Summer holidays are upon us and I am gearing up for my annual journey with the Littlins to visit family & friends across Europe. This usually means driving 365 miles (587 km) to The Netherlands and then an 800 mile (1288 km) journey on to Hungary. I as the stay-at-home-mum, I often drive the length on my own with the Littlins & the Other Half joins us part way through the holiday in our destination country, depending on his work commitments.
Over the years we’ve tried different tactics to ease this trip: strategising over travel times and days. A couple of general (common sense) tips that I consider in planning the drive:
- avoid the ring roads of major cities along the route (especially London’s M25) between 7 am and 9 am and 4pm and 7pm;
- a lot of European motorways ban lorries on the weekends, this does lower the congestion on the roads, but makes the rest stop place very full, often difficult to find a place to stop for a quick toilet break;
- it’s always worth checking when school holidays start in different countries, we’ve had friends stood on French motorways for hours on end, inching along, mostly due to sheer traffic, I have had to wait a couple of hours on the Hungarian border before as well;
- plan for nice places to stop for main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner (and then be flexible to change these plans)
- check the weather forecast– in the summer it’s no fun being stuck in the car in temperatures in excess of 30C. Even with air-conditioning and window shades it can get very unpleasant (as we found out last year). (In the winter, snow and frosts can make for a treacherous journey especially for us used to the relatively benign British roads.) Again it’s useful to have back up plans for detours- maybe opted for a longer slower route that takes you through forests.
My key consideration though, is always to try to fit around the routine of the Littlins. With this in mind I try to travel as much as possible when they would naturally sleep- during the afternoon nap time, evening and night. (The roads are also quieter then.) This gives me a relatively tiring, but peaceful drive. The Littlins wake up at the end of the trip and are ready for action… I go to sleep and grandparents take over, I’m not there to interfere, Littlins warm to grandparents quicker. Win-win-win all around. 😉
While both Littlins were in a buggy, I would leave Oxford at 8pm, transfer the sleeping children into buggy on the ferry, find a seat and have a nap myself, transfer them back into the car as we arrived and drive on. (The Eurotunnel would’ve been a great alternative, because you don’t have to get out at all, but it is also double the price of the ferry & gives less flexibility, so it hasn’t really been an option for us.)
Now, with the Littlins slightly older, we aim to leave home at 2-3 pm which coincides with Little Man’s nap time (Little Miss, now 4, has just dropped her afternoon nap). This gets us to Dover for about 6pm, which means we catch either the 6pm or the 8pm ferry depending on traffic. (We book annual multi-trip tickets with DFDS Seaways, formerly Norfolkline, these tickets are quite cheap and give great flexibility.)
On the ferry we go straight to the self-service restaurant and grab a warm meal. (I have to say the food here used to be really good, but the quality has slipped in the last year.)
After a quick meal we head over to the soft play area, where the Littlins have a run-around. When they are bored of this, as it’s not a big place, we have a wander around and maybe sit in the kids TV corner. In the summer, while it’s still light, it’s possible to go out onto the open deck. (Though this does freak me out- I’m too afraid of heights and the kids of course want to go to the edge. Yikes!)
The 2 hours is a perfect break! We get back into the car and drive on. The Littlins are generally asleep by the time we get onto the motorway from the port in Dunquerke and it’s a quiet drive through the bit of France, then Belgium and onto the Netherlands. All going well, I get us to my in-laws in the middle of the night, we transfer them bed and we all sleep like a log till the morning. (This bit we do several times a year.)
Some of my extra tips of things I’ve learned through the years:
- always have spare clothes, food and drink AT HAND
- if you are breastfeeding have at least 2 extra tops at hand (not in a bag in the boot) and triple the amount of breastpads.
- I believe even breastfed babies will benefit from having a bottle of water offered to them in the heat of summer. (I have added 3 hours to an already gruelling 12 hour trip, because the baby was crying- he was hot and bothered- and I had had a full let-down while looking for the next rest place and then not enough milk to satisfy him… I ended up begging for a coffee spoon from the café and spooning her water.)
- if you have a child who is easily car sick teach them to throw up in a container (a travel sick bucket) as soon as possible- – a little bucket with a muslin draped into it works very well. Little Miss mastered this at just over 2 years of age. (I have yet to figure out what not give to stop her being sick, there seems no specific foods or drinks that make it worse.)
- dress Littlins in comfy clothes with thin waistbands (so that doesn’t press). A number of thin layers is a good idea.
- last winter was the first time I had driven with the Littlins (then 3 years old and 16 months old) on my own in the daytime- being winter with sub zero temperatures, I did not want to risk night time driving. In anticipation, I’d invested in an in-car DVD player, (which I have only used a couple of times since). It was pretty good at keeping them occupied, but we did have to stop more often and each stop was minimum 30 minutes, which adds up on long journeys. I will have it with me in a couple of weeks’ time.
So then some the tricky bit: the 800 mile leg. In the past my strategy has been stay with in-laws for a couple of days to a week, sleep in the afternoon, then pack the car and head off at 7pm on a Saturday evening (no heat, no trucks, less traffic) and hope there are no roadworks to slow me down. In an ideal world I would have one 10 minute fuel stop and then only 1 stop for breakfast before arriving to the other set of grandparents by mid-morning before the heat hits and I wilt. However, we do not live in an ideal world- last year it was roadworks that added way too many hours, the year before it was Little Man not being comfortable in his car seat – I had put on a babygrow which had buttons on the back (dooh! How stupid can one get?!)
Hence this year I am considering different options- perhaps making the trip a 2-3 day trip and stopping at a couple of attractions, finding some pensions (B&Bs) along the way. Perhaps visiting some fairytale castles, which Germany has plenty of.
Just to complicate things ever so slightly more – another consideration I always have when planning the trip… I also have our dog, the Springer Spaniel, with us. (He looks after the car if I have to have a toilet break while the kids sleep.) 😉 … so if I have stop off, I have to think of what I do with him.
How do you do long drives with your Littlins? What are your tactics? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
(Feel free to post any of your related blog posts in the comments section)
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