Road Trip from Wales to a Festival in Belgium

by Martin
(Snowdonia, North Wales)

Driving Long Distances

Driving Long Distances

Driving Long Distances
Martin and Rachael

There was a festival calling our name in Belgium, Dunkfest. We live in Wales so it was a big adventure if we commited to it. Myself and my partner are used to driving long distances, so it was something we thought we could achieve in our little Fiat Panda.

The festival was in May and just 45 minutes west of Brussels. So whichever way we approached it we would be aiming for Brussels and just turning off before hand to make our way to this little festival. In total it would be a round trip of 1600km from our little village in North Wales to the festival in Belgium, from one beautiful part of the world to another.

First things first, if you want to travel from or to the United Kingdom you will need to go via the Euro Tunnel. This way we can take our own car for relatively cheap from the UK in to Europe and arrive in Calais, France. The dates of the festival were set in stone so we had plenty of notice and we planned to arrive in Calais via the Euro Tunnel the morning before the festival opened. Google Maps had suggested we would get there just 3.5 hours after arriving in Calais, perfect we thought!

We had to work out how long it would take us to get to Folkestone in southern England, where the tunnel departs and enters the mainland on the British Isles. Because of our early start the day of the festival, the only real choice would be to stay somewhere cheap the evening before to get a decent nights sleep. We had a 7 hour drive from home to Folkestone on British roads so we would have to leave before mid day as to not arrive too late for our stay.

We had booked our tickets for the Eurotunnel, it was about £130 return for our car and two passengers, if you are going with a group it will make it even cheaper. Our return was at 10am the day after the festival finishes, being only 3+ hours from the tunnel we booked it early and would just have a short sleep on the final night.

Preparing for our little adventure wasn't too hard. We had to get our camping equipment ready, a few changes of clothes, the weather looked great so shorts and t-shirts at the ready, sunscreen and a quick recce of where we can do a food and drink shop in the nearest town to the festival. We were very lucky with the festival being so small, it takes 2 minutes to walk from your tent to your car and you can exit within another minute, meaning if you needed to leave for something important, this wasn't a problem.

The most important things we would need for our trip was organising the paperwork and items we needed, both for the crossing and stay at the festival, preparing the car and making sure we had decent food for the long journey. First things first was to make sure our car was ready, we would check the oil, the water, tyres, and that our car was clean, a car hoover finished the job off and got our car interior ready for packing. This was a vital part of the process, once we'd packed we knew exactly what we had in our car and everything could be seen.

What things would we need to pack in the car?

  • Passports, we're travelling from the UK to France and then in to Belgium

  • Eurotunnel booking paperwork, this shows our outbound and return trips

  • Festival camping equipment

  • Clothing for 5 days

  • Washbag and microfibre towels

  • Cards and euros for when we arrive

  • Phone and solar chargers

  • Water

As well as these items one of the most important things we have ever done whilst travelling is to put on our phone well before our adventure and pin it with our locations of interest, in this instance we pinned the festival after downloading the Belgium and south England maps.

Once we had everything ready, we dropped our little dog off to get looked after during our time away and went on our way.

We have driven tens of thousands of miles across all parts of the UK so it was pretty self explanatory to get to Folkestone, we just had to divert some of the congestion around London and the South West of England as we headed to Folkestone. We got to our first destination around 9pm on the evening before our trip under the water. We had a decent sleep and woke up early at 6.30am to get some breakfast and get our 8.15am journey over the Euro Tunnel.

The experience of travelling from the UK to mainland Europe in your own car is quite exciting, you just have to turn up at your designated time and then queue for your slot on to the train. It's really simple, we just had to show our passports at two office buildings whilst sat in our car and then wait to get on our train at 8.15am. From what I remember, you have to make sure you are at the first office and checking-in at least 30minutes before our departure.

After a little wait we where on the train and straight across the English Channel. As soon as we were on, we were off again and in Calais, France. A rather unneverving yet exciting experience. Remember, drive on the right, not the left, drive on the right.

Once we were off and going, it was very straight forward, aim for the E40 for Dunkirk and then continue to follow for Brussels and just turn off when needed. We took it all in, it was a warm morning in May in France and Belgium and after an hour on the road we thought we should stop, for a toilet break and to top up the petrol. It's much cheaper in Belgium than it is in the UK for petrol so this was nice. When we stopped we came in to a couple of problems, we only had Euro's in note form and not coins so we couldn't actually use the toilet as you had to pay for them. The second problem was that the petrol pump had no attendee's nor could we find a pay point on the pump to use our card. Here in the UK we just put a card in to the same machine we use to pump petrol in to our car. After a few minutes wandering around, we found the machine at the end of the petrol pumps. You had to put your card in, select which pump you where going to use and then pay for it there and then. Once we had removed my card we could then use the pump we had parked next to.

We were back on the road, still needing the toilet but only an hour+ away from our destination. We were lucky with the traffic on our side of the road and for over 1.5 hours we watched the opposite side of the road in grid lock. This had warned us that we would be best leaving as early as we could when we return to the UK as to miss this traffic, the last thing we would want is to miss our return Eurotunnel trip.

Once at the festival, we set up, said hello to a few people, and headed straight back out for supplies. There was a small town just a 4 minute drive away which we used to get cash out from the ATM and buy water, some food and beer. This only took an hour and we had a lovely time watching people in this lovely little Belgium town and taking it all in.

After 4 days at the festival and a few trips out in to town to pick up supplies we headed back, this time we had changed our original plan from leaving at 5am early in the morning but instead left straight after the last band played at midnight. Yes we would arrive probably 4 hours early for our return train journey but it meant if there was trouble on the roads we would still make our booking.

Sometimes you have to make changes to bookings and your plan, when on a road trip and new adventure, unexpected things will arise, whether that be language barriers, how machines work in other countries or even driving on the other side of the road. They are all worth the journey as these are the small things that you'll never forget. As amazing as the festival was, even the journey there and back was a part of the adventure and we loved every second of it.

About Me

I'm an adventurer, I love the great outdoors and was brought up around the mountains in Cumrbia, England. I now live near Snowdonia in North Wales and myself and my partner are always organising the next adventure. We love driving up to the highlands of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides and all coastal and mountainous parts of the UK for diving and hiking. If it involves moving forward through a beautiful part of the world, we're up for it.

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Sep 27, 2017
I loved the vicarious trip!
by: Cat

Hi Martin,

Thank you for sharing your road trip story!

I've been watching old episodes of U.K.'s Top Gear and last year's debut of the new "Grand Tour" by, because I really enjoy the adventures and travel to places I've never visited before (for me, it's not about the cars). These two shows have given me a perspective of traveling in Europe I would not have had otherwise as I have never ventured beyond the North American continent.

So, when you tell your road trip story, I could imagine myself traveling with you..

Thank you for sharing your travel story and I wish you many more terrific adventures.

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