Gadget tips for a spontaneous French road trip

Megan Thomas tells us about a holiday for the more adventurous and romantic, and shows how you can follow in her footsteps.

I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip from the UK to the South of France, and did it with absolutely no pre-planning except booking onto a ferry from Dover to Calais.

“Why?” may spring to mind – my answer is simply: these days, you don’t need to plan, provided you’ve got the right tools.

“How?” is hopefully your next question, because I’ve got the answers right here.

Legal requirement: get a driving kit for France
Amazon sells a driving kit, and this is roughly £25 you will never regret spending. Amazon does free UK deliveries, so there is absolutely no excuse not to have your Driving Kit packed in your car before you embark on your adventures.

I left on my adventures with only one breathalyser, and was informed by someone I met that if I didn’t have two, I would get fined. I got lucky, but I wouldn’t want anyone getting fined for something as minor as this seems to be (seeing as, hopefully, nobody will need to actually use them!)

Once you’ve made this purchase, it means that the pre-planning for a road trip is minimal and you can pack up and go – driving from Arras, to Lyon, to Montpellier was easy knowing that my car was well-prepared and within French laws.

Download MAPS.ME
One of my favourite additions to our technologically-infused society is the smartphone. With a car-phone-charger in tow, and preferably also a separate battery pack for charging, all your best travel plans can be kept on your phone.

MAPS.ME is what I’d describe as a hybrid between Trip Advisor and a GPS/SatNav. When you’re connected to the internet, you download maps of places you plan on visiting – the whole of France, for instance. This app saved me when I took a wrong turn, finding myself in the industrial area of Bordeaux with no internet access.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on internet access always being available – always have offline options available.

You can download MAPS.ME from the iPhone app store or the Android app store.

More on navigation
Good navigation is essential if you aren’t precisely planning your destinations before you leave – which I found to be is a perfectly viable option, provided you’ve got this app to make sure you are never in a situation where you don’t know where you are.

If you have a SatNav for your car, make sure it covers Europe as well as just the UK – some do, some don’t. Even if you wanted to buy a new SatNav specifically for your trip, they are fairly cheap these days: for example, Argos sells the “Garmin Drive 50LM 5 Inch Europe Lifetime Maps” for £88.99.

Use Airbnb to find places to stay
Airbnb – which can either be downloaded from the iPhone app store or Android app store, or used online at airbnb.com – offers holiday homes and rentals. I consider it to be the easiest, cheapest way to find accommodation that precisely suits your needs in no time at all. Better yet, it means you can stay in a homely environment.

Each day, once I had decided where I would be travelling to, I’d simply type my budget and city into Airbnb and explore the many amazing houses and apartments on offer in the towns I was visiting. Before the days of Airbnb, a lack of planning could mean a lack of options.

This the perfect medium for spontaneous travelling, because Airbnb monitors its users diligently and you are unlikely to go somewhere you haven’t researched reliably. I found myself in central Marseilles, overlooking the Opera, and within walking distance of some of the most delicious snails and mussels I’ve ever tasted.

With these steps in place, your only concern will be finding a delightful spot to order a cold drink and a fresh baguette. The best way to find an authentic place is to ask your Airbnb owner (the person who owns the property that you will be staying in). All the pre-planning and research in the world can never match up to a local’s knowledge!

Our planning notes for the more cautious

  • Take a second phone or tablet computer to use as a backup.
  • Take a spare charger, and a spare battery pack. (Even if you can’t replace the battery on your phone, like with an iPhone, you can plug your charger cable into the battery pack to get an extra charge.)
  • Also consider carrying a SatNav (making sure it covers France, or the area you will be driving in).
  • Take a paper map to use as a last resort.
  • Ensure your car is roadworthy before you go, and that it has been serviced, topped up with necessary fluids and oil, etc.
  • Check your car breakdown cover to ensure that it covers you while you are abroad.
  • Check your car insurance covers you to drive abroad.
  • Check your travel insurance covers you to drive abroad.

Further information to keep you safe and legal
You should review the following information before you leave home, to make sure you stay safe and legally compliant: