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Family Travels: from Zurich, Switzerland to Nantes, France

A thousand kilometer trip by car with a 20 months old child

  • The Chambord castle

    The Chambord castle

621 miles (1000 km), wow! should we drive or not?

That is the question we asked ourselves one time after being invited to the Loire Atlantique for a baptism.

My husband wanted to see France. He said it would be a life time experience, we could stop where and whenever we wanted. So let’s drive.

It did not take too long to convince me. Why not try it? It could not be worse than flying after what happened to us the previous time we went to Nantes with the plane. We missed our connection flight in Paris and were stranded 5 hours in the Paris airport with nothing to do! Plus when we arrived in Nantes we had to get a rental car.

    • Wine tasting in Burgundy at Chateau de la Tour

      Wine tasting in Burgundy at Chateau de la Tour


What did we decide to make it work?:

  • Drive no more than 124 miles (200 km) a day
  • Have at least one day of rest between days of driving
  • Know in advance what to do in the cities we would visit
  • Have ideas ready in case it rains or a sight is closed
  • Plan to stay a minimum of 3 days at our end destination before turning back
  • Stay in family hotels like Mercure, Novotel, Marriot


Here are some tips to help you facilitate your travels by car with young children, ideas to occupy them during long travels, about best places to eat, best time to travel and what to do:

  • Bring a dvd player for your child in the car with his favorite dvds. Don’t try completely new ones to view during the car journey. The trip is already overwhelming and your child may prefer something he knows and enjoys to calm him down.
  • Sing his favorite songs
  • Have ready cds of songs he likes
  • Stop at highways cafeterias. In France they offer good children’s meals.
  • Stop often at rest areas so that your child can walk and go to the bathroom.
  •  Use the playgrounds of the rest areas on your way to your destination. In France they often have something inside and outside.
A carrousel in Beaune main's square

A carrousel in Beaune main's square


  • Have a list of malls, outside playgrounds, inside play centers and amusement parks of the main places you plan to visit for a day or stop for the night
  • Carousels are a good way to spend some time with your children if you can’t find anything better to do.
  • Bring with you little milk containers with straws (like the one of 250 ml). These are convenient for road trips and after breakfast. At the breakfast table, you child may not be ready to drink, or may not want to be served by a stranger, may not like that milk or may not yet be hungry.
  • For travels with young children, bring a bottle warmer for you hotel room or the rest area’s bathroom.
  • Family hotels of the Accors chain are good, offering good selection for kids for breakfast and dinner.
  • Unless you know your children are patient, don’t sit down to eat lunch in busy touristy place. Your child won’t probably be able to wait until the waiter comes to you to order. By the time the food arrives he will be ready to get out of the restaurant and you too! You can also expect a long wait to get your bill in France!
  • If you can travel during night time, during his morning or afternoon nap, do so.

Remember until your child does not walk or naps early in the evening and still spends much of his time in the stroller, you probably will be able to have dinners out. Enjoy it while you can!

Playing with balls on a rainy day

Playing with balls on a rainy day

What did we do during our 10 day-trip to Nantes?:

We visited some Loire castles (Blois, Chambord), did some wine tastings in Burgundy, stopped at an inside play center in Dijon and strolled through gardens and parks.

Long car travels can be stressful and turn into a nightmare so in order to make it work one has to compromise a lot: half and half for the parents and the rest for the children.

My husband did the wine tasting while I babysat during our son’s nap and I did some sightseeing of the churches and major landmarks like the Hospice of Beaune while he spent time at the playground and the carousels. Together we visited castles and gardens.

Roof of Hospice of Beaune

Roof of Hospice of Beaune

Plus and Minuses:

  • Castle visits can be quite dangerous at the top on the roof and not easy with strollers
  • Wine tastings are difficult with kids
  • City visits can be long and boring
  • Amusement parks are sometimes the funnest for the entire family
  • 621 miles (1000 km) in 10 days is a lot of driving but doable if well planned

If you are traveling by car this summer, have a safe travel.

Do you have experiences traveling with young children by car? Write me.

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