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Family Travel Question:

Q | Do you have suggestions on planning a road trip in Europe?

We are planning a 4 to 6 week trip to Spain next year with our 2.5 year old. Is it feasible to drive through France to Switzerland and/or Northern Italy?

A | Driving across Europe with a toddler.

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That sounds like a fantastic amount of time to really enjoy a few countries.  Yes, it is definitely feasible to drive around through these countries but there are a number of things to consider.  We are currently driving a rental car around Europe. We hired the car in the UK because it was cheaper than hiring in Europe. Hiring in the UK does mean it comes with an additional fee to take it to Europe but that still works out cheaper for the 6-week rental.  The rental contract stipulates that we are only allowed to travel to EU countries and not into Switzerland.  If you wish to visit Switzerland you will have to hire a car in Switzerland and pay ridiculously high rental charges due to the high cost of insurance in Switzerland.  I would consider skipping Switzerland and concentrating on France, Italy and Spain if you wish to keep to a budget and keep the one car the whole time.  Those three countries alone will mean that in 4-6 weeks you will still have a great deal of driving to do depending on how much you want to see. France and Spain are the first and third largest European countries.

According to some well-traveled Europeans we met in Vietnam, some of the must see places in northern Italy are Venice, Turin, Valencia, Milan, Bologna and Genoa. We won’t get to Italy this trip and will only get to a small area of France around Amiens to see a family war grave so I can’t advise on any top spots.  We will be in Spain in September for one month.  We are basing ourselves in Marbella for 3 weeks and then one week of travel along the coast north to Barcelona so to keep up with our journey catch us at www.fourdotsonthemap.com

Be aware of the car seat laws and driving laws in Europe.  We bought a basic booster seat for our five year old when we arrived in UK; no car seat rules in Asia!  You may wish to bring your own car seat from home or hire one through the car company. Sometimes car seats laws are very different e.g. in Sweden children sit in a rear facing seat until four years old so it is worth reading about the regulations. We also had to buy a safety triangle and vest in the UK due to the road laws in Europe.  These things did not come with our UK rental car; is likely that they would be included with a car if you hire in Europe but it might be worth checking that.  Keep in mind that the majority of car hire companies will charge a one way drop off fee if you are not going to return the car to the same place you hired it from; which is likely if you wish to drive from Italy to France.

I would encourage you to make a few longer stops in your journey so you can spend 4+ nights in one place so that you can really explore and enjoy an area.  It really is fun to get to know the local bakery, coffee shop, supermarket, library, playground etc by going every day.  Your little person might also like the familiarity of the same swings for a few days in a row!

We drove 6000 miles around USA seven years ago with our first son who turned three during our journey.
We found that he traveled really well; napped in the car if we timed it well for big distance drives and was happy with a mystery bag of toys and snacks as required.  Ensure you factor in stops for play and toileting.  Most hotels, apartments and hostels will be suitable for a 2.5 year old; watch out for rooms with balconies and loft stairs! Children aged two are generally free in hotels room with parents when using existing bedding. Many hotels in Europe do not have mini-fridges but are very close to supermarkets for snacks etc. Bring your own kid friendly bowl, cup, spoon etc so you can snack anywhere and don’t have to worry about a 2 year old dropping crockery.

Check out www.googlemaps.com  for working out driving distances and hours of travel to give you a good idea of how much of a country you can cover in a day.  This will help you out with booking accommodation.  You may wish to book ahead in large centers to ensure you have a toddler friendly place and then be flexible with days of driving in between. For example, only just this morning we decided that because the weather was sunny we would go into Munich to sight-see and then drive in the afternoon
to a city half way between Munich and Luxembourg.  I then booked a hotel room on one of the many accommodation booking websites before we headed out so that we knew we could turn up in the city at any time and have a room guaranteed.  We had this problem in the USA when we drove thinking that we would easily find a room in the city we were arriving in, only to learn there was a motorbike convention on! Yep, we got a room but the last one in the third hotel we went to and it was the most expensive too.

Hope this information is of value and have a wonderful time planning you adventure.  Your little
person will be well loved in Italy and Spain and will help to break the ice in France.  Take some red/orange/brown coloured clothing for your two year old to help hide all the spaghetti sauce stains!

Got your own family travel tips to share? Please leave a comment.