Eimear Hutchinson: We travelled abroad by boat 40 times... here's what I learned

Having undertaken around 40 ferry crossings over the past 12 years, EIMEAR HUTCHINSON is a seasoned traveller by boat. Here she shares some tips as people consider 2023 holiday options
Eimear Hutchinson: We travelled abroad by boat 40 times... here's what I learned

It’s the time of year when people are turning their attentions to travel abroad - booking holidays for the summertime. Picture: Stock

IF you were to believe your social media feed in January, it would appear that if you are not decluttering your house, going on a diet or booking your summer holiday, I don’t know what you else you could possibly be doing!

We are fortunate to have our summer holiday booked for this year, we booked it a few months ago, which is far earlier than we normally would, but I am thankful we did. When we went to book it, we weren’t able to get more than four beds on the boat and, assuming they hadn’t suddenly taken a dislike to transporting larger families, we soon realised that they were in fact the last four beds on the boat.

We are fresh off the boat from a Christmas excursion to England so now feels like the right time to impart some tips about travelling by sea. I know it’s early in the year to be giving such tips, but if you are still deciding on modes of transport for the summer, this might impart some useful information for travelling by boat.

On one hand, we are lucky enough to have reason to take the boat to England several times a year to visit family, but that also opens you up to experiencing all that the Irish Sea has to offer in terms of comfortable and not so comfortable crossings. I used to get seasick on almost every crossing we took to either France or England, but we have learned a lot over the years, so that now I rarely get sick unless it is under extreme circumstances.

Of the approximately 40 times we have travelled by boat over the last 12 years, we have only had two very bad crossings, both of those around Christmas time, but that’s not to say you can’t experience a rough sea at any time of the year. We take Stugeron travel tablets before every crossing and each wear a set of travel bands on our wrists, which we think seems to work for us.

We always book a cabin if we think the crossing will be bumpy. If you are going to France, you will have a cabin booked anyway as it is an overnight crossing. This gives you close proximity to your own toilet and beds because, in my experience, if you can lie down for the bumpy parts of the crossing, you will avoid the worst of the seasickness.

Standing up and walking around is the worst possible thing to do so avoid at all costs if you are prone to seasickness. Sitting also works if you have no cabin, we used the Stena service last Easter and I stayed rooted to my seat for the entire crossing.

Location on the boat is also key, being able to pick the location of your cabin depends on the company and the route, some let you choose, others don’t. Whether you have a cabin or you are just sitting, try and stick to the lowest deck you can and sit in the middle or towards the back of the boat.

Last Christmas, we came back on one of the worst crossings we ever experienced, we had booked a cabin but it turned out it was at the front of the boat on the top deck – I can assure you that is the worst possible location on the boat. I sat in the cinema (which was right in the middle of the boat) with two of the girls for that journey and we barely felt the movement, and elsewhere on the boat you literally couldn’t stand up without being thrown over.

If we think the crossing will be rough, we avoid a big meal just before boarding. We bring plenty of snacks and water on board for the short crossings so that we don’t need to buy much food onboard because, generally speaking, it can be poor quality and expensive. 

The longer boats to France are better in terms of quality of food, still expensive, but you are a captive audience.

As much as I dread the thought of getting seasick, going by boat is without doubt the most relaxing way to travel with children (and there’s a contradictory statement if I ever saw one!). It never feels rushed, everything about boarding and disembarking is relaxed, there is no standing around in long, busy queues or worrying about parking. One time the handbrake of the car literally snapped as we were handing over our boarding pass for the boat, we managed a bit of a quick (and stressful!) fix, but they held the ferry for us - they obviously felt bad for the children in the back seat crying at the thought of missing out on their holiday! But it’s a great example of how easy-going it is to travel by sea.

It does often mean a good deal of driving but you have to embrace it. We see that as a great opportunity to chat as a family and at quieter times it gives us all a chance to simply chill and think for a while, which is a great thing, given how busy our days usually are.

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