12th December 2017
It was like a military operation. The dining table was the Strategy Room, strewn with maps and road atlases. Operation Rovaniemi was charted. There was a tangible buzz of activity – finally this was getting off the ground but we needed to act fast and get our initial plans (made before we had a Bailey of Bristol motorhome to travel in) firmed up.
The General was in his element. His officers across Europe were kept busy: emails to-ing and fro-ing, Facebook message pinging, Skype calls with friends in small-town Finland and fjords of Norway.
We had friends calling their friends to arrange for us to meet them, spend days with them, visit their schools and pre-schools. A finely tuned spreadsheet started to fill up: of campsites to stop at, people to meet, and addresses and phone numbers for 6 weeks of travelling.
The quartermaster (my mother) stocked up food supplies, Mountain Warehouse kitted out the troops in Arctic Gear, Bailey provided an Approach Advance motorhome, that was winterised. Then we were ready for battle and off we charged.
Sticking rigidly to travel plans, particularly when you are travelling with children, and particularly when you have an ambitious itinerary of challenging temperatures, confined space and many many kilometres to travel, is a sure-fire one-way track to breaking.
Fevers in the night, wrong routes, a Tom-Tom that is a little off, gusts of winds of Biblical proportions while travelling over bridges through Schleswig-Holstein, friends cancelling, pre-schools deciding to take a day out when we’d planned on visiting, … all these things add up and require a flexible response. Otherwise we’d just snap.
So we are learning to take a deep breath. And instead of reacting to problems and hold ups, we’re pausing and responding slowly. It’s the only way if we’re going to enjoy and embrace the next 4 weeks of travel. We’re by no means experts yet but we’re on the right track.
And where we have adjusted instead of ploughed on, we’ve really reaped the benefits. We stayed an extra day at a campsite in Denmark because we were all tired and couldn’t face rushing any more. As a result, we took a spontaneous trip into the local town and found Santa Claus and his crew walking down the street. They were handing out sweets to children to the delight of our own children. We discovered a bakery selling festive Honeycake Hearts coated in chocolate, and our daughter asked for the cakes and paid in basic Danish.
Delays have had other disappointments such as not meeting a long-lost Swedish friend at the weekend… but it did also facilitate meeting with other friends who unexpectedly had the afternoon off on the Monday. They took us to see a famous Christmas window display at a Stockholm department store, insider information that we foreigners didn’t know about. The children were enchanted by dancing snowflakes and skiing sweets, and these little treats re-fuelled the children’s goodwill for travelling so much.
Travel delays and frustrations do feel like a dark cloud when you want to press on but it’s true that you have to expect the unexpected while motorhoming. And every cloud is met with a silver lining of unexpected, unplanned cultural richness for all the family. We are glad we are becoming flexible enough to let in spontaneity rather than route-march through our journey and we’ll thank ourselves for it by the end of the trip.
Author: Hannah Barbey