When it comes to planning a long distance road trip to France with a toddler, here’s what you need to weigh up: do you a) drive through the night so they sleep the majority of the way, but leave yourself exhausted or b) drive through the day but risk meltdowns, a serious amount of whining, hunger rage, travel sickness and having to entertain them the entire way…leaving yourself exhausted.
If you’re considering a long distance road trip with kids here are my tips and tricks to make the journey a teeny tiny bit easier…
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An overnight drive only really applies if you’re going a really long way, Bristol to Hossegor in France in our case. On the plus side, your children will most likely have been training you up ever since they were born – drilling you through endless sleepless nights to make sure you are totally prepared for a 15-hour overnight drive such as this. If you attempt the same drive in the day, you face many many hours of non-stop child pacifying, which could be said, is harder than a night of sleep deprivation. When placed in the car in the evening however, few little monkeys can resist the lull of the engine, so they’ll hopefully drop off to sleep around their normal bedtime. You’ll most likely have empty roads driving at night, just be sure to swap drivers and catch some zzzs in the passenger seat.
Nap when your partner is driving
Once your toddler is asleep, maximise your snoozes as you’ll need to be as refreshed and as alert as possible. You’ll also feel a LOT better the next day, when come 5am the bairns are wide awake. If you’re driving in Europe, the péages can be a right pain if you’re driving in a UK car, as the passenger (not the driver) has to wind down the window and pay – often just as you’re dropping off – so try and snatch sleep when you can get it.
Bring their PJs
You won’t be able to do the full bedtime routine, but you can do bits of it to let them know it’s time for sleep. Take their PJs, their fave cuddly toy, a book and a travel sleeping bag (great as you can keep them strapped in and snuggly) then let the motion of the car do the rest!
Put them in a nappy
This might go against the potty-training rules, but if you spend any amount of time crawling in motorway traffic, it’s great for emergencies. Adult ones included…
Sit in the back if you’re travelling with a newborn
There has been more than one occasion where I’ve needed to try and breastfeed a screaming baby on a car journey with both of us strapped into our seats. The verdict, it’s bloody tricky. It’s significantly harder to do so if you also have a toddler in a car seat and have to try and wedge yourself between the two while attempting a canny boob feed. If you can, pull over and do it a bit more comfortably – although be prepared, this may take a while if they’re super miniature. Sitting in the back may also save you several hours craning your neck back to meet toddler demands or sitting at an awkward angle when they insist on holding your hand.
Choose your ferry crossing wisely
The ferry crossing from Dover to Calais is the quickest and cheapest and if you choose a ‘Flexi’ ticket, you can jump on another ferry should you be earlier or later than the original booking. There are plenty of other crossings from Portsmouth, Poole etc but these tend to be much longer, more expensive and often overnight, meaning you still have the issue of entertaining a toddler for a day’s drive once you dock.
Pay extra for a convenient crossing time
Going by ferry can be significantly easier than flying with young kids. There’s no limit on fluids, no having to remove shoes, belts and extra layers, no x-rays or waiting for luggage to appear, no limit on using electronic devices and of course if you’re held up en route you can normally jump on the next boat. Plus the ferry makes the perfect wear-out zone for little legs – restaurants, family areas, a shop stocked with Peppa and lots of fresh air out on deck. However, having to wake up your toddler to sleep on the floor under bright lights on a 02.40am crossing should be avoided at all costs – definitely worth forking out for more comfort, especially if you’ve been travelling all day.
Plan what you’ll need for the car journey and pack it separately
Pack bottles of milk, changes of clothes (for you and all the miniature humans), PLENTY of wipes and nappies separately from your main luggage. Put together a ‘ferry bag’ in advance filled with things to entertain your toddler – stickers, snacks, Playdoh, books etc – and treat them to a couple of new things to keep interest high. Take food and drinks that you may want on your journey in a cool bag and be aware that the ferry restaurants will not heat up any baby food you bring on board. You can always stock up on more along the way, but you might not want to stop too soon if you’re on a roll!
Snacks are your friend
Healthy, unhealthy, whatever. Snacks are worth their weight in gold on long drives with toddlers. Ella’s pouches are always a winner.
Pack light, but not too light
You have the car so make the most of it. Buying everything brand new when you get to your end destination can be expensive, so if you’re camping or staying in self-catering accommodation, load up with salt, pepper, toilet roll, tea, coffee, toys – things that will make your life easier when you arrive and save you an immediate trip to the supermarket.
Check if you can check-in early
Most places don’t allow you to check in until the afternoon, but if you arrive well in advance, it’s worth finding out if your accommodation could be ready early – they might take pity on you if they realise you’ve driven all night with a cheeky and unpredictable toddler!
Take an electronic device
I cannot stress this enough, no matter what your pre-parenting views once were, get an iPad, download as many child-friendly movies, Peppa Pig episodes, CBeebies series, Spotify playlists, Disney albums and toddler-friendly apps as you can – it will buy you hours of childcare.
Make sure you have a SatNav
Unless you want to end up separating from your partner. SatNavs make life so much easier, reduce arguments between couples and of course, you can keep driving while your partner sleeps without having to wake them to navigate.
Give the kiddos what they want
Within reason of course, but if your child has been particularly well-behaved, suffered hours in the car with little but your singing to entertain them and the promise of freedom at some incomprehensible future date, then just buy them that teddy they grow deeply attached to in the service station.
Remember it’ll all be totally worth it
Think of those beaches…the glorious mountain views…the heat…the snow, the food, the holiday awaiting you at the end of the drive.
Don’t give them ice cream before the drive
They will go bat bonkers wild. For several hours.
Plan in extra time so if it all goes wrong, you’ve got time to play with
If you’re crawling in traffic, the kids are screaming, needing to feed, weeing, sh**ting, leaking or projectile vomiting and you’ve lost the will to live, then find somewhere to pull over, eat, let them run around and give you a chance to get your sanity back. Factor in extra time by booking a hotel room the night before a ferry, or planning stops on the journey and it’ll help take some of the stress out of the situation.
What did you find worked for you? I’d love to hear your tips!
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