This is our second caravan trip to Europe and on both occasions we have gone via Eurotunnel. We have looked at ferry alternatives but on balance, the cost, frequency of trains, easy boarding, speed of crossing and ability to stay with car/caravan make it a no-brainer for us.
Once again we paid for the trip, OK, 50% of it, with our Tesco clubcard reward points. We achieve this purely through use of a Tesco credit card paid off “In Full” every month. The reward points used to be higher and the rewards better but Tesco have realised too many people like us don’t darken their doors or pay interest on their credit. I digress, anyway £50 reward points is tripled to £150 towards our train tickets.
Leaving the M20 at J11a you follow the cars (not the Trucks) to the automated check-in booths, the touch screen process is simple because the camera recognises your car registration and just asks you to confirm your booking, including option to switch to earlier crossing, which we accepted. It prints a ticket ‘hanger’ with a large printed letter (we were ‘P’) that is your crossing identifier. You hang this from your rear view mirror, ultimately it gets scanned by an attendant on the train.
Now rest, if you have time, the next part looks like a motorway service station but no reversing required. You park up while large boards indicate the status, in English and French, of each ‘Letter’ to proceed or await boarding. The timing is quite accurate so you may have time for a big ‘Full English’ or some last minute travel accessories.
Your turn, the board display informs you to proceed for boarding, there is a big ‘To France’ direction sign to help guide you, not that you have any other option at this point. Next is Passport control and security. A small ten minute queue today for us, not sure what kids holidays would be like. Only two lanes open today, a French car to our left tried to jump lanes, the Brits bristled and suddenly glued their bumpers to each other. So funny really, everyone is ending up on the same train anyway plus I realised she was obviously Left Hand Drive and our lane was being served left side.
A big hand of authority said ‘Stop’. “Please drive into Lane 2 to be checked” while all the solo cars headed for the train. I had pictures in my mind of rubber gloves in a private room, no, “can you open your Gas locker so we can check the gas tanks are closed”, phew, “have a good day”.
Nearly there, one last point where they calculate the length of your outfit and tell you which lane to await final boarding. Then wait for green lights and head for the train.
Until the you first board a train you will probably worry about boarding, don’t, the access point is very generous giving plenty of room to get straight for the drive through each carriage. Keep a couple of car lengths back from the vehicle before you and hang back when they slow/stop as you may not fit in same carriage as them, the staff will guide you. Then stop, handbrake on, engine off, select 1st gear, windows half way down, relax.
We got in the caravan and cracked open the butties and pies whilst enjoying the journey in comfort, admittedly, it was rocking a bit. No sooner had we finished the butties and sunlight of the French variety was flooding into the carriage.
Departing is easier than boarding, you drive out the front end of the train and without being stopped again are filtered directly to the French motorway routes. If it’s your first time ‘on the right’ you will be anxious but signage is good and junction entries/exits extend better than UK ones so you have more time to merge, within minutes you will wonder why you worried. You may find our previous blogs: Towing in France and Low Emission zones and Road Tolls may be useful too.
We will probably make use of a surface sea crossing one day in the future, maybe for Spain, but for now Eurotunnel gets our vote.
A short two minute video of our actual boarding process can be viewed via this link: Boarding EuroTunnel with a Caravan