By Karen Berman Greenblatt
You know you have exposed your children to world culture when your five year old sees colorful mosaic tiles and comments that it reminds her of Gaudi.
We travel to Europe with our two young children every year. Friends and family members are always amazed by this and wonder why we either don’t wait until they are older (our girls are both under 10) or just go by ourselves.
My feeling is that traveling to Europe is not only very doable with kids, but it actually adds a whole new level of fun for adults who are exploring these countries. You do things that you would never have done otherwise and see parts of cities and places that you may never have experienced. Kids get a lot out of European travel at any age and lucky you…you get to see them experience it. Here are 10 tried-and-true tips for making trips to Europe with kids go smoothly.
- Take the latest flight. Look for flights that leave the US at 9:00 or 10:00PM so that you can all actually get some sleep. It isn’t realistic to think that you are going to get a full night’s sleep if the flight leaves much earlier and lands 7 or 8 hours later. At least if you take the late flight and fall asleep within an hour or so, you will get a decent amount of rest.
- Choose your hotel carefully. While you might be tempted to save money by squeezing into a hotel room, don’t do it. You’re much better off staying in an apartment or hotel suite or adjoining rooms (with a kitchenette). Be sure to pick some place very centrally located. That way, you can just get up and walk and not have to worry about schlepping the kids on and off of buses, subways or in taxis all the time.
- Don’t fight the time change. Once in Europe, let your kids stay up until midnight (or even one), and then sleep in the next morning. It’s vacation and while you’ll be eager to get out early and see everything, there’s no harm in starting the day a bit later. Everyone will be rested and the day will just end later. Have a late dinner and when you get back to the hotel, have some fun as a family planning where you want to go the next day or wind down with a movie on a portable DVD player. Staying closer to your own time zone will also make it easier to get back on schedule when you get home.
- Pack single-serve peanut butter. Assuming you don’t have allergies, this is great for picky eaters. Peanut Butter isn’t widely available so it’s smart to have it on hand if your child won’t try the local food or only likes mom’s chicken. It goes well on croissants, rolls and bread and can serve as a decent breakfast, lunch or dinner in a pinch. But if you want to convert your child to the European’s idea of peanut butter, you’ll find Nutella everywhere. This also works wonders!
- Take strollers. Even when our kids were a bit old to be pushed, we brought two umbrella strollers. My husband and I walked all over London, Paris and Barcelona with them. We were thrilled to go at our pace and saved a lot of money by not taking taxis.
- Pack electronics. While you don’t want your kids to zone out, especially when you’re paying so much for them to see another culture, consider taking along iPods, DS, Gameboys or Leapsters. These can save the day for those moments you have no control over (like standing in line at the Eiffel Tower). Use them sparingly.
- Locate playgrounds. Kids have a blast playing on equipment that they never see at home and they can have fun meeting other children from around the world. They’re also likely to enjoy a museum or other sightseeing activity after they’ve had some all-out freedom.
- Check out local movie theatres. Before you go, find out where the movies theatres are located and what family friendly movies are playing in English. The English-language is identified as VO (version originale). It is a good thing to do if it is raining or a nice evening activity to get you to the late bedtime. We saw Chicken Little in Leicester Square in London and Nims Island on a rainy evening on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The kids still talk about it years later.
- Take in a theme park. We like to mix in one exciting children’s activity like Aqueboulevard (an indoor water park in Paris) or PortAventura (a large theme park in Spain). It is nice to have something special for the children to look forward in addition to the basic sights.
- Be realistic. You aren’t going to be able to dine at 5-star restaurants for three hours or spend endless time at museums, but you can have a family adventure none of you will ever forget. Your kids will learn just how small the world is and by seeing the places they’ve read about (or seen in movies or on TV), they’re likely to want to learn as much as they can.