You know, I’m someone who just loves a road trip. I love the boredom. I love switching off and daydreaming, thinking of everything I don’t normally get time to think about on any given day. I love skim reading a landscape, drinking in an area from the comfort of my passenger seat before moving on to take in something new. My most epic road trips to date would have to be driving the circumference of Australia in a yellow Ford Falcon Estate (with sheepskin seat covers to boot) and driving Vancouver Canada to Sayulita Mexico with five others in an old 77 Bedford. We drove through Beverly Hills, a head out each window just like the Hillbilly’s, through Boulder and Death Valley and got chased out of a Mexican brothel (we had no idea it was a brothel, but thats a story for another time). Oh the adventures we had! The road trip I long to do one day is the Mongol Rally, London to Mongolia any which way, in any car with a 1.1 engine or lower.
So now here I am, a thirty something mama of two little people, getting an itch and wanting a road trip. So easing in gently we decide to drive down to our family home in the South of France. Brighton to Provence shouldn't be too bad, right? Well here is the lowdown on the hoedown with tips, do’s and possible dont’s. Please feel free to add any tips!
1. We held out as long as humanly possible to get screens put into the back of our car but this was the moment that we decided to bite the bullet and invest in some in car dvd players. I did this the night before we embarked. I’d probably suggest not to follow my unorganised lead here, as I only brought three dvd’s along and they were on rotation pretty much throughout. Had I been a bit more organised I’d have taken a library of Disney to keep them both amused. But that besides the DVD players were super handy and an absolute must for any long journey.
2. We were told by friends to get a cabin on the ferry crossing and I’m so pleased we did. Our crossing was not overnight, just four hours Newhaven to Dieppe but the cabin cost £35 each way and it was a brilliant having a contained base, being able to de-camp for the journey. Next time we would most certainly do an over night ferry. The cabin (4 berth) wasn't as cramped as you might imagine, had a shower and loo and was spotless. Ours had the most amazing views of the ocean also.
3. Whilst on the road with kids in tow be prepared to stop often, like every 1.5-2 hours. For a pit stop, something to eat, a wee, a change of nappy, a stretch of the legs, a play, before mega meltdown ensues. This will add a fair amount of time to your journey so with that in mind plan your journey accordingly by adding 3-4 hours per day just for stops. We decided to drive the 890 miles from home in the UK to home in Provence over three days, with two overnight stops along the way, instead of the usual 1or 2 days.
4. I packed a bag of favourite toys that only came out when the chips were down. It kept things calm for another hour or so.
5. Don’t underestimate cities, and what they have to offer small children. We stayed the first night in a Small Luxury Hotel of The World in Paris, designed by Christian Lacroix, and the kids loved it. All the staff and other residents made such a fuss of them both, they had round the clock attention and visual stimulation, which they revelled in. So did they love seeing the Eiffel Tower, aptly as it is often featured in one of their favourite cartoons. A cliche yes, but there was something quite special in sharing the simple highlights of a city I adore. Don't overdo it though. Little soundbites work best with the littles.
5. Camping is always a good option. Our second night we camped and it was just as awesome as the luxury hotel the night before. We de-camped in a forrest in Bordeaux. It was brilliant. My eldest Ned soon found some friends to hang with and my 11 month old baby Alf still slept as sound as a pound with forrest noises around us.
To summarise, I would probably say it wasn't as easy as flying, but my boys surpassed all my expectations in their patience and enjoyment of the experience. Having said that, would I do it again? I hesitate... Yes I would, but in retrospect I’d make even more of the journey, stopping often and letting the children soak up their new temporary environment instead of concentrating on reaching the destination. We've been toying with the idea of getting a camper van, but there was a moment when we were driving on the autoroute in torrential rain, our youngest had been screaming blue murder for a good hour (we'd tried everything, but he basically just wanted to step off the bus), that my husband and I just looked at each other and said pretty much at exactly the same time, "lets forget about a camper van for now", and "maybe next time we should just fly".