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Take the Family › Travel Tips Driving With Kids

Travel Tips: Driving With Kids

Children getting ready for a car journeyChildren getting ready for a car journey

Summer is traditionally the time when parents pile their offspring and half the contents of their house into the family car and set off on a marathon drive across Europe to claim a shady tent pitch or child-friendly villa within a stone’s throw of the beach. There are many benefits to taking your car abroad, not least that you don’t have to worry about baggage constraints. But the Icelandic ash-cloud saga made ferries and other no-fly holidays a more attraction family holiday option than ever.

But mishaps do happen when on the road, as we at Takethefamily team are constantly reminded. Among our recent ‘adventures’ are a breakdown in a heatwave in the middle of nowhere in France, with a seven-month-old baby in the back roaring for his dinner, a mobile with a dying battery, and the AA from claiming to have no knowledge of a recently purchased European breakdown policy. Then there was the skiing trip in France involving repeated roadside breakdowns and, when the Channel finally came into sight, the discovery that the ferry company was on strike.

As always, being prepared can save you heaps of hassle, especially when travelling with kids – it’s fine if not ideal for you to be stuck by the roadside or even stranded, but doing that with children can be traumatic and even dangerous. The following are some of our tips for driving abroad.

• Consider getting your car serviced before your trip, but give yourself plenty of time to get any repairs done – the last thing you want is to find out you have a serious fault a couple of days before leaving.

• Check that your car insurance includes third-party liability abroad; if not, get it upgraded. Then buy some European breakdown cover – Europ Assistance is one we can recommend. Your cover should include accommodation costs and arranging/paying for you to return home.

• Bone up on the road rules for the country you’re visiting. If you have to drive on the right when you’re used to the left, be especially wary at roundabouts and when turning out of car parks or petrol stations (remember the slogan ‘Think right, look left’). Drive more slowly when you’re on unfamiliar territory, too – and note that in built-up areas on the Continent, the limit is normally 40kph (25mph), even when there are no signs to that effect.

• Stock up on the correct safety kit for your destination: in most countries on the Continent, a reflective warning triangle and spare bulbs are obligatory, and in France you must also carry a warning triangle, reflective jacket and, from recently, a breathalyser. This website is invaluable for updates on French driving rules.

• If you have an accident, it’s important not to admit liability or apologise – as a foreigner, you’re at greater risk of being blamed. If the accident is serious, call the police, and take the names and addresses of as many witnesses as possible plus the registration details of any other driver involved.

• Keep a list of a family-friendly hotel and restaurant chains that might be useful if you have to wait for your car to be repaired or get stuck late at night: the likes of Ibis and Etap hotels and Courtepaille restaurants in France.

• Always travel with at least one fully charged mobile phone, a First Aid kit, a spare set of car keys, and some blankets and basic snacks and water.

If your kids are into road-trips, think about splashing out on the two Top Gear children’s books out this summer: ‘Awesome Adventures Vietnam’ and ‘Awesome Adventures Bolivia’ (BBC, both £4.99). For more tips on surviving car journeys with kids, see our sections Taking or Hiring a Car and Songs and Games.

Bonne route!

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Children in the vegetable garden at Westin Costa Navarino.
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