Travelling with a toddler for 12 hours, you say. Are you mad? But we did. Before I reveal how we transported our toddler without a whisper of a tantrum to France recently, allow me to introduce you to our wee one through the medium of verse.
[Written soon after realising our little girl was shall we say, more spirited, than many of our friends’ ‘Angel’ or ‘Text Book’ babies.]
you’re the opposite of Angel Baby and unlike Angel Baby, who has slept through the night since six months, coos gently at family gatherings, is easily settled at nap time and is largely content in the car seat, pram, bouncer, if not, your arms. Enjoys most food, which is rarely lobbed on the floor. God forbid the room next door. Mothers of Angel Baby recount: I could have had five of you…
Enters mum of Spirited Baby who feels like she has had boisterous twins since birth the night of conception. Swears she’ll never do this to herself again. With cavernous half moons under her eyes and a visible twitch when either sleep or we’retrying for a sibling is uttered at baby groups.
Yet unlike Angel Baby your emotions are large and in charge. Spirited Baby, you surprise, intrigue and delight. Life would indeed be dull without you. No doubt you’ll be a leader of the free world or a paint-throwing trailblazer at PETA. You have so much personality, you have two of them. Yet your mother is lost in a weeping fog for she was once an Angel Baby and is now marooned without a torch or access to Google. She finds herself not in the same spirits but drinking spirits.
There are no answers, only grand parents.
Strength in Numbers is a Myth
And grand parents, both sets, were exactly who we took with us on our first-ever family holiday sixteen months ago. Although it was lovely to have the company and moral support, it was in fact no easier than our subsequent trip. So why was that? Our baby was now a toddler, and actually, holidaying with toddlers is arguably harder?
Yet for our family holiday this year, we thought we’d take our little pocket rocket, who has historically disliked car journeys, on a 12-hour road trip. GREAT plan, genius, who’s idea was that? But it was a good idea, it was! Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending, it all worked out, hence this post filled with insight, wisdom and if I’m honest, just plain luck. Oh, and thank goodness for stickers.
Ten Steps for Planning A Road Trip with Toddlers
Since we’ve returned, various fellow first-time parents, have said that our toddler-sized adventure has inspired them to make a similar trip with their small human(s).
These tips or steps are based on a road trip to Brittany and via a two-hour ferry crossing from Calais. In my subsequent post, I’ll explain why I think travelling by car and ferry works out to be much better for most toddlers, babies and parents!
Most of this is common sense and seasoned parents will know all of this already but for any first-time parents out there, this one’s for you.
Here are just a few things to help plan for your road trip to France with your lively toddler…
- Google Map Possible Locations: When deciding where to stay, you could just settle for Normandy. Or venture a little further south for slightly better weather and a wide choice of coastline. Brittany is a happy compromise. For us, driving from Norfolk, Brittany felt very achievable. Stay somewhere along the Northern Coast of Brittany – St Malo, Cancale, Dinan or Mount Saint Michel. This stretch of coast is around a 5hr drive from Calais. Aim for a total of 12 hours travel time.
- Plan Stop Offs: Once you know your route and estimated travelling time, research various possible stop-offs in the UK and France, for lunch, snacks and meltdowns. If you know there’s a particularly good service station or town en route you can relax a little. Or tie in a trip to an amusement or attraction.
- Plan Strategic Naptimes: If you’re still lucky enough to have naps (we’re hanging in there by the skin of our teeth) then try to coincide naptimes with your drive down to Dover and so that little one wakes once you’re on the ferry.
- Pay for Priority Boarding: Pay the £6 (each way) Priority Boarding on your P&O Crossing. It’s well worth it! We were waved through instantly and were the first off. No stress or waiting whatsoever.
- Make Good Use of the Soft Play: We sailed with P&O Ferries who have a Family Lounge and small soft play area on board. (I never thought this would be a source of excitement!) Once awake, allow toddler to stretch legs for the two hour crossing making full use of the said soft play area on the ferry.
- Consider a stop-over: If like us you have a spirited toddler who would rather be exploring than sitting in a car quietly for more than 11 minutes, break up your journey with an overnight stay in Normandy. Plus, it’s a sneaky way to convince your other half to have 9 nights away, instead of 7.
- Create new distractions: Buy a selection of small portable new toys: Baby rubber ducks, hand held puzzles, miniature airplane or ferry, paper crafts etc etc – see eBay for more. The novelty of new toys will be a good distraction in situations where you need them to be still
- Relinquish your inner earth mother to iPads: Save your soul, borrow a portable DVD player or take an iPad loaded with kids games for the trip. But only bring it out once you’ve exhausted all other options. You wanna keep this little beauty up your sleeve for when you need it most! And once the DVD player is wearing off, introduce a brand new movie or prgramme they’ve never seen before, ideally something extra magical and bearable for you too.
- Pack Meals and Snacks: It’s always good to take a couple of frozen home cooked meals packed in a cool bag or if you don’t have the time in the run-up, a good-quality toddler ready meal. Just in case you can’t find anything decent en-route. Take various sugar-free snacks. You don’t want any sugar highs to add to proceedings. We also took a carton of UHT milk in case we couldn’t find any milk en route.
- Pack Plenty of Stickers! A toddler’s dream. Allowing toddlers to stick them to an old magazine, their face, your face, your soul, will buy you over half an hour each sticker session.
I hope you enjoyed Part 1 – Top Tips when Travelling with Toddlers. The next post I’ll publish will be Part 2: Why Ferry is better than Flying for Toddlers.