So, you long for adventure in the “Old World?” Maybe the type you had in your younger years, or maybe the type you read about and see in movies…Parisian cafes, wine “under the Tuscan sun,” sailing into Barcelona. Alas, you don’t believe these dreams will ever become reality because of the adventure suckers in your life—the kids. On the contrary, kids can be adventure sponges! Adventures with kids just require a little more pre-planning and cheerleading.
Planning a Trip to Europe
Your trip to Europe with the whole family starts months before you board the jet across the North Atlantic. In fact, this planning phase is the most critical part of the journey. Start by determining what type of adventure YOU have passion for…we’ll get to the kids later. Are you a history buff? Are you drawn to city life? Are you an outdoor lover?
Next, zero in on an area. This step is where many people make their first mistake. Europe is like a buffet of adventure; however, just like an all-you-can-eat pizza place, letting your kids try everything and visiting too many places will cause them to get sick. Don’t overdo it– I cannot stress this enough.
If you can’t choose an area (and let’s be honest, every cobblestone street in Europe is an adventure), consult with a travel professional. She knows how to find the steak and lobster on the buffet for you.
Booking Tours in Europe
Once you have decided where to go, your travel consultant can help make it easy on you by booking your family on tours that will allow you to “skip the line.” Europe’s major spots can get crowded, and you will agree that skipping the line is the best thing money can buy once you are there on a warm day standing in the streets of Rome, listening to “how much longer, Daddy?” A travel consultant also can help you find family-friendly stuff. From museum tours to “Gladiator school,” there are many family options that help bring things alive for kids.
Preparing Kids for a European Adventure
In the months before departure while you are dreaming of “your spot,” start pumping your kids full of it! Find movies about the destination. From Ratatouille (Paris) to Laura Croft (Venice), the movies kids love will come to life when they see things with their own eyes. Also, it is a good time to visit the bookstore and pick up a book about your vacation spot. Some kids like the stories of the Roman conquest (Eagle of the 9th) others just a good story (Madeleine). You were going to read with them anyway, so why not start your “mental adventure” now. Finally, just talk about the destination as much as possible. Find out what their expectations are. Every time you see something that deals with your spot, show them. Try to learn a few words of the language together. I promise it will not go unappreciated when you get there.
Eliminate Stress While Traveling
Next comes the part of vacation that can cause the most stress, the travel. Again, pre-planning is your friend. Go out and get some stuff that will hold your little travelers’ attention for a few minutes. Throw-away cheap stuff is fine, just anything that may buy you 20 or 30 minutes. Also, load apps on your phone/tablet for them. We limit “screen time” at home, but long international flights are not the time to prove a point. Having the kids occupied in a long Customs line is worth it. I know this can go unsaid to anyone who has children, but I’m gonna say it: EXTRA TIME IS YOUR FRIEND. Always give yourself some fudge factor time. If for some reason the kids mess up and make life totally smooth, great! Go for ice cream with the extra time.
When you do get going, prepare your kids for change. Kids have a need to be “in the loop” as much as adults, so let them in on the plan. Give them too much information. Before the car stops, tell them how you’re going to get luggage out of the car. Before security, explain what they will be doing. Before boarding a plane, explain how it will be done. My rule is, any time we change surroundings, let them know what to expect.
Last, but certainly not least “never let ’em see you sweat!” I have made this mistake, and the kids picked up on it like a pack of wild dogs. That’s when the howling began.
Savor Your Surroundings
You make it to “your spot” and you are stoked! Ready to get this party started! Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Places, like people, never get a second chance to make a first impression. And jet-lagged is not the way to make the impression on your kids. I suggest this itinerary for your first day: since you most likely will land in the morning, drop your bags at the hotel, check out the immediate neighborhood, grab a bite to eat, take a nap for an hour or so, go see some sights in the twilight, have dinner, and get a good night’s sleep. No early morning tours…those will be in the days ahead.
Keep the pace slow! You will do a lot of walking in Europe, and junior takes three steps to your one. One tour/sight/exploration a day is usually all they can handle. So, look for parks and playgrounds near the sight of the day. Even the most curious child would rather play than be on a tour. Sit and take a load off, try some local street food, and watch your child speak the international language of “play.”
Do some off-the-beaten-path stuff with your kids. One of the most memorable things we have done with our kids was rent bikes and glide through Roman ruins. Sometimes the greatest things aren’t the most well-known.
Food for me is the highlight of a European adventure, but it can be strange and scary for kids. When settling down for a meal, I let them order something vaguely from the country that may be familiar to them. Pizza in Italy? Okay. However, we do make them try a bite of the more adventurous stuff. Call me an awful person, but I do not feel like I need to give them the complete story about their food. Calamari, for instance, was described as a “fried Italian dish.” I just conveniently left out the part they may find undesirable.
Seeing Europe through your children’s eyes can be enlightening and awesome. With careful pre-planning, and making sure you don’t overwhelm the kids (or yourself), you can eliminate stress. With good communication, you can ease fears. With good travel tactics, you can squash boredom. You can have the adventure of a lifetime with your kids in tow; but, fair warning…you may instill a wanderlust in them that will never go away.
Beth Barnett is a travel consultant at Global Escapes. Her husband and favorite travel partner, Don Barnett, wrote this helpful article.