you should consider.

Getting a low cost crossing

If you are looking for a cut price crossing, a good place to start is the Ferrysavers website. Ferrysavers compare the cost of different companies for each of the routes from the UK and they offer a price match (best price guarantee). They have a call centre, if you prefer to phone to book, and they give you a good target to aim at.

Next compare the prices at Ferrysavers with Cheap4ferries.com. They also compares prices, but do so on a ferry by ferry basis. But you should have an idea of who offers the best price from ferrysavers, so this works best. Cheap4ferries.com match 'almost any price, plus discount it by another £5' too.

Finally, check prices direct with the ferry companies, as they often have special promotions too. Visit the websites of Seafrance, P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries, Hoverspeed, Eurotunnel and any other company that operates your route and check for special offers. If you can't find them, phone and ask about them.

Driving in Europe - things to do before you go

  1. All UK car insurance policies automatically provide you with third party cover in Europe at no extra cost. However, even if you have comprehensive cover in the UK, your policy may only give you third party cover in Europe - note that's not third party fire and theft, but just third party. Check your policy terms or call your insurer. Consider upgrading cover to include fire, theft and personal injury as a minimum. You can usually do so for an additional premium based on the number of days you intend to be out of the UK.
  2. Carrying a 'green card' is not a legal requirement in most European countries (you can carry your Certificate of Insurance instead), but it does make life easier. A green card is an internationally recognised document which confirms that you have at least the minimum level of insurance required by the country you are visiting. Ask your car insurer for one. They do not charge to issue a green card, but some insurance brokers make a small administration charge.
  3. Many car insurers will send you a European Accident Statement. This is a form that you can use should you have an accident, to exchange information with the other party whilst it is fresh in your mind.
  4. If your insurer has a 24-hour emergency helpline make sure you take the number with you.
  5. Take your vehicle registration document with you.
  6. Consider having your car serviced before you go. As a minimum, you should check your spare tyre, adjust your headlamps for driving on the right (with adhesive or a clip on converter) and attach a GB sticker to your car (if you don't have a GB plate).
  7. Some countries require you to carry a warning triangle and / or a first aid kit and spare light bulbs. It's a good idea to carry these anyway.
  8. Take a spare set of keys, a fire extinguisher and a small tool kit.
  9. Consider taking vehicle breakdown cover. These policies will usually cover roadside assistance, emergency repairs and the cost of hiring a car. They can also cover the cost of emergency accommodation whilst your car is repaired and of returning you and your car to the UK. Greenflag, the AA and RAC all offer European breakdown policies.

When driving in Europe

Much of the advice on our 'hire a car' page is also relevant here. In addition:

  1. Driving on the 'wrong side of the road' in a right hand drive car takes a short while to master. 'Think right' each time you get in the car.
  2. If you can, begin your journey in daylight. Be particularly careful at roundabouts and junctions - remember that you go around roundabouts anti-clockwise (the opposite way to the UK).
  3. Familiarise yourself with road signs and general road rules of the country you are visiting. Traffic light sequences and road markings are often different.
  4. If you have an accident, tell your insurer or their representative in the country you are in immediately.
  5. Foreign registered cars attract thieves, who look for valuable items left in the car. Be especially careful about where you park your car and avoid leaving your possessions in the car. If you do have to leave your possessions in the car, make sure that as much as possible is locked in the boot, particularly all valuables.
  6. Petrol stations may be pay first, self service or full service. Look for signs in the garage.
  7. Keep change handy for toll booths, and remember the passenger will need to pay.

Ferries & hotels en-route
Since the opening of the channel tunnel in 1994, with competition between the Eurotunnel and the Eurostar, ferries have steamed ahead with luxury facilities and better deals.

There are early booking offers on all short crossings, but not on longer crossings. So to get the best price your strategy should be to book now for a shorter crossing and wait to get a better deal on longer crossings as ferry companies usually sell off-peak sailings cheaply nearer the departure time for longer crossings.

To cut costs, choose off peak travel times, early mornings, late evenings during the middle of the week. As always, shop around. A good place to start is ferrysavers - they offer a price match (best price guarantee).

Hotels Abroad specialises in arranging overnight and short stay accommodation for independent travellers - ideal for motorists touring the continent. Their network of hotels and B&B's cover all main routes, major towns and cities and their prices are great too.

Another good website is drive-alive, which features channel crossings, hotels and self-catering property.

The shortest route remains the most popular. Here are some highlights:

Eurotunnel
Time: 35 minutes

Booking: Book via the website www.eurotunnel.com and save £2. Depending on the cost of your crossing, consider joining their 'points plus' program. An annual membership costs £10 a year you save 10% on this and any other crossing.

NB: Once you've booked you can alter times, but not cancel completely.

Cheapest? It pays to book in advance. Turn up on the day expect anything up to £369 for a return crossing.

Departures: Up to 4 times per hour from the UK and France 24 hours a day.

P&O Stenna Line
Time: 75 - 90 minutes

Booking: Sign up to their newsletter and book online at www.posl.com to save £5. Register as a 'member' and save up to £7.

Cheapest? Book in advance to get the best price. If you just turn up you face a £20 supplement.

Departures: 35 return ferry crossings a day!

Hoverspeed
Time: 40 minutes

Booking: Book via the website www.hoverspeed.com and save a miserly 2%.

NB: Their online booking process is a real bore. They let you enter a bunch of information about your car before telling you that the crossing is not available. If you hit this problem you have to click back twice to try an alternative time, losing the information you entered about your car on the way!

Cheapest? Advisable to book in advance. Easiest to book on the phone (0870 240 8070)!

Departures: up to 10 return crossing a day.

Route planners
Free internet route planners are one of the best travel tools on the net. The vehicle recovery companies and a number of other travel information companies provide them. The most powerful will not only give you the fastest route from A to B (or Ashford to Brussels), they can suggest alternative routes (fastest, shortest, toll free, even scenic routes), give details of hotels and restaurants on route, suggest interesting stops on the way, tell you how long the journey will take, and can even calculate it's cost.

Three of the best internet route planners are:

UK and European route planner - the RAC's free 'Plan Route' service is simple and easy to use. It offers great directions for destinations in both the UK and mainland Europe. You can choose the 'fastest' or 'shortest' routes, add up to three places you need to travel via (very handy if you want to travel from the UK to Europe via a port or the tunnel) and pick 'short' or 'long' driving directions.

UK route planner - the AA route planner is the best of the bunch for the UK, but only okay for Europe. It provides clear maps and excellent directions, including landmarks such as pubs or service areas. Unfortunately it gives the choice of 'in Great Britain' or 'in Continental Europe' and so it struggled when we asked for a route from Ashford to Paris - you need to get one route for the UK leg of your journey and one for the European leg

European route planner - the Via Michelin provided by the people who bring you the Michelin hotel and restaurant guides (and tyres). This is the best route planner we have found for mainland Europe but not so good for the UK. It will calculate the cost and journey times of up to five route types - from 'recommended' to 'shortest' or even 'scenic' (France only). This may sound unnecessary, but it's great when deciding whether the time saved by travelling via toll roads is worth the extra cost. You can pick summary or detailed instructions, the maps are very clear and, as you would expect, the guides for hotels and restaurants you will pass on the journey are excellent. It also has a handy 'traffic and weather' section.

Another popular route planner (but with too many adverts for our liking) is provided by Multimap.

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