The French adventure of a family from Cambridge

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We have been dreaming for some time of a road trip in a motorhome. We have often speculated on the journey through the diverse cultures and landscapes of Europe or on the hippie trail of the Pacific Highway, along the spectacular American West Coast. It was first my husband’s dream and then it became mine as we sat at home watching countless natural history programs detailing the geographic gems that awaited us if we ever left our routines of work, mortgage payments and the needs of our two young children. .Lockdown was no more difficult for us than most families, and arguably a lot less difficult than many, but it was an incredibly intense time. I felt like I was holding my breath for most of it. Trying to stop myself from screaming in the hills like the beaver in this locking gif going around. I continued to work in my work as a keynote speaker, from home, and my husband was able to access government support for small businesses to keep wolves out, and then when the lockdown eased, continued his business, in a way. But because his business is seasonal and dependent on tourists and international students, he knew his generally high summer season was going to be bleak, with restricted air travel and low confidence in border movements.

Sarah Gibson Yates Travels During Covid (42208086)

One Sunday in late June, as the weight of this reality slowly took hold, and maybe after a drink or two, my husband said he should probably forget about it this summer: close the shop and go on a trip. I don’t think I answered. I held onto the thought, turned it around, to see how it might work. Could it work? Later that evening, I said, here I am. It took us two days to work out the logistics and another ten days to research and secure the purchase of a motorhome. We picked it up seven days before we left with money we had saved up for an extension that we had to put aside until next year (we would sell it early next spring to recoup expenses). We did. Instead of feeling frustrated or worried about a wasted summer, with bored kids worried about the safety of Covid in overcrowded Britain’s campsites with everyone staying focused, we were going to make a dream come true.

France seemed the obvious choice. According to our research, it was set up for motorhomes traveling with thousands of areas (parking spaces with different levels of services) and campsites with services, all located on one app (we used Park4Nite because it offered a good level of free service but there are others). France was close and we could be flexible about our destination and avoid local lockdowns if necessary. We would be in our own family motorhome bubble. We had hand sanitizer, masks and adrenaline as we prepared for a family adventure that seemed to almost instantly dissolve the stress and suffocation of the past few months. So why would someone who confessed to feeling locked in with their locked out family want to put themselves in an even smaller space with the same? Well, because it wasn’t the same. We were traveling. New places, new horizons every day. Or as a friend of mine said, “Oh, freedom! Go anywhere you want! Wonderful!’ And that’s exactly what it was. Wonderful and free.

Sarah Gibson Yates Travels During Covid (42208074)
Sarah Gibson Yates Travels During Covid (42208074)

We took the ferry to Dieppe and traveled the Atlantic coast, visiting all the places we had heard of but had never been: Normandy, Brittany, then Aquitaine (La Rochelle, Ile de Ré in as favorites), then we headed inland to the Dordogne and to a boutique campsite in Beynac to meet friends for 3 days who turned into 7, surviving 39C by the river building some dams then in French Basque around Biarritz for the oceanic coast, via never forgetting Cahors. We camped wild and on a low budget in various locations to culminate in 3 days near lovely so lively Saint Jean de Luz where my oldest properly surfed for the first time and my youngest improved his confidence in open water by bodyboarding and adventures in the rock pool. Then we headed inland again, to the Pyrenees this time, happy to say hello to the mountains and trees and cooler nights. We marveled at spectacular peaks and bathed in crystal clear mountain water, breathed in the gentle, rejuvenating air of pine trees and watched the mists as we traveled the narrow, steep roads of the stage peaks of the Tour de France of Col D’Aubisque and Col Tourmalet. We ate in a hailstorm in a ski resort, plunged into prehistory in the caves and museums around Foix, rediscovered childhood vacations in the Tarn gorges and explored many woods, forests and beautiful lakes (Annecy , Settons, to name just two). A veritable kaleidoscope of views and experiences.

Sarah Gibson Yates Travels During Covid (42208082)
Sarah Gibson Yates Travels During Covid (42208082)

Now, as fall arrives and some parents search for ways to ease back-to-school anxiety from being away too long, our children’s minds are teeming with memorable experiences from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a life. A list of firsts. A moment that they will hopefully remember their entire lives. Of course, my kids were picky, my husband and I argued about the boating and sometimes we were so tired we all wanted to go home but the feeling of accomplishment and a renewed energy to deal with the hardships that could beset our family in the coming year, as the threat of Covid continues to lurk, and with no real promise of a vaccine anytime soon, I can honestly say I personally feel renewed and our family feels stronger. Proud that we have succeeded as a family in putting some money into this otherwise dark and heavy period.


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