Last September, in an attempt to ease the pain of a frantically busy start to a new school year, MrHSS and I decided Summer 2016 would be the time we took the plunge and embarked on our first big family holiday.
There’s a lot of pressure when you’re choosing a holiday. You’re spending precious time and money on – what you hope will be – the highlight of your year. You do not want to be disappointed. So, feeling the pressure, we got as far as agreeing on France then deferred to the power of Google, searched for ‘best places to holiday in France with children’, found a Guardian article and booked the first place on the list.
All without looking at a map.
A couple of days before our trip, we looked at the map, planned the journey and realised we were insane. Who on earth thinks a 12 hour drive (without stops) is a good plan with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old on board?
But actually, it was ok. In fact, so ok we would happily do it again. And just in case you should ever find yourself facing a 12-hour drive with preschoolers on board, here are the things which we found made the journey bearable.
- Take some home comforts with you, but not EVERYTHING.
This photo was actually from a couple of weeks before our big holiday, taken as we headed off for a weekend camping with friends. They all sent similar photos with poor children barely visible and there were a few debates about which child we should leave behind to fit all the STUFF in. After this I was quite apprehensive about how full the car would be for 2 weeks away and this was probably quite helpful as I was more considered in what we actually took with us.
So the boot was full but not to the roof, there were things under the Beans’ feet but not in-between them and we all had enough room to stretch out and stay comfortable.
2. Food. Lots of food.
Normally I do try really hard to give the Beans a healthy, balanced diet with limited sugar. Not on this journey. I packed a bag full of tasty treats and snacks – mini cookies, raisin packets, crisps, biscuits, breadsticks, brioche, variety packs of cereal, etc, etc, etc, – and reached for a snack whenever the Beans got restless. It was a very effective strategy. (I should also admit that I had a glove-box full of Haribo for the real emergency moments.)
Similar to the food. I collected some bits and pieces together in the weeks leading up to the journey – magazines, colouring books, stickers, audio books – so that I could produce something new when tempers started to fray. Luckily both the Beans seem to be pretty good travellers so we haven’t yet had to worry about car sickness (though I did take some tablets with us just in case!). The biggest hit was some scratch books (where you scratch off a black top-layer to reveal colours underneath) which I picked up in Aldi while doing the weekly shop – they came with us in the car everywhere we went for the whole two weeks.
4. Embrace the stops – relax the time pressures.
It was always going to be a long journey. 700 miles. With that in mind, we planned an overnight stop for the journey down and stayed at the theme park Futuroscope, meaning we could spend the next day at the theme park and then pop the kids into PJs at their bedtime and drive the final few hours while they slept. On the way home we didn’t plan such a big stop but made decisions as we went along about where looked a fun place to spend a little time (which is how we ended up in the centre of Paris hoping for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower). This worked really well and made the journey part of the adventure.
5. Flexiplus on the Eurotunnel.
This was key to the point above. We really didn’t know how long the journey would take, and were worried about tying ourselves to a fixed train time that would then be hugely stressful to keep to. We booked a fixed slot for the train to France as the journey to Folkestone was fairly predictable (and thus saved some money this way) but splashed out on Flexiplus for the way home. A Flexiplus ticket promises that you can turn up at any time in the next 12 months and get on the next train.
We certainly hoped this would be the case, particularly as we followed the Eurotunnel’s travel updates and Twitter feed in the days leading up to our return journey and read about long delays and people turning up a few minutes late for check-in having to wait hours to get on a train.
A car ON a train. This boy was in heaven.
Well, it did everything it promised. Feeling only slightly guilty, we sailed past the long queues to get to the special Flexiplus check-in, and then with a brief stop in the Flexiplus lounge (where you get a pretty decent sandwich meal included in the cost of the ticket), drove straight on to a train and were pulling away from the station less than 5 minutes later. If you’re planning on travelling at a busy time of year, I would definitely recommend it if you can stretch to it.
6. Car TVs.
Ok, I will own up. I have judged people for using these in the past. After all, my parents drove us all the way to Spain and back with only a Just William audio cassette for entertainment. We survived.
Ha. Now I actually am a parent, I can tell you that I would never do a long drive like this without them. I owe the friend who lent us them a HUGE favour. The Beans may have been slightly zombified but unlimited TV was enough of a novelty to make a 700 mile journey reasonably pleasant. Travel without them at your peril.
Sunglasses hiding any square eyes.
So who else made an epic journey for their holiday this summer? What tips do you have to share? I’d love to hear them for next time!