By lunchtime on Easter Saturday we had driven through four countries. Well the first one, England, probably shouldn’t count, but France, Belgium and Holland definitely do. And it struck me that driving through European to a destination shouldn’t be the sole purpose of the journey.
It was mine when I first saw that our destination of Wassenaar was 240 miles from Calais. In my head that translated as four hours of driving using the route the sat nav tells us. Mr B, however, being wiser than me, suggested we didn’t use a sat nav but got out a proper old fashioned map and look at the route to see what was on the way that might make a good detour.
That’s my first tip. Ditch the Sat Nav, use a map. Mr B found that by hugging the North Sea Coast we could go over some spectacular dams, technically bridges with sluice gates but that doesn’t sound nearly so romantic. And saw some incredible coastline and huge beaches. The scenery really was stunning and going this way only added about an hour to our journey but I was so pleased we did it. We also went through the Western Scheldt Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in the Netherlands at nearly 7km. A stunning piece of engineering. And much more fun to navigate with a map around more rural roads than listening to a disembodied voice tell you slightly too late that your exit is in 60M and you are in the outside lane of the Antwerp ringroad.
The bridge of course was a toll road and so that is my next tip Have local currency to hand. Preferably in coins if you have them lying around in a drawer at home, grab them. The Tunnel was only 5 Euros but had it only been a couple they may not have taken kindly to a 20 Euro note being thrown at them. And some tolls do of course just have “bins” that you throw coins into, a much quicker way to get through them but a pain if you have notes.
I also like to tune the radio to something local. I know that sounds mad when it is likely to be in a foreign language but there are two reasons for this. One, it is great to hear the local language as soon as you arrive, and really makes you feel you are on holiday. If you are listening to CDs or your iPod, well you could just be on any old road. Secondly, you can have great fun wondering what on earth the DJ is talking about when you only get one word of a whole minute long segment. We heard a chap today waffling on for ages and then all we heard was “instagram upgrade”. This all made us chuckle and wonder what on earth he was talking about. And of course it also means you heard adverts which seem to be the only bits in English, for things you are never likely to want or need. Things such as the KoKoRiCo nightclub, something won’t be visiting but hearing the ad for it ever ten miles was another way to make us smile and know we were truly sur le continent.
You also need to check that you have all the kit you need to be legal in the countries you are driving through. For instance in France you need two breathalyser kits, whilst in Holland you need two first aid kits. Needing two of course so that you still have a complete one left when you have opened and used one. There are also requirements for bulb kits, warning triangles and head light deflectors.
If you are camping when you arrive, check and double check you have all the bits and pieces you need. Are the tent pegs all there? Do you need a new guy rope? (always easier to buy your rope in the UK then in a foreign language when you are tired and in desperate need!). And are they all on the top of the rammed boot? I remember arriving after a long road trip at a camp site and then finding the bag with all the tent pegs was at the bottom of the all the stuff in the boot. Packed first so we don’t forget it, doesn’t translate when you arrive in the pitch black!
I love travelling, not just the getting to the destination bit, but the journey itself. The holiday starts as soon as the car pulls off the drive for me, not when we check in at our destination.
These are my top tips, what are yours? We have to do this in reverse tomorrow.