Bestselling author of Road to Rouen and Are We Nearly There Yet?, travel guide writer and family holiday veteran Ben Hatch talks car games, French minutes, being together and pants...
Youre travelling around Italy as we speak, hows it going so far?
So far I've seen a fin whale, fallen in the Venice Grand Canal, been bitten by a marmot and am wearing speedos because I've run out of pants. And there are several weeks to go. That's how it's going!
Youve spent a lot of time in your car with your children over the years - what games do you play to pass the time peacefully?
The best car game I ever invented for the car was I-don't-spy. It's basically a variant on i-spy except in this game the object being guessed at can be anything in the known universe unobservable from a speeding Passat. The main advantage is it lasts ages. For instance, the kids once spent two hours guessing the word gnu.
What do you find most stressful about travelling with your family?
The most stressful thing is always when we have to be somewhere at a set time. If a boat is sailing, a train departing or there is a tourist board rep we have to meet, we go into meltdown. My wife will fall down a manhole, or I'll topple into a canal or one of the kids will suddenly remember a teddy they left under their hotel bed that we have to go back for because the bear is their favourite, or was given to them by a dying relative or has magical powers or whatever else they'll say to force the issue.
Do you cause many problems on holiday? You blame your wife for a lot of the scrapes you get into!
It's always my wife's fault although ultimately, like all men, after she has explained the chain of events I come to see that I am to blame.
How do you find flying with your little people?
We were on a flight once and this guy ahead of us got so frustrated at the noise our kids were making he wrapped a pillow round his ears and fastened it there with the belt he removed specially from his trousers. We haven't flown with the kids since.
As a dad who is known for being very careful with his money, whats the biggest treat youve allowed your family during this holiday?
The biggest treat I allowed them was to have six Euros each to spend in a giftshop of a car museum in Turin. We'd had a nightmare finding the place that had involved me driving for a while through an arcade of shops like one of the minis in the Italian Job. I weakened and felt sorry for them. My son bought a grey Ferrari toy that he lost within 24 hours. My daughter earned my infinite respect and saved hers.
Do you have any top tips for parents taking their brood overseas this summer?
If you're travelling to a big country and aiming to do a lot of miles in the car, a good tip is to invent, provided your kids can't tell the time like ours, a distinction between English minutes and those of the country you are visiting. For instance, last year in France we persuaded the kids there was a large discrepancy between the length of an English minute and that of a French one which made the driving more bearable.
"You said it was 20 minutes," they would cry.
"Yes guys, French minutes."
"Oh, I HATE French minutes."
Talking books work better than DVDs. That's another tip. DVDs are only really useful if the trip is no longer than the length of the DVD. If that's not the case the boredom the end of a Pixar movie induces is so emotionally sapping you'll wish you never came away at all.
Audio books work better being as they are about midway between boredom and entertainment. The end of a talking book can in fact be a relief. But under no circumstances ever buy Moby Dick as a talking book. Moby Dick as a talking book makes regular boredom seem like Disneyland to a child. In fact it is so awful we keep it in the disk changer to this day as a threat. "If you don't behave we'll play Moby Dick."
What's the best thing about travelling together as a family?
The best thing is sentimental but also true - it's the simple fact of being together for a long time with the people you love most in the world. You see new things in your kids, you initiate family history and family jokes and create a bank of family memories for yourself and for them to ultimately return to after their years of being stroppy teenagers when they can't bear the sight of you.
Where are the Hatch family heading next?
Right now in this launderette-less town of Cortina we're off to a self-service dog grooming parlour called Fido's to see if we can wash our clothes in the stainless tub that poodles are normally rinsed down in with mango shampoo. Long term I have no idea. Any suggestions?Top