Preparing for a Family Road Trip #TestYourTreads

As many of you will know we elected to drive ourselves from Wales to Portugal when we were making our move earlier this year. We had considered shipping the car but that would have meant not only booking flights for ourselves, but also coordinating our flights with those of BattleDog’s. Then there was the issue of getting us and him from Faro Airport to my parent’s place.

test your treads

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Instead, we settled on a ferry journey from Portsmouth to Santander, booking the dog into a kennel, and then driving our car from Santander to the Algarve. But making such a long journey, which involved 166 miles followed by 608 miles, wasn’t just as simple as loading the car up and going. There was quite a bit of planning involved in getting just the car ready for the journey. We put new tyres on the car not long before we left the UK, but I wish we had known about at the time. More on that to come.

The first leg of our journey was from our home in Wales to Portsmouth Ferry Terminal, a journey of 166 miles as mentioned. To get the car ready for this we checked the tyre treads and pressures, that the lights were in good working order and ensured oil levels and all other fluids were topped up. The car had a service a little over a month before we left, but it was no harm in rechecking everything was still in order.

The car also had a recall job done on it just weeks before we left and, so we knew mechanically it was good to go. Before setting off on our journey we made sure we had enough fuel to get us to Portsmouth, and onto the ferry.

Once we hit Spain we topped up before leaving Santander to find our overnight accommodation an hour from the ferry. I was glad we did this as it took us two hours to escape the Spanish mountains the next morning before we hit the motorway which would take us south to Portugal covering 608 miles, and even more importantly, the services.

Along our mammoth 13-hour journey, we ensured we topped up with diesel regularly to ensure we didn’t get caught out. As it turned out we ran into some faults on the car and practically limped into Portugal and my parent’s place we were going to be staying at. But this problem with the car couldn’t have been foreseen.

While the car was being repaired we had a hire car from a well-known hire car company which shall not be named. After a few days of driving and feeling like the car wasn’t right, we realised the tyre treads were bare on the car we had. For some reason, we hadn’t checked the tyre treads when we took receipt of the car, despite regularly check the treads on our own cars. Whether it was due to our haste at taking receipt of the car and getting back to BattleKid and my folks, I don’t know.

It meant we didn’t feel safe in the car and when we pointed it out to the hire car company, we got stung for the cost of the replacements. I now ALWAYS check the tyre treads on hire cars before leaving their forecourt. And advised friends of ours who visited us in Portugal to do the same before leaving their hire car company’s forecourt.

Checking your tyre treads should always be part of a checklist you do before setting out on a journey, particularly a long one. Tyres that are worn or below the legal limit, which in the UK is 1.6mm, increases your risk of having an accident. Also, incorrect tyre pressures can add to this risk. We regularly check the tyre pressures on our car as it is a very heavy beast.  

If you find that you need to replace one or more of your tyres you could consult TyrePlus. Their easy-to-use website lets you pop your vehicle registration in and they will give you a list of recommended tyres plus you can see when they could be fitted. Their website can also tell you where your nearest fitters are located or offer you a mobile fitting service to have your new tyres fitted at your door. How handy is that!

As for other checks you should be making before setting off on a car journey, many of the breakdown service companies have suggested the following:

  • Tyres, as already discussed.
  • Toolkit, ensuring you have at the very least your spare tyre, jack and locking wheel nut if necessary to change a tyre in an emergency.
  • Engine Oil. Not all cars have dipsticks. Did you know this? Our Land Rover has an electronic oil indicator which requires a cold engine in order to display the correct oil level. If the engine is on or has been within the last 20 minutes, it won’t display the oil level at all.
  • Water or coolant.
  • Windscreen Wipers. Nothing more annoying in the UK than blinding rain and faulty windscreen wipers. Check them and replace if necessary. Your nearest Halfords will even fit them for you for a small fee!
  • Screenwash. Ensure it is topped up. Did you know that by law your screen wash system MUST work.
  • Windscreen. Check for cracks or stone damage and get this repaired or replaced. Often your insurance may cover some or all of the cost of the repair or replacement.
  • Lights. Check they are all working, including brake lights, indicators and your fog lights. Carry spare head lights at a minimum and know how to replace them. I learned how to replace the ones in the Land Rover and have often changed them in the driveway or in the car park at work if I notice one has gone.
  • Power Steering. Ensure the fluid is replaced during your service and that the levels are correct on a regular basis.
  • Bodywork. Check for damage or rust regularly, especially during the winter months when more salt may be on the roads to deal with icy conditions.

And if doing a long car journey within Europe, there are additional checks and things you need to have in your car to remain legal on the roads. test your treads

Driving can be an enjoyable way of getting from A to B, or as a road trip as we discovered in America, but you should always ensure you check the car you are travelling in BEFORE you set off to keep both you as the driver, and your passengers as safe as possible. At the very least #TestYourTreads

Cath x

*This post is a collaborative post for the #TestYourTreads campaign in association with TyrePlus.

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USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Days 15 and 16

After getting showered and dressed, we ate breakfast in the hotel at 8.30am. BattleKid and I went back to our room to do some final packing while BattleDad visited a chemist for some throat spray and melatonin for BattleKid for the plane.

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All packed and ready to go.

We had to check out by noon, so shortly before we loaded up the car and set off to drop off the AirBnB keys before heading to Portland International Airport.

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Heading for Portland Airport
usa road trip days 15 and 16 holiday diaries
Portland International Airport
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Leaving on a high

We got rid of our bags, made our way through security and went to some lunch. As we had some time to kill before our flight was due to board, we found the children’s play area and let BattleKid have fun. He even met another boy with the same name as him and it got quite confusing for them when we or the other parents would shout the name.

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Loving the children’s play area in Portland International Airport
usa road trip days 15 and 16 holiday diaries
Loving the children’s play area in Portland International Airport

The play area at Portland Airport is great and both older kids and toddlers had fun in there. BattleKid’s favourite part was the soft airplane. We boarded at 4.30 for our 5.30pm flight and settled down for the night. It was an uneventful flight, with BattleKid and I managing a few hours’ sleep.

As usual BattleDad didn’t sleep much and as a result was knackered by the time we landed in London on the Sunday morning. He had to run an errand while there, so once we’d transferred from Terminal 3 to 5, he went off, leaving BattleKid and I to chill out. When he got back we checked through our bags and went through and grabbed a Wagamama’s for lunch/dinner.

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Thanks for a great flight back to the UK Delta
usa road trip days 15 and 16 holiday diaries
Strutting his stuff in Heathrow in his pj’s, as you do when you’re 3!

BattleKid is quite fond of noodles but was fascinated by chopsticks, which I can’t figure out myself. Our flight was due to leave London shortly after 4pm but we were delayed by an hour and a half.

The plane had come from Athens and was carrying a man with a broken leg. They had gotten him into the plane using a particularly narrow wheelchair in Greece, but he became wedged in his seat and they couldn’t get him back out at Heathrow. The crew called the on-site nurse who had to call for a doctor’s assistance. They couldn’t administer any more pain relief as he was on morphine already. Eventually they freed him with gas and air. As soon as all the passengers were on the plane we took off.

Our misfortune in getting back to Portugal didn’t end with that. We were seated towards the rear of the plane and ended up beside a group of about 12 gentlemen who were clearly on a golfing holiday and who were quite drunk even before they boarded the plane. As a result, they were loud and leery and a right pain in the behind. A poor elderly couple in front of us ended up sitting in the crew’s jump seats for the flight as they couldn’t stand the noise. I take my hat off to the crew who somehow kept their cool with them.

I’ve never been gladder to get off a plane. We collected our bags and headed out to find the car. I read the parking printout and couldn’t get the ticket machine to accept payment. I found a parking office and he informed me I had done our entry to the car park wrong. Thankfully he sorted it out with no additional costs and I now knew what to do next time I booked parking at Faro Airport. We got back home after 10pm and fell straight into bed, shattered but pleased we’d had a great holiday in America. It was certainly one we would remember for a very long time.

If you’ve gotten this far, I have to thank you for reading all about our incredible USA holiday. Has it inspired you to consider a road trip with your family?

Cath x

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 13

I had set my alarm for 7am, so I could try and catch the school in Portugal before it got too late. However, there was no answer. I left a message hoping someone might call me back. I was worried about securing a place for BattleKid. Both he and we needed routine back in our lives.

The boys woke a short time later. After showers, we had breakfast in the hotel before heading to Washington Park for a day dedicated to the boy. It took us just 30 minutes to drive to Oregon Zoo in Washington Park.

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Tickets to Oregon Zoo

We had been kindly invited to review the zoo and were given complimentary entry. I collected our tickets from reception and we went inside, starting at the Great Northwest section. The zoo was amazing. You can read about our visit in more detail in my blog post, but suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. From bears and elephants, to mountain lions and cheetahs, there is a large variety of animals to see in the largest zoo in North America west of the Mississippi. 

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The Great Northwest area of Oregon Zoo was just incredible
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Having fun in the meerkat enclosure
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Playful seals

We left at 1.30pm and went into The Portland Children’s Museum next door to the zoo. Founded in 1946, this is the sixth oldest children’s museum in the world and receives over a quarter of a million visits each year.

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Portland Children’s Museum

This museum had lots of different play areas and we had a great time exploring them. There was a water section, which BattleKid loved, a creativity room with crafts and nails and hammers (I was supervising very closely here), and of course a room with cars in it. It was great to let BattleKid enjoy something all for him after the many hours and miles we’d done in the car. I’ll be reviewing this in great detail on the blog at a later stage, so please stay tuned.

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Water fun, again!
usa road trip day 13 holiday diaries
Making stuff with hammers and nails

Both the zoo and museum had been recommended to us on Facebook and I’m so glad we added them to our itinerary. My mum had been worried we wouldn’t get any down time during our holiday, but this was the perfect things to do for just that.

We headed back towards our hotel at 3.30 and stopped at the retail park. I wanted to visit a Michael’s I had spotted for BattleDad’s aunt in Portugal. It was an amazing store, completely dedicated to arts, crafts and decorations. If I lived in America, I’d be in it all the time! We went across to Red Robin for dinner and had another great meal. I cannot fault this restaurant at all.

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Getting ready for Halloween with Michael’s
usa road trip day 13 holiday diaries
Getting ready for Autumn with Michael’s
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Enjoying onion rings in Red Robin
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Amazing burgers at Red Robin

We got back to our room by 6pm, so BattleKid enjoyed a bubble bath which is a treat for him. We don’t have a bath in our home in Portugal, so it was a nice way for him to relax after a busy day. We got into our pj’s and watched a Tom and Jerry film, which BattleKid broke his heart laughing at. At 8pm he got into bed, leaving us adults to carry on with Ozark Have you seen it?

Cath x

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 12

BattleKid and I woke at 7 but snoozed for another hour. The beds in the TownePlace Suites were very comfortable. We got up at 8am and I discovered I had missed a call from Portugal about our application for a school place for BattleKid. I called back to no avail.

We got dressed and drove to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, also known as OMSI. Established in 1944, this science and industry museum had been recommended to us during our planning stage for our visit to Portland. It contains three auditoriums, a planetarium and exhibition halls with hands-on permanent exhibits. Located on the east bank of the Willamette River, it was once housed in Washington Park, in the now-home of the Children’s Museum. But as visitor number outgrew the building, it was moved to the now impressive building.

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Visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

OMSI has five different specialised exhibition halls, a planetarium as mentioned, and also a submarine exhibit, which I totally missed and am gutted about. The submarine was featured in the film The Hunt for Red October!

We paid entry to the museum, the Pompeii Exhibition and for the Starry Night Planetarium show. We visited the coffee shop before starting our exploring of the museum and enjoyed some hot drinks, a coffee and our first ever peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t bad at all.

After 10am we headed upstairs and found a great area for BattleKid to explore, the Science Playground. Aimed at children between the ages of newborn and six years of age, we knew he’d enjoy this area the most. Fully enclosed and designed to keep children visible and secure, it has a variety of experimental areas for children to freely explore, with specially trained staff on hand to help or give information to interested parents.

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Fun on blocks


BattleKid had fun with balls in the physical science exhibit, in the water area and, my personal favourite, the luminescent rocks. BattleKid had loads of fun in the science playground until we headed back downstairs at 11.50am, in time to catch the planetarium show.

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My favourite exhibit
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Having fun with water, I’ll make a scientist out of him yet!

usa road trip day 12 holiday diaries

usa road trip day 12 holiday diaries
Even Mum had some fun

This was BattleDad’s first time in a planetarium. BattleKid had been in one at Techniquest in Cardiff. The show was very good. Us adults thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly as we see the Milky Way on clear nights above our house in Portugal. BattleKid got a little bored towards the end.

Next we visited the Pompeii Exhibition. It was fascinating seeing the exhibits and learning more about that fateful night in 69AD. Pompeii is now on our bucket-list. We did have to forgo one video as it was advised it wasn’t suitable for young children, so we managed to skip it with the boy.

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A really great exhibition: Pompeii

Once we had finished seeing all we wanted at the OMSI, we headed to the Clackamas Town Centre for a late lunch and some shopping. We visited the Disney shop and picked up some bits for BattleKid for our forthcoming trip to Disneyland Paris. And I finally got to visit a Sephora. I’d passed one in New York last year but didn’t venture in and I came out with a few goodies for myself.

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Shopping time!
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Family shopping at its best.

Back in the car by 4pm, we hit rush-hour traffic on our way back to the hotel. As we’d had a late lunch, we made some popcorn and watched Mulan with BattleKid when we got back. We ordered a pizza to share later in the evening while watching Finding Dory with the boy. After food, we got BattleKid ready to bed and into it by 9, in time for BattleDad and I to watch another episode of Ozark, which we were really enjoying. So far, we’d had a great start to our few days in Portland.

Cath x

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 11

We woke just after 7am, tidied up and after getting dressed, went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was included in the price and was quite nice with a continental breakfast available, as well as some other hot and cold choices.

We packed up and got the car loaded, ready for our final day of driving big miles. BattleDad, unfortunately, had to complain to reception about the uncomfortable sofa beds in the hotel. I had shared the main bed with BattleKid and BattleDad had taken the sofa bed and it was extremely uncomfortable. This was our only grumble about what is a great hotel in Richland.

We were on the road by 9.30 heading for Portland. It felt strange to be on the last leg of our USA road trip, but we were looking forward to a few days in Portland, a city we’ve always wanted to visit. I did the driving this day as BattleDad had managed less than 5 hours sleep. We took I-84 and stopped at the same Love’s gas station we had filled up on our first day in the USA. It was here we heard news we didn’t really want.

I-84 was closed from junction 64 at the intersection with I-35 as there were fires all along the Columbia Gorge Creek, including around Multnomah Falls. We had intended the falls to be our pit stop as we drove towards Portland, so that I could photograph it. It’s been on my wish-list for some time and now we had no chance of visiting it.

BattleDad did a Google search which confirmed what he had overheard in the gas station. I was gutted. The fire had started two days before due to a teenager setting off fireworks for Labour Day celebrations. A fire was the result of him ignoring the signs around the Creek which forbids the use of fireworks and portable barbeques.

The closure of I-84 also meant I had no pictures of the Columbia Gorge Creek. I had been unable to photograph it on the day of our arrival into the States as I sat in the back of the car with BattleKid, trying to keep him comfortable while he slept. We had been stunned by its beauty and had decided to photograph it on our return trip to Portland. Alas, another thing not meant to be.

Because of the road closure, we were diverted around the back of Mount Hood National Forest, along I-35 and meeting up with I-26 and taking that into Portland. It lengthened our journey by a few hours. We also couldn’t see Mount Hood from the north side due to the smoke haze.

After two and a half hours of driving around the mountain we pulled off I-35 for a toilet break and to get some lunch at the Crooked Tree Tavern. I ordered a mushroom soup and it was terrible. A congealed, thick goo which was hardly edible. The boys, however, had a nice burger each. I did steal a few chips from them.

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The Crocked Tree Tavern off I-35 where I had my worst meal of our USA trip
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Waiting for lunch

Back on the road, we finally rounded the bottom of Mount Hood and finally caught glimpses of the peak through the smoke. We arrived at our AirBnB at 3pm to falling ash in the sky. We had experienced ash in Missoula, but this was something else.

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Concentrating on the road, with Mount Hood in the distance

While our AirBnB house was quaint and looked exactly how we imagined a house in Portland to look like, the location of the house was terrible. We went to a Walmart a few miles away and as we drove towards it, we went through a rough looking area. There were cannabis shops, beside guns shops, beside casino shops and it looked rough as hell. There was even a wanted poster for a murderer of an eight year old boy!

Now, I should explain something. Both BattleDad and I grew up on council estates in Dublin which weren’t exactly the poshest areas of Dublin. With that comes a sort of sixth sense about a place and this area of Portland was really freaking us out. For that to happen to us, it must be pretty bad. Our spidey senses (as we like to call it), were in overdrive. We felt completely uneasy about spending a night in the AirBnB, particularly with BattleKid in tow. Had it just been the two of us, we’d probably wouldn’t have been that bothered about the area, but we just knew we couldn’t stay there.

We debated in the car park of Walmart for a good half an hour before I got my phone out and searched for a TownePlace Suites in Portland. I figured we had stayed in the one in Richland and loved it, so if one was available, then to hell with it. We found two which had two-bedroom suites (so BattleDad could get some decent sleep) and we tried the first one, but it was full. However, they kindly transferred us to the other one who had a two-bedroom suite available and not at a ridiculous price either.

BattleDad passed over his Marriott rewards card number, secured the suite and we both breathed a sigh of relief. We went into Walmart to get some supplies for the rest of the week and even treated BattleKid to yet another Cars 3 toy, this time a steering wheel. We sent our AirBnB host a message to let them know we weren’t going to be staying in their place, and that we’d return the key on Saturday on our way to the airport. We returned to the house, put the suitcases into the car and drove the 45 minutes, in rush-hour traffic, to the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Hillsboro.

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Hello Portland rush hour!

The same lady BattleDad had spoken to was on reception and, Gracele I think her name was, couldn’t have been nicer. The hotel was lovely, the staff were friendly, and it really put our minds at ease. I was so grateful we were in the position to be able to switch accommodation just like that. I dread to think what the remainder of our week would have been like had we not been fortunate enough to be able to afford an accommodation change at a moment’s notice. It is the first time we’ve ever done something like that and the first time we haven’t felt comfortable in an AirBnB house.

BattleDad later spoke to a colleague who regularly uses AirBnB with his family, who travel the world, and he said they’ve done the same on a few occasions; booked into a hotel when they’ve gotten a bad vibe about an AirBnB place or the surrounding area. He said we did the right thing. This made me feel better knowing we weren’t the only ones to ever do this.

After checking in, we found our room and it was just gorgeous. Large and comfortable, I knew straight away this was a good place to end our USA road trip in, whatever the rest of Portland had in store for us!

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Bedroom 1
usa road trip day 11 holiday diaries
Living room
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Bedroom 2

We unpacked and then drove across the road to find somewhere to have dinner. We decided on a Red Robin and were really impressed by the place. The food was great, portion sizes weren’t ridiculous and reasonably priced too. It felt so good to sit down, comfortable with where we were going to be staying for the next four nights.

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Enjoying a non-alcoholic cocktail in Red Robin

We got back to the hotel at 8.30 and had BattleKid in bed half an hour later. It was then we realised he had done 3000 miles in the car, spending 60+ hours in it and he had been an absolute star. He never complained once or had a tantrum. He did it all without a tablet or electronic gadget in sight and his overall behaviour had been amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a better travelling companion and I was glad we had some things in store for him to enjoy in the coming days.

We went to sleep that night feeling a lot safer, excited to explore Portland.

Cath x