We have undertaken MANY a road trip in our lifetime. Whether it be through France and Italy or Croatia and Bulgaria in Europe or whether we hop footed up to Monkey Mia in Western Australia, road trips seem to be in our blood.
Our most extensive road trip however we nicknamed #31days10countries and it took us around western and eastern Europe in 2016.
Road trip baby!!
In July 2016 we packed up our car and started out on a journey that would see us clock up 7,200km! Yes you read that correctly. Seven THOUSAND kilometres. Looking back even I cannot comprehend that distance now – especially as we knew our car was literally on its last legs!
This was our route. We started in Lyon, France and headed through Luxembourg and Germany up to Denmark where we crossed into Norway. From Sweden we got a ferry back down to Germany and from there we drove to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and then back to France.
Due to bad traffic jams in Hungary we actually drove back through Croatia too but as we didn’t stop we didn’t count it in our list.
We’d never undertaken a road trip quite as enthusiastic as this before. Sure we’d loaded up our trailer in Australia and driven 8 hours but that was meagre in comparison to this where we were driving sometimes up to 8 hours a day!
Let us tell you how we prepared for our trip!
Research! Research! Research!
I’ve made that sound dull haven’t I? It really doesn’t have to be though, in fact I find it really exciting.
- Make research fun by creating wish lists, collecting blogs, make pinterest boards, save links, print things out and keep a ring-file, use your phone to make notes and lists and carry a notepad and pencil around with you. If you’re interested in my Bloglovin‘ collection, Pinterest board or AirBNB wish list please click the links. I am constantly writing, scribbling notes and saving links. Making lists is how I cope.
- Plan your (road trip) route and triangulate! By triangulate I mean, use GPS, download Google maps offline on your phone AND have a road map to hand. This way you can never get lost. It sounds excessive but when you’re sticking to a hefty route and a narrow timescale, it can make all the difference getting lost and losing 30 minutes of your time.
- Cost is a huge factor in any holiday so use an online tool like Numbeo to work out how much a loaf of bread, a beer and a litre of petrol will cost. It’s a great tool for considering where your money will be spent.
- Read up on driving laws in the countries you’ll be visiting. For example in Slovakia you must always drive with your lights on and in Norway the drink drive limit is 20mg per 100ml of blood – a quarter of the level in the UK. In every continental-European country you must carry a warning triangle in the boot/trunk of your car in case of breakdown.
- We love HappyCow the app for planning where we can eat out and whether there are vegan friendly markets in the locality.
If you’re a young and adventurous, free-spirited couple with no real plans (really I’m not jealous) then this isn’t going to suit your road trip, however for us it was really important that we budgeted for our holiday upfront, knew what we had left to spend and knew where we were going.
Knowing where we were going, enabled us to plan some of our days and have lots of discussions with our kids as to our expectations.
There are loads of online booking portals, some of our favourites are:
Use TripIT to log bookings
There’s nothing more enfuriating than booking something, loosing it and remembering later when it’s too late to either turn up or get a refund.
TripIT is our number one phone app that organises all of our travels in easy to use folders. We can see where we’re expected to be, what ferries we’ve book, what houses we’re supposed to be staying in and never forget another detail again!
Insurance and Breakdown
A chunk of our budget went on European breakdown. Can you imagine anything worse on a road trip than breaking down with a car packed to the girders and 3 grumpy kids in a country where you don’t speak the lingo? Nope.
Neither can I! That’s why we forked out and got ourselves covered. In the end we didn’t use it however it was comforting to know that we could have done.
When travelling abroad, you also need to keep a copy of your insurance, break down and your licence in your car. You can be stop fined for not having these to hand. Make sure your insurance will cover you for leaving the amount of time you want to. We had to keep our travels inside 32 days otherwise we’d face an extra payment – although I have since found several insurance companies that will cover between 90-350 days.
Plan for what might go wrong
This is not pessimistic, it is realistic. Cars do go wrong and sometimes with little warning.
It’s unlikely that your car will be swallowed whole by a big hole however planning for what might go wrong could end up saving your arse!
We left with the full knowledge that our car had a broken head gasket. We took a measured risk (we couldn’t afford to get it fixed, we couldn’t afford a new car and we didn’t want to give up our holiday) and prepared for what could go wrong.
Now, I am not suggesting that you pack the kitchen sink but here are some essentials that we packed:
- Spare phone charger and cables. We kept it hidden in a glove box so it didn’t get lost (aka stolen by the teenager!)
- A box with essential car tools: Screwdrivers, allen keys, a wrench, cloths, all-in-one battery charger, a bottle of coolant, windscreen cleaner and jump leads!
- Toilet rolls.
- A bottle of water.
- A translator app that worked offline.
Basic car maintenance
It’s kind of essential that when you’re talking about spending 30+ days in a car that not only is your car in a good condition (laughable with ours) but that you also know a little bit about car maintenance.
- Make sure your tyres have enough tread and if not, change them in the months preceding you trip.
- Can you test how much oil your car has in it? Do you know what to do if your oil is testing thick and black?
- If your battery dies do you know how to connect it to jump leads?
- Is your spare tyre in good condition and can you change it?
- If your coolant overflows, do you know what to do?
As a female often travelling alone with three kids, Emma has made car maintenance an importance by learning how to change tyres, test oil, jump-start the battery etc. It can save a lot of time and money if you learn how and it really isn’t very complex.
Taking food will save money
We actually took one large plastic box of dried foods like rice, couscous, lentils & pasta, a box of herbs & spices and a cool-bag of fresh food. This way we had enough to cook with every day and nothing was wasted by throwing it out when we left.
The price of eating out in Scandinavia didn’t suit our family budget and even supermarket food can be expensive. By taking the basics of pasta, rice, couscous, cereals, nuts and grains etc, you can save a lot of money.
We also took coconut oil, dates, nut milks, tomato passata, scales, measuring spoons and a small bullet blender. It seems a lot but really it didn’t take up much room and we were always guaranteed a nutritious meal.
Communication is key
Talk with your kids about the journey and make clear your expectations.
Long journeys don’t need to be fraught. The dreaded ‘are we nearly there yet’ question doesn’t even have to be uttered.
What we do with our kids:
- Show or give them a map to see the route
- Discuss possible landmarks to watch out for
- Tell them how long the journey is expected to take
- Make sure they have a watch and can tell the time
- Don’t forget to tell your kids what’s going on with the journey. If you’ve been delayed, let them know the new ETA.
- Teach them how to ask ‘how much longer do we have left’, ‘how much further are we driving’, ‘is our time of arrival still the same as it was this morning’. Anything BUT ‘are we nearly there yet’. If necessary limit them asking this question by explaining how irritating it is.
- Encourage them to look out of the window, talk about what they can see, how the landscape has changed, get them to spot animals or play eye spy. Give them paper & pencils and let them draw or write about what they see. Buy a book of car games. There’s a whole world out there they can allow their imaginations to run wild! My pet hate is young kids who have screens to watch in the car. I think it’s unnecessary and damaging but I do understand why parents do it.
Pack a little, not a lot
Back in 2016 packing was my biggest problem. I always packed way too much.
That is until I discovered packing cubes!! They are just the best thing ever and really help is minimising clothes.
For the kids, usually they can get about 3 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of trousers/leggings, 5 t-shirts, swimmers and a jumper/hoodie in a cube. If necessary we can allow them two cubes but we often find they’re happy to wear the same clothes.
Below; before I discovered packing cubes and camera equipment.
Please excuse the awful phone photos!