|Leaving from an overnight at the island Mont St Michel, Northern France. (Ages 6 and 9)
Let me just say this, if you have kids, do not let that deter you from seeing the world. My whole life I dreamed of going to France and England. It came to pass that I was turning 40 (don’t want to say how long ago), and I had never been. My husband insisted we were going for my 40th, though we had young children and no one to watch them. At the time, they were six and three. I didn’t know how we were going to do this, and started asking everyone who had traveled what they thought.
|At the Tower of London, same trip.
Most told me forget about bringing kids if I wanted to have a good time. So discouraging. Then a mom from my school to whom I will be forever grateful, Eleanor, told me that was rubbish. She and her family had been traveling with their three kids from 18 months on and had a ball. Their kids adored travel and had been everywhere! That was encouraging. I then found Rick Steve’s online and all the wonderful forums he has for traveling with kids in tow. Trip Advisor was my next salvation. I poured over reviews of hotels and restaurants that travelers had recommended as family friendly. We were going to Paris, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip by stressing about being somewhere kids weren’t welcome.
|The London Eye
Well, the first trip was a surprising hit with us all. We planned well and made sure our kids could sleep on the 12 hour flight over. We took a lightweight stroller with us, so we could hop on and off trains and subways and the the three year old could conk out when needed. The six year old was like the energizer bunny, scanning his maps, climbing monuments and scoping out the next crepe spot in France or Cornetto kiosk in the U.K. The best thing about having little ones, is folks are very kind. In England and In France (yes France) people couldn’t be nicer or more helpful with our strollers and crud. In fact, after many more trips to Europe with this crew, my husband and I think it was almost easier when they were the smallest! Now they have opinions.
|Griffin showing improper use of a tea cozy at my favorite store, Liberty of London.
|Marveling at the selection at Hamley’s 7 story toy emporium in London.
|Getting a drink at one of the many water faucets in Rome.
Some things that will make your trip easier:
|Gelato in Venice ( ages 9 & 12)
Plan early and vet out the hotels, apartmants and restaurants you may hit. Family friendly is key and you can find great referrals from Trip Advisor or Rick Steve’s graffiti wall.
|Waiting for the tube London.
Plan for no more than 3 hotel or apartment changes tops. You can travel out on day trips from there, but 3 spots is usually the max with a family. Kids like to get accustomed to a place and a two week trip with 3 stops is doable. Otherwise, it’s just too much transportation and not enough being there.
|The boys reading before bed in our “family room” at Hotel Tardiff in Bayeux, France (Normandy.)
Eat early and often to ward off down moods and jet lag. We found eating early (which is usual dinner hour for U.S. folks 5-6) made us less apprehensive about restaurants since most people eat later in Europe. We had places to ourselves and were out before the crowds arrived. Also make time for lot of little stops for gelato, waffles, croissants and crepes and whatever the delicacy is where you are traveling. Kids get worn down and little stops for treats give them a break and the will to keep going! I also brought ritz crackers and peanut butter for my picky eater on the first trip. It helps to have a familiar food for smaller ones handy.
Turn lunches into picnics by buying cheese, bread, sandwiches at local shops and then enjoying the parks and riverbanks of European cities. Kids get some run time and you can rest and relax.
|Chocolate crepe break in Paris.
Plan your long flights overnight if you can. I’ll never forget the advice from that first mom who told me to make sure we fly to Europe overnight and leave late in the afternoon or early evening. That is a genius plan. You keep your kids up all day, (no naps if they are young) and fly a few hours before bedtime. Kids will be able to sleep a few hours at least since it’s usual bedtime. You arrive late morning and it’s easier to adjust to the time zone change. I also don’t let them have caffeine before.
|A zipline at the park in London.
Look online to find out what you want to see and some special spots for the kids. Do a mixture of both. For example we loved taking the kids to the parks in Paris, but also brought them to the Musee D’Orsay. The kids loved the crazy ziplines at all the parks and also had some fun at the museum with headsets, and in the gift shop and collecting postcards.
We had picnics in the park as well as fancy dinners. It’s important to do things you want as well as your kids and it helps them learn how to behave at these places. Vacations are for parents as well as kids.
|Jackson at the steps of Montmartre, Paris.
Our first trip to the England we were near Blenheim Palace and I really wanted to visit, but felt like it may be silly to bring two small boys to a stuffy palace they would have no interest in. We did it and they did the tour of all the rooms and then had a blast on the grounds seeing falconry and watching a regiment that was visiting for the day. You never know what your kids can do if you don’t try. They still remember that as a very fun day and I was happy too.
|Blenheim Palace agreed with the 3 year old.
|Passing the time with Daddy while waiting for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
|Griffin making the most of a rainy day in Venice. ( People are like, who is that crazy child?)
Your kids do not need to be, “older” to appreciate a trip abroad. I am all for leisure vacations, but why not inject some culture in their lives too? Can you alternate these kind of trips? I truly believe the earlier kids are exposed to other countries, rituals, food unlike their own, the better.
It’s also okay to get some education and appreciation squeezed in there. We took our boys to Normandy at 9 and 6. Though they were a bit young to understand the full scope of WWII, we visited Omaha Beach and the American Museum there. We talked about what has happened and given up for them. I’m glad we did it and I think that kind of thing balanced with kid stuff makes a well rounded and more thoughtful person.
|Pont du Hoc in Normandy
|A warm day in Rome.
|Hiding in the ramparts at Mont St. Michel, France
|Sweet shop in Italy.
Planning a trip can be more affordable than you think. Italy in particular, is pretty inexpensive. That was our last trip and we stayed at 2 great family friendly hotels in Venice and Rome and a wonderful old monastery up in the hills above Florence that had a great family space and a pool.
|One of my favorite hotels, built in the 1700s, Hotel Tardif in Bayeux.
|Jackson trying a bambinoccino -(frothy milk basically.)
|Getting some relax time to eat a croissant in the park while my then 3 year old took a nap.
|Who says 6 years olds don’t heart Paris?
Some hotels I personally love and would return to that welcome families:
I Parigi in Florence
Hotel Lancelot in Rome
Hotel Antiche Figure in Venice
Hotel Tardif Bayeux, France (Normandy)
The Hotel Adornes in Brugge, Belgium has wonderful family rooms and breakfast. We fell in love with this Rick Steves’ recommendation! Lovely people and location cannot be beat.
The Westin in Frankfurt, Germany is another nice choice with a good location if you need a spot to crash when flying in or out. Two rooms are mandatory for four persons in Germany, and the prices for adjoining rooms surprisingly aren’t bad here. Great restaurant, service, and a rooftop pool for the kids- a treat after many small boutique hotels. Even better, they could binge on Sponge Bob in Deutsch in their own room!
I’d love to hear any places you recommend and answer any other questions that families consider traveling might have!
Photos are all mine. Please link back or use by request. Thank you!