21.8 million people took an international ferry trip from the UK in 2018, with another 42.7 million using domestic ferry routes. It’s a booming market, and has a huge range of advantages for people going on holiday, the main one being that you’re not limited by baggage allowance and have ultimate flexibility. Ferry travel in your motorhome isn’t an unusual thing to do, but there’s lots more to think about than when booking on as a foot passenger or with the family car.
Where Can You Go?
Well the easy answer to that one would be wherever you like. There are lots of options for ferry travel with your motorhome both in the UK and further afield. Scottish island hopping, the island of Ireland or the Channel Islands are all options, or you could take the tried and tested option of driving to the Channel ports and then across into France. Having the motorhome with you also gives somewhere to rest, relax and break the journey with a quick nap or a cup of tea once you get to the other side.
Booking in Advance for Ferry Travel
Perhaps the most vital piece of advice when planning ferry travel in your motorhome is to get planning and reserve your space as far in advance as possible. Popular sailings fill up very quickly, especially in school holidays. When booking, the website will ask for both the length and the height of your vehicle. They ask this so they can plan how to load the ferry effectively and there may only be a limited space which can accommodate motorhomes, caravans and other taller than average vehicles. If you’re not accurate about the size of your motorhome, or click the wrong option and book it in as a car instead, you may turn up at the port and find yourself refused boarding. Dimensions of your motorhome should be listed in your handbook, or on the manufacturer’s website. Alternatively, you could just get the measuring tape out. If you are planning to take a trailer behind your motorhome, bikes strapped on the back or another small vehicle towed at the rear, then you need to work out the combination length of all elements together. Write the figures down, especially if you’re comparing routes with several operators who all ask for information in a slightly different way.
Getting the Best Deal on Ferry Prices
Ferry travel can be expensive, especially at peak times. This is true for everyone, car drivers and motorhome owners alike. There are however some things you can do to keep costs to a minimum.
- Book in advance – reserving your tickets weeks or months in advance is always going to be a cheaper option than deciding the weekend before or even worse, pitching up at the port on the day of travel. Some companies let you book as much as 12 months in advance of travel date.
- Non-flexible – if you’re sure which ferry you wish to travel out on, and which one you will use for your return trip, opt for a non-flexible option which will be cheaper than a fare which allows you to change your plans. The obvious downside of this is that there is no leeway for traffic delays or other issues which might cause you to arrive late at the port.
- Avoid peak times – school holidays, especially in the summer months, are always more expensive for ferry travel than other times of the year. You might also get better prices on ferries leaving in the middle of the night, or very early in the morning. Weekdays are generally cheaper than sailings at weekends.
- Island Hopper – if you’re planning a holiday visiting several Scottish islands and using the ferry to travel between them, look for special island hopper fares which combine a set number of ferry trips, while still allowing you the flexibility to choose how long to spend on each island.
- Sign up for emails – sign up for promotional emails from the ferry operators and you’ll be the first to find out about special deals or offers. It’s also worth getting newsletters from camping and caravan clubs and organisations, as they often run special offers for members.
Driving Overseas – the Paperwork
If you’re planning a trip to the Scottish islands, Channel Islands or across the Irish Sea, then there is no extra paperwork or equipment which you need for your trip. Make sure that your insurance covers you for travel in the Irish Republic, although most do. If you’re planning to go a but further afield, then there are more checks to do and equipment to buy. Call up your insurer and let them know that you will be going overseas, tell them which countries you will be visiting and how long you plan to be away for. Many will cover short two-week trips on a standard policy at no extra cost. If you’re planning a longer road trip of a few weeks or months, then you will have to pay a bit more to cover risks.
Several European countries also have different requirements about what kit you should keep in your car – or motorhome – in case of emergencies. In many countries, having a reflective warning triangle for breakdowns is a legal requirement. Other countries will expect you to have reflective jackets, and adjust the headlight beams to account for driving on the right rather than then left. It’s also a good idea to read up on issues such as speed limits, rules of the road when driving in a motorhome, and legislation around children’s seats and drink driving.
What Can’t I Take on the Ferry?
The main appeal of ferry travel is that you can pack everything but the kitchen sink to take with you on your holiday. There aren’t the liquid restrictions which you’d find on aircraft, and most household goods, food and drink are fine to take with you in your motorhome. As with every form of transport though there are some “dangerous goods” which are not allowed to be carried, and which you should leave at home. Perhaps the most likely item is excess petrol or fuel, carried in a can. This isn’t allowed on the ferry, even if stored in the correct manner. Empty petrol cans are fine though, so use up what you have and then refill at a filling station after your crossing if you like to have some extra. Gas for cooking is also allowed on board, but most ferries will also allow a maximum of three cylinders. If you are planning to travel with other types of gas such as oxygen for medical purposes, check specific regulations with your ferry operator.
Longer Crossings – Booking a Cabin
The ferry crossing from Dover to Calais only takes around 90 minutes, with crossings to Northern Ireland from Scotland taking only slightly longer. Cabins are not available on shorter voyages, and there’s plenty to do on board to keep you occupied as you travel. One thing that you are not allowed to do when the ferry sails is to return to your motorhome below decks. This is worth bearing in mind if you are travelling with pets; they’ll either have to stay in the motorhome during the crossing, or stay in some public areas of the ship with you.
There are also longer ferry crossings from the UK, such as the Portsmouth to Bilbao route in Northern Spain which takes 24 hours, or the Newcastle to Amsterdam route, taking almost 16 hours. The obvious advantage of these routes is that sailing can cut down on a huge amount of driving, but in order to arrive refreshed and ready to go at the port, booking a cabin is advised. Most operators offer a range of different grades of cabin, with pet-friendly and accessible accommodation available too. Booking as far in advance as you can will guarantee the biggest choice of grades of cabin. If you’re on a real budget, then you might opt to spend the night in the lounge but this isn’t the ideal way to start your holiday.
Checking in at the Port
Treat your ferry crossing just as you would a flight. Each ferry company has its own rules about how far in advance you need to arrive. For international crossings, check-in may open as much as three hours before sailing, and closes 45 minutes to an hour before the ferry leaves. If you’re late, you won’t be allowed to board. Leave plenty of time, especially at busy times. You will need to take passports for each passenger in the motorhome, including the pets if you’re leaving the UK. Security has also been tightened at UK ports, and checks are likely to get longer and more detailed after the end of 2020 when the Brexit transition period ends. Not all motorhomes will be searched, but be prepared for the possibility, and know what you’re carrying on board.