Europe Beyond the UK, Life in the UK, shopping, sight seeing

Taking Stock for Self-Catering Holidays

The last few years, ModParlPhotos and I have taken Sprog (aka ModParlPhoto Jr) to France for summer holidays. We go the ‘self catering accommodation’ route with Eurocamp and so far have used two sites in different areas of Brittany – La Pointe St. Gilles in Bénodet and Domaine Des Ormes. Had a great time at both and as you can see from my recap of Domaine Des Ormes we enjoyed that particular site so much that we are going back there again this summer.

Ice cream on the boardwalk in Bénodet.

These trips were the first time I’d gone to one of these holiday camps so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The official information provided had a suggested list of items to bring but until you’ve been to one of these sites, you really don’t know what your family will need because everyone’s family is different. Having now been a couple of times now, I’m more easy going about prep and packing. I’ve sorted out what to bring to make arrival day as easy as possible (and after 5 hours in the car – you want EASY in capital letters) and what to bring to make ‘housekeeping’ quick and easy as well.That’s my mantra for these trips – quick and easy. After all, I’m on holiday.

Inner tube ride at Domaine des Ormes

PACKING SUPPLIES: We’ve always gone the mobile home route – and while we’ve never felt cramped, they aren’t overflowing with extra space either. So when packing up our stuff, we’ve opted out of using suitcases (which take up lots of room on their own) and pack nearly everything into those large blue IKEA bags. I don’t know why we have so many IKEA bags but we do; they seem to multiply when we aren’t looking. But they are handy for car trips and the like – they hold a ton of stuff and when empty, fold away for easy storage in the car boot. I’ve also got a couple of large plastic storage boxes for bottled supplies (they slot nicely among the tote bags in the boot) and another for in the car full of snacks, water juice, napkins, etc for the car journey.

My secret road trip packing weapon

THE CAR JOURNEY: As our trips take us through France, we need a European driving kit. This means high-vis vests in the car for all passengers, an unopened breathalyser (bring two because if you get stopped and they make you use one – presto, you don’t have an unopened one anymore and they get you for the lack of it – sneaky) and a warning triangle. Also headlight adapters – to adjust for driving on the other side of the road. Other things we always make sure to have in the car:

  • food: bottled water and/or juice, biscuits and/or crisps and a few boxes of raisins.
  • clean up: napkins (o a roll of kitchen towels), loo roll and a couple of bin bags (shocking the amount of garbage that can be produced during a car journey).
  • keep-them-busy: music for the car, reading material, activity mags (and pencils) and games to keep Sprog busy.
  • just-in-case: first aid kit and torch (with extra batteries).
A typical French driving kit

CLOTHING: This depends largely on the time of year and where you are going but we always go end of July/early August and we’re very much a pool and seaside type of holiday family. We also have a very active Sprog who throws himself head first into any activity the kids’ camps have going on. This means everything we bring is a) casual and b) suitable for warm temps. You know the kinds of thing – t-shirts, shorts, swimsuits, cover up, a pair of jeans, sandals, trainers, etc. Other items I can’t recommend highly enough:

  • Flip flops for in and around your site and by the pool. Yes, I have sandals but if I am just popping down to the recycling or to grab the towels off the hanging rail, easier to shove my feet into flip flops.
  • Light cardigan for evening. Trust me, the temps CAN drop quite sharply.
  • Rainwear in case the weather goes bad and you’re out and about.
  • Hats are a must. This is not so much an issue for me (as I am always hunting up shade to stand in) but Sprog will spend HOURS in the sun at a time and ModParlPhotos doesn’t have the protection of hair that I do. So hats are always on the holiday list. Ditto sunglasses.
Hats are a must when spending a lot of time in the sun

HOUSEHOLD SUPPLIES: This is where my real learning curve happened, IKEA bags aside. These trips were my first experience in self-catered accommodation and I knew only that there would be basic kitchen equipment and furniture. Beyond that I was pretty much as the mercy of the suggested packing lists provided by the company and those I found via google. While those lists gave me a lot of guidance, it wasn’t until I was on site that I could actually see what I really needed and what I did not.  My best suggestion is skipping the welcome packs of household supplies or bedding packs on offer. Seems silly to pay twice what these things would cost at home. A trip to the bargain stores will save money and time (a bit less time in the local shops once you are on holiday). What to get put in your household supply box?

  • household linens: We have a couple of basic sheet sets that we call our travel bedding and which also involves extra pillow cases. Basic sheets always involve quite thin pillow cases and that kinda annoys me. Your mileage may vary. 2 beach towels each. Why the extras? They take time to dry and you might want to head back to the pool or beach. They’re also not only useful poolside or seaside but also for throwing over plastic deck chairs. Nothing wrong with plastic deck chairs structurally but in very hot weather they can get a bit sticky). A few small bathroom towels, tea towels and a pack of microfibre cloths (these are great for any sort of clean up needed and they rinse out and dry quickly.
  • cleaning supplies: It sounds obvious but a kitchen sponge wth a scrubber side, a roll of bin bags (these were the handiest thing ever), washing up liquid and household cleaning wipes.
  • kitchen equipment: A decent knife, maybe two – a good all-around one and a bread knife. The knives provided are always too blunt and if you’re in France a bread knife is a must. A box of matches or click lighter as we love using the BBQ when on holiday. We tend to bring both matches and the lighter in case the click lighter doesn’t work.
  • electricals: The usual phone and tablet chargers, extension leads since there are never enough actual outlets for us and travel adaptors as needed. Note, it’s worth checking what the electrical situation will be at your site. You may NOT need the adaptors.
  • Things to do: Books, deck of cards, tablets, etc. Sprog is an avid reader so he tends to bring quite a few books with him. But he also reads quickly so extra activities are also a must. This both in case the weather goes bad and because at some point, a bit of quiet time can be helpful. Especially in the bright sun and after meals.
  • carry-all: I mentioned the IKEA bags already and you can use on for hauling those towels and various other items back and forth from the pool or beach but for that, I prefer a tote bag I can actually close.
a tote bag big enough for your beach towels is a must

PANTRY ITEMS: Yes, you can go shopping while you are on holiday – and we do. We love the French hypermarkets and make regular trips there to pick out dinner and lunch supplies. Also, there’s a basic shop on most sites – we were particularly impressed with the shop at Domaine des Ormes. But what you don’t want to do is spend all day traveling in the car (5-6 hours for us) and then go shopping right away or first thing the next morning. To make your arrival and first day as relaxing as possible, make sure to bring:

  • drinks: Bottled water and/or juice – which you want for the car journey anyway but definitely good to have on hand day one for the kids. Definitely coffee or tea (according to your preference). We bring a bit of instant but mostly use a good ground with a small French press. That works best for us since I tend to make a lot of coffee at once then use it as iced coffee. Are you wine drinkers? Make sure to being a small wine or spirits with you. You can stock up properly later but after a day or travel, you may well need to unwind. Related items: sugar and creamer. If you’re a milk person, you’ll have to get that in the morning, obviously but having the creamer on hand means that you don’t absolutely HAVE to. A couple of things I can’t go without – iced trays and a plastic bottle storage for iced coffee.
  • spices: Salt & pepper, obviously and anything you tend to use a lot. ModParlPhotos brings garlic and onion powders and a couple of others.
  • snacks and quick fixes: Crisps, biscuits and depending on time of arrival time and usual meal times, you might want to pack some food storage boxes of cereal, pasta and maybe a jar of pasta sauces
  • toiletries: Again, you COULD buy these things after you get where you are going but I find that I’d rather make the trips to the shops as short as possible and spend more time playing miniature golf or lounging by the pool. The usual bar soap, shampoo, toothpaste, brushes, etc. Just swing by the travel size section of your nearest chemist. And I know loo roll is generally supplied but … well, look. It’s not the best quality and it’s good to have some loo roll on hand for the journey as well. Some of those rest stops are not restocked in a timely manner … if you get my drift. Also, Insect repellent and sun tan lotion.
The usual bits and bobs you take on holidays ….

I’ll be doing a more in-depth look at foods and cooking on self-catering holidays over on Fabulous Foodie. But this was the kind of thing I was looking for when I was preparing for my first trip of this kind. I hope it has been helpful. And if anyone has anything to add, questions or other tips – please let me know. I’m always on the look out for other ways to make holidays go smoother and easier so everyone can just focus on having a good time.

3 thoughts on “Taking Stock for Self-Catering Holidays

  1. I remember a group of friends and I having a spirited discussion about whether or not to take a knife sharpener to France. In the end, we elected to take our own (we were driving, so we could).

    Self catering can mean so many things – I’ve been to places with melon ballers and olive pitters! But the norm can be very, very, basic, as you’ve described so well!

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