Travelling with Kids to the Continent – Air Travel vs Ferry Crossing

As anyone with kids will know, travelling as a family treads that very fine line between bliss and misery. And the worst part is that you never really know when, where or why it might swing from one extreme to the other. The simple fact of the matter is that kids and long journeys have never made the best of bedfellows. In turn, you find yourself walking on eggshells for much of the journey, hoping and praying it passes without incident.

Logically speaking therefore, you’d assume that the quicker you could get the journey over and done with, the better. Get to your destination as fast as you can, minimise tantrums and basically get your holiday off to the perfect start. Which is the rationale that leads the majority of parents to make a beeline for the endless low-cost airlines serving the continent right now. Fast, cheap and readily available – the total package for frugal family fun.


Or so you’d think…but what about ferry travel? Given its perceived status as somewhat slow and old-fashioned (they are certainly not anymore!), are there any real benefits to loading up the car and heading to the continent by cross-channel ferry?

In a word…YES – especially with young kids in-tow!

The Reality of Air Travel

On the surface, the prospect of heading to France with the kids by plane comes across as easy. Given the fact that you might be looking at a flight time of less than an hour, a trip to the continent might well be quicker than driving to your closest seaside town. Or so you’d think, but the reality of air travel is often quite different than expected. Again, this counts double when kids are brought along for the ride, not necessarily adding up to the ideal start to your trip.

Sure, the flight itself is short, but what about actually getting to the airport? And once you’re there, how about the two hours or so of hanging around before being allowed to board? Not to mention the rigorous and stressful safety and security checks, along with endless queuing and overpriced amenities.

Flights to France can also be cheap in themselves, but what about the rest of the costs to take into account? Transport to the airport is rarely a cheap affair – the same also going for the extortionate airport parking fees. Refreshments along the way can pack a heavy price, transfers to your final destination from your arrival airport don’t come cheap and nor does car hire…should you be looking to do a little exploration.

Last but not least, the fact that you’re so restricted when it comes to what you can and cannot pack for air travel can really make it difficult to ensure you and the kids are well-stocked for your holiday. On the whole, it doesn’t add up to the best way of kicking things off.

The Beauty of Boats

Which is where the unique charms of ferry travel begin to shine through. Old-fashioned it may be considered and slower than jet aircraft they certainly are. But at the same time, ferry travel can offer so much more for any family with an interest in preserving family harmony for the duration of the journey.

Or at least, standing a much better chance of doing so!

Think about it:

Time Well Spent

When you factor in things like airport transfers, the time you spend hanging around and the fact that flights are so frequently delayed these days, you might find it is actually quicker to travel by ferry. This of course depends on where you’re travelling from and to, but it’s worth remembering that a one-hour flight in most cases can mean a total journey time of three to four hours. And given the fact that most of this time you’re standing in queues and basically doing nothing of interest…well, who can blame kids for having the odd tantrum here and there?

Under Pressure

It’s also worth remembering the fact that so many kids suffer quite badly due to the changes in air pressure when flying. This is particularly so in the case of younger children, for whom both take-off and landing can be a painful experience. By contrast, the gentle hum of the engines and rocking of the waves is enough to help any kid (or adult for that matter) drift off into a world of blissful relaxation.

Fun and Games

As all parents will be very much aware, there’s no better catalyst in the world for kiddy upset and all-out tantrums than boredom. Run the risk of providing your kids with nothing interesting to do for more than a few minutes while travelling and the consequences could be severe! Which is precisely why long, boring and complicated air travel doesn’t usually bode well with those with shorter attention spans. You can throw an iPad or Smartphone their way, but they’ll soon get bored of sitting still and staring at the screen. On a cross-channel ferry however, you’re blessed with access to the kinds of amenities you’d expect to find in an upmarket shopping mall and entertainment complex. From cinemas to discos to arcades and so much more, boredom simply isn’t an option.

Connected Kids

If your kids are hopelessly addicted to the Internet…lord knows most are…you might like to know that cross-channel ferries offer free Wi-Fi as standard. You might prefer them to stay off social media for at least a little while during the trip, but whatever it takes to keep the peace, it’s worth considering!

Bonus Baggage

Another huge bonus of taking the ferry is the way in which you are technically free to pack absolutely anything and everything you like…within sensible reason, of course! Assuming you are travelling with the car, pretty much anything you can stuff in there is fair game and included in the price. Room for the family bikes? Throw them in as well and you have yourself the perfect recipe for exploration and adventure. There’s no such thing as having too much baggage on hand when you’re taking care of kids – precisely why ferries can be a godsend.

Transport Troubles

And of course, what could be better than arriving at your chosen destination with your own car ready and waiting to transport you wherever you need to be? Car hire is expensive and driving a strange car in a foreign country can be stressful. Travel by ferry and you get to avoid all such hassle in one fell swoop!

Deals and Discounts

It’s also worth remembering that the UK’s low-cost airlines aren’t the only travel companies that offer outstanding deals, discounts and special travel packages, throughout the year. Trying to find so much as a single affordable flight during the peak season can be borderline impossible – unless you book months in advance. With ferry travel on the other hand, it is much easier to score the kinds of affordable deals that make hitting the continent with the kids a realistic possibility at any time. Brittany Ferries regularly run special deals on ferries and holidays to France and Spain – they also summarise perfectly the advantages of ferry travel with children in this graphic:

Ferry to France vs Plane

Image source: Brittany Ferries – Ferry VS Plane to France