At last 10 months and 29 days of preparation come to fruition. Our day of departure has finally come and we are about to embark on our first family ski season.
It’s a relief, after the meticulous (and stressful) planning, to be off with no more to do but bundle up the sleepy girls (it’s 5 am and -9 outside) tucking them into our van packed to the rafters. We’ve stayed overnight at our friend, Purple’s house in Brighton. It cuts 3 hours off our total drive time and means we can do the entire journey in a day. Bonus.
Pulling out in the dead of night it’s much the same start to any adventure.
The mental double-checking of kit (too late now anyhow) & the practicalities (are the girls warm enough?, did I order enough euros? which is the quickest route?) finally give way to the silent chill of the night and the hum of the motor. I rarely allow myself to get excited before a trip, not until the very last minute - literally - boarding a plane, pulling up the lines or as the train pulls out the station. Plus with kids in the mix it's normally a blend of controlled chaos, gentle cajoling or barking orders depending on the situation. Prior to the nano second before departure I’m lost in boring lists and must do's. I love early starts though. It reminds me of my annual childhood holidays with their 4am departures from Yorkshire to Dorset. Leaving at a ridiculous hour in the morning is quiet and muted. My thoughts are my own as the girls nuzzle into their blankies and settle down into the journey. After weeks of waiting, the adventure is ON. The first tingle of excitement gently gnaws away the weeks of tension as we sit comfortably on the surprisingly empty M25 and peace settles in my belly & a smile sits on my face as the pull of adventure draws us to the tunnel.
Our VW Transporter comes into it’s own on the 12 hours stretch to the Alps. The speed’s a welcome addition from the endless slog my husband and I have both done before countless times in old bangers revving out to do winters past. Apart from the augmentation of vehicle, not much else has changed from those carefree days 20 years ago. We’ve stuffed every conceivable piece of kit into the T5 along with over £400 worth of Lidl and Tesco dry goods. As we tank it down the motorway, the only real difference is the two kids we now have in tow and a few grey hairs!
Yes indeed, it’s a going to be an entirely different season to the previous 20 we’ve collectively amassed over the years. Gone will be the endless boozing, the all night parties and the general carnage. My girls have been visiting the mountains since they were babies, plonked on skis at three. I’m looking forward to showing them the ‘way of life’ the mountains has to offer. The simplicity, embracing nature and inhaling the sense of adventure and purpose people who come here have – their zest for life, their adventurous spirit. The mountains for me represent a simpler, slower life. Life is always a bubble in ski resorts. Bring on the bubble, the euthanasia from the stresses of life. With Trump mania, Brexit and now European elections, it’s a good time to switch off from the world and teach my children the wonder of les montagnes.
Mont Blanc welcomes us driving into the valley 12 hours later
7 TIPS FOR DRIVING EN FAMILLE TO EUROPE
1. GET A GOOD ROOF BOX
Put simply, we couldn’t have fit all our stuff into our van with the roof box. With a whopping 580 litres capacity we crammed in a ridiculous amount of kit into the Exodus 580 (Halfords's own brand & half the price of Thule!). Ideal for a 2 week holiday or a 5 month ski trip – we were impressed with the space and performance of the Exodus 580l roof box (review to come)
2. CHECK OUT WWW.MONEY.CO.UK FOR BEST GO TO EXCHANGE RATES
With the pound on a daily rollercoaster ride it’s worth shopping around to eek out a few extra euros for your pounds before departure. I like to use www.money.co.uk which pinpoints the nearest places to you with the best rates either for collection or delivery. I was suprised Debenhams Travel Money came up trumps (I don't want to talk about how the pound has soared today pending the Italian elections!) You can calculate exactly how much you want on www.money.co.uk and get a better rate than the in-house rate by either printing or having the voucher on your smart phone when you go in.
3. DO A DRY STORE SHOP BEFORE YOU LEAVE
By stocking up at cheap UK supermarkets before crossing the Channel, you’ll save yourself a small fortune. Food prices have rocketed on the continent for us Brits now we’re getting shortchanged with the pound. We bought as much we could and can feel smug for a few weeks walking around French supermarkets.
4. NEED TO BREAK THE JOURNEY - BOOK A F1
Formule 1 motels have been our dirty little secret for a number of years. Cheap as chips F1 allows an affordable family stop-off on the long shlek through France. For as little as 28 quid for a room (yes a room, not per person!) you can pull off the motorway, get your head down & back on the road again toutsuite the following morning. Rooms are limited to a 3 person maximum so our trick with 2 young kids is to book ahead online and turn up late after 10pm (the receptionists clock off at 10pm, you check in automatically, kids then top and tail on the single bed). F1 = basic/non-ensuite/free wi-fi/bloody good value
5. BOOK THE CHANNEL TUNNEL COURTESTY OF TESCO CLUBCARD
Some people are dogged fans of either the ferry or the tunnel. Me? It depends how long our road trip is and at what point we’re hitting the Channel. I like the ferry no 1 for price but crucially the whole family can get out of the car, have a break, stretch and have a run around. This is brilliant if we’ve already done a long drive on the UK side just to get to the ferry & still have a long road ahead.
The tunnel though comes into it’s own if you’re watching the clock. With a 30 min crossing time, the Channel is all about speed. I love that I can use up all our saved up Tesco Clubcard vouchers and pay nothing. Boom! Plus being able to board 2 hours each side of your selected departure time means a stress free Channel bound journey.
6. CALL YOUR MOBILE PHONE PROVIDER & GET A BETTER TARIFF
Finally – roaming charges have evaporated from Europe. A bloody mazing! (until article 50 is triggered but lets not talk about that). We were dumbfounded on calling Vodaphone to be able to change our contract phones to a £36 monthly tarrif enabling us to call or text UK landlands & mobiles for free AND call any other European country or text landline or mobiles for free. Result! Woohoo! Amazeballs!
7. GET A FRENCH MOTORWAY TOLL TAG
Order a french motorway toll tag to stick on your car windscreen enabling you automatic entry through tolls. These little gems can be a godsend in holiday season where toll queues can be manic. Plus they're simple to order online and take only 2 working days to arrive at your UK address. They don't, however, give any discount at the tolls, unless you're a blue badge holder. It costs maximum 16 euros a year although there's also a 20 euro refundable security deposit. Go to www.saneftolling.co.uk to order or for more information.
The Family Freestylers are us - the Nixon family, who relish travel adventures both near & far