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Help! I am chickening-out about driving in France.

I have a car, I want to go, and I am suddenly afraid. We are in Vence and want to take road trips. The roads look so precarious (I fear heights) and the drivers impatient. I will be driving stick and looking for road signs to follow directions. I have to maneuver tiny Medieval streets. All this with little kids asking: "Are we there yet?"

I do not want to be a wimp. I can do this, right?


Posted by
190 posts

Of course you can do this. Just make a few preparations. Get a list of French words used on road signs (via internet); be ready to take a break any time you feel frazzled; route your trip as much as possible on the larger roads and not the back roads when in the mts and be ready to pull over when there is a line of cars behind you.

I can't say much about the "little kids asking are we there yet", except to suggest that you prepare a list of things (signs, castles, etc) for them to be looking for. Even the old, who can spot a brown car (or cow!) first game helps. Hnmm, maybe they can be the official car counters: Hey, Mom, there are 7 cars behind us now!", so you will know when to pull over.

Just use your sense of humor and you will be fine! (In case you are wondering, I have driven all over
Europe with and without small children, having lived there for 13 years.)

Posted by
1455 posts

My husband did the driving in paris, and he said he had no problem. I navigated and used the back of rick's book for the road signs.

The driving outside paris was very nice, and easy. It wasn't until we got back into the big city where my husband had problems.

As jo said, get the kids involved. Print out the road signs and when they see one, they can tell you if you need to slow down, or no passing, etc.

Posted by
2297 posts

The first time I ever travelled by car was in France. And the vehicle was a 14 year old Citroen with a rust hole under the pedals, acceleration slooooooooow and max. speed about 80km/h. No danger to get a speeding ticket in that one ;-) And no way to pass a truck either ...

France has quite a modern road system. Signs might look a bit different at first but the second day they'll be as familar as the ones back home.

Even with the kids in the back you can relax. Don't put yourself on a schedule where you have to arrive at a certain place spot-on at a specific time. I have to do that kind of driving enough at home to shuffle the kids to sports and other activities. I love driving on vacation when I don't have to look at my watch the whole time.

Enjoy France! It's been my favourite place in Europe since I went as a teenager a few decades ago ;-)

Posted by
12040 posts

I found France probably the most pleasant country on Earth to drive through. The views from the autoroute are quite scenic, ample road signs make navigation easy , and in most of the country, traffic is fairly light... the big exception being Paris. Once I came within a few kilometers of le perpherique, I found my blood pressure rapidly rising. But overall, if you have navigated anywhere along the east coast of the US, you should be fine.

Posted by
9 posts

You can do it! My daughter and I just returned from a 25 day trip in Europe. I only drove for 3 days but it was fun. I drove in the Avignon/Arles/Nimes region down to the coast at Cassis. My 17 yr old daughter navigated with a great Michelon map. We got lost a few times and went out of the way but saw some great countryside. After a while you get the hang of roundabouts and they become fun- much better than intersections with traffic lights.

Posted by
32 posts

Cecily, We're doing this right now, with 2 boys ages 8 and 5 (drove Paris to Normandy then to Nice). I won't lie, it has been stressful at times. the roads aren't always marked or don't seem to match the Michelin map/directions I have. But the silver lining is that somehow, someway, we have always managed to find out destination. It has literally been by sniffing our way there sometimes! I'd recommend having a major city as a "drive towards" point so that if you get lost you can at least get back to a central location.

As for the kids...I hate admitting this, but the thing that quiets them down is the occasional promise of a McDonalds (and there are plenty of these), even if only for a milkshake. We've been here a month and they've been good about trying new things, so this is a reasonable compromise, in our minds.

In the end, I'm glad we have the car. It gave us a freedom and sense of adventure we wouldn't have had otherwise. And we've gone places we couldn't have gotten to on a train (or bus) easily, esp with the kids. Plus, it is REALLY nice to be off of public transport for a while (which presents other issues for kid travel).

Posted by
12154 posts

Make sure you get a GPS. Mine is a TomTom 920. I bought it after an adventurous drive through Italy. We made it without a scratch but were lost nearly as much as we were on course and stopped frequently for directions.

Our GPS shows how many miles to your destination, and how many hours or minutes to reach your destination. Teach your kids to read it and they will know how much further until they are "there".

Posted by
59 posts

You can do this! As a single Mom I've driven alot through Europe with my daughter. As she's now older she is a great navigator, but before I would often have a quick list of several 'points' to look for, such as towns or freeway exit numbers to guide me. Actually I find the freeway system easier than the US as the exits are noted several times in advance along with a distance measure: 1000m, then 500m, etc.
There are many places to pull off without exiting the freeway entirely. As far as small towns, take your time, park for a moment if you need to. I drove in Paris last month for the first time and it was a bit scary,(although now I could do it again)so there you may take Rick's advice and park farther out. Leave yourself extra space on hills with a stick.
Have fun and good luck!

Posted by
273 posts

I was afraid before our recent trip but the amazing thing about driving in France is if you know the town you are headed for it's pretty simple. We can to love the roundabouts at each intersection in the Provence region. I had the Michelan maps but found them more confusing than just watching the signs.

Posted by
850 posts

Brad is right about the gps. It will be your best friend for driving on the road and especially as you go through towns where it can be more difficult to drive with road maps. It gives you a warning before you have to make a turn which allows you time to get in the appropriate lane to make that turn. Also, if you miss a turn, which will probably happen, it will reroute you to get back on track. Some gps units such as the tomtom 920 mentioned by Brad and it's replacement the 930 have European maps already loaded. Also the Garmin series 270, 370 and 670 have Europe maps. If you could find the tomtom 920 it should be at a good price since it has been replaced by the 930.

Posted by
12040 posts

But a word of caution about relying completely on a GPS in France. For some reason, they don't seem to work well in parts of eastern France and western Switzerland (never encountered similar problems elsewhere in western Europe, though). On multiple occassions on different trips, different GPS models instructed me to turn in a completely wrong direction, or the direction of travel on the monitor was dead wrong. A GPS is a good tool, especially for driving in European cities, but don't allow it to completely replace old fashioned map and sign reading skills

Posted by
1358 posts

I enjoyed reading responses to your question. I learned long ago that one can't drive in Europe without a good, smart, patient NAVIGATOR sitting in that other seat.

My wife meets those requirements. One must two important abilities: 1. be able to read a road map quickly and 2. read road signs from a distance.

The other word I saw which struck a nerve is "stress". I felt much of that, but adjusted to it after a few days. It is not impossible, but takes long for some of us.

The real test is driving in the UK or Australia. Breaking old habits is difficult. Compared with those countries, Europe is a piece of cake.

Posted by
15 posts

If you park on the edge of the villages you won't
get caught up in the centre of a medieval maze
(which can be nerve-wracking!); most places have
car parks outside the towns - and they don't charge
for them. Tourettes-sur-Loup has a free park just
before the main place parking lot. Turn north on
a narrow lane (sorry) to reach it.

Most of the main roads aren't too precarious - just
don't head up to Gourdon if you fear heights! And,
once again, don't drive into Grasse!

You can do it - and you will!

Posted by
126 posts

I would have to agree with Carl. Driving in Europe is not hard, but because you are unfamiliar with the names of towns and which town is which direction, it is imperative you have a navigator to read the signs and the maps, while you are watching the traffic. If it is just you and your children (we don't know there ages), it could be challenging. I have driven a number of times in Europe, for example, France, Italy, Spain, Germany etc but my daughter, early 20's is a great map reader and understands the roundabouts, and how to read the many road signs that can be on one roundabout. I love the freedom of a car and being able to stop in little villages along the way. As long as you are not frustrated easily and understand how to read a map, many people do not, like my husband who we jokingly call Magellan, you will be fine.

Posted by
448 posts

By the time this post arrives you will have been happily/sort of, zipping up and down the hills...I saw that most of the advice was for flat driving...and i for sure have held my breath on roads in Corsica and Morocco, closing my eyes as passenger and illegaly blowing the horn on curves when i was the driver...
I just went to the Grace Kelly expo in Paris. She went over a cliff while driving in Monaco, but i think she had a stroke...And i know that You are quite safe and enjoying your time in France..You said your kids love museums...take them to a grocery favorite local culture museum

Posted by
416 posts

Yes you can! A GPS and a good map and patience with yourself are all you need. The nice thing about France is that if you come to a round-about and don't know which exit to take, you can keep going around and around until you figure it out. My sister, who lived in France for over a year, was just there recently and was telling me about being on one where they had to go around 4 or 5 times before she figured out which direction they needed and she is fluent in French! However, knowing ahead of time that they COULD just keep going around and around just made it humorous rather than frustrating or scary.

Posted by
143 posts


Thanks to you all for encouraging me. Not only did I drive, I did not get lost once and managed to not fall off any of the hairpin turns I took.


Posted by
448 posts

Now that you're safe i can go back to being jealous. I suggest that you drive downhill..Google says that the D36 will take you 12 mins to go 9 km to Cagnes-sur-Mer where i want you to visit the Musée Renoir, Domaine des Collettes, the final home of Renoir where he painted right to the last minute...I might have mis'read, but that morning he finshed a still life, said "now i understand"..and that was it. Lovely gardens, great view (just another view..) and his buddies Chagall and Matisse liked to come up from Nice to visit.