Updated: Oct 19, 2020
The pursuit of slow, tranquil travel is not without its stressors.
International travel has its headaches and disorientation. Our family tries our best to be in the know as much as possible before we leave home, to alleviate some of the headaches in the more crucial moments of stress.
Last year, we spent a month in the French Alps. It was glorious. But planning without a travel agent to advise me? It was brutal. So many hours of research, so many decisions to make in the dark. But I learned so much!
Here's a little peek into the independent travel planning process, and the joys & frustrations of learning along the way.
Part 1: To Buy, or Not to Buy?
APRIL 2019. We are within a month of leaving for Europe for the summer, and we are planning to spend a month in the French Alps, exploring the region, which will take us into the Swiss and Italian Alps as well. Normally in the E.U., the border crossing is a piece of cake. But Switzerland offers a few challenges. For one, this country, like the U.K., has rejected using the Euro in favor of maintaining its own currency. Second, you must pay to use the Swiss motorways. We have tortured ourselves researching the Swiss motorway vignette and how it should affect our car rental. On top of this, the numerous reports online about the many driving complications when trying to leave the airport on the French side have begun to intimidate me.
Geneva Cointrin International Airport offers a bit of a challenge, as it sits on the border between France and Switzerland. You can rent a car on either side, but it seems you’ve got to get it right, as it affects which route you can take as you leave. If you rent on the Swiss side, it is more expensive (as everything seems to be in Switzerland), but it includes the motorway vignette. The vignette is the sticker that gives you the right to drive on Swiss motorways for up to a year.
In the end, we have chosen to rent from the French side and purchase our vignette separately. If it turns out it’s too complicated to enter Switzerland that day, it adds 25 minutes to our travel time to our French Alpine Airbnb. But it saves us about 250 Euro in car rental fees for the month. We shall see how it goes. I promise to report back with our findings!
Part 2: Buy it! Super easy!
MAY 2019. Well, that was easy peasy, and we certainly made the right decision. Thank goodness for navigation systems. The GPS in our rental car took us straight from the French side of the airport to the Swiss border, where I pulled over and bought the Swiss Vignette for 38 Swiss Francs. The border guard accepted my 40 Euro as payment, giving me 2 Swiss Francs as change. The vignette is now on our windshield, and we were able to breeze through the border, which allowed us to take a shortcut to our French AirBnB. There were two toll stops after this, but it was worth it to take the shortest driving route after a morning of air travel with three tired kiddos.
Part 3: Expect Delays on your Return
JUNE 2020. Oh. My. Heavens. Finally onboard the plane with a good stiff drink in hand. That was madness!! Our GPS simply would not recognize a French car rental return option, so we went round and round and round the airport. At one point I accidentally drove into the taxi queue, and you would have thought I had brought on WWIII. Oo-wee, were those taxi drivers mad! "Oui, oui, je comprends," I laughed, nearing hysteria, while they gestured wildly at me and yelled words I'm so glad I couldn't understand. I finally left the airport and wandered nearby country backroads until I stumbled upon a hotel and a brilliant idea came to me: Hotel concierge! They'll be able to tell me where to go! Bless that wonderful uniformed man who took the time to print out a map and highlight by hand the roads that would lead me to my poor over-worked rental car's rest.
So our final recommendations if you are flying into Geneve Cointrin as an independent traveler?
To the intrepid cross-cultural adventurers, we say: Save some money. Get your rental car through the French side, and purchase the Swiss Motorway Vignette separately. But be prepared for very poor signage and GPS capability for your return to the airport -- plan plenty of extra drive time to your final day.
Wonder why on earth anyone would go through that kind of hassle, but still want to travel independently? You might want to pay the higher price to pick up your car on the Swiss side.
The French Alps are glorious in spring and early summer.
Since it's between peak tourist seasons, it is so peaceful. Now's a great time to book! If you're feeling overwhelmed with your tranquil travel planning, give us a call. We are here to help.
Just a little advice from one wandering family to another. Happy travels - bonnes vacances!