For those of you who know me personnally, you know that I am NOT a fan of staying home, or have some have so lovingly stated, I have “ants in my pants”. For years BC (before children) I (and then my husband and I) travelled often both in the US and throughout Europe. Once the kids came along, I thought my days of travelling, especially to Europe, were over for a long time. Thankfully that was not the case. A little planning can make travelling to Europe with kids of all ages can be as great as travelling without them.
So how do you do it? Here’s a few tips that can help you have an enjoyable trip with kids of any age.
Start small. Pick one location with a lot to do. Kids, especially the little ones, require a lot of “stuff”. Lugging that stuff between several stops for a night or two at a time can be wearing. Focusing on one location, like a big city, will give you the opportunity to see the highlights without having to move around a lot. Almost every big city will also have nearby day trip locations that will allow you escape the big city without having to lug your luggage. If you still want to see more than one city or country, then it is imperative to…
Plan ahead. Unfortunately winging it is hard, especially if you are travelling in high season which is during the summer, spring break or any school holiday. A little research goes along way in making sure your trip is as family-friendly as possible. Dinner at a 5-star restaurant, probably not, but maybe lunch there is an option with little ones.
Decide how you want to travel. Do you want to plan everything yourself or use an organized tour? Travelling independently allows you flexibility but you are also on your own. Running to catch a train last minute is a lot harder with strollers, suitcases and little ones in tow. If you go it alone, book your hotels, planes and trains ahead of time and allow plenty of time to get there. Consider family suites or connected rooms to give you more room to spread out. Rail passes are great but book your seats ahead of time so you are all sitting together.
What about a tour or cruise? Gone are the days when tours were only for old people or school groups following sweaty tour guides holding big flags with hordes of tired travelers behind them. Today, many small-group, family oriented tours offer a great way to see Europe without having to worry about logistics. Picking your location is as hard as it gets and the tour guides do the rest. Travelling with family focused tours like Adventures by Disney or Tauck Bridges not only give you easy access to highlights of the top spots, but can, in many cases, give you unparalleled access that you just can’t get travelling on your own. On a recent Adventures by Disney Viva Italia itinerary, stops not only hit Italian highlights like the Spanish Steps and the Vatican, but arranged for a private Sistine Chapel visit with only members of the tour (think 40 people instead of 1500). Other irreplaceable highlights included an unscheduled stop at the American Cemetery outside Florence just as it was closing for the day. Members of the tour then got to participate first-hand in the flag lowering ceremony and hear the cemetery manager describe the battles that led to Tuscany being freed from the Fascists.
Family tours also offer the opportunity for some couple time with organized “kids nights” where kids get some time away from their parents while parents get a few hours to themselves for dinner or a wine tasting.
Pasta making is fun for everyone!
An organized tour does still require stops at various hotels. If the thought of packing and unpacking three or four times per trip is not for you, a European cruise may be the lowest maintenance form of family travel. Several cruise lines of various price points, including Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian, and Princess, offer ocean-based cruises which skirt the entire European continent on different itineraries throughout the warmer months. River cruises, such as Amawaterways, Viking or Avalon, allow families to experience Europe from its rivers making it easier to visit major cities without long bus rides from ocean cruise ports. Adventures by Disney has even partnered with Amawaterways to create family-focused Danube River cruise itineraries. These cruises allow you to traverse the Mediterranean, experience the Norwegian fjords and bike through Amsterdam while only unpacking once per cruise.
3.) Relax and go with it. Travelling with kids can be unpredictable. Ice cream stops are a must and some museums or highlights will be missed, but so what? Will your 7-year-old remember the Louvre? Probably not. Will your 7-year-old remember splashing around in the fountain outside the Louvre? That’s more likely; and it’s certain that you will never forget it. Kids have a way of making the most curmudgeonly hotel employee smile and offer you an excuse for ordering that dessert or riding the carousel.
4.) Let someone else do the work. Use a travel agent! Yes, you can spend countless hours researching the best price on that hotel or trying to figure out the best way to get from one location to the other, but why? Your efforts are best spent enjoying the time with your family, not figuring out what to do now that the French rail employees have declared a strike (and they will, especially on Fridays in the Summer!)
As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Travelling with your kids, either near or far, will instill in them a sense of adventure that no other experience can replicate. Let us help you give this gift to your children. Contact your Favorite Place Travel specialist today to get you and your family on the road.
Those who know me understand I am, well, a bit “Type A” to put it mildly. Relaxing stresses me out. This character trait is what drew me to European travel in the first place: new places to go; things to experience! Forget the beach, I want action! My past trips have been planned to the day, spreadsheets and all. (Due credit to Uncle Don here – he was the king of the vacation spreadsheet.) This trip was no different. That is until the weather and my travelling companion Mom chimed in.
The thought of springtime in Paris was wonderful. Visions of the Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens in full bloom danced in my head. We envisioned a day trip to Giverny with Monet’s gardens awash in sunshine. Tickets were booked and the weather was checked – cold and rainy. What?! That was clearly NOT on the spreadsheet! Gardens in grey skies and pouring rain were not nearly as alluring. Nonetheless, the rain did not deter us from seeing Notre Dame and wandering through the Ile de la Cité on our first afternoon. But when we walked by the café across the street from Notre Dame, instead of walking right by, we went in and sat down. Yes, it pained me to pay double to have our drink at a table instead of at the bar standing up but, hey, the view was great. Not only that, but it wasn’t just tourists in there. It turns out Parisians like a view with their coffee, too. Sure enough, after 15 minutes, I was antsy and ready to move on to the next destination, but then my mom gave me the “I’m not leaving yet, so you’d better just calm down” look. And so we sat, just enjoying Paris, watching it bustle for nearly an hour. It was lovely.
One of my favorite places in Paris is the little park behind Notre Dame. I found myself there one afternoon while Mom was chilling in the apartment. While people-watching with my Coke Lite in hand, I noticed a man with a banjo standing in the little gazebo. Next, up walks a man with a stand-up bass and another carrying a guitar case. Dismissing the trio at first, and with my attention otherwise distracted, I soon hear singing – a full fledged sing-a-long broke out, complete with sheet music for singers. Next thing you know, about 40 people are standing around singing French folk tunes. It was so … Parisian, and something I would have never seen if I had been beholden to my spreadsheet.
We had planned on taking a day trip to London during this trip. A plan that seemed like a great idea at the time. We booked our Eurostar tickets- only 2 hours on the train, the chance to get a taste of London, why not? Well, as our trip progressed, the weather outlook for London looked progressively worse, ending up at 45 degrees and rain for the day of our visit. At this point, Mom throws down the gauntlet as only Moms are allowed to do: She’s not going to London to freeze and get wet. How can I argue with that? Had she not said that, honestly, we would have been in London, wet and cold, because well, this was The Plan! Instead of rain in London, we enjoyed a bright, sunny day in Versailles, seeing the chateau in all its over-the-top splendor. Good call Mom.
The moral of the story is not to go on your trip with no plans, reservations or idea of what you want to see. Instead, it is to have those plans, but let your trip mold those plans. Some of my best memories of this trip are that day in Versailles, the Notre Dame sing-a-long and watching the little boys sailing boats in the Luxembourg Gardens where we took a break one day. Slow down, don’t just take in the sights but really see your destination, you won’t regret it. P.S. We went back to that café across from Notre Dame again. I highly recommend the Nutella crepe accompanied by a nice glass of rosé from Provence!
Our family suffered a few blows in the last year losing several loved ones over a short time period. This circumstance made us particularly sensitive to the fact that none of us are going to be around forever. With this in mind, my mom and I decided that there was no time like the present for her first trip to Europe, with me as her personal travel guide. I picked Paris as the destination. To me, there is no more quintessentially European city. Since I was leading the way, it didn’t hurt that I’d been to Paris several times in the past and could speak passable tourist-French.
In the past, my trips to Paris had been with my husband or friends. These past trips were busy, if not frenetic, seeing as many of the sites as possible in the short time we had. I loved the city; the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. I took pride in the fact that we would take the Metro everywhere.
This trip was different. Mom is beyond the point in her life where she wanted to be dragged through Paris checking off the site on a list and moving on to the next. She wanted to “experience” Paris. This experience did not include her trudging up and down the Metro steps, especially given the less than cooperative Paris weather, which was cold and rainy during our late May visit. (I believe her exact words were “the Metro is hideous” after a particularly harrowing trip up and down several flights of stairs and jumping over a small lake at the bottom of the St. Michel stop’s steps.) The question then became, what now? Taxis were prohibitively expensive to rely on for the entire trip; walking long distances was out of the question this trip with mom’s new hip; and city buses required a lot of transfers that, quite frankly, I didn’t feel like navigating. As we came up from the tunnel to the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysee, there it was- big, red, double-decked and, most importantly, dry and warm.
Karmic message received: the hop on, hop off two day bus pass was purchased and off we went. To my surprise, I was a convert. We took the Les Cars Rouge tour, which is included as part of a Paris Museum Pass. (If you don’t have the Paris Pass, buy your tickets online for a discount.) There are also several other similar tours. These busses circle the city stopping at the Eiffel Tower (both on the Seine and the Champs de Mars end), the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Grand Palais, Trocadero (for an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower) and the Opera. It offered a respite from the rainy weather, and was incredibly convenient to our apartment, just a block from Notre Dame. Did I mention that the Opera stop is also across the street from the unbelievable three-building Galleries Lafayette department store? The downside definitely was that it was by no means a fast way to traverse the city as it often was stuck in traffic, and the prerecorded tourcommentary wasn’t all that informative. But it was warm and dry and a good way to see the “highlights” if you were not in a hurry to get anywhere, and offered an alternative to the Metro if youwant to see the city while travelling from place to place. (As a side note, my kids thought the earbuds provided for the tour narration were a cool “souvenir” from mom’s and grandma’s trip. Who would have thought!?)
What was becoming of me? A bus tour? What next, a guided tour? Paying double for my drink by sitting at a café? Quelle horreur! Stay turned to http://www.favoriteplacetravel.com for part 2 of our Paris adventure to find out. (Spoiler alert: We did both, and loved it!) To book your trip, contact your travel agent at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call Stacey at 404.409.4174, or Susan at 708.479.4693.
About Favorite Place Travel
We are experienced travel agents who are well-traveled and well versed in locations throughout the US, Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean. We will work with you to ensure that your trip is what you want, creating a tailor-made trip for you and your travel companions, whether its family, friends, or on your own.