x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Travelling With Kids: in need of a pool and a plan

On a campervan holiday with my young daughter, I realise that children require structure rather than the freedom of the road.

Darkness is falling. We've spent the day inside our Toyota Granvia campervan driving across northern France. The roads stretch like stitches through the fabric of the fields. Apart from ourselves, this vast region seems deserted.

Only another 15km left to our destination: an aire de camping in the village of Catillon-sur-Sambre. According to our guidebook, this site is little more than a car park with electricity and water. It is part of a network of free campsites in farms, vineyards and villages across France. Since the occupants must be self contained and self sufficient, only campervans are allowed to stay.

For as long as I can remember, I've envied this liberty enjoyed by campervaners. I'm not proud, you understand, of hankering after a mode of travel adopted by people much older than myself. Yet there is something about the independence - freedom for free, if you like - that a campervan provides in countries such as France, which I find very appealing.

Now I have a campervan, and I also have a young daughter.

Astrid is sitting in the back, fidgeting in the gloom. I cannot see her, but she is banging her feet on her chair, rhythmically and persistently. She's been strapped in for several hours. I'm surprised she's not straining at her bonds.

The village comes into view and we cruise down the empty thoroughfare. It's a long way from the main routes through France. Who knows if the site will be occupied or even open? We're almost through the village when we come upon a patch of ground beside a canal with three large campervans parked side by side. We pull in on the end.

Through the windows of these huge vehicles, we can see grey-haired couples finishing their meals. They were probably settled here by 4pm. I imagine their journeys planed to the hour and their maps of France, richly annotated with the best stopovers. Suddenly, I feel unprepared and foolish.

Dinner is soup and bread. While we're eating, Astrid starts throwing bread around. And in the way that sometimes happens when you try to stop young children doing something, she starts shouting and yelling, working herself up into a frenzy.

After a few minutes of piercing the peace, I take her outside and walk down the road. She cries and screams and shouts, venting the energy stifled during the day. Eventually she calms down.

As we return to the van, it becomes clear to us that we need to re-assess our plans - or lack of them. Young children, it seems, need structure rather than the freedom of the road. They need a campsite with a playground and a swimming pool. In the morning, we resolve to find one.