Marcy Madzikanda: On my not so solo travels: Marseille
This year I decided to do more solo travel with my little one. (Reading that I realise it’s not ‘solo’ travel when you are with your child right?) The other half decided he’d rather not spend money in Western Europe as he’s seen most of it already and would rather we went further to Far East Asia which I’d love to but would rather wait until she is a little older.
I’ll share about our #notsosolotravels to inspire more women to travel independently or with their kids guilt free.
The decision for him to not travel annoyed me at first as I’d suggested several different trips, each met with silence. I couldn’t understand why and he was not forthcoming in saying a direct yes or no.
We traveled frequently before we had our child and were back in the air when she was seven weeks old. It wasn’t until I’d come back from a trip to Belgium, the first of three I had booked in one go that he said that. Up until that moment I felt ‘guilty’ we weren’t all going together but that feeling left as soon as he said that in passing, my one comment being I wish he’d said it earlier!
I realise this past year hasn’t been great on the economy and the pound however it’s been great for ‘news as entertainment’ and that is his bread and butter. Being self employed it made sense for him to work and I can respect that.
I write about this as I know there might be other people in relationship where this dynamic might exist. Don’t stop or forget your passion for somebody else whatever that is. You will resent the other person and yourself.
I also had the mindset that we are a family so MUST always travel together. I quickly shifted this mindset as I simply enjoy ‘getting away from it all’. We aren’t any less of a family if we don’t travel together.
I will also write about some of our day trips if going away isn’t an option. You can start with a day trip in your city and then a day trip a little further away and work yourself up to a weekend away.
I had planned to blog about all of these trips before but life happens as we all know so will share as much as I can. But first Marseille.
After I took my nearly ten month old child to California for five weeks alone. I decided I wouldn’t travel alone with her again. She is older now and super funny I find traveling with her to be such a joy and will be doing more of this. We get to spend quality time together away from our routines particularly before school starts and our travels will only be during the holidays I can’t think of any reason why not to.
I don’t take my own advice in saying short trips, I go in hard and then everything is easy after. My second solo trip with my child had me anxious. I know most new moms are scared to travel with babies under a year old, but honestly that is the best and easiest time to travel! As they get older they need constant stimulation, are active want to explore etc. You have to be prepared for that.
I decided to take a six and half hour Eurostar train to Marseille for five days. I was really nervous about how she’d be cooped up on a train for so long and how I’d manage alone. I’ll explain my rationale and if you are tempted please give it a go it will truly change the way you travel.
Previously, Marseille has been the second leg of my trip, Paris for a few days, catch a train to Marseille, for a few days, return to Paris for a couple of days then home. I couldn’t do this with a child. Direct routes are child friendly don’t be deceived if anyone tells you differently. I initially considered flying to Marseille but it was expensive. I’d later discover the day we arrived was the first day of the annual Music festival.
Tip: Check ‘what’s on’ if you see abnormally high process and if your dates are flexible change them.
My dates were fixed in that my Parisian friend was also there for the duration and we’d hoped to catch up during the trip. I dithered with the train option, told my friend I wasn’t coming but then sat back and worked out how long it would take me to ‘actually’ fly to Marseille.
Traveling with a toddler means you need plenty of time to factor in melt downs and trying to rush them along doesn’t work. Meaning I need a full three hours at the airport if not more (think security, toilets, food, play area, toilets before boarding).
I’d also need to drive to Gatwick, factor in one and half hours to get there, more depending on the time we traveled, parking, shuttle etc. I drove to the airport for the first time on my first girly trip after I had my child in 2018 and couldn’t understand why I had been paying for taxis to Gatwick for so long? (May discuss in another post) At this point its 4.5 hours, the flight is about an hour, then travel from the airport to the hotel another 40minutes, in time and ease of travel this was a no brainer.
Tip: once you’ve booked your flights and decide to drive, book your airport parking.
I weighed this up and looked at the Eurostar option again and financially this worked out a lot better as well. If I flew and chose a flight and a hotel package (cost effective if staying in a hotel) it was nearly a thousand pounds that I joked it would be cheaper to visit my brother in New York (it actually was as I had been toying with the idea – short haul vs long haul / time zones dilemma with toddlers)
As my child is under 4 she travels free on the Eurostar. Technically she has to sit on my lap but if the service is not full she gets her own seat and doesn’t get a meal. Ask when checking in or boarding. I also decided to book our three star aparthotel direct with them for under £600 I think. This could be cheaper however I chose to book the standard premier ticket, this meant I had breakfast and lunch served with drinks on the train.
Although I prefer staying in minimum four star accommodation, I couldn’t justify the cost this was all rather last minute (the day after I arrived in Rhodes and sat on the beach) with three weeks to go before Marseille I don’t usually plan my trips this way but life is for living!
Tip: Book your trips early
When I travel solo with my child I stay in hotels or serviced apartments. I like to know I can call someone for assistance if I need to. Case in point when we arrived and I was checking safety features I accidentally locked us out on the balcony. Thankfully I had my mobile so was able to call reception.
What I particularly liked about this place although basic, it was functional, family friendly, had a pool, one of the best stocked kitchens than some other ‘serviced apartments’ we’ve stayed in with a cork screw, detergent & dish washer tablets according to reviews served a great breakfast (we never went).
As I was familiar with Marseille I knew which areas I’d ideally stay. I chose the location because of its proximity to the beach and easy and scenic bus route to get to Vieux Port. There was a supermarket nearby and lots of buses very convenient.
I’d decided before I went what I’d most likely be doing on the trip which informed where I’d stay. I know my child loves the beach as do I, so we’d prefer to walk to the beach from our hotel in under 5 minutes rather than a long walk (as we did in Sardinia really it was 15 minutes but in the heat with a toddler felt longer) or bus ride to and fro.
If I was looking for more of a city break I’d probably stay in La Joliette then I’d be in close proximity to the redeveloped port, Les Terrasses Du Port, Les Docks, mucem etc. The first time I went to Marseille I stayed in an apartment and I’d like to do this again and stay longer and explore the area more.
Tip: if booking an apartment make sure it has a lift if you need it with kids (buggies luggage etc.)
I realise some people don’t like Marseille because it’s a little rough around the edges, and it’s precisely for this very reason I love it and can see this being somewhere I visit frequently and one day own a holiday home.
Next time I visit I’d love to take her to Cassis and a boat ride to see the Calanques. I’ve only ever gone in summer so it would be nice and perhaps cheaper to go during shoulder season. I’ll explore this though anticipate the boats will be off season.
The one thing I found tedious was on the return leg. There are no security checks when you board your train at Marseille, you can arrive 30 minutes before, they check your ticket as you board. However once you get to Lille you have to disembark, with your luggage and go through boarder control and security. This is tedious depending on the time you catch your train this could be just as the little one is sleeping.
I think… this doesn’t apply to those travelling in first class (don’t quote me) I recall certain carriages didn’t get called off the train. Will explore further (however would you pay three times the ticket price for that ‘privilege’)? They also use older trains from Marseille so no WiFi.
Tip: Download entertainment onto your devices for the return leg. Though to be fair the WiFi is generally patchy even in new trains.
We left later in the day and after check out used the pool (heatwave) and facilities then got an uber to the station. I didn’t mind her being on her iPad then. I pack a lot of activities in both our rucksacks so she has lots of different activities meaning using the iPad is the last tool incase of emergency. This means you also can’t use your iPad so get a book or magazines etc. On the outbound leg I think I was so anxious something would go wrong but she absolutely loved it.
Tip: have lots of activities think colouring in books, crafts, stickers etc. Check at the information desk as Eurostar will usually have activity packs for kids and pack a few toys. Tech devices for emergency and don’t forget the snacks
Marseille is like Paris (second largest city) meaning there is a metro, easy connection from the train (lower ground floor). Once in the city centre you have trams and is also well served by buses as I mentioned earlier and they operate on a hopper fare basis. You can buy tickets and they don’t run out so have some on your next trip. I bought as I needed because I knew I would uber.
Which I did for convenience to and from the station on this trip and to one appointment we were running late for and on the way back (Gilet Jaunes Manifestations / Yellow vest strikes). I also use the buses, tubes and trams it is easily done once you get bearings this will also keep your costs down. In Europe cabs can be such a waste of money as everything is so well connected so I am trying to use more public transport when I travel and city mapper helps me do this where it’s available.
I wrote a post on what to pack when traveling with children you can read here. We did add a fold up stool for the bathroom and her toilet seat for this trip. But what I will say is your toddler gets older you do get to pack differently. I put the GB Pockit stroller in the suitcase and have done so for the past four trips we’ve taken this year but only used it once at Gatwick airport (huge airport) I am considering leaving it for the next trip but we’ll see.
I know what she eats for breakfast so will always pack her cereal, a carton of UHT milk in my luggage as well as our travel kettle (even if one is provided use your own) and a large bottle of water. Having this in your suitcase makes it easier once you arrive that you have all you need before you get your bearings and you can relax with a cup of tea.
Tip: Most hotels in Europe have check in after 2pm. I always email ahead asking for early checkin if available and am yet to be denied. I do pack and plan knowing if it’s not possible I can leave my luggage and go out should I need to.
Another reason I love traveling with Eurostar is that you can pack a lot more stuff you’d have to put in the hold when flying and you have a much larger allowance. Train travel is of course better for the environment but this was never a priority for me.
I hope this post has inspired someone to book a trip. Do let me know if you have any questions I can assist you with.
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