Family touring holidays can be stressful – but great fun! The key is to plan for the worst and hope for the best and introducing a car into the equation adds an extra complication, but one that is more than off-set by the freedom that it gives.
Get Your Car Serviced
Getting your annual service done just before you go on holiday is a great idea. Everything will have been recently checked, adjusted and ready to go before you set off, giving you peace of mind. But, don’t get it done the day before because you won’t have time to get any essential repairs done in time.
The best plan is to get it (and your MOT if your car needs one) done a couple of weeks before you go away, which will give your garage time to get it into tip-top condition! It’s better to use a certified garage where possible, but if in doubt then ask your friends, family and colleagues for recommendations. A good garage won’t repair anything without your permission, will produce a written, itemised bill and will keep the old, worn parts to show you.
The day before you leave you should check your oil and water level again and make sure that your car’s tyres are properly inflated. Most car manufacturers suggest that a higher pressure is needed if you are towing a caravan, have a car full of people and luggage, or will be driving at high speeds for long periods. Check your car’s handbook for details.
Carry Some Spares and Emergency Items
It’s a good idea to carry a few spares and emergency items with you, just in case you have a problem. In fact, many European countries demand that you do so, with stiff fines if the police stop you and you can’t produce them.
You’ll need a spare set of bulbs, a hi-vis vest, a warning triangle, and first aid kit to drive in most European countries. The AA produces a handy guide to the compulsory equipment that you need to carry, broken down by country.
Spare parts that might also be worth carrying are spark plugs, a set of fuses, and some radiator repair sealant.
Don’t forget that your car will need a GB sticker and headlamp beam deflectors too. Oh, and don’t forget to check that you’ve got everything that you’ll need to change a tyre: jack, handle, wheel brace, and the locking wheel nut key.
Car Breakdown Cover
Car breakdown cover is essential when you are touring in Europe. Don’t skimp on the cover that you take out either, because saving a few pounds might just ruin your holiday.
You’ll need cover that will repatriate you and your car in the event of a serious problem or accident. If you are the only driver then you need a policy that provides a replacement too. Some policies will even pay for accommodation and most will provide an English-speaking operator to talk you through the help that you’ll be getting.
Some breakdown policies have exclusions that limit the age of the car that they will cover, so don’t forget to check before you part with your money if you drive an older car.
Towing Caravans and Trailers
If you are towing a caravan or trailer then you need to check the tyres and brakes before you set off, especially if it has been standing for a long period.
You also need to make sure the towing vehicle’s brakes are in good condition and the brake fluid has been changed if necessary. Your garage can test it for contamination and advise you.
Caravan breakdown cover is a complex subject with traps and pitfalls for the unwary, but it’s just as essential as cover for your car is.
Keeping the Kids Entertained
Keeping the kids entertained is a job in itself and it’s a good idea to be clear whose job it is. It makes sense to delegate this to the front-seat passenger to enable the driver to concentrate on the important task of driving!
Car-based DVD players are a blessing on long journeys and are reasonably cheap these days and can often be used in the home too. It’s also a good idea to pack a few portable games, which you can reveal when the boredom gets too loud!
However, if you forget to pack games for the children, don’t worry. You can all have great fun by playing observation games like i-Spy, alphabet zoo (naming animals beginning with various letters of the alphabet using number plates), seeing who can spot the first nominated car colour (the winner gets to pick the next colour), see who can spot cars in the different colours of the rainbow (in order), or spot the next ambulance/fire engine/police car; the winner gets to make a siren noise!
Take a road atlas – even if you have GPS it’s still a good idea to pack a road atlas in the car. That way you can still navigate even if your GPS breaks down or if you need to plot a detour.
It can also be used to keep the kids occupied; they’ll love seeing where you are travelling and following the road on the map.