Car Wreck! Accidents & Safety on European Road Trip

June 29, 2010

car wreck european road trip accident in France on way to Ireland, dealing with disasters

We were absolutely stunned when we looked at the totaled car that hit us and the heavy damage to our motorhome that Friday in rural northern  France. During our open ended world tour as a family , we have traveled over 175,000 miles ( most overland)  in 32 countries and most of it has been spectacular, but as we get close to entering our 5th year of doing this extended European road trip, we have to admit that we  have also had a few disasters to deal with and we have yet to tell this particular story. One thing that we have learned is we can handle just about anything and we also seem to always have good luck even when we have bad luck. It often feels like we have guardian angels watching over us and helping us through the worst times.

This accident happened late in the day on the biggest holiday in France, their independence day in July, 2008.  We had just had a wonderful time at Puy du Fou and were heading for the ferry to Ireland that we would catch at Roscoff, France. Like most nomads, we have a really hard time keeping track of what day or time it is because  it rarely matters and we live an eternal summer kind of life.Thus, we had no idea that this was the biggest holiday in France or how it would affect us. Our mind was on our ferry adventure and getting to Ireland, not on Bastille Day.

We were headed to the coastal area to catch the ferry and it seemed like most of France was also headed to the coast for the holiday weekend. Late in the day, we ran into wall-to-wall traffic that was barely moving.  We had a tight time frame to catch our ferry that we had booked ahead the day before and I didn't think they did refunds if one missed the boat and it wasn't cheap to take this luxury  Brittany ferry from France to Cork Ireland.

Boom! We were sitting still in traffic when we heard the sound. Actually, it was quite a subtle sound and we didn't even know we had been hit at first. We had been rear-ended by the car behind us who apparently had been distracted so rammed into us. Little did we realize, but the bumper on our motorhome was made out of fiberglass, so not much of a protection. Even at the very slow pace the car had to be going, it created lots of damage and slid under our vehicle up to the wind shield.

We were aghast when we got out and looked at the damage and felt frightened and nauseous at first. Their car appeared totaled and ours also looked horrible with our muffler and  bumper  etc off and in the road. A big smash in the area where our stairs come down when we park and open the door to our camper. OMG. We didn't even know where to begin with dealing with an accident in a foreign land. Yes, we had read about such things before we began, but some how never thought we would have to deal with it or that we would be in such a state of shock when it happened. I wondered how we were going to tow away our very heavy motorhome, where we were going to get it fixed, how we would deal with the language barrier and what the consequences would be in missing our ferry.

The good news is no one was hurt in either vehicle. They were a French family with one older child too and luckily they spoke some English. We all stood at the side of the freeway and groaned and sighed a bit, each of us in shock. They knew the laws for such things in France and had extra insurance forms that we needed to fill French ( a language we hardly speak). We got their phone number and address, insurance company and took some pictures.

We explained that we were trying to get to the ferry. Luckily, he was a mechanic and he had some tools and wire in his trunk. He helped us temporarily hook up the bumper and part of the muffler so we could drive and we put part of the muffler and pieces on the floor of our motorhome inside.

We were headed to a country where we would have to drive on the "wrong" side of the road with a vehicle with it's steering wheel on the "wrong" side on tiny little roads , so already a challenge, thus this was the last thing that we needed, but it was ours to deal with, like it or not. After quite a bit of time handling all of these things, we both took off and we headed towards the ferry later than ever and still in a traffic jam.  Then to add insult to injury it started raining hard, but eventually, the traffic jam got better.  We were rushing as fast as we could with an injured vehicle in the rain and had no idea if we or our vehicle would make it. Ugh. 

rainbow as we approach Brittany ferry from France to Ireland

As we got close, it seemed like a little miracle. We were almost there, all still intact and the sun was starting to come out and we saw the most beautiful rainbow! It seemed like a positive sign to us. We had been trying to decide on where we would get our vehicle fixed and decided to go for the ferry, hoping it would make it on and off the ferry ( which can be a daunting task in perfect conditions) and find a place to fix it as soon as we got to Ireland, which was our first English speaking country in over  two years of travel. At least we'd be able to talk to the mechanic in our native tongue. 

Rainbow and road cross in Roscoff France 

rainbow near Brittany Ferry in Roscoff France on way to Cork Ireland 

We barely made it to the ferry and we were the very last vehicle to get on. The security officer seemed none to happy to see us, but we tried to explain why we were so late and after some checking, he let us on. What a relief and we enjoyed this luxury Brittany Ferry, especially after our trials that day, but we weren't out of the woods yet. 

Brittany Ferry between France & Ireland on our European road trip 

high fives on Brittany ferry cabin after car wreck in France on Europe road trip 

Our child watching sea on Brittany Ferry crossing from France to Ireland on luxury ferry 

kids fishing for toys on Brittany ferry in Jaccuzi near pool between Ireland & France road trip abroad
inside Brittany ferry where we parked our motorhome on way from France to Ireland 

For the first time in all of our travels we were searched for drugs when we landed in Ireland by a drug smelling dog at customs ( we have Netherlands plates which made them suspicious I guess) and they came right into our motorhome. Wow, a little invasive but kind of thrilling too since we are the last people on earth to do drugs.We'd been warned when we left Holland that some people would be prejudiced about drugs by our plates, but this was the first time we experienced it and we have taken a ton of ferries and cargo ships between countries as sometimes that is the best and cheapest way.

Before we even found a mechanic, we found we had to immediately change two badly gashed tires. Yowser! We had driving in the rain on those? Ugh. Luckily a very nice Irish local told us where we could get it done cheaply and not to call road service.

drug sniffing dog at customs in Ireland

customs at Ireland after Brittany ferry crossing from France drug sniffing dog 

Bad tires on our road trip in Europe

It took us over a year to fully handle this problem. It didn't help that we were Americans in a Dutch motorhome, who got rear-ended in France and first did a temporary fix in Ireland, then got an estimate in Germany where we found a Rimor specialist (that is the name of  our motorhome and we headed there because we lost a bathroom window in Norway in another incident later that summer and they had the only one in all of Europe) and we had to deal with it all while wintering in Spain where we finally fixed it.  The bureaucracy and multiple language problems didn't help, but we did eventually get it all handled and it certainly could have been much worse. 

If there is a will there is a way and life on the road is always an adventure! What travel disasters have you run into?

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Wow, what a story! I'm so glad you guys weren't hurt at all. We've never had any accidents while travelling, and I hope we never will.

The rainbow picture is gorgeous, and I'm jealous of that ferry ride. My twins and I are snuggled up on the bed together, and they were atracted by the pictures in your post, so I read them your story. I didn't think I'd have a conversation about drugs so soon with four year olds! My son also informed me that he MUST ride on that same ferry so he could swim in that pool.


Christina- Thanks! It is pretty scary to have an accident in a foreign land, so we were glad that it was not worse. You can not tell in that picture, but it all looked quite horrible at first so it was terribly shocking because the hit did not seem that bad. The bumper is really what made for the problem & his low car.

We've had a few magical rainbows on this trip and that one was so special. So hard to capture on film.

So glad your twins enjoyed it too and yes they will love the ferry rides and cargo ships too! I must do more posts about them as they are quite an adventure in themselves and many are quite fancy like this one so makes the long over night ride quite exciting.


I would agree, it's scary to have an accidents in the foreign land. I had the same story but I am grateful that no one get hurt to us and to you guys as well. Stay safe!

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