You would think we are a bit crazy wanting to drive over 9 hours from Manchester to Paris with 2 children and just 1 driver. But we survived our first ever family road trip and we are going to tell you how:
So what do you need if you’re planning to cross the country by car?
Hahaha…well, we suppose you already knew that! Travelling with children can be quite exhausting, especially if they’re still young, as is in our case, who are 5 and 1 year old.
Ok, but for real now…
#1 Plan ahead but keep your mind open for the unexpected
Our family road trip implied taking the ferry from Dover to Calais. For that, we chose the Aferry website that gave us a good deal if you bought the ticket quite in advance. We didn’t choose the Channel Tunnel (by the way, every time I say that I think of Channing Tatum! lol) because we thought it would actually be more convenient to have an hour and a half break to stretch our legs and maybe take a little nap.
So we were thinking on doing frequent short stops for the kids, but in the end, they slept through the afternoon and woke up when we were an hour away from the port. But see, the unexpected. We just had to adapt ourselves on the go.
#2 Short breaks better than long ones unless you need them.
Depending on how long is the whole trip but for us it worked really well 15-30 minutes breaks. Time enough for a wee and some fresh air. On our way to France, we only did 1 stop before taking the ferry. However, on our way back to Manchester, we did 4! Everyone was quite tired so on this occasion that worked well for us.
#3 Drive overnight only if you can, if not enjoy every step of the way.
If you are a good night driver I would totally suggest to do the family road trip by night, at least one of the ways. That way, the kids can sleep while you do as many miles as possible. It’s got its pros and cons. You will be shuttered on the next day when everyone will be perfect! but you will avoid the usual traffic jams.
On the other hand, driving throughout the day gives you the chance to enjoy the adventure altogether, which is something nice too. Until the kids get fed up and you wish they would sleep ALL the way. 😉
#4 When stopping for fuel in France be smart.
Petrol stations close to Calais will be more expensive. We filled the tank before heading back to Manchester at a petrol station next to our hotel and it saved us a few euros. Stations like Esso or Carrefour are more economic than the rest.
#5 How many tanks of fuel did we need to drive from Manchester to Paris?
Well, we have a Hyundai Matrix with a capacity of 40L. approx. so with that in mind, with 1 tank we were able to get to the Ferry in Dover. We had to refill in Calais though; we still had enough but when you are in a different country you don’t want to risk anything so we filled it back up again. So in total, it will have been 1.5 tanks from Manchester to Paris. (500 miles approx.) We stayed 1 day in Paris city so we used another half of tank there. Then the same amount to drive back to Manchester.
#6 The Dartford cross toll is REAL
We have heard of it but we didn’t know what it really was or how to pay it but then all of a sudden we saw a sign when we were getting closer to Dover that said: “Go online, you have time to pay until tonight.” We kinda freaked out and thought -wait a minute, who is watching?! where is the toll? is it talking to us?- Oh well, it turned out that yes, it was talking to us and to all the rest of the cars that go through that way. It is cheap, but you can’t forget to pay it. Here’s the website, people, I’m not telling you tales! Dartford Cross Charge THEY are watching us.
#7 Where should I stay overnight?
That will depend on your budget and circumstances. Our trip from Manchester to Paris consisted on 3 days. 1 travelling, 1 visiting the city and the third day to travel back. Because I am the only one who drives at home, for now :), we decided it would be better to be able to have a couple of good night sleeps. So we got to Paris around 3 am in the morning and then we stayed for another full night where we could really rest well. No paid links or sponsored posts here but we must really recommend Ibis Budget. The family room was nice and clean. The duvets, the bed, everything was of good quality. It had their own TV, bathroom and Wi-Fi. So for an overnight stay was perfect. Plus the one we chose, 20 minutes drive from Paris centre, was great and with very friendly staff.
#8 Sightseeing by car
It is true you want to enjoy the city to the fullest and visit as many places as possible but we were quite shuttered and we didn’t have enough time or energy to do that. So instead, we drove around Paris not parking anywhere, just pulling over in a couple of quiet streets to take some pictures. We got to see the Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triomphe, and other monuments from our comfortable car. The driver, in this case, myself, couldn’t take out the sight from the road too much of course, but I had been to Paris before, so it was alright. Hubby was excited to see all the amazing architecture and the children just enjoyed the ride.
By the way, we did that because in the morning we had been to the LDS Paris Temple open house, our main reason to visit Paris. I don’t want you to think we spent the whole trip inside the car! lol it wasn’t like that. 😉
#9 Save some money and buy locally
Because we come from Barcelona, Spain, there were a few things that seemed familiar, apart from the point we were driving on the right side of the road, of course. For example, restaurants can be quite expensive, actually, the whole city of Paris is super expensive! but if you go to SuperMarkets like Carrefour, which is like your kind of Asda, you will find good food at affordable prices. We enjoyed some really nice french bread along with some ham and cheese and other treats.
We also had some breakfast from a local patisserie around the hotel instead of having breakfast there. They were absolutely delicious!
#10 The must-not-forget things
If you are driving in France:
- The Standing warning triangle. You don’t need it in the UK but in France and other European countries is mandatory, in case you need to stop for an emergency.
- The Reflective vest: one for the driver and one for the co-pilot.
- The GB sticker. We got a magnetic one so we only used while in France.
You can get them easily online on Amazon or eBay. You will find better prices than not if you have to buy them in France.
If you are driving with kids:
- Entertainment: we downloaded 3 films for our 5-year-old on the mobile phone. (our iPad is broken T_T) and also made sure she had the right games that didn’t need any internet connection.
- Snacks, obviously for everyone too. And DRINKS, quite important. The less messy they get the better but again, not something you can control 100%. On the first half-an-hour drive our 1-year-old was already with his face full of banana and spread all over his seat.!
- Blankets and a couple of pillows. They worked well for us. They just helped them feel cosier.
- NEVER let them go. All parents are probably aware of this but resting areas can be so dangerous. You are tired, so are the kids and they want to run free, but the moment you turn around you have lost them and who knows where they could be or even worse with who! So we told them beforehand -always holding hands, everywhere you go-.
- Be patient. They can get stressed, they don’t mean to “ruin” your trip, but just be patient one with another and enjoy even the unexpected.
For the driver:
- Get all the music ready beforehand. At some point, your partner might abandon you on the quest and take a little nap. Be ready to stay by yourself, just you and the road. Some music can help.
- Get some energetic drinks if you need to. I personally don’t like them but when it was 1 in the morning and we still had other 2 hours to the hotel they saved me from falling asleep.
- One step at a time. Every mile driven is one step closer to your destination.
We hope you make the most of your next family road trip, wherever that may be. And remember is the journey and not the destination that matters. Put a good face to all the tears and the “are we there yet?” You are building memories. Your kids won’t remember the Eiffel tower, they will remember the joke that you told in the car, the song you all sang and laughed about… so make every moment count. 🙂
** Head over to our Instagram profile and you will see many more pictures of this adventure!