Being French, I have spent a fair share of my summers in the South of France – since I was 3 months old in fact. I am now married to an Englishman, live in England and have two children of my own, Esteban (4) and Alaïs (2). My family still have a property there so we regularly make the trip south. What’s not to love? Well, the car journey there perhaps…
We have always opted to drive down. Flying is an option; but the house is in the country and you need a car when you’re there to get around. What’s more, we just don’t fancy the costs of the hiring a car with all the baby/child seats. Nor do we relish the thought of checking in a pushchair at the airport and praying it won’t get thrown around / arrive last after the luggage. Plus, as we’ve discovered, driving down can be an adventure in itself.
Our journey comprises 1 ½ hours on the British side, then 4 hours to Paris (where we have a stopover at my parents) and onwards for some 8 hours to the South. I can completely understand why this could be considered hell by many, but, in a weird way, we look forward to it. It’s an opportunity to bond, talk and play with kids and truly mark the start of our holiday. Based on years of experience, here are a few things we do to help make the journey more bearable.
1. Travel at night
We tend to leave the UK mid-to-late afternoon; that way, the kids are still awake when we get to the tunnel. We choose Eurotunnel as it’s quick (half an hour crossing), cheap (if you book early) and not affected by the weather. Plus, the kids enjoy the excitement of ‘going in the train underwater’. We have a snack or picnic dinner whilst in the car and give the kids their warm milk from a Thermos bottle. We get the kids to travel in their pyjamas so that they are ready to transfer straight into bed when we get to Paris. (On that subject, JoJo Maman Bebe have a great alternative to the travel sleeping bags called Sleep Snugglers which are much easier with seat belts…). So, between milk, PJs and the dark night, we have as many as possible signs that it is night-time.
When we return to the UK after our trip we leave early as it generally means we can avoid heavy holiday traffic and the kids can get back to sleep for a long morning nap.
2. Break up the journey
By stopping overnight and breaking up the journey, everyone can have a rest. The driver(s) can recharge their batteries and the kids already enjoy something different from home. It’s a tactic we have used even before the kids came along whether we stopped in Paris or decided to go via a different route and stop overnight in Alsace for example. The journey becomes a holiday in itself: we have a ‘discovery’ part, where we go somewhere we haven’t been before, followed by relaxation by the pool once we are at our destination.
3. Get a bag of tricks
This is probably the biggest help on the journey to while away the hours and help divert attention until the next stop. I pack a bag full of snacks and toys. It includes their favourite toy and one or two they choose from home; a few books (the lift the flap ones are great); a couple of little cheap toys wrapped up as presents; and packets of raisins, dried apricots, carrot sticks, corn hoops, olives and so on. The olives and corn hoops can put on quite a finger show! As for the toys, how we get them out is also part of the ‘animation’ – we do requests, guess what the toy is, pick one at random. We invent stories for the toys – where they have been on holiday, what they did? It’s a great way to see what crazy imagination kids can have!
4. Use the views
This is the one which requires no planning. Most of the motorways in France have wonderful views. We spot cows, sheep, churches. We also spot cars with sausages on the roof (aka a roofbox). We look at people in the fields or in the cars and make up stories on what they are doing. Driving around is also a great way to start learning geography there are boards on the motorway to announce important landmarks and we also look at mountains and rivers. When Esteban is a little older, we’ll look at number plates and where they are from in France.
5. Stop and picnic
We always plan a picnic. There are plenty of locations in wooded areas on the edge of the motorways called aires where you can stop and find a quiet spot for lunch – they usually have a play area too. The picnic can be a subject of discussion and gets the kids to start thinking about what they want to eat. We sometimes come off the motorway to find a nice spot in the country by a vineyard, where we can do a spot of wine tasting and shopping.
6. Play music
This can be great fun too. We put the radio on and, if we particularly like a song, we play the air guitar or drums or even sing along or have a little dance. Alaïs is very good at dancing in the car – she practices every morning on the way to nursery! I’m not exactly a singer so there are only a few nursery songs that I know and we do a few of these at the absolute last resort for filling time.
All of this turns a car journey into family time with memories to remember. If you’re planning a trip to France this summer, I hope these tips help. Bonne chance!
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