Fly drive or self drive // Which is best for European family holiday?

If you are a regular reader of my blog, or follow me on Instagram then you’ll know that we’ve just come back from a two week holiday in France with my family. It was our first holiday overseas as a family of four and we decided to fly and hire a car. When Toby was 10 months old we took him abroad for the first time but then we chose to drive in our own car. But which is best for a European family holiday? Fly drive or self drive? I’m taking a look at the pros and cons of each below.

Fly drive

Toby enjoying his fly drive holiday

  • It’s quicker – obviously this depends where you live and where you are going to. When we went to Brittany with Toby when he was a baby we were living in Scotland. We drove the 250 miles to my parents’ house in Blackpool and stayed there overnight. The next day we drove to Portsmouth and stayed in a hotel before getting the ferry to France the next day. It was another 3 hour drive on the other side before we got to our campsite. Our journey to the Dordogne a few weeks ago still took a long time – we left home at 9:30 am to go to Liverpool airport. We flew to Bordeaux where we picked up a hire car and drove the two hours to the gite we were staying in. Due to an unfortunate incident with a bird on take off our flight arrived over two hours later than it should have done, but even with that we still did all our travelling in one day, rather than the two or three days it would have taken to drive ourselves.
  • It’s more exciting (especially for children!) – there’s no doubt that going on an aeroplane is more fun than sitting in the car for two days. And happy, excited kids make for an easier journey for mum and dad too. Well, that’s the theory anyway!

Gabe's super excited plane face

  • You can go much further away than you could by driving – when I was young we used to go on holiday to France and Spain every summer. We had a caravan and would drive down to Spain in a few days, stay there for a week or two and then spend another couple of weeks coming back up through France. We were obviously very lucky to have such long holidays (the benefits of having a college lecturer for a dad and a mum who worked in a primary school) but if you only have a week’s holiday you probably don’t want to spend half the time travelling. So if you’re driving that pretty much limits you to northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and perhaps northern Italy. Fly drive could take you to the south of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy or many parts of Eastern Europe with just one day of travelling.
  • Driving in Europe is easier in a left hand drive car. I’ve done a lot of driving overseas and I always find it easier to drive in a left hand drive car than in my own car on the wrong side of the road.
  • It’s expensive – even though we flew with Easyjet who are supposedly a ‘budget’ airline, flights for the four of us still cost over £1200. Add on to that another £400 for a hire car, £70 for airport parking in the UK, plus fuel costs while you’re away and it all adds up.
  • Packing space is limited – we paid for two 23 kg bags with our flights, and we also took two car seats in travel bags. Top Tip: Most airlines will carry two items per child for free (i.e. car seats, push chair, travel cot) – if you put these in a travel bag (we used these ones) you can also add other things in there too. We wrapped the car seats in towels, and also put Gabe’s booster chair, and a load of cloth nappies in with the car seats. As we were holidaying with my parents and they were driving out to France we gave them all sorts of things to take too – especially swimming things, toys and games for the boys, and their favourite cereal and snacks. If we hadn’t have been able to get them to take so much then I don’t know how we would have managed.

Self drive

Just about to drive to France

  • Cost – For this trip we could have got an overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge for about £500 for all of us. On top of that we would have had the cost of probably 3 or 4 tanks of fuel at about £70 each, and also any tolls on the French motorways. It still would have been less than half the price of flying out to the Dordogne.
  • Packing space – having your own car means you can pack a lot more than you would be able to on a plane. We’re lucky that our car has a massive boot, and if we need it we also have a roof box. It means we can fit an awful lot in when we go away.
  • Flexibility – with your own car you can stop when and where you want to break up the journey without needing to stick to the rigid schedule flights demand.
  • Familiarity – if you are travelling with young children then being in their own car with their usual car seats may make the journey easier for them. We took our own car seats on the flights this time but if we had hired seats with the car then I would have been worried about fitting them correctly and whether or not the boys would be comfortable.
  • Distance – as I’ve already mentioned, unless you live very near a port, then driving yourself is going to mean a lot time travelling on both sides, and may limit how far into Europe you can go.
  • Boredom – entertaining kids on a long car journey can be tricky (especially if like Toby they get travel sick playing on a tablet or watching a film) and you’ll probably need to stop a lot to keep the boredom at bay. With all the changes from car to airport to plane and back to car again the boys didn’t have time to get bored when we flew to France.
  • Breakdowns – it’s quite unlikely that a hire car would breakdown but if it does you should be recovered and given a replacement car. If your own car were to breakdown overseas then it would be a lot more hassle. With that in mind make sure you have European breakdown cover, and that your insurance covers you overseas too. It’s also worth getting your car serviced before you go – you could make that a bit cheaper by sourcing your own parts from somewhere like to make the most of the savings of self drive.

So having done both fly drive and self drive family holidays in Europe which would I choose next time? It’s difficult! I think, if I could book flights well in advance to get them cheaper, then flying definitely gives you more options in terms of destination, and it is quicker. But for the convenience of being able to take more of our own things, and to be more flexible with the journey I think I would choose to stay somewhere within a maximum of four or five hours of the Channel and drive ourselves.

Have you done fly drive or self drive family holidays in Europe? Which do you prefer?


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