Europe with Kids? Why not?

Family Flamenco in Madrid

Traveling is my passion and at least once a year I take a 2 week break from work to travel with my family.  But the big trips abroad with the kids worried us for a couple of reasons – Would we have fun with them in tow?  Would they enjoy it? Can we afford it?   After our recent trip to Spain and some earlier trips to Europe, I can say –  go for it!   But I do have some battle scars and some useful tips for other parents considering the trip:

Mix Up the Itinerary– If you plan to tour multiple cities, plan a kid oriented day(s)  to break it up.  We recently spent two days on the Beach at Nerja to break up the Sevilla / Madrid city scouting.  Consider rafting, rock climbing, amusement parks, or other kid approved activities.

Plan down time – even if you go at a break neck pace for a couple days in a row – plan for the for every 3rd day to be a sleep in day.  Well rested kids make better companions.

Can we go to the Pool?Even in Europe kids ask this!  So we have embraced the concept and converted the afternoon Siesta to the Fitzgerald ” Pool-esta.”  During the heat of summers in Rome, Barcelona, Sevilla, etc., sitting out the heat after lunch is a great kid friendly plan.  Hotels with pools are harder to find but worth the investment.

Museums – Realistic Expectations – Set a time limit going into the museum based on your kids’ ages.  Then hit the highlights and keep the team moving.  Two successful strategies for us in art museums have been 1) Stop at the gift shop first and get little sketch pads.  Have the kids doodle their own version of the masterpieces you want to see.  This keeps the experience interactive and about them.   2) For slightly older kids – give them the map that shows the masterpieces and make it a treasure hunt.  Assign the key artworks to the kids and let them lead the way.  Again – the interactivity keeps the experience working on your level and theirs. 

We have managed the Louve, the Uffizi and recently the Prado, and we have some priceless sketch pads (pocket size mind you!)  as memories.  One last word on Museums with kids – Skip the paid guides.  They are paced for art loving, information seeking adults.  Kids would rather eat glass than listen to them!

Hand over the Map– Meandering streets can be the fun of old cities like Florence, Toledo, Venice or Madrid.  Give the kids the map with a no-deadline destination and let them work the family through the byzantine streets.

Packing– News flash!  Kids don’t care what they wear.  So pack light and put them in charge of their own wheely bag and one backpack that holds their entertainment.  We travel a lot by train and the rule is (even for the 7 year old)  if you can’t carry it, no one else will.  Two pair of shoes, 4 shorts, a sun dress (girls) a pair of khakis (boys), a stack of tee shirts and a bathing suit.  Add underwear and you are done.  We plan a hotel laundry stop at the end of a week to keep our bags from smelling like a homeless shelter.

Costs– There are two biggies – air fare for each child and the hotel accommodations.  European hotels think on a per person basis.  Hotel rooms charge for and are sized for two people.  If your kids are young,  there are frequently suites or Jr suites that allow for a sofa bed, crib or a cot.  The same arrangement can work if you are traveling with just one child.  Be prepared – there is usually an additional charge for the extra person in the room.  Once you have bigger kids, you need to pony up for a second room.  This was our biggest cost to absorb.  Some of our friends who stay longer in one city have found it to be more cost effective to rent a house.  This usually requires a minimum week commitment.

Our philosophy is to first plan the trip that we want. (Heck, I am the one paying for it!)  and then go back and modify it so the kids will also enjoy it and make it even better for us.  Sure, my daughter may be scarred from the brutal bull fights, and my son may never appreciate the Flamenco performance, but they will never forget the daily gelatos that glued all of the events together!

Going to spain? Check out my references page for hotel and other reccos that work for traveling families.

3 Comments

  1. Posted August 2, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    You are such a natural at this stuff, Julia. And to think you hold down a day job!

    We are taking the kids to France next June again. So thanks for the tips…

    Sari

  2. Posted August 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Man, you are good at this. We’ve done cruises with the kids and have more planned. I’ll pack these tips to “ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the general welfare.” And while we’re at it…I’d love your POV on my blog: http://www.tomtholen.com. Let me know what you think!

  3. Posted November 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Loved your suggestions about museums, and I love the idea of all of you speed walking through museums and wandering at a leisurely (lost) pace through city streets!

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