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How to save money by taking the ferry on holiday

Conor Pope: There could be big savings when it comes to avoiding car hire at your destination and the cost of luggage

There are boats that take us from Ireland to the UK, France and Spain and while they do have disadvantages – choppy seas, endless hours staring out at nothing, fractious and bored children, sometimes awful food – they can work out a whole lot cheaper than flying, and are arguably less damaging to the environment.

It is not just the ticket for the journey that can work out cheaper for a family of four; there will be big savings when it comes to car hire on the other side, and the cost of luggage, as well as the added bonus of being able to load the car with cheap wine on the return journey.

But boating rather than flying does take time, so you will need to be zen-like about the journey and make plans. Bring food you like on the journey, have tablets loaded with games, films and TV programmes for children – and adults – to watch and keep games and books handy.

Unless you’re just crossing the Irish Sea, always book a cabin. It takes 17 hours to travel from Rosslare to Cherbourg – and 28 hours to go to Bilbao, so you’ll want to spend at least nine of those hours asleep in a bed rather than on a hard floor next to the bar.


Unless you have all the money in the world, don’t make a phone call at sea. We mean it. Just leave the phone down. We’ve all got used to using our phones abroad as we do at home thanks to the scrapping of roaming charges years ago, but they still apply to international waters and a short call home to the mammy to check on the dog will cost you an eye-watering sum. If the on-board wifi is patchy, don’t go near your phone.

Do your homework when it comes to driving overseas. Before setting off, call your insurance company to ensure you’ve all the necessary cover in place and make sure you have some class of roadside assistance for driving on the Continent – it might be an add-on with your existing policy, or there is always the AA. The very last place you want to be wondering if you have any cover for a motorway breakdown is when you have broken down on a French motorway at 10pm.

Make sure your car is stocked with everything it needs. The rules in France, for instance, are different from the rules at home and they can be strictly enforced. So you will need a reflective jacket for every passenger as well as a warning triangle. You will also need headlamp beam deflectors because right-hand drive cars are engineered differently to left hand ones. You should also have a breathalyser kit in the car and a spare set of bulbs for your lights. You can be fined up to €750 on the spot for breaching French traffic rules, which could put a big dent in your holiday spending.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor