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My husband and I are avid travellers. We met on one continent, then moved to his home continent, and now live on our third continent together. Since having children, we have continued to travel but in a modified way from our old “flashpacking” ways. This past summer we embarked on an epic journey, which involved three countries and many hotels, trains and planes. I have documented in a three-part series our trip; in this article, we are going to discuss overall recommendations for planning a trip with kids (mine were four and seven at the time of travel).
There are so many ways to visit Europe; with so much to see and do, it can be hard to decide what to focus on. When you add children to the mix, it can make it even more confusing when starting the planning process. Here are a few tips on what to do and how we found we got the best out of the vacation for the whole family.
We took planes, trains and rented a car. We had the kids in an area of the airport that was quiet, where no one was boarding a plane, and we had them run races and skills competitions. It meant by the time they got on the plane they were happy to sit still for a few hours. We allowed them technology on the flights, but successfully took it away everywhere else. In the car, we had a mix of songs they loved (that were not my husband’s choice), but we were happy to see them sing and make up their dance routines in their seats as we rolled down the highways.
In the train, we had colouring and played cards. Uno, Go Fish, and War were some of the most popular games.
There is a reason people become specialists in the destinations they travel to. When travelling with kids, it’s essential to have this information and the framework of an itinerary.
Plan a bit more time to see and do things when travelling with kids. I am fortunate. I work for a travel company. However, I also at one stage was a backpacker and am quite travel savvy, which makes me want to leave things until the last minute. When I am at work, I am busy dealing with and planning other people’s trips. However, travelling with children has changed my old ways. Let me share my most useful lessons.
We pre-booked day tours that we knew we wanted to do, including the Hop-on Hop-off bus tours. This meant we spent less time standing around with kids trying to figure out where we were going. Or we spent more time at the pool engaging and playing instead of researching on our phone.
We did the Hop-on Hop-off bus tours wherever we went. First of all, the kids loved the open-top buses, but it also meant we could get off where we liked, and the bus is full of other foreigners, so it is less likely to be a target for petty theft.
We would walk up to a park and have a picnic for lunch. This allowed the kids to run and play, and us to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Our kids splashed in fountains, climbed on jungle gyms, and played tag with other kids. Most of them didn’t speak the same language, but they still enjoyed themselves. It was a great way to break up the day when moving around a lot. It meant the kids got the beans out and by the time dinner rolled around, they were happy to sit at the table. During dinner, we brought journal-style books the kids coloured and played X’s and O’s in.
Splurge once in a while on a trip with kids. Out of three weeks, we had three nights where the kids slept in a different room than us. While the kids were delighted to feel so independent and each of them had their own bed and a shared kids’ bathroom, my husband and I were happy to have the quiet and alone time in our own room without having to turn out the lights at the kids’ bedtime.
Generally, with kids, you are up and out the door early. The reality is that not all the sights you want to see are open at 8:30 am when you want to visit them. As well, if you are all sharing a room, you may not want to go to bed at 8 pm when the kids are asleep.
We modified our schedule. We got up a bit later and went to bed much later than usual for the kids; dinner was later too. This all helped when we came home because instead of a 6-hour time change, we had it down to a 3-hour time change. Our kids were up around 9 am and out the door around 10 am local time. We would go to bed around 10 pm, after having dinner around 8-9pm. What we did is we would wander into a lit park and let the kids play. Or we would swim in the hotel pool until 7 pm, go shower and change, and eat dinner and then watch a movie before bed. These weren’t massive changes, but they allowed us all to enjoy everything that much more.
Thanks to planning and organizing in advance, the trip to Europe was fantastic. Our kids loved it and still talk about it. My son and daughter enjoyed every aspect of it; we even talked about the history at a level they could understand. We worried that they would be bored or wouldn’t appreciate the sights or behave in public. We got lucky on the first try for this type of trip and struck the right balance. We allowed them to be kids—we may have at times bribed them with ice cream as well. If we asked them tomorrow if they would do it again, they would definitely say yes!
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