Crossing Continents

If the days of cheap air travel really are numbered, driving instead of flying down to that villa in the sun could become a lot more popular. John Kerswill weighs up the options and takes a look at what could be the ideal car for the trip

During this year’s summer holidays, it was hard to find return flights to popular Mediterranean destinations for less than £150 a head, even on budget airlines. Next year, any airlines still in business will be doing their best to get that figure a lot higher. Add in the cost of getting to and from the airport, parking while you’re away and a decent-sized hire car at the far end, and the transport bill for a family of four heading for, say, the Costa Blanca or the Algarve could be more like £1,500 than £1,000.

At that sort of price, the alternative of taking your own car starts to become attractive. And, unless things get an awful lot worse, there shouldn’t be much risk of getting stranded by a ferry company going bust.

I’ve just been looking at the cost of taking a car and a family of four from Dover to Calais at peak times next summer. To cross at 10.00 on Saturday 18 July 2009, returning a fortnight later, P&O is asking €187 (about £150 at current rates). That’s pretty much top whack: you can do it a lot more cheaply than that if you’re flexible on times, dates or crossings.

Let’s suppose you’re thinking of booking a villa on Spain’s Costa Blanca. According to, the distance from Calais to the popular resort of Jávea is 1,110 miles. The driving time is 16 hours 23 minutes (of which 15h35 is on motorways) and the cost in tolls is £78. If your car does 40mpg, fuel will cost something like £125. Add £100 for a hotel and you’re looking at around £300 each way, plus £150 for the ferry, making a total for the return trip of about £750. It would be less for a closer destination (especially if you could get away without an overnight stop).

Whether covering 500 or more miles a day is pleasure or purgatory depends a lot on how much you and your holiday companions like driving, but if the prospect doesn’t deter you, there’s a lot to be said for door to door transport. You can pack what you like, with no worries about whether your suitcase is overweight or your hand luggage oversized (I once bought a 5kg bag of oranges at the roadside in Spain when driving back: try getting that on a plane!) You avoid all the airport hassle and delay, you’re driving a familiar car while on holiday and, for many people, the ferry and the trip through France are an enjoyable and interesting part of the holiday.

At the very least, if your destination is within sensible driving distance, it’s worth thinking about taking your own car. But how enjoyable the trip is – and how much it costs – also depends a lot on what car you’re driving. I’ve just been trying one that I think could be pretty ideal.