So last week, we went on our travels, an epic adventure in Wilma, our VW transporter conversion that my lovely hubby has painstakingly turned from ply lined builder’s van into amazing home on wheels. He even cut out the hole for the pop up roof and windows and built the kitchen etc! It was a labour of love and we’re all so happy with the way she’s turned out!
This was our maiden voyage in her, (bar a few nights sleeping in her on my parent’s drive!), so obviously we planned a little trial trip, close to home right? Erm, no! We drove from England to Venice in her. Yep! It was quite some journey. We worked out in the end that we had covered in all, a grand total of 2,300 miles, in eleven days!
Loads of people have been asking, so I thought I’d write up the trip with some useful hints and tips about camper vanning with kids. Obviously, there will be some hilarious anecdotes about the absolute disasters that befell us too! After all, it would be a Pink Pear Bear post without a bit of comedy drama!
Let me take you back to Thursday, the day the kids broke up and The Day Of Total Disasters! I had been working my butt off to get everything ready for the trip. I wanted to have a real break from blog work, (and feared my husband may chuck my phone out of the moving van window if I didn’t!!!), and so I was scheduling and sorting like a mad woman. I finally felt serene and in control until Thursday rolled around and I realised I’d done absolutely no holiday prep. None.
Ok, no biggy, I had all day….except, I didn’t. Our cat Pablo was supposed to be going into kennels and as she was 11, hadn’t been vacc’d for years, (the vet had advised against it just so you don’t think I’m just a mean cat owner!), so we’d taken her to the vet for a booster. As it turned out, it was one of a two part-er, so the kennel couldn’t take her. I spent a good hour phoning round and finally found someone to come in and feed her. Phew! Packing then!
Er, no! Mr PB expressed concern that the van had a slow puncture. Luckily he had the day off work, so we went to get my car, (which was in a garage across town), and drop the van in. Along the way, we stopped at a supermarket and I accidently spent way too long buying entertainment supplies for the kids. In the spirit of making this a useful post and not just my dramatic retelling with much waving of arms, (you shall have to imagine that bit!), I will tell you that this was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I bought each child a sticker book, a shape one for big girl and a Thomas one for small boy. It was a bit wasted on small boy though. I also got a princess colouring book for BG and a Paw Patrol one for SB, (also wasted on him!), two identical packs of colouring pencils, (my thinking went, ‘felt tips?’ hell no! ‘wax crayons?’ cheap ones don’t really make a mark and are a nightmare to get off seats and ‘paint?’ oh dear god woman are you freaking mental?!’), I also got two packs of cheap foam stickers. Letters and numbers for BG and different expression faces for SB. These ended up stuck to every surface imaginable and I feel like we did a total Hansel and Gretal and if you so wished, you could follow our exact trip simply by looking for brightly coloured smile and frown stickers as they fell out at every stop and both children were covered in them everywhere we went!
Anyway, they all came in very useful and I kept them in a rucksack up front and every time boredom overwhelmed and they started to squabble, (‘he touched me with his toooooeeee!, ‘she put a finger up my nose!’), I would whip something out and buy us some peace for ooooh, about 10 minutes! 😉
In the spirit of being upfront and ‘real’ though, I’ve got to say that the best thing we had ever ever, were the dvd players we bought to attach to the back of our headrests. We didn’t use them that much, but when things were really tight and we had to push on, (we were stuck in a traffic jam for an hour and a half near Milan), they were a godsend. Although I did curse them when I was trying to operate something that was effectively attached to the back of my head, with both children keeping up a running commentary on what was, or wasn’t happening on screen. ‘There’s no picture Mummy, it’s all blue Mummy, it’s not coming on!’ sentences that still haunt me! 😀
Back to disaster day! (This is absolutely going to be a two parter I think! At least!!) After
my the lengthy stop in the supermarket, we went to drop the van in and then went to deliver the wormery to my son’s nursery. As I’d had it to review, I thought it might be nice to pass it on to them, plus I wasn’t sure how they’d cope with being left. (Not that I am under any illusion they would miss me, but a return to a tank of deceased worms really would be a rubbish home coming!)
I asked Mr PB to drop me home to start packing while he took my door keys over to the cat sitter. So home we went to drop me off so I could hurriedly start throwing things into bags. Another tip! We have these very handy rectangle ‘pods’ that my husband bought on a popular online auction site, that come in packs of four different sizes. They zip all the way round 3 sides and each member of the family has a different colour. I packed tops in one, bottoms in another and underwear and pjs in a third for the kids. I needed a few more as my clothes are so much bigger.
These pods then stack one on top of the other in the wardrobe and it’s easy to find whichever person’s clothes by the colour. Until the inevitable happens and all clothes end up in the laundry bag! (Another tip, take a bag specifically for washing! A big one!) I also used the smaller sized ones to put the afore mentioned pencils and stickers in. Also in the child’s own colour.
When he returned, he told me that the garage had phoned to confirm that the van did indeed have a puncture, but they couldn’t fix it, or get a new tyre until the next day. Eek! Oh, and also that he’d somehow managed to loose his own keys along the way, leaving us utterly keyless! I then had to drive my him back over to the get the van, which he then took to a third garage for the new tyre. (Seriously, you couldn’t make this up, I promise you that no artistic license has been used in the writing of this blog post!) By this point it was 1.30pm and we wanted to leave in two hours at the latest.
In the subsequent hour and a half, I did the nursery and school pick up and we walked home, rounding the corner to our house on tenterhooks, to see the van waiting on the drive! Hurrah!! We hurriedly threw everything into it, and after just a few tense moments(!), we were ready to leave…..the back door and gate open for my friend to come in and lock up later!! Trusting in our neighbourhood, he headed off. Excited to begin our adventure.
In the spirit of true adventure, we hadn’t booked anything, we just had several books of ‘Aires’ that we could find along the way, and a rough idea of where we wanted to end up. France has a real abundance of these Aires, unlike Britain, (who don’t let you even slow down anywhere other then a paid for campsite!), vanners are welcomed with open arms, every few feet you seem to spot a sign for one. They are pull in places, some with loos and showers, (many without though so do check), some just motorway laybys really, but lots with views, picnic areas, even kiddy playgrounds and all either free or just a few euros from our experience that you can just arrive at at any point and set up.
We negotiated maybe the worst roads of the trip, (M25 I’m looking at you!), and arrived at the tunnel at 7.20, about 10 minutes late for our check in, but we’d been advised, (by people I shall no longer trust about anything!!), that you get an hour either way. Merrily popping our ticket in, buzzing with excitement…….we got a time of 10.50pm! Oh noooooooo! That meant over three hours in the terminal, what were we going to do?! Were our travels as doomed from the outset as it felt at this moment?!
…….To Be Continued!!……..