Driving Dad is all about driving from our home in London to the rest of Europe; something that would be significantly more difficult without the existence of the Eurotunnel. Many people associate travel from London to the rest of Europe with low budget flights, not road trips. And often when I am in America, we get puzzled looks when we explain we are driving to, for instance, France for the weekend. That said, I have spoken to many people in Europe, including people in London, who don’t really understand how the Eurotunnel works. Fair enough…before Driving Dad became a European driving sensation featured in the Wall Street Journal (yes, shameless self-promotion) and before having three kids, I never really contemplated using the Eurotunnel. Most people incorrectly assume we take a car ferry across the English Channel or ship our car across on a train and then take the Eurostar, picking up our car on the other side of the Channel. So below I have prepared a basic Eurotunnel tutorial, with pictures for those of you too lazy to read my blog.
To begin, I must admit that I have a mixed relationship with the Eurotunnel. Kind of like the family dog that every once in a while chews up your favourite shoes: temporary frustration, but long-term love. When things are running smoothly, which admittedly has been most of the time in my experience, I am the Eurotunnel’s biggest fan. That said, we tend to travel at high peak times such as school holidays, when delays are inevitable. But unlike with the airlines, I find it difficult to get too upset with Eurotunnel about the rare delay. First of all it’s confusing…who do you blame? The French? I feel like they get unfairly blamed for too much already. The English?…probably easier to just blame the French, right. My kids, on the other hand, welcome with joy any delay, as that typically means we have time to get Burger King at the Eurotunnel terminal (don’t judge me please).
Step 1 – Check in: You arrive in at the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone from the M20 motorway and follow the road to a row of tollbooth-style check-in lines. You pull up to the booth, insert the credit card (with which you bought your tickets) into the machine and your reservation appears on the screen. NOTE: You can also buy tickets upon arrival, but good luck doing that on the Thursday evening before Easter break. You confirm your identity on the screen (your license plate is also scanned to confirm identity) and out comes a ticket with a letter that denotes your boarding group. A boarding schedule is then shown on the large departure screens located in the parking area and in the terminal itself, just like in a train station or airport…simple so far. My favourite part of checking in is what I call the Eurotunnel lottery…i.e., the opportunity Eurotunnel gives you, if you have arrived significantly in advance of your departure, to get on an earlier train. That’s right, no additional fees, no hassle, just a message that pops up on the screen asking if you want an earlier departure…”ummmm, yes I do, thanks.” This is virtually unheard of with airline travel. Can you imagine Ryanair saying “Well since you are here early, we will be happy to put you on the earlier flight, at no charge.” Michael O’Leary would have a heart attack if he heard an employee utter that sentence. My love for Eurotunnel is greatest when this happens and the memory of any previous train delays are completely erased from my mind.
Step 2 – Immigration: similar to the Eurostar, you go through both UK and French immigration in the United Kingdom, so once you arrive in Calais, you drive off the train after the 35 minute journey and are on your way (thanks France!). The immigration process is set up similar to the check-in, with an immigration officer in a booth. Pre-registering your passengers and passports online greatly speeds up this process. On the last few crossings our family has also been required to go through an advanced car inspection, no doubt fulfilling some internal quota requiring the search of people least likely to be involved in international criminal activities. To be fair though, my youngest son is fairly devious and may have criminal tendencies – Me: “What’s in your mouth.” Huxley “Nothing.” Me: “What’s in your mouth?” Huxley: “Nothing.” Me: “WHAT IS IN YOUR MOUTH!?!” Huxley “Legos” *spits legos into my hand. Also, the last time we used Eurotunnel, our car was searched by a drug sniffing dog. I can’t fault the Eurotunnel employee for thinking that somebody travelling for hours in a car with three young boys could (or should) be in possession of narcotics. As it turned out, the drug inspection was the highlight of the entire road trip for Huxley. I can report that the dog conducted his inspection with absolute professionalism and was completely unperturbed by Huxley tearing at his car seat straps screaming “dog, dog…LET ME PET IT!”
Step 3 – Boarding the train: This is where things really get fun. Once the departures screen indicates that your group is boarding, you make your way to the train in your car, following signs “to France” (nice touch). The train has two levels…yes two levels. A car-train equivalent of a double decker bus; and who doesn’t love a double decker bus. One of the games we play is to guess whether we will be on the top level or the bottom level. This is a highlight (yes…a highlight) of our Eurotunnel crossing, despite the fact that the kids that chose incorrectly typically wind up in tears resulting from the subsequent taunting and teasing. Does this stop us from playing this game every single trip we take? No, of course not…that would be too sensible. Once on the train, the cars are usually parked bumper to bumper with automatic doors partitioning off the individual carriages. In a couple of rare instances, we have been the only car in the carriage, at which point we break out the football and start an intra-family match right in the carriage. So we have driven a car onto a train – that is speeding under the English Channel – while we are playing football – and the kids having an incredible time. Seriously, who needs Disney World when you can ride on the Eurotunnel train.
And there you have it. Is there anybody left who would actually want to fly to the Continent from London? If so, it would be great if you could take my three kids…and I will meet you there. Beep beep!