Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Congratulations, you have reached the stage of independence where you can take your child on a road trip by yourself! I finally took the plunge when I met up with my mom-friend to go camping, without our partners. It was between a four to five hour drive, which was just what we could handle, especially because my child doesn’t nap. The French school year has four, two-week holidays so there are plenty of opportunities to take a drive with the kids, and France doesn't lack for things to do and see! Here are some tips and things to consider when taking a road trip in France with your kid, or kids.
Plan your stops ahead of time: I had never done this drive before so I mapped out a pit stop about every hour to an hour and a half. If you are taking the toll roads, you can use Google Maps to look up rest stops which in French is, aire de service. Be warned that in Bretagne, there is no autoroute so there will not be typical rest stops run by the companies that run the autoroutes, which means there are fewer and these have fewer amenities.
Leave at the right time: If you have a child that naps, drive at naptime. In France, traffic forecasts are a thing because the whole country has seasonal vacances. The forecasted traffic conditions are color coded: green, yellow, red, black. Try not to drive on busy traffic days (especially the first Saturday of August, le samedi noir, when most of the roads in the country are snarled, and the last weekends in August), traffic and accidents are a nightmare and slow the trip.
Driver’s Prep: Keep your money/card for tolls out where you can grab it (or get a toll road transponder). If you see a sign that says péage, it means a toll station is coming up soon. You either take a ticket to pay later when you exit, or pay at the toll one time. Also put a bag of toys in the passenger seat to easily grab and give to the kid, and keep wipes/tissues/paper towels within arms reach too. Pack luggage so that a change of clothes or any toilet accessories are on top and you aren’t hunting for them.
Kid Prep: Tell your kid what you are doing, where you are going, and if they drop anything in the back seat that you can’t pick it up for them because you are driving (which you will have to repeat a zillion times). Slather your child with sunscreen (and yourself) before you leave. Carsickness is a tricky one, some kids are very car sick so you probably won’t be doing solo parent road trips. When my child was regularly getting car sick, I put a full, long apron over her and that helped with cleanup, but at that time we weren’t ready for a solo parent road trip. Limiting snacks while on the road and prepping extra clothes and cleanup products is what I do in case of an incident.
Snacks: Be mindful of choking risks when giving snacks while driving, you know what your child can eat safely at their stage in development. By taking frequent stops, you can minimize snacks on the road and eat together. You will see French families picnicking at all the rest stops, eating together is just as important to them on road trips as it is at home. However, note all the rest stops will be packed at noon, which is when the French eat lunch. Also, the type of food at rest stops varies, pack food you know your child will eat so you aren’t left at the mercy of what is on the road. Rest stops sometimes have little outdoor play areas for kids, the quality of which varies.
Car accessories: If you have a rear-facing child, there are mirrors you can put on the seat so you can see their face. If you have a child with dangling legs, you can buy an inflatable foot rest to go under their feet which keeps them more comfortable. As for water bottles, I found Hema sells a kids plastic water bottle with a swivel lid with a straw so it is really easy to open and pretty spill-proof.
Bathrooms: There are some great foldable potties for travel, like the Potette Plus, which fit over an adult sized toilet seat or fold to make a little stand-alone potty. When it comes to rest stop bathrooms, there are family bathrooms but considering how busy it is and the condition it is in, it might be easier to change a diaper outside or have a child discreetly go to the bathroom outside (it is acceptable here!). I was traveling with a potty-training child and I was at the phase where I could still diaper her while driving and also she could tell me when she needed to go. Who would have thought diapers are the heroes of road trips? If a child has to go to the bathroom, you can’t safely pull over on the autoroute in most places (there is barely a shoulder and speeds are very fast), but there are frequent rest stops. So plan for an accident just in case, and diaper your child if they still are in diapers.
Distractions: when it comes to toys, I learned the hard way that everything will be dropped on the ground, then cried about. Also any toys that can make a mess, will make a mess (including stickers, you have been warned!). So try to bring non-messy toys, and also bring new ones that are interesting. What worked for my child at this stage of her development was play dough, little plastic toys that snap together, a paint-with-water coloring book and a magnetic drawing board. It is hard to play a road trip game with a young child, their attention/verbal skills might not be there yet so keep talking simple, pointing out what they can see (cows, windmills, tractors). You can play music for them, or they can hold and control their own story box like a Tonie or a Lunii.
Good luck on your travels, and let us know what tips you have for solo road trips with kids! If you are ready to plan a trip and looking for recommendations, ask for ideas from our members-only forums.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message.