Two years ago, we took a family road trip, our last term-time holiday before our eldest son started school. We travelled through France, Switzerland, and Germany for two weeks, with a four-year-old and two one-year-olds in the backseat. It was an incredible two weeks, and we made lots of memories that we still talk about now.
This week, we will embark on our second European road trip, this time through France, Germany, and Belgium. Our children are six and three; completely different stages than last time, and we are travelling during school holidays. We are so excited to spend two weeks together, but I have flutters of trepidation: will the kids be OK in the car for long periods? will the current European heatwave be too much for us? will their sibling arguments finally destroy my sanity?
When I feel nervous, I like to plan. Something about working through worries methodically, making lists and breaking down tasks appeals to the logical side of my brain. Planning makes me feel more in control – so here’s a list of the main things I’m considering at the moment!
We have had our Volkswagen Sharan for over three years now. I am grateful for it every day but even more so on long trips! It is spacious, so the children don’t feel crammed into their (rather large) car seats. It has a huge boot, so we don’t need to pack too light. Best of all, it has incredibly efficient air-conditioning.
I’ve just bought these seat-back organisers that we’ll be testing out on this trip. I hope it will help to limit the shouts of “Mummy! I need a drink/snack/toy!”
Last time, we drove from our home all the way to the Loire in one trip. Our youngest children were in nappies, and also a lot less vocal about their opinions, so we didn’t need to stop as many times. Even so, it was a long trip for us all and so this year we will break up our journey by stopping overnight in Reims. We are also planning in a few stops on the way down to Folkestone for the Eurotunnel.
We are stopping in the Jura region of France, in Germany near Frankfurt, and in Brussels (Belgium). There are a few things we’d like to see and do, but we haven’t planned much structure because we want to avoid overstimulation – for the kids and us! Having the car gives us the freedom to explore further afield than public transport would allow, and means we can arrive and leave when it suits us.
I’ve made some notes using Google Trips, which I really like for holiday-planning, and have borrowed some guidebooks from the library for ideas.
All five of us being in the close quarters of our car for the best part of two weeks definitely makes me feel nervous. Since our main long journeys are broken up into several shorter trips, I hope the children will be OK in the car. They each have a Kindle Fire loaded with films, TV episodes, and games; as well as headphones. We will take along some of our car games from Tiger, such as travel bingo. I am also bringing lots of snacks and drinks!
Last road trip, we took along a few books for bedtime stories and some small toys. This was enough to entertain the children at our accommodation since they often wanted to be outside exploring the surroundings. Our accommodations, booked through Airbnb, all have TVs and Wifi, which I am sure will help our technically-minded children.
Not forgetting the grown-ups, I will (rather optimistically) bring a couple of knitting projects for the car journeys, and I’ve already loaded up my iPad with ebooks!
Second on my list of top worries is that we won’t get along. Last time we had a particularly bad day when we had to pull over and move our eldest’s car seat to the back because he would not stop hitting his brother and sister. This year, they are all forward-facing so it’s a bit harder for them to reach each other, but we still have the back two seats available as an emergency measure!
I am usually the passenger, and I find breaking up sibling arguments very stressful, particularly when we’re travelling. I’m also nervous about being together for such a long time. I really value having time and space to myself, and I’m aware that may be difficult during our holiday!
Unlike the other things on this list, this one is not easily solved by planning and preparation. There’s not much I can do to prevent tension – either within the family or within myself. It helps to accept that holidays are not the havens of relaxation they were before we had children! We’ll try and encourage the kids to work together as a team, which worked well last time. We actually found that the more time we spent together without the distractions of work and daily life, the better the children got along. Here’s hoping the same will happen this year!