I hadn’t realised Scotland was such a beautiful and easy country to road trip in, until we spent a week touring there ourselves. My husband had recounted his memorable West Highland way walk from Glasgow to Ben Nevis to me, complete with his experience of clouds of midges following his every step and the not so sunny weather. Yes, I was happy to see green rolling hills and shimmering lakes, but a high of 17 degree in summer and red nasty little bites everywhere… Well let’s not rush the planning….
I was however curious, and a much needed visit to a relative was the catalyst of this visit. Before we left the U.K, we decided we should visit my husbands relative and his fathers birthplace in Edinburgh. However, once there, we couldn’t resist exploring further, even though we were completely unprepared…having packed for a 2 day city visit instead of 8!
Campervan hire is not cheap at around 100£ per day, a bit less or more depending on what you get. We happened to get a much better price because we were so last minute and we booked in person rather than via the internet. We got all the add ons (GPS, 2 x kids car seats, linen/towels for a very good 20£ extra). A good deal and a very cool VW camper – a new vintage, only a couple of years old, made in Brazil.
Any longer however, and we were seriously considering buying a caravan to tow for almost the same price of a rental! The replica VW camper fooled most people including a couple of German tourists excited to see it still on the road, in mint condition! Engine wise it had improved from the 60s, but camper design wise, it hadn’t changed much- but why should it…the old design fit out works quite well.
We spent 5 days touring the amazing countryside. Scotland is pretty, accessible, and soooo easy. It is wonderful with kids because every 20-30 kms there is something to stop and see and do….whether its a historic castle, a folk museum, a whiskey distillery ( for the older adults), a nature reserve, a farm reserve, a river, lake (loch) and a load of forest day or longer walks.
There’s a 90% chance of just pulling into any of the parking and picnic rest stops and finding a river, waterfall or lake to have fun at. There are signs posted everywhere and even if you don’t speak Gaelic..there is English too!
Scotland is cheap to travel in if you have a fuel efficient car ( the VW camper was incredibly fuel efficient). There are no road tolls to pay, it’s not a very big country so you don’t have to travel enormous kms to experience the countryside (we got to Garve, past Inverness and back). It is an affordable way to travel if you are self contained.
While we treated ourselves to a couple of pub meals including the national haggis dish, we mostly self catered. If we had the cash, staying in accommodation could be a real treat. We passed countless of amazing BnBs in beautiful and historic stone house buildings. Instead we slept in our camper van pretty much anywhere we wanted to. After two big camping road trips through Patagonia and Morocco, Scotland was the one place we should’ve been camping in our tent. Not only is Scotland made for tent camping with its ease of access to river and lake spots but it is what the locals do!!!!
Scotland has amazing access laws…there is virtually no such thing as “trespassing”. There is a Scottish Outdoor Acess code which basically gives you the right to be on most land and water ways. Not only does it give you access but it is enshrined in law (see Land Reform Act Scotland 2003). There are even access officers you can report to, just in case anyone tries to stop you!
Of course, with rights comes responsibilities but these aren’t too difficult to abide by. For instance, act safely and responsibly, take your rubbish with you, respect and care for the land, wildlife and keep your dog under control. Really what everyone should be doing regardless of where they are!!!
This legislation doesn’t just cover walking but also other activities such as canoeing, horse riding, wild camping and mountain hiking. It is the best country we have been in so far when it comes to enjoying and experiencing all the countryside has to offer, up close. Why wouldn’t you walk/camp/tour Scotland….!
Given all this access you would think the state of Scotland’s outdoors would be a mess, but its not….We saw one area with bottles left behind but this seemed to be the exception. We have seen much worse in other countries.
So just when we had decided to ditch our tent and go for a camper, we find that camping with a tent in Scotland is the way to go. We saw a number of people camping by various lakes, visible and obvious from the roadside. We felt very safe and secure in our camper…no matter where we were. We camped in parking picnic places without a problem. Once we saw a ‘no overnight camping’ sign, in another a height restriction barrier was in place which would prevent motorhomes but not us in a camper. We could access most of the lakes we stopped at, apart from the famous Loch Ness, the main access route had photo parking spots only. Must be one way to keep campers safe from any overnight monster attacks!
Coming from Melbourne, the four seasons in one day is something we are used to. Scotland’s weather is very much like that….a bit of rain, clouds and sun all in one summer’s day (think it would be more like snow, hail, darkness in winter!). We were fortunate that the midges weren’t in such a biting mood….our first night was the worst but the rest of the time they were of minimal annoyance.
The lakes in Scotland are some of the best I have seen. They are accessible and beautiful. Patagonia had amazing rivers but the surrounding greenery and forests in Scotland make the lakes extremely scenic.
The biggest regret was that we had to return to the city much earlier than we wanted, playing by the rivers and lakes was good fun for the kids…our only hiccup….getting kids to bed before midnight…it’s light til late!!
While it was a shame to head back to the city so quickly, Edinburgh is a lovely city to have a wander in. While there, look up your history and clan roots.. you might just walk away with a special funky dress, knit, gloves, picnic rug, tie, scarf and tights all in your or your husbands family’s tartan….for those special occasions or clan family reunions!
Yes and no… We are often told that having too much of any ONE thing, whether its beneficial for us or not, is not a good thing. But what does a moderately balanced family life look like and are we really having quality family moments during those times together?
Maybe there is a secret formula to achieving optimum family time, a bit like the 3 fruits 2 veggies a day dose…so something like an equal parts me, relationship, kids…then there’s friends, extended family, work, hobbies etc.. Is my cake tin overflowing yet?!
It’s one thing to compartmentalise things neatly in a chest of drawers, it’s another to achieve this perfect division of time between competing needs and wants….and how to do this when your entire day, yes 24/7 is spent with your family!
It’s a good thing that I like my kids and husband and they like me, otherwise spending 24/7 together would be excruciatingly painful and harmful in the long term! Yes, we have our moments of frustration, annoyances and disagreements but these moments usually pass and are resolved, otherwise we would all be feeling pretty miserable.
There is no other room to run to or hide in when in a car or tent, there is little other distraction e.g. a friends house, a local bar or the television, when out in the middle of nowhere. There may be a next day but between now and tomorrow there is a myriad of things that need both the attention and the cooperation of you and your partner working together to ensure there is a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a place to get to, kids to be taken care of. Yes, there is a tomorrow, but the present is as good a time as any to sort things out or to decide if the tribulations you did think are important then, are still now.
Yes, family time when travelling can be intense and it can sometimes feel like it can make or break you and the relationship. However, what it can also do is build such an enormous bank of memories and experiences that it leaves you wondering how the hell you did it all…..and how you could even begin to have done it AT ALL, if it wasn’t for the we/us.
I remember reading an article some time ago about some of the top ten parent regrets. The first five were something along the lines of: not spending enough quality time with the kids, not having enough holiday time as a family, and not enough time spent with kids in the baby/younger years.
I often think about this, because during those moments when I am struggling with the current thoughts of; not having enough sleep, not having enough me time or personal space and not having enough relationship time with my partner, I remind myself of what everyone reminds me, and of what I see and know is happening; kids grow up so quickly. I know this but sometimes it feels like another world away.
My eldest son is almost 5 and will soon be a school age kid. I look at photos to remember what it was like when he was a baby. It seemed like the moment would last forever…including the sleepless nights, but it doesn’t and it won’t.
As we travel and meet other travellers, sometimes older retired couples, we know that at some point that might just be us, travelling together but no longer as a family. It brings both a smile to my face and a tinge of sadness.
Spending 24/7 as a family doesn’t guarantee quality time or yours or others happiness. Sometimes you’ll be happy other times you won’t. But it will be whatever you and your family make of it.
Sometimes things aren’t so black and white. Gadgets and technology can interfere in the quality of the time spent together, other times these moments may be quality rich. Watching a tv program together, hanging out, engaged, interested and talking about what we are seeing is also good fun.. other times I have sat there in a world of my own, enjoyed and relieved to be in my own headspace, reading, doing my own thing, while my son is in his..definitely some quality time for me.
What I do know from spending a lot of time together as a family is that I am 100% comfortable with my kids and my husband. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get annoyed or frustrated or some habits irritate or infuriarate ( including my own), but that I’ve come to experience all of their personality and they mine.. Not only are we comfortable with each other, but more importantly we are able to spend time together and lots of it without losing our heads too much.
For me, a lot of that comes from being mostly happy and okay to be in this space. I am happy with where I am because, here, with my family is where I think I should be and where I want to be. We are overseas because this is where my partner and I want our family to be. What I have gained or lost is my balancing act….. I may have forfeited girls nights out or romantic weekend getaways with my partner but I have gained in other ways I couldn’t have otherwise. I am hanging out with my partner and best friend as much as I like and I’m doing something I love together with my kids.
When we left Australia it was a slight shock. Even though we have been pretty hands on parents before we left for travel (I stayed at home with the kids and my husband had flexible work hours running a business so he could be around to help out), it initially was and can still be an ongoing adjustment to being together 24/7. It feels normal, and most of the time I don’t think about it, but at different times, I will feel it more intensely than others….depending on what has been happening, where we are, what phase the kids are going through, what phase I’m going through, how much sleep I’ve had etc etc.
Even as a stay at home parent in Australia, my days were filled with playgroups and play dates and family catch ups – weekend lunches or dinners. I was rarely alone and rarely at home!!! Then, suddenly we were on the other side of the world away from family and friends. I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of full time parenting….I was and had already been doing that part, mostly on my own. In fact, I was looking forward to it being easier, given that there were now 2 of us to share all the responsibilities. There wouldn’t be the same pressures of work and domestic responsibilities, there wouldn’t be the same energy and time consuming distractions that seem to come with living in a modern society whether it be gadgets, paperwork, beaucracy etc…. Simple living would be the aim……
On the other hand, it would be only the four of us, all the time. None of the other nice and comforting distractions of family and friends….for either us or the kids. Yes we could negotiate time and space for ourselves but a date night or time together alone??? How and when would that ever happen? Yes we might have all this time for each other as a family, but what if it was too much time!!!
You would think there would be oodles of time in a day to devote to each of us having some “me” time. However, in the daily reality of family travel, sometimes a shower alone was the most I could manage, if anything at all. Other times, this “me” time came at the expense of the other…..e.g the burden or joy, depending on what sort of day we were having, of looking after both the kids would all fall onto my husband or me. We met a NZ family, who were taking a gap year with their older children. The children were at school during the day and they were both at home enjoying the peace and quiet….now there’s an idea!
There is a reason why the proverb ” it takes a village to raise a child” exists. That is, to meet the needs of a family, and essentially look after thè youngest members of a community, requires the effort of all the community!!! Children, parents and the community all benefit from the added support, care, friendship, learning and working together that comes from this arrangement.
I would like to think this is the ultimate parenting philosophy and goal but who knows, it’s not a concept thats been tested or utilised well in the western world. I do know however, what it is like to have a house full of family members and while it can be chaotic and crazy, I have enjoyed the company of chatting to other family women, the kids who disappear with other kids to play for hours, the cooking, washing up, and everything else that is shared and seems to just happen together. Its an exhausting day but exhausting in a different way..not the ‘I’ve been overloaded, stressed out of my brain with too much stuff to do today’, but the “I’ve had a great exciting, happy busy tired sort of a day”. So why were we removing ourselves from this entirely?!
Somehow travelling overseas as a family felt not only possible but easy, fulfilling and practical. The reality was, we were going to be parents regardless of which country we were in. Travelling in the toddler and preschool years made sense….yes it could be challenging but we had no schooling commitments and parents are still pretty cool in a kids eye, to hang out with at this age…. . Being together meant that my boys could have both their parents with them. Sure I’m good at reading and craft but I would rather leave the lego, and science questions to my husband. It wouldn’t have to wait til he got home from work…..and I wouldn’t have to wonder and wish he was home sooner.
I’m referring to my separation anxiety not my kids… When we arrived at our first destination in Santiago, I felt some separation anxiety that I had never experienced before on my travels as a single person. My husband spent the first few weeks trying to find a suitable road vehicle and I hung out with the kids. A couple of times I had the scary gnawing gut feeling of what if? What if something happened to my husband? What would I do, two kids alone, strange city, didn’t know anyone etc….It was frightening.
I couldn’t imagine my husband leaving me for 5 days with two kids while in my home city and yet it felt completely okay to do this in another foreign city, when in London? Why? I don’t know, other than, normal is what normal is. By this time, even though we were parenting together, there were lots of occasions when I had to parent alone regardless of where we were or which country we were in.
I coped because my kids were older- my youngest was no longer a baby. I also had less expectations on myself of what should or needed to happen. The only expectation I had of myself, was that I hang out with the kids, do the minimum required when it came to domestic duties and not feel so bad if we had a meal out. Of course, the down side was having to be both the morning and the night person…first up and last to bed…. This would get wearing after a while and I really don’t know how single mums do it without adequate support.
What have I discovered?
These things and so much more!
My husband is a really good dad and my kids have the benefit of what I hope is a quality relationship with both of us, not just now but for the long term
I miss my kids having relationships with other family members and their friends from back home – different people offer different perspectives that can benefit both us and the kids…
Having to wait til the kîds are asleep to have “relationship time” or me time! My husband would still often run late at night or early morning just so it didn’t impact on me and the kids too much.
When the kids were looked after by a family member after almost two years away, we had almost forgotten what it was like, and what to do with ourselves….We did however work out quite quickly what to do with this sudden spare time!
That spreading your relationship time evenly across the family sometimes requires a conscious effort…
That being a mum is pretty special and can mean so many things but I don’t want to be everything to my kids….I don’t want to be their playmate, teacher, coach, aunt, etc etc….I just want to be their mum….
The older the kids get the more these other external relationships count. I want my kids to have things that I didn’t have e.g. relationships with extended family, and I want them to have what I do have…..friends who have known me a lifetime…
That my boys are best mates at 4 and 2 and I hope this will last forever
That we love our friends and family back home but we have made new friends and memories that we can take home with us!
That parents are pretty important and special people in a kids life and vice versa …..and that there can never be enough memories to fill up that special bank in your heart and mind…
that after almost two years of travel I not only love my husband but I really really like him, and his company….somehow it seems to work out that when I’m not coping so well, he can and vice versa. Support shows its form in so many different ways and so many times over
That even when coparenting, there are still the old age disagreeements about the division of labour and responsibilities
that even after spending 24/7 together, my husband still can’t read my mind……
To remember to enjoy and savour those moments when my kids want me to be involved, excited to show me stuff, want to hang out…rather than feel annoyed… these moments may not last forever…. Fast forward 10 years and it might be me, vying for their attention.
The kids have seen us in both our glorious and not so glorious moments…and I don’t mean without makeup! When we muck up, get angry, make mistakes, argue, have a tanty. Our kids know we are human and we are real. But they also see us talk (loudly sometimes) to work it out, resolve it and move on.
Periods of time in confined spaces are bad…for everyone!
that sometimes the most difficult thing of all this time together is getting a family snap!
Feeling the responsibility of using this time I have with my kids wisely. Making the most of our time together, ensuring they don’t miss out on same age activities, planning stimulating and challenging activities, sharing personal stories, family history, knowledge….after all you have a captive audience – you and your partner are the most important people in their world…
That coparenting is pretty cool. Although you often find it may not always be what it seems..e.g while his sailing, I’m with the kids, or vice versa…. Usually one person takes on the task that would need two people…. Sometimes, it feels like a bit of a tag team effort.
that normal is whatever you make it.
Having something to do that gives you some time off and headspace when you can. My husband loves to run and I like to write. Making time and supporting each other to have that space is important….and sometimes even after a bit of time away both you and the kids feel joyous at seeing each other again…..some renewed energy
While there are disadvantages, there are also many advantages. We think about how lucky and fortunate we are to be hanging out as a couple with our kids. This time will only happen once and it will disappear again in a blink of an eye…missing it would be the real loss……
I’m writing this blog in my head as I walk through Regents park, on a cold and wet summer’s evening. My feet are cold – I’m wearing my sandals, the only pair of shoes I’ve been wearing for the last three months in Europe. I went out without a rain coat…not even thinking….my glasses are covered in rain drops and I’m having my second shower for the day…a cold one this time. Maybe I should’ve waited…but I saw a break in the clouds, my youngest son had gone to bed early, the park gates were still open and I was taking my “me” time no matter what the weather. I just wasn’t prepared for it..after all, it is summer isn’t it?
Well, it should be, but I happened to check Londons weather and compared it with Melbournes weather and yes both were the same. 17degree, partly cloudy with showers. One city going into summer, the other coming into winter.
On my long, now short walk, I curled my fingers into my jumper, pushed my glasses over my head (I couldn’t see out of them anyway), and figured that while my Melbourne counterparts were experiencing the same weather, I was still enjoying long hours of sunlight (5am – 10pm), admiring the greenest, lushest velvet grass…and best of all, I could still go and defrost afterwards in a big bath of hot water…I knew that my husband would love the opportunity to be out here running in the rain…yet, me….well I’m just pretty Melbournian. There’s no reason to go out in bad weather when you can be curled up inside, instead and because in an hour/ this evening/tomorrow, the sun will shine again.
Londoners take the opposite attitude, if they waited for better weather, well they may never be out again.. Locals go out whether its rain, hail, or snow ( who else invented a show about muddy puddles!). I like this…all it takes is some good warm weather gear, and some blankets provided by the local cafe for some alfresco dining. If your going out with kids, dress in t-shirts but bring jumpers, raincoats, umbrella…basically prepare for all weather…! Of course, it’s all about perspective, ask a Russian from Siberia or Moscow what they think of the London summer and they would probably tell you how warm and mild it is.
So this year, the London summer is taking it’s sweet time to arrive. Last year, we arrived in April to 2 degrees as London was experiencing a long cold winter snap and a delayed spring. However, almost overnight summer snapped into place by June and suddenly it was reaching high 20s, even 30 degrees. A heatwave was upon us. Hard to to describe it as a heatwave when compared to the 40 degree+ + summer experienced in Melbourne only a few months before. But a heatwave in London is different. I laughed too, when I heard the term used but soon I too was feeling it….a humid oppressive city heat, trapped amongst the buildings, and with little relief in a small apartments not designed for airflow or with any type of cooling device….where exactly is the fan/evaporative cooler switch because I could not find one…
However, London city planners are bright, cool and fun people. They must be because even if it only reaches 30 deg for some of the two months of the year that is summer, they have loaded the city with lots of fun water play areas for kids and families. Places such as the Princess Diana memorial water fountain (a round fountain with water spurts, fast water gushes, steep bits, flowing bits etc..), free water play area lidos (Hampstead Heath), south bank spurting jets and so on and so on. Now why didn’t Melbourne think of that….a cool idea for a real summer heatwave….!!
So, my evening walk through Regents park could’ve been very different if the summer sun had arrived and wasn’t too busy hiding behind the thick heavy clouds….I would’ve been walking through the leafy park, watching squirrels and passing many a local relaxing on the grass stripped off to their boxers and bikinis lying in a strategically placed position, avoiding the shady areas, enjoying a picnic, a glass of Pimms, ….as anyone would do…an ode to summer in London!
So maybe by the time we leave London in a month we may get to glimpse a little bit of summer sun amongst the rainy, grey overcast days. If not, as I fly over London with a birds eye view I will wistfully admire the greenest of green patches stretching for miles and be secretly thankful I’m not living it!!
Do you really need a 4WD to road travel? Well, yes and no….. We have been to many countries where a 2WD capable vehicle, would do just fine. My 20 year old hatchback, could drive down almost all of the dirt or unpaved roads we have been on. In some countries, there are road works currently in progress to better the road conditions. In a few years, even the carrera terra austral in Patagonia will probably be all bitumen. However, until this happens, a top heavy vehicle with low clearance, won’t make it on the dirt roads. So, it really also depends on what sort of 2WD vehicle you have…. you may be able to drive a motor home slowly along a dirt road if you need too but you wouldn’t want to drive 500 kms of it! We tried initially..see blog: our 12 day motor home nightmare. You are risking damaging the vehicle, getting lots of flat tyres or worse, getting stuck. A 2WD van would be more durable.
Then there are some countries where you just simply can’t go without a 4WD – e.g. Mongolia (most of the country has basically no roads – your following wheel tracks), Far east Russia, and some of the Stan’s in central Asia. So, first ask yourself where do you want to go – e.g. which country/continent, and then ask yourself, where do you really want to go once there e.g. countryside, national parks, off road etc.
The highlight of our Moroccan road trip was spending a week driving on an off road track through the desert and also trying some off road tracks in the high atlas mountains. We only passed about 4 or 5 other cars during our desert time (compared to 1000s along the bitumen inland and coastal roads) and got to wild camp (I mean really wild camp in the desert with no-one else around, rather than camp in a car park with 50 others). It felt like a real adventure. Whilst in Morocco, we spoke to other road trippers who kept telling us how bad the roads were when in our 4WD we hadn’t even noticed.
A 4WD gives you the capability to go off road and find somewhere discrete to camp, or even a really nice location to visit that’s off the main road. During our central Asia trip, we camped in all sorts of places off the main road, and we were able to get to places (e.g. across a river) to camp where other 2WD/locals couldn’t get to – sometimes for both peace of mind and safety.
4WD’s come in all shapes, sizes and capabilities. A 4WD is more than just having 4 wheels that drive. Factors such as clearance, size of tyres and weight carried, can all affect the vehicle’s performance and ability off road. Whatever you decide, consider both the potential and the limitations of any 4WD vehicles; whether it be a van, truck or overloading a 4WD car/pick up (Ute) with a top heavy camper.
Can you live without your creature comforts; fridge, shower, satellite t.v.?
I didn’t think I could live without a fridge (I’m a cheese freak, my husband a beer one!) Our Engel fridge in our car back home was in place and ready for any camping or weekend trip away. Do you know what? It was always full…. However I have discovered during our time overseas that I can live quite happily without a fridge. It hasn’t meant that we have stopped eating or buying cold storage products, instead, anything bought is eaten and cooked within a day or so. Most countries stock UHT milk rather than fresh milk so this is easy storage.
A shower however, well nothing quite beats a hot shower with a strong jet. This is not to say that I would get one in a travelling vehicle… filling up every inch of space in a camper is not ideal. A heavy and over loaded vehicle even if it is a 4WD does not necessarily equate to stable and/or practical. Most people we spoke to who did have a shower, rarely used it, and rather it became storage space. Even if you did fit out a shower, at best it would be a trickle…… There are camp-sites available almost everywhere, and these are often full of self contained vehicles! Many road travellers even those fully contained will usually stop at a structured campsite, even if its every 2/3 days – to access power, water or for the security, social aspect it provides. Most camp-sites will have a shower/toilet block to use although I cant guarantee it will be hot water or clean!
However, there are always other ways to wash that will do the trick if you don’t want to stand under a cold shower jet. Be creative – go for a swim, have a bucket/flannel wash, carry a solar shower pouch or do as the locals do – have a bath at the local bath house (private showers in Mongolia for $1), the baths in Turkey, hammans in Morocco, the saunas in Russia. Washing kids is easy – buckets/baby baths/standing in the sun with a water container…. Even at 2 and 4 yo, my kids could still fit sitting together in a baby bath we borrowed from a neighbouring family, they thought it was hilarious and fun.
Save yourself the money and space and go for the cultural as well as the cleaning experience.
In terms of everything else; ask yourself if it really is a must have. The bigger your vehicle, the more space to fill, and believe me, you will fill it!
Location and purpose
Where and how do you want to travel?
Some of our trip highlights have been going to places where others can’t go so easily. Fewer tourists and fewer people equals more remote, and in my opinion, a nicer experience. If you do meet a local, you might even have a genuine interaction.
In Patagonia, there were few motor homes. Partly because of the shipping costs and partly because you couldn’t drive the kms needed to, on the dirt roads. We chose a 4WD and camped, it was summer time and lovely. We enjoyed touring the national parks and being outdoors in some breathtakingly natural and scenic environments. See blog: overland vehicle choices when buying in South America.
However, in Morocco, camping in a tent was not so nice. This time, we bought our 4WD in England. Structured camp-sites are made for motor homes and are essentially glorified car parks. Free camping is not so easy and/or practical with a tent. In addition, it was winter: warm and sunny, but early cooler evenings. In this situation, we would have liked a contained lock up vehicle – to be able to either camp in structured sites or have the freedom to really park anywhere. It would’ve been useful to have the choice to drive even after dark and be able to stop for the night and get into bed without setting up a tent. You could even buy a reasonably cheap motor home/van in Europe, as there is the variety available – every brand and year you could think of. For a family of 3 or 4, a pop top or hard top van or 4WD is a reasonable option with enough bed and seat space.
If you are considering a road trip in Europe or North America, you have predominately bitumen/paved roads so that a 4WD would be unnecessary and plenty of infrastructure exists for motorhome travellers such as free camper overnight stops.
When considering a vehicle, imagine how you might be perceived in the local country. Do you really want to stand out? What do you think locals see when you drive by in your €150,000++ convertible travelling home…. Even for a westerner from an affluent country like me, it seems like an inconceivable amount of money to spend.
Imagine locals in some of the poorer countries of the world where there are many more people than cars. In Morocco, we gave 3 women a ride in our car (yes 3 women squeezed in the front seat next to my husband) when they flagged us down. They were already walking (in the middle of nowhere), when we saw them and had another 8 kms to travel carrying heavy packs on their heads. They had no car, not even a donkey to help them carry their heavy load. Suddenly we felt very wealthy in our £3000 Land rover. In Mongolia, we often had locals ask how many people slept in my sister in law’s rooftop tent, surely not just one?! We would often see old Russian jeeps pull up, and could not believe the number of adults who would emerge….5, 6, 7, 8! Incredible..it was like a bottomless car..
Period of travel and budget
Think of the period you will be travelling for, are you doing a long extended trip or a short one? Is it worth spending a significant amount of money on a travel vehicle you will only use for a short time…what about the re-sale value? Will you need to sell the vehicle quickly?
Some people will travel for 3 months every year and want a vehicle that’s well set up and ready to go that they will use for the next 10 years…. In Australia, people love caravans because you don’t have the huge registration costs and expense of another vehicle to maintain.
If its an extended trip – how long for? Do you plan on road tripping the whole time or stopping somewhere for a few weeks/months? The money saved in not buying an expensive convertible home could buy you months/years of accommodation in some places – especially when negotiated for a longer period. While in Morocco, we got to stay in ryiads in some of the city medinas, and in Patagonia in cosy log cabins when we needed to (in times of bad weather, in cities, or simply for a treat).
If you want a stable familiar space for you and the kids – what size do you need? How much are you prepared to spend for the initial outlay? This is on top of your daily travel expenses.
We managed to 4WD and camp for a period of 3 months each in two different continents. This was fine, although any longer, e.g. 6 months to one year of continuous road travel and a mobile home is looking good!
At the end of the day, your budget will determine what vehicle you can afford. Whilst being self contained helps to reduce costs e.g. accommodation, eating out etc, there are still costs to consider. Yes we met road travellers who rarely paid for accommodation (camp-sites or other) but most people we saw still parked in structured camp-sites where we were staying with our tent.
There are lots of affordable motor homes and converted vans available in Europe (less so in South America). However, a brand new motor home or self converted 4WD truck camper can cost anywhere from $100,000 – 200,000.
We met a traveller in a custom made 4WD truck after doing a desert off road crossing In Morocco. We found out that he had driven one section of the off road track we had, but then he decided to re-route back to the bitumen road because it was too rocky (and it was). However, by doing so, he missed the best bit of the track – a second, more interesting and less rocky leg. He had invested so much in a vehicle he had purpose built for exactly this sort of off road driving, yet the potential costs of any tyre or body damage was far too great that it outweighed the experience and the reality. It didn’t matter so much to us, if our £3000 car, (with a couple of dents already) got another one. It didn’t even matter if we re-sold the car for £2,000 and lost £1,000 at the other end…it was a small scale risk. The more expensive the investment, the greater the liability and the greater the financial loss when things do go wrong.
So, what’s the size of your family? It can difficult to find a suitable vehicle that seats and sleeps 4 people without being oversized. However, if family size and comfort is your main consideration, then there are a multitude of options from vans, trucks, motor homes etc -the list and variety is endless. In some cases, e.g a smaller van and pop or hard top but be suitable. It might be difficult to find one wide enough to sleep across so that your tall members of your family can fit…for example, my husband stands at 187cm tall. It might just require a test sleep before you buy one!
What’s your style/personality?
Different countries will have different trends when it comes to road travel. In Australia, your lucky if you see a motor home – caravans, tents, campervans are all the rage. In Europe/north Africa, there are lots of different vehicles but motor homes are topping the list in popularity – its the new holiday home. It doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Find out what you like, what’s available and choose your style! After all, you and your family will be the ones travelling and living in it 24/7.
What would we choose?
We weren’t completely sold on spending our extended travel period, driving. We liked the idea in theory, but we weren’t sure the practicality of long term road travel was for us. Our youngest son was 1 when we started and not a big fan of extended periods in the car. We also were keen to explore other continents and other ways of travelling. We were interested in sailing and walking. However, if we were to go on a one or two year road travelling trip or even if we wanted regular road trips to be part of our home life, these are options we would consider and our must have list….
4WD e.g off road capable
can fit in a standard car park – gives us the flexibility to park anywhere – in a town, city, countryside, etc.
simple fit out (bed, sink, cooker, maybe fridge/portable toilet.
walk through cab
encourage greater outdoor living – cook inside or out and eat/play out
have a contained lock up space to sleep in
most likely pop top to fit beds for family of four, but be able to all sleep without pop top up- even if it means one mattress on the floor!
light!! Windows that open
can fit in a container for shipping purposes
think less rather than more – keeping our “stuff” to a minimum: no overloading the vehicle
Some vehicles we have considered – 4WD ambulance, 4WD pop top, small ex military 4 or 6WD vans
What did we buy?
After almost two years of travel, meeting lots of other single, couple, families road tripping across two continents, seeing other vehicles/conversions (talking to lots of German and dutch travellers who can be creative and innovative when it comes to vehicles) and simply working out what would be best for us given our preferences and experiences, we think we have found the perfect vehicle for future road trips…we are in the process of trying to work out how and if we can import it into Australia….if we can, we will let you know about it!!
Something happened to free travel in the EU between the year 2000 and 2013 and no-one told me about it! One year I’m happily backpacking for 6 months around Europe without any consequence and then fast forward to 2013 and I’m told I have 90 days in total (within a 6 month period) in the schengen area.. schengen what??
Yes, that was pretty much my reaction…what is this schnegen and why is it the cause of my European vacation woes…..not too mention some anxious itinerary juggling, some last minute add ons, nervous finger counting on the calendar and missing out on visiting a host of countries not because I ran out of money but because I ran out of time.
So what is schengen and what does it mean? It is basically a convention – a signed agreement between a number of European countries (about 26 to date = most of Europe!) which removes the need for internal border controls and operates a common visa policy across the signatory countries. Yes, a shame not to collect all those country stamps in your passport, but great you say….no border controls…..in and out when you please?!
Well, not exactly….unless you hold an EU passport! For everyone else, its 90 days for the whole schengen area! That’s right, not 90 days for Italy, and then 90 days France or even Greece…no it’s 90 days all up and schnegen, take careful note is different to EU.
You see, countries not even in the EU have signed the schnegen agreement. So if you thought you could escape schengen by going to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway or even Iceland you would be schengen mistaken!!!
So two months into the European leg of our trip, and we suddenly discover schnegen. There goes our one year plan out the window, in supposedly border and visa less Europe. Even if you spent 4 days in each schnegen country you still wouldn’t get to see all of them!!
However, I still wasn’t too phased. Surely, we could fly out and fly our schnegen behinds back within a day/week/month to continue our trip ( by this time we had already bought a boat hoping to cruise the canals and the meditterrean schnegen sea). Unfortunately, its a 90 days in and 90 days out rule (not necessarily consecutive….e.g 90 days within 180 days….so you can fly in and out but goodluck keeping up with your 90 schnegen day count). So suddenly we were faced with the other devastating non schnegen prospect…..of spending 3 months in Gibraltar or the Vatican city or somewhere like that!
Did we want to test the enforcement capacity of the schnegen treaty? Not really, we had already heard about another canal cruising Australian couple who got fined 5000 schnegen dollars for overstaying their 90 days in Holland. We also had read countless of forums, of people who had overstayed their 90 days (either wittingly or unwittingly) and were trying to work out what the schnegen next to do…. and others who were quick to point out the legal and immoral implications of being so unschengenlike. It may not look like the immigration person behind the schnegen counter is checking your passport but believe me, it doesn’t take long to calculate 3 months in their head and the last exit stamp is always beside the last entry stamp….they find these stamps even amongst your hundred other ones from Asia or America etc… they know.
Whether they choose to pull you up on it or not is up to the schengen gods. The schnegan agreement doesn’t keep people out, it keeps people in. This is fine if you never plan to return home but for those who do they might just find themselves travelling from one schengen country to the next for 10 years unable to leave the “EU”, until they finally miss family, friends and home cooked meals and turn up at an international airport somewhere prepared to face the fine and the never to return to Europe stamp…..
We almost thought of getting away with it when the immigration officer was about to give us the schengen wave through after seeing my husband’s British passport but no we made mention of the rest of the family’s Australian passports….stupid or schengen smart?
I would like someone to enlighten me on the rationale behind the schengen agreement. Why a bunch of countries, including those not even in the EU and as far away as Iceland chose to open their borders to everyone in the EU but exclude everyone else…. Essentially, give some of us, who are the furthest away, as little time as possible to travel through a glomerate of countries and spend as little of our tourist dollars as possible…. !!!
Isn’t there an economic schengen crisis in Europe? Wouldn’t Spain or Greece like some of our tourist money? Apparently not…UK on the other hand, has benfited the most from our EU “out” time, taking up about 5 months of our total European stay… The UK, like Ireland decided to opt out of the Schengen agreement, controlling their own border entry and exit points.
Why can’t schengen countries determine on a case by case basis whether someone has the funds/ability to remain in their country/area just like the English do… the English are quite happy to ask interrogative questions if they think they need to.
What’s even worse, unlike other countries you can’t even apply for a schengen visa extension! Technically, as a US/Australian/Canadian citizen you don’t have a “visa”, you have a stamp, a stamp that entitles you to 90 days….. PERIOD…. maybe a few more days if you have a medical emergency… In trying to do the right thing, I spent a whole day trying to get someone, somewhere in France to stamp my damn passport so that there would be no dispute when I had entered the country – thats’s how I spent my first schengen day…..and now here I am, with my 90 days ticking away, while I’m motoring at 8 kms an hour along a canal in France, only half way across the bloody schengen country….so what to do?
So where to go besides Ireland and UK, because lets face it, who wants to escape the European winter and head to the UK? So, if it wasn’t for the schengen agreement we wouldn’t have spent 3 interesting months in Morocco…..(we considered Tunisia and Turkey also, as the closest countries to Europe with milder weather). Driving and camping through Morocco was great and wouldn’t have otherwise happened if not for schengen however, a visit to the Canary Islands would’ve been nice, or even Portugal and Spain on the way through but no……By the time we left Morocco three months and counting was far too schengen long and we were all feeling a little schengened out!
So we tried option 2
Apply for a permission to stay in an EU/schengen country. I have family in Italy, speak the language and the funds to support myself so I decided to apply for a permesso di soggiorno (carte du sejour in France) based on family connections and tourism motives (as suggested on their website). Did this work out well…. no, not really and 3 offices later (including a visit to the citizenship office) we left Italy in the same position as before. What I could have applied for, was a permission to stay as a spouse. So, my husband as an EU member would need to register as a resident with the local council and I apply based on my relationship with him. All fine, if we were in a stable address in Italy, but a boat even if parked in Italy does not count as a residence. All we really wanted, was to spend a schengen winter and summer in the Mediterranean (preferably Italy to stay close to relatives) but these was not to be. So off we went twice, for 3 months to a non schengen country, wishing I had an EU passport or even a NZ one… somehow unbeknown to me, there has been some “agreements” made between certain schengen countries and NZ to allow 90 day stays in these individual countries…. how?? now thats what I would like to find out…..!!
Visa free borders, well not really
There are currently 26 countries in Schengen.
Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland , Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Non schegen countries:
Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia (this may change in the future)
Before leaving home, find out if you or your partner can apply for an EU passport. Do your research. Is there a maternal/paternal grandparent somewhere that you didn’t know about who is really from Bulgaria, Croatia? Dulve deep into your ancestral roots.. a country that wasn’t EU 10 years ago, might just be now!!
Ask your government why NZ can strike a deal with EU schengen countries and yours can’t….time to look at your countries foreign relations….
Re-think an extended trip through Europe before you leave!
Plan your trip through Europe so that you are in non EU territory when 90 days expires
You can’t apply for a visa extension on your stamp. Visit a country’s embassy from your home country to apply for an extended stay before you depart
Apply for a permision to stay (carte de sojour, permesso di soggiorno etc) immediately on arrival to the immigration officials of the country you wish to apply for, usually within 8 days. You need to meet their requirements. Italy’s familial connections law changed in 2009. Do you intend to travel and study? Also check the countries residence requirements if your partner or family member carries an EU passport.
Choose another continent such as South America for your travel of a lifetime dream. We entered several times back and forth between countries e.g. Chile and Argentina, and there are enough countries to visit to keep you busy travelling for a long time.
Sympathise with all those visitors much worse than yourself who are at the constant mercy of a country’s strict visa rules and regulations
Think Karma….there is a reason why strict visa rules apply to you….and also lots of visa charges. Its more expensive to travel on an Australian passport than a British one…we know, as we forked out ridiculous visa fees every time on our Australian one, while my husband on his British passport never paid once…not even in Argentina, and Britain went to war with them!
You would think that speaking French would be easy given that something like 30% of English words come from the French language. It’s no coincidence that words like nouveau, espionage, cuisine, etiquette, encore and meringue, sound a little French and fancy. However, the list does not end there, no it goes on and on…(google Wikipedia just to see how long…). There are many more words, some less obvious than others, such as comfortable, ponder, air, garage, orange, and even car. In fact, when you are in France, you will be amazed at how many words you recognise in the written form….words like pavilion, regrete, fatigue.
However, this is where the similarity ends..You may think you know French but do you really? You might be able to sing along to the words of Kylie Minogue’s hit song perfectly, (remember, Je ne sais pas pourquoi?) or you may find yourself using French/English words in your everyday conversation with ease…such as when asking your beau for a rendezvous! You might even write RSVP on the bottom of every invite and actually know what it stands for. In fact, since watching Master chef, you probably know the difference between a terrine and a gratin…..or better still, maybe you pepper your sentences with real French words like voila! But does this mean you can speak French? And more importantly can you be understood?
We all know it’s a disaster to try and say many of these French origin words phonetically…. somehow, we just know how to say them (those familiar to us, anyway). But can you think back to when you first tried to say any of these or other French sounding words? Did you cringe when someone corrected you ( its not fox pas…its foe pah!). Did you first whisper it quietly before feeling bolder and more confident to talk about your “déjà vu moment while having hors d’ouvers at the haute coutture shop?”
The words you already know may seem like child’s play…but what about all the rest..e.g the ENTIRE French language…what do you think then… Do you think you’ll just be able to fake it by putting on a French accent and sounding all posh?! Well…. close enough…pronouncing any of the words with a French flair is defintiely a good start.
So when WE got to France, I was feeling particularly smug. Firstly, I had a background in Italian and some Spanish so this was just another one of those Latin languages. I also found, that I could recognise many of the words I saw, I just couldn’t say them in a way that was understood by anyone except for me.
Somehow, an ocean exists between the way I say a french word and the way it’s meant to be said…. When we were in South America, I cringed when I heard someone pronounce “hola” like they were some rodeo riding a bucking bronco… (oooohhh laaaa). I thought, how could they get it so wrong… but then I found myself in France, wondering how my request for “creme brulee” was not understood, then mistaken for cafe au lait, until finally I had to point to the word on the menu… ahh, ickkrrrreme brulayy!. That’s what I thought I said, but no..
I met someone who told me, the French aren’t rude, they just don’t understand what your saying. I think there is a lot of truth in that.
I remember my Italian cousin finding it hard to differentiate between the sounds of beach and bitch. There is a huge difference, and you don’t want to make the mistake of getting it wrong. So when your speaking French, do you really know what it is that your actually asking for! Carrying flash cards or miming the words might just be safer!
The French people we met weren’t as arrogant as I originally thought or as the stereotype suggests. When I asked ” parlay vou anglais” the answer usually was: yes a little. This had changed from ten years ago when as a backpacker in France, the answer back then, was almost always no. Given that we are struggling with speaking French, I gather the French might also be finding it somewhat difficult speaking English…..a bit of vis-a-vis.
French is not the sort of language, you can learn from your French phrasebook, no it’s not that simple and no you can’t be that lazy…. even the phonetics to help you with the pronunciation are way off the mark…. no, French is a language that must be learned by audio means. So for this visit to France I packed a beginners 1 & 2 learning french audio CD pack.
Even my eldest son couldn’t get it quite right…. Up til that point he was doing brilliantly, repeating a word he heard once and getting the pronounciation perfect immediately. Yet we arrived in France, and he couldn’t quite seem to get bonjour right, preferring to say bonjour’d. Let’s say, I stopped asking him to “repeat after me”….
We found google translate useful, if not hilarious at times. We had to write several emails to book camping accomodation for ourselves and confirming a spot for our two donkeys. One email confirmation returned to us google translated as “yes, we have room for you and your asses”! It was funny because it sounded so correct and yet was horribly incorrect – the French would never be so crude, well not in a first email. You will find the French to be unusually polite – addressing someone as madame or monsieur. This form of greeting is not just reserved for the “older” generation, but used all the time. It helps if you greet this way also upon entering a shop or store.
So what is the best thing you can do to help in the foreign language speaking department? Start young and early. There is a reason why many German and Dutch people speak English almost better than you. Language learning starts early and its offered more than 30 minutes per week, more like 30 minutes per day. I would often find myself forgetting that the German person I was conversing with was speaking to me in their second or third language.
However, if you didn’t quite start at age 3, never fear. It can be harder learning a new language as you get older as it requires more effort. However, it’s never too late. Visit a tourist country and you’ll find locals with very little schooling and who are sometimes a lot older than you (in their 60s+) conversing in 4, 5 or 6 languages. Unfortunately, a native English speaker often has the expectation and assumption that everyone can or should speak English, no matter where they are in the world.
There is nothing quite like the experience of being misunderstood and the frustration of miscommunication to be more sympathetic to those who you encounter in the same position whether it be while travelling or meeting a non English speaker in your own country. There’s nothing quite like a bit of humour, empathy, understanding and some patience to help someone get their message across or at least let them know that what they need to say is important even if it is a struggle. So even if its talking in monosyllables, a series of unintelligible grunts, pointing fingers and comic hand gestures….,we’ve all been there at some point…even if we have to think way back to our toddler years!
Travelling solo, as a couple or as a family can give you different travel experiences and locals or other travellers may interact with you differently because of it. Travelling with kids can impact on where and how you travel, the countries you visit and what you do once in the country.
It can also greatly affect your budget….kids under 5 years are usually free when camping, travelling by public transport and often incur no entry fees for national parks, museums, galleries etc. It also works well for when staying in accommodation, as you can book a double room and get a child cot or bed for free (depending on age) or for an extra fee of about 10 or 15€. What’s more, you can split meals between kids, or share your own plate with a young one (this doesn’t last long..maybe til 4 yo). So the age/s and sometimes even the gender of your child will influence yours and their travel experiences.
Travelling with younger kids meant that we were more likely to meet kids of similar ages especially during the daytime. Even so, my 4 year old son, was usually the oldest kid whenever we went to any playgroup/ kids daytime activity or hung out in the local playgrounds. We found this to be the case no matter where we were- whether in South America, or Europe. Kids from 2 onwards may be in full-time care/nursery or with nannies.
We have yet to find a country which is a kids utopia! Somewhere kids can be themselves without unnecessary rules, restrictions and expectations to behave like mini adults. Certain places were lots of fun for the kids – usually the outdoors and with fewer people around – bush, beach, desert. Sometimes even the smallest thing captivated my kids… e.g. Insect spotting could take half a day! Meeting other kids and families was pretty special for the kids and for us. In many ways these moments have given us some of our nicest memories…
Below are some of the countries and cities we have travelled in as a family and our impressions.
From the moment you step off the plane and enter the immigration zone consider yourself in family friendly land. You are in safe hands and will be taken care of. There are preferential queues for families in almost every facet of Chilean life: supermarkets, banks, government offices etc. It is built into the Chileans code of conduct to be nice and accommodating. You will always get offered a seat! Why there are even sculptures celebrating the mother /child feeding bond.
When your child is having a tanty, someone somewhere will come and smile and make your child laugh. It might be a teenage girl or a young male, as either gender seems very comfortable with family life at any age and children are just part of regular life. Be warned though, your kids will get lots of lovely attention, and have lots of sweet things said about them. The most Spanish words you’ll hear will be hermoso, muy lindo, guapo, bonito etc…..My son was so used to being given something e.g. a sweet, a chocolate santa, etc, that when a young girl at an aquarium kindly shared her fish food with him to feed the fish with, he simply put it straight into his mouth without thinking! It was a homeless man of all people, who gave my son, a key ring dragon which he still has to this day.
However, your parenting skills or perceived lack of, will be up for scrutiny….so if you think you can get away with kids playing in dirt, shoes off, sticky fingers, running around, without a comment than think again!
Tip: if you want playgrounds all to yourself then go in the day time…many of the playgrounds are eerily empty. Return at 6pm onwards and on the weekends and the parks and playgrounds are the most happening places. Full of families and various activities, a real magnet. So forget the 7pm bedtime, have a siesta instead so you and the kids can enjoy the balmy fun nights.
Patagonia is the ultimate kids outdoor playground, full of rivers, lakes, bush, trails, glaciers etc. Just awesome for eager explorers and outdoor adventurers.
London is a city where there is always lots to do, especially for kids. Plenty of (mostly free) museums, playgroups, playgrounds, large grassy pretty parks, and endless tourist attractions. It’s impossible to not have things to do while in London. We stayed for 3 months and we always had something we could do if we wanted to. Whether its the local library story time, playground, childrens centre or attractions further afield. We visited almost every museum we had heard of…natural history, childhood, horniman, science, transport, tate etc..The list goes on. Most were free and it was almost necessary to visit more than once! We visited the natural history museum 3 times just to get past the dinosaurs and see something else. Every time I spoke to someone, they would suggest another thing to visit even when I thought I had seen everything there was to possibly see.
London has lots of festivals and community events all year round and so whether its winter with festive lights, ice skating, Guy Fawkes day fireworks and Xmas parades or summer time with outdoor theatres, music and lido swimming playgrounds or water spurting fountains, London is very kid and parent friendly. It is not cheap however even with free or minimal entry costs once you account for transport, food and other necessities.
We discovered a local giraffe family/kid friendly restaurant that soon became our favourite, with great coffee and a relaxed atmosphere. The kids got colouring pages, a coloured plastic giraffe souvenir, balloons and no one cared too much about noise. Food was reasonable and usually good, although disappointed with their gourmet hamburger meals.
Highlights: national history and science museums, double decker bus rides, Hyde park, princess diana memorial playground, regents park, countless of theater shows and plays for all ages, free lido/water play areas and meeting international families. London is a dynamic, international and exciting city.
What can I say about Italy. This is where my kids have the most special and treasured of moments. Visiting and hanging out with our family of cousins and aunties, and where I feel at home. There is no experience quite like the one of enjoying a country from the insider’s perspective. Home cooked meals and sitting around catching up on another few years that have gone by since last visits.
I love the exposure of the language and culture for my kids, and I hope that we/they can nurture these family relationships and connections for a life time. I am lucky that my parents are from a lovely part of Italy, the dolomite mountain region, the valley of sun! From a kid friendliness perspective, well, my aunty thought my children were hilarious, she would stir them up and laugh at how cheeky they were….the biondi birichini she would call them (the blonde cheeky ones).
From a personal perspective, while there is a certain expectation for kids to behave appropriately, conform, not get too messy and show a certain level of politeness and respect to older members of the community there is still a level of spiritedness and cheekiness almost expected from children. Children are considered the cornerstone, the mother the backbone of any family. When we travelled with my 6 week old son a few years back, strangers in the street offered us “complimenti/congratulations” to our new family. There are few elderly men or women who could pass up the opportunity to feel like proud nonni’s. Depending on whether your in a small town or big city, or with/without family connections: will determine to some extent how ” free” you really are….someone somewhere will know everything about you before you’ve even arrived and even if they don’t, they soon will!
Highlights and lowlights: too many private beaches, but you will find that these beaches are full of playground equipment and fun for the kids…it’s a user pay system e.g. a coffee may get you in or you’ll have to hire a beach chair for 10€. Of course there are free playgrounds, fun fair areas where you choose what you want to pay for ( or let the kids just have fun without any coinage) and of course whatever happened to just fun on the beach with the waves and sand-in the public areas of course.
The playgrounds and promenades especially on the coastal towns are full of kids and families especially in the evening or all day during weekend and holidays. Bike riding, roller skating, scootering, skate boarding, you name it…everyone is out from the young to the old enjoying a stroll in whatever way they can. The Genova acquario is great fun and has everything!
Getting a gelati or pizza is a must..however smoking is still way too popular…
I’m sure French people like kids. Although in 6 months of travelling through France and Morocco (with mostly French road trip tourists), I’m not so convinced.
One of the most iconic world theme parks is based in Paris; Disneyland, however general town playgrounds in France are scarce or hard to find (you would have more luck finding a church, a pharmacy or hairdressers- there’s about 3 or 4 in every town). If playgrounds do exist these are usually minimal structures and sometimes not well maintained (depending on where you are). I remember my son screaming out in delight “3 playgrounds!!” when we found an unusually large one. There might be one swing, if your lucky, and one or two structures marked for certain age groups. Other kids theme parks or aquatic centres do exist but these are usually big and costly, and of course you have to work out a way to get there if your on public transport. Ask at the tourist office what there is to do for kids and they might stare at you blankly or direct you to the nearest cake shop.
What you will find though which will be inescapable and which will capture your kids attention in every town will be the famous carosuel. No matter how many times your kids have been on one, they will want a ride every time they spot one! It will even bring out the kid in you!
To someone from one of the driest continents on earth coming to somewhere like Europe with its consistent rainfall, is pure paradise. Yet for some reason, it’s a concrete paradise (this doesn’t just go for France) and any grassy areas that do exist, well your not even allowed to step foot on them!! It’s simply for looking at, not running around on!! Any potential grassy site is usually gravel and reserved for bocci playing – not that I have anything against bocci, but a strip of grass wouldn’t go astray.
We received more frowns than warmth and kindness towards our children even though we behaved no differently than anywhere else we have been. Frowns because our kids were too slow walking and in the way, or frowns because my kids showed too much emotion (excitement even, god forbid!). Containment seems to be the order of the day and we get the impression kids are to be unseen and unheard, even if your in a playground or a campground! Travelling through France with kids is anxiety provoking and disappointing. To say we struggled is an understatement. We have been told off for noisy kids in a playground, and another time yelled at by an insensitive camping neighbour. I thought she was coming over to offer support when my youngest son woke up crying after a too short afternoon nap. But no, she was coming over to tell me to be quiet and think of others. Not a good start to neighbourly relations.
Some times you might even be forgiven for thinking that the company of their furry four legged friends is preferred to that of their children.
However, not everyone is so surly. We did experience a couple of small acts of kindness towards our children that was appreciated. But considering the amount of time we spent in country or travelling with other mainly French road travellers, the impression left upon us was fairly negative and oppressive. Even the same styled family restaurant as London, called Hippopatumus did not quite make the kid friendly status.
Highlights: During the peak summer month of August, towns will usually host fun fairs on weekends or other events such as a medieval fete. Look out for whats on and when. Trying to time your visit to when things are on is sometimes difficult if your on the move. The town of St Quentin had the best set up when we were there. They had converted the town square for a weekend into a huge free fun water and sand play area for kids.
The most kid friendly cities: Marseilles. Fantastic grassy park area, that you can actually sit on and enjoy. We spent several days lazing around in the sun, with our picnic bag of baguettes, snacks and the kids having a great time. Check out Palais du Pharo – overlooks Marseille port, amazing views and playground nearby too.
Nice: loved the city. A great centre area of grassy parkland, lots of wooden play structures in playground which is sea themed and fun for the kids, a huge fountain spurting area to run through and misty spray zones. Absolutely awesome. A lovely city area to stroll in with practical shops and a good beach area. Only thing is don’t even think of sitting on the real grass…go for the astro turf – that’s the go zone.
Other cool stuff: try something different, go for a donkey walk with your family. There are lots of donkey farms in France. We went for an 8 day self guided camp/walk- France is full of easy and interesting walking trails. Go for one day or 3 months!
Hire or buy a boat and canal trip through France. There are lovely forested areas alongside the canals for little ones to discover and explore.
Other things to look for: towers, castles, forts to visit and a ride on the tourist petit trains when in a city.
What can I say about Morocco? Well for starters your kids will get kissed a lot. One person told us that it was good luck to kiss blonde kids, someone else said it’s because locals love kids…I believe both! It does however, raise some issues on personal space and levels of comfort for you and your kids. My kids didn’t really like it so much and asked “why does everyone want to kiss them?” Most of the time, it was pretty harmless, an older woman, a teenage girl, even a dad trying to get his 2 year old to kiss my 2 year old…it really is a must, no getting out of it for either party. I would often encourage my kids to hi-5 instead if they wanted to and if they had enough time to. Usually they didn’t, girls just appeared from nowhere and before anyone knew it, had planted one or five smakeroos on my son’s cheeks. There were maybe 2 times that I felt really uncomfortable and it was when my eldest son had long hair, and a couple of young guys, who obviously thought he was girl, kept pointing to their cheeks pushing for a kiss….not cool.
It’s the only place I’ve been to, where I don’t feel like I have to apologise for my kids behaviour whether its a broken glass in a restaurant or my kids wanting to touch everything they see in a shop. The answer always is…it’s okay, they are kids, it’s normal. Either they are telling me this, to appease me, so that I continue to stay in the shop/restaurant or they really do mean it. Whatever their intention, it worked…phew what a relief, I could really relax.. No one got offended when my son turned four and suddenly was into finger shooting everything that moved. I talked to my son, apologised to whoever it was, but again, the answer was…it’s okay, he is a kid, a blank slate…it doesn’t mean anything. Again, a double phew! It could easily have been misconstrued! I could use some of the Moroccan patience!
Locals may also interact differently with each member of the family depending on how you present in public. My husband went out one day on his own into town and in one hour was asked 10 times whether he wanted to buy hasish. It might happen once, if that, when we are all out as a family. If I’m out on my own or with the kids, but without husband, again, locals will interact differently with me. The easiest or most enjoyable way to travel in Morocco is definitely as a family.
Moroccan highlight: camping in the desert!
My only experience of Germany is driving through at 8.30am in the morning when it was -9degrees on a cold and frosty December morning. Yet I want to go back and this time for a proper visit. It wasn’t the landscape that captivated me, nor the weather. It is the people…and I didn’t meet any while I was there..!
After almost a year and a half of travel, I’m under the impression that Germany is full of open and friendly people. This may not be the case, but judging by the travellers we have met and befriended…there’s a strong case for it. No matter what continent we are on, we have come across German travellers and no matter if it’s a single person, a couple or a family we have met some really nice and lovely people. Whether its been a one stop conversation or meeting in a campsite or travelling on similar route trails, we have had many enjoyable interactions. We have toasted marshmallow smurfs over a campfire, cooked and shared a fish and chip dinner and kids and parents have enjoyed hanging out. Sometimes, its the people we meet along our travels that gives us the most meaningful and best travel experiences.
When my son was asked what he thought of Morocco, he answered “I love it!” When asked why? “because of eno and otto”. A German family with twins that we met along the way. Even for kids, meaningful travel is often about the people you meet…and no better way to encourage appreciation and interest in a language than when your son says….” I want to go to German so I can speak German”, after meeting friendly German travellers.
What a surprise Monaco was..who would’ve thought that such a fancy place known for its fast cars, fast money and fast paced life, could be so kid friendly. We only stayed for 3 days but we could’ve stayed more – not just for the stuff to do, but because of its “vibe”. The city or should I say country(!) is well planned and easy to navigate using the bus system. It is very tourist friendly. Then there are the endless parks and gardens- Japanese gardens, exotic gardens and just well plain green gardens, here, there and everywhere. Let’s not forget the beach….if your not into sandy beaches, this one has little pebble rocks that feels like your having a foot massage every time you walk on it! A very pleasant place to hang out in.
Our highlight was the aquarium. It has a good museum attached to it, as well as an outdoor playground area on the terrace – a play with a view. It is a very touristy city, and so busy, but a very nice feel and boy, were we surprised when at 4pm we found ourselves in one of the squares to absolute fun and chaos…school kids kicking soccer balls, scooting, running around like mad and even one climbing a tree…..a really crazy and fun place.
You know your in France, when your husband starts making crepes everyday, your eldest childs favourite cheese is camembert, your calling baguettes by their real name not the inept name of “french stick” and your other child is fussing about which croissant to have!
Yes, make no mistake about it, your in France and your culinary taste buds are about to explode…..welcome to a food lovers paradise! I know it sounds snooty all this talk about gourmet cheeses, fancy pastries and overindulgence in sweet and savoury delights, however, we are in FRANCE!! Not only is it impossible to avoid the boulangeries with their amazing choice of good sweets but it would be unFrenchlike not to! You can eat meringue, eclairs, profiteroles or French vanilla slices (again, not their real name!) and they are mouth wateringly good. The other advantage is that many of these things which you would expect to pay a fortune for back home, are not as expensive as you would think….a wheel of Camembert is the cheapest cheese you can buy at 1-2€ and baguettes and croissants are cheap at 80c compared to $3+ back home. These treats need no longer be reserved just for special Sunday mornings.
However, before you do go crazy and buy one of everything, it is worth doing as the French do… The French diet consists of lots of overly fatty and sugary products… much the same as our western diet, however given the sorts of food you could overindulge in, the French should be up there as the nation with the highest obesity rate per capita, but they are not. No, France is not even ranked in the top ten countries yet NZ, Australia, Canada, and the European countries of England, Ireland, Finland and Luxembourg are. The U.S is at number one and even Australia held the numero uno spot at one point. I was relieved to see we had dropped to 5. But we are still number 5.. I have no issue with being a top ten country but would rather it be for things like having some of the most liveable cities in the world!
So whats the secret? The French have small portions and eat less of the food thats not so good for you. No-one is going into the bakery and coming out with supersize me portions of chocolate eclairs, in fact most of the time there are more petit portions on offer than the normal sized ones. It’s all about having those one or two delightful bites, just enough to enjoy and savour the taste and just enough to want more…but that will have to wait for tomorrow….The French must have amazing self discipline.
We camped next to a French couple who very generously offered us some of their petit sponge gateaus (cakes). They had just shared their medium sized container of cakes amongst a large group of them, everyone took one and they were offering us the remaining eight…they weren’t saving them for later, for midnight snacks or early morning pick me ups. They were done. And you know what the four of us scoffed them down…wow they were good…yet what is it in our thinking to want and even crave huge, gianormous portions of food…it no longer becomes a taste sensation but a vomit sensation!!
Enjoying a plat du jour in France (menu of the day), is a similar experience.. It’s impossible not to feel like your fine dining when you get 3 reasonable sized delicious portions of food and all for an affordable 12€. The French just know how to make great food all the time. Even going for a bush walk in a National park in the south of france is a gourmet delight for the senses….we encountered lavender and rosemary bushes and even olive trees…
Another thing we noticed is the gusto with which the French enjoy their outdoour pursuits. The French are fanatic cyclists and walkers/hikers…that’s also bound to help them burn off any excess calories from the mornings pastry and coffee breakfast…!!
So the most important thing to remember when in France is not the “what should I eat” so much but remembering when to stop!
So, what is the ideal road trip vehicle for a travelling family?
It is the ultimate question for any family about to embark on a road trip adventure and there isn’t a right or wrong answer.
We have asked it a million times and discussed it endlessly, sometimes with a different result depending on our mood on the day, which country we’re in, or what new overland vehicle we have just spotted on the road that day…The answer to this question will depend largely on who you ask at the time…everyone will tell you, theirs is the perfect travel vehicle (they had it custom built) and is the perfect solution to your family road travel woes. What vehicle you chose will depend on factors such as; your period of travel, budget, location, your family’s needs and size and well ultimately, your personality!
Some initial questions to consider include…..Do you want practical, big, small, convenient, creature comforts, homemade, custom made, affordable, trendy, fuel efficient, off road capable, fast, slow, head room, no room, old, new, etc.
So, say I wanted cool and homely, I would go for a converted old bus (we spotted two yellow ones) and it reminded me of the idealised old hippie travelling days. The inside of one was lovingly converted complete with a cosy woodfire heater, wooden table and bench seats and even a sewing machine for the creative inner you…Buses have personality and big windows with lots of light…but it is a bus… think noisy, slow, old and not particularly fuel efficient.
Converted old 2WD trucks are popular amongst some of the French surfers/hippies travelling along the coast of Morocco – basic, homemade, and obviously not too expensive to buy. I love the idea of having a truck fitted out with anything you could find from your house/freecycle/donations whatever. A truck is made to carry weight… so think claw bath and big futon bed with floor to ceiling bookshelves.. you could make it however you wanted – bolt anything to the floor of it, and off you go…. But you wouldn’t want to get stuck anywhere (you’d be waiting for days to find a bigger/stronger vehicle to tow you out), drive too far (high fuel costs), it would be a pain to manoevere and would add an extra couple of hours to your travel time especially if driving in hilly countryside.
We have seen ex german/russian converted military trucks as well as all sorts of other 4WD truck conversions.
The former can come in 4/6/8 WD. This would be the way to go if you wanted the space, head room and better off road capability (e.g. something that can hold the weight of your “house” even on dirt unpaved roads). But they can look huge and very conspicous. They seem somewhat out of place amongst the local cars, can use up to 5 x the amount of fuel of a normal 4WD, and depending on what you want done, it wouldn’t be cheap to either buy a truck as is, or for the conversion. Some 4WD trucks because of their size can still be impractical off road especially on smaller roads.
It seems as if every French older person (and a handful of Germans, Italians and Dutch) has a motorhome and travels each year to North Africa to escape the European winter – something in the vicinity of 40,000 when we were there. We saw motor homes of every shape, size, brand and year on the road, from the cheap and affordable to the decadent and fancy. They are custom built, compact, well organised, fuel efficient (newer ones) with a practical space, albeit a bit sterile and same same looking. They can come with all the creature comforts you desire – shower, tv, satellite, aircon, heating, trailers with bikes, motorbikes, dune buggy’s, even a town car on the back. It doesn’t mean they can carry all of this quite so easily… Question is….do you need to take your whole life with you on your travels and where do you really want to go when there? Motorhomes have a practical and comfortable space, but they are not made for driving on unpaved roads with the weight they are carrying – think flat tyres and maybe broken motorhome..
If you want to blend in with the local vehicles, I can guarentee that almost anywhere in the world a white non descript van (ex passenger/delivery type ones) would be the way to go. Only the foreign number plates would give it away, and maybe the curtains, the silver foil windscreen shield and the world map design on the side. Apart from that, the more battered looking the better. Many travellers have chosen a van as the way to road trip – its compact, and a simple and yet do-able living space – you can fit a bed in the back, a simple cooker, sink, and some storage. You can park it anywhere and no-one would guess your sleeping in it.
A van as an all in one vehicle even as a 2WD would handle dirt roads better than a motorhome. There are various sizes, brands and even 4WD options. Although, it’s important to remember that a 4WD is not just about having 4 wheels that drive! So a 4WD doesn’t always equal 4WD capable on all roads. Consider weight, tyre size, clearance and other factors to determine and assess the 4WD suitability for your desires. To fit a family, a soft pop top or a hard one, can give you the extra bed space, and/or head room. If you don’t like white, paint it, sticker it, stripe it, whatever you like it.
A 4WD gives you the ability to go almost anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether its a paved road, a muddy road or a corregated one, a road with pot holes, one thats been washed away or even a bush or dirt track. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small road, a windy road or a steep one. You can just drive it – easily…. If you want to go off road to wild camp, or tuck in somewhere a little more discrete, chances are you can probably get there in a 4WD. They are practical, useful, less likely to get stuck, and depending on the model you buy – spare parts can be found anywhere in the world.
The question than is – how and where do you sleep? Possibilities include: rooftop tent, pitch tent, camper, bed in the back, accomodation… As a couple, a 4WD is an ideal way to travel. In 2007, we travelled for 6 months pre kids. We drove our landrover defender canvas roof with a bed in the back from far east Russia to Turkey via Central Asia. We paid for accomodation in cities (although you don’t have to – we met a dutch couple travelling for 8 years who always slept in their landcruiser no matter where). The cost of accomodation and our overall travel/vehicle expenditure was much cheaper than paying for an expensive conversion or a motorhome.
Accomodating a family in a 4WD car is more difficult and has given us much to think about. With our first son, we did a couple of desert camping trips in Australia with the three of us.. again the bed in the back was still okay (just) for us all to sleep comfortably. Our son loved sitting in the front seat, between the two of us during the driving time. It was practical and easy, with very little set up required (we had a fridge, cooker attached and storage space) and we could park anywhere and go to bed.
And then we became four…!! Our 4WD with a bed option was no longer possible….so what now??!! See blog: Things to consider when choosing your family’s overland vehicle, for a discussion on the important factors to weigh up when deciding on THE “ultimate” vehicle or just the most affordable way to road travel as a family.
Imagine this scenario…. your wild camping, off track, next to a beautiful fresh water river in a lovely bush environment. Your only upkeep is a tent (which at most requires a brush out with a dustpan & brush) and your kitchen is outdoors which requires little cleaning. It doesn’t even matter if the kids (or you) happen to spill liquids/drop food bits while cooking and eating your meal. There is no mopping, no vaccuming, no ironing and no dusting required….There’s no garden to maintain (your going for the ‘wild and natural look’) and your kids play room is well…. the bush…. they have endless entertainment without the need for toys… rocks for building, a river to splash in, sticks for imaginative play and they can run around, make noise, scream and no-ones going to come and tell you or them to be quiet. Without the usual housekeeping chores to keep you busy, you have a couple of hours of free time up your sleeves.
Imagine this other scenario: your living in a hotel/apartment room. Its only 9am and the kids have already been up for a couple of hours and have watched an hour of kids morning tv already. The toys are out, kids are bored and it won’t be long before they start bouncing off the walls with excess energy to burn….You quickly finish breakie dishes and get the kids dressed and out of the apartment to the nearest playground before the neighbours come knocking. For some unexplained reason, all noise seems magnified ten fold and more intense when inside a small confined space compared with the outdoors. Even when the kids are happy they are noisy. I often feel like I spend my time shushing, containing, restricting or telling off.
It doesn’t really matter where the location is, whether its the bush, desert, by a lake, river or a mountain. When indoors, I find that we never seem to have enough toys to occupy the kids and it can be easy to resort to the ipad/tv/computer or whatever digital device you have with you to keep your kids quiet/happy and entertained. Otherwise there’s the need (for my/our kids sanity) to go out and about on various excursions/outings/structured activities to fill up the day.
Even getting the family out for the day can seem like a task in itself… getting kids and ourselves dressed, organised and motivated can take eons… yet when we are camping…well we zip open the tent (not before sun’s up) and there we are; outdoors and a playground all in one with little effort. It doesn’t even have to be an enormous tent with 5 rooms, kitchen and patio. We have camped in our 4 person hiking tent – its cosy but not uncomfortable and gives us the room we need to sleep (which is all we really need it for most of the time), read a book or play wrestle (just!).
I remember when my first son was a baby, and the wonderful remedy of taking my son outdoors during periods of crying when nothing else seemed to work. Stuck indoors with your crying child can be stressful for both mum and baby, but open a door (to a front garden, backyard, go for a walk, to the park) and its often an instant fix for both mum and baby.
I didn’t come from a background of camping…in fact the only camping experience I ever had as a kid was a two week stint in a caravan park by the beach with a friend’s family when I was 13 years old.. It was lots of fun but certainly not adventurous…. But I am adaptable and I like simple living, the outdoors and I was willing to learn! Prior to this, I thought camping was all about eating canned food at best (maybe some damper in the fire), and cold, uncomfortable nights, hours of set up (think tent flapping about as the instructions your holding fly out of your hands) and hard work…
I am fortunate that my husband not only did regular wild camps with his family during their summer holidays but he’s an ex scout… I used to laugh about it (I didn’t quite get the daggy uniform, the pledges and why anyone would want to make a 3 course meal out bush) until I found out how useful and practical my husband could be when in the middle of nowhere.
So I soon discovered the true essence of camping and the beauty of it. Not long into our relationship and we were wild camping through Russia, Mongolia and the Stans on a 6 month road trip where we slept under a mosquito net in a canvas roof Landrover, enjoyed slow cooking on campfires, eating al fresco and found ourselves camped in a myriad of different, interesting, odd and beautiful places……I was converted.
Camping provides a relaxed, mostly enjoyable lifestyle and a possible way to travel and tour a country/continent– mainly because it brings you to the countryside and to nature and out of the cities. It’s even easier (and better) when you can stop for more than a night and when you’ve found an awesome location. It’s a great lifestyle for the kids too – there are no rooms (kids are there while we cook/clean/set up) and so they can also be a part of it and help out, in whatever capacity. They are less fussy than we are about where we camp and even a tent and a Land rover can become home.
We often enjoy camping for the natural rhythm it provides to daily life…routine is structured around things like mealtimes, getting up and going to bed with the sun, basic day to day care (a wash can take half a day!), time for yourself, your partner, with the kids, 2 coffee mornings, afternoon teas, sitting in the sunshine and going to bed at a reasonable time without the distraction of hours of internet, emails, facebook, television etc beforehand. You wake up feeling like you’ve had 11 hours sleep because you have actually slept 11 hours!! When we stay in accomodation we often find that we are up til midnight and beyond distracted by IT gadgets. Yes we like to have our technology time (or at least I do) but we don’t need it everyday and having a good/early night sleep works wonders for both your mental and physical well being.
We chose camping/4WD as our mode of travel through Patagonia (Chile/Argentina) and Morocco during our two road trips.
For more information on the daily reality of camping and useful tips, see blog: Camping know how.
For more specific information on our camping road trips see blog: camping as a way to travel.
Living life on the move – by road, foot, sea and air