Getting there by car

The HFO Guide to Car Travel

So, you're the adventurous type who wants to drive to your ski resort. That's good - we've done it too, and we had a great time doing it. You'll have a blast, so long as you follow a few simple rules and keep your wits about you.

Last update: October 2015

Contents:

Be Prepared
On The Way
Take It Easy
When You Get There

The Usual Advice

The same reminders apply to road trips as they do to plane or rail ones - make sure you have your passport with you, don't forget anything (or anyone) and allow plenty of time to get to where you're going.

Can You Trust Your Car?

You might be fit enough for a skiing holiday, but is your car? If you break down, will you be able to cope? Do you have the insurance and breakdown cover you need? You might be a member of one of the big breakdown organisations, but are they going to come and help you if you break down in a different country?

Identification, please...

You might think it's really silly me raising the subject, but if you get to the border and find you've forgotten your passport, you're unlikely to get much further. Your passport is one of a number of things that come in very useful when travelling, so make a list of them all before you pack and check that you have them with you.

To labour the point still further, if you have got your passport with you but the person at the immigration desk at your destination notices that it expired last autumn, you're going to look really silly, aren't you? When does yours expire? Go and check it, right now.

And remember, it's got to be still valid when you come back to the UK as well - it's no good to you if it runs out half way through your trip.

Do You Know The Law?

Make sure you have all the required items for driving in the countries you're travelling through. It's not just common sense to carry them - in many countries it's the law and you can be fined for not carrying them. Your car should have, at the very least:

  • Headlight beam converters
  • A warning triangle
  • A high-vis jacket
  • A first aid kit
  • A GB sticker on the back of the car

Additional items are required in some countries. A couple of examples: since July 1st, 2012, if you're driving in France you must carry a breathalyser kit that's been approved by the Norme Francaise, or NF. A pack of two should cost you less than a tenner. In Spain, if you wear glasses for driving you must carry a spare pair in the car. Check what the requirements are for the individual countries you are driving through - there is lots of helpful advice on the web.

Driving in other countries is not like driving at home. Aside from obvious things like driving on the other side of the road, many countries have different rules of the road. Things like Priority to the right can catch you out if you don't know about them. In Switzerland, pedestrians have the priority right of way. The point here is simple: do your homework before you set off.

It's good to talk

In these days of dual-, tri- and quad-band mobile phones, it's worth arranging for international roaming with your service provider. If you're travelling with friends, having your mobiles with you is a good way to make sure you don't lose each other!

If you don't sort out an international package, make sure that you remember to turn data roaming off or you could end up with a very nasty surprise on your next bill.

Born Slippy

Do you have a set of snow chains for your car? You're going skiing. Ski resorts tend to have snow.

You may think we're stating the obvious here, but that simple concept doesn't seem to have occurred to some of the folks we've seen on the road up in the mountains. It's a wonder some of them are still alive.

Snow is slippery, and you're going to be driving through it. You'd be very foolish to set off without snow chains or snow tyres, but people still think it'll be okay if they don't bother and just take it slow. Trust us: it won't be okay. The HFO have seen the results on many occasions - whether it be the Ford Sierra that slid gracefully round a hairpin bend, sideways, until it was collected by the front of our coach in the Dolomites, the 2CV on its roof at the side of a road down from the Three Valleys, or the SUV at the bottom of a ravine on the way to Lake Tahoe. Don't take chances, and drive sensibly.

On a similar note, have an old blanket in the car you can put under the tyres if you need to get traction moving out of a parking space, ditch, or other inconvenient and slippery location you happen to find yourself in. A shovel for digging yourself out of a snowdrift might come in handy, too.

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Stay Alert

Driving to resorts in Europe can take quite a while. You need to be alert, and it's best if there are several of you to share the driving. The other person in the front seat should be a driver, and it helps if they know the route you've planned and the rules of the road so they can act as copilot, navigator and driving examiner. In a caring, supportive way, of course.

Remember your homework and follow those rules of the road you learned about.

Take Breaks

If you're the only driver, remember to take regular breaks. You should aim to stop every couple of hours and get some fresh air. There are usually plenty of rest stops where you can stretch your legs. If you're feeling sleepy, you shouldn't be driving. Let someone else take over, or stop and have a rest. Tiredness and driving don't mix - and you could wind up dead. Take a break.

If you're driving overnight, never let the driver be the only person in the car who is awake. Someone else should always be there to pay attention to what's going on. They shouldn't distract the driver, but they need to make sure he or she is awake and alert.

Keep an eye on how much fuel you've got left - don't leave it until you're running on fumes before you start looking for somewhere to fill up. We tended not to use the filling stations near the autoroutes but headed into a town on the way to refuel the car because prices were significantly cheaper. Towns are good places to do some refuelling of your own, too.

Chill Out

One tip that we find very helpful: don't have the car's heater on too high a setting - if it's a bit cooler inside, it helps you to stay on top of things and it keeps you awake.

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Remember You're On Holiday...

You're on holiday, so unwind a little. Ease off the gas and enjoy the scenery. If you're thinking of making up time by speeding, forget about it. Fines can be brutal and in Holland you may even have your car impounded. On most big routes there are radar speed traps and on toll roads you'll be timed from one booth to the next. Arrive before it's possible to get there by obeying the speed limit, and you'll regret it.

Slow down a bit. Chill! The temptation may be to press on and get to your final destination as quickly as possible, but we've found that some of the most memorable parts of the trip are those where you make an impromptu stop along the way to take a breather or grab something to eat.

Don't let all these warnings above put you off driving to your holiday, though. The great thing about car journeys is that by and large, you've nobody else's schedule to stick to. You're in control - you can stop when you want, perhaps take time out to go shopping on the way if you feel like it, and you get a much better view of the scenery than you do at thirty thousand feet. You're explorers! So long as you have several people to share the driving, it's fun to do.

And of course, it's easier to bring back a few bottles of wine when all you have to do is pop them in the boot of your car...

...But Don't Be An Idiot

We shouldn't have to say this, but: Don't Drink and Drive. Yes, you may be on holiday, but lay off the wine or those lovely local tipples until you get where you're going.

Nearly There

Eventually the road will start to rise and you'll see those lovely mountains in the distance. When you start seeing snow on the road, find somewhere to pull in and put those snow chains on.

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Stay Alert

When you arrive at your destination, remember that resorts are full of folks on holiday, and it's a fair bet that a proportion of them won't be paying attention to traffic, particularly if they've been indulging in a bit of apr├Ęs-ski. Drive carefully.

Park Up

Most resorts have dedicated parking areas. Some are kept well away from the resort itself and you'll transfer to your accommodation by shuttle bus, or even a sledge. Make sure you can carry your stuff if you need to do this. You may want to leave someone with the car to look after what's left if you need to take more than one trip.

Another simple tip: make a note of where you parked. You've got to find the thing in a week or so, and if you're going to be digging it out of a snowdrift, at least make sure it's your car you dig out.

You made it. Well done, and most important of all, have a great holiday!

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