There are so many ways that families can have a wonderful trip to France – see Eight Great Ideas for Family Trips in France, and About.com's France Travel website has many more suggestions. Below are some tips to help you plan and enjoy your trip.
Greetings – Use Them!
Many visitors have a certain trepidation about traveling in France because they have an idea that “the French are rude”. Here is a tip that hopefully can help you find a friendly welcome: try to always use a bit of the polite behavior that is expected in France.
For instance: throughout France, traveling families will find countless shops selling fresh bread, ready-made sandwiches (usually on baguettes), and enticing pastries. Just remember this: whenever you enter a shop, greet the owner. Simply say, “Bonjour Madame,” or “Bonjour Monsieur”. This is the most basic form of politeness that is absolutely expected in France; for the French person, it’s terribly rude if a visitor enters the shop without a greeting, and goes straight to, “How much does that cost?” Try a bit of politesse, French-style!
See more tips about busting the “French people are rude” myth by making sure to not be rude yourself -- How to Avoid the So-Called Rude French.
My family's personal-best way of getting around with kids in Europe is to use the "Car-Lease Buyback” offered by Renault and other major French car manufacturers. Don’t let the name scare you off: this option works just like a car rental but has several great advantages. You’ll be driving a brand new vehicle, at an excellent rate, and with zero-deductible insurance. Note that these arrangements are only available to non-Europe residents and have a minimum of 21 days (though it is possible to return the car earlier.) France, by the way, is an easy country to drive in, but be sure to budget for pricier fuel and for road tolls.
Having your own vehicle allows a family to explore the French countryside and it’s countless picture-perfect medieval villages. Your vehicle also functions handily as a moveable storage unit for luggage and gear, and as a cupboard for food as well: we always had cereal on hand which saved time and money on breakfasts, and we used a cooler that was stocked with milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. Just add some fresh French bread and fruit and voila, lunch is served.
If you do opt for train travel, be sure to always “compost” your train ticket before you board the train! You need to validate your ticket: look for machines located at or near the platform; stick your ticket in to get a date stamp. Later, on the train, ticket inspectors with check the ticket for a valid date. Read more about train travel in France, and if you’re visiting multiple countries see information on rail passes at About.com’s Europe Travel site.
Travel with Toddlers and Babies
About.com's Guide for France has some specific advice for families touring France with wee kids.
She has a couple of warnings: for instance, generally France may not be as stroller-friendly as you may be used to; taking, or acquiring, a light-weight stroller may be a good idea. She also recommends bringing your own car seat if you'll be taking a taxi: "French cab drivers think nothing of having a baby in lap in their cars, and I have only come across one taxi company that could bring a car seat." She recommends a car seat/stroller combo, in her advice. Good news is that -- while you may be bringing all that gear-- you can expect to find excellent baby food, formula, etc., and you will also find major diapers brands such as Pampers and Huggies.
One nice thing about traveling in Europe is that “budget travel” is perfectly respectable and done by masses of people of all ages and demographics. North American families can save a lot of money – and perhaps even make a long-dreamt-of trip a reality—if they keep an open mind about budget accommodations. In particular, don’t rule out “youth hostels” : in many cases, these hostels now welcome families with special “family rooms” that often have private and even ensuite bathrooms. These hostels are also a friendlier way to travel; fans maintain that they enjoy a richer experience by staying in these small-scale places, where typically guests meet over breakfast and hot chocolate in the morning, and where sometimes a shared evening meal is offered as well. Some family-friendly hostels offer play areas, cribs, board games, etc.
See more tips about Budget Travel in Europe with Kids.