Seven Tips for Traveling Europe with Kids

We’ve been lucky to live first in France and now in Italy, so my list could be much longer than seven, but these are my most important when traveling while living here.

Oh and by lucky I mean the military had a job opening. 😉

My list was inspired by 10 tips for travel bliss with kids.

1. A kid* is a kid, not a short adult

Kids might need naps, they’ll definitely need to eat regularly, and bathroom breaks are a must. Adults can sometimes go for hours without eating, and while a good nap is a nice thing, it’s not really a requirement to go about our day. But take a kid to a new city and plan to be out and about from sun up to night and you will not be happy. Pack a few easy snacks and you will not have to stop to buy something completely unknown or worry about finding a grocery store.

Taking a break during the day can be as simple as a long lunch at a restaurant, or a stop at the park. Do something to sit and recharge so you do not end up with a grouchy kid who has no desire to sit during dinner. That long walk from one location to another might be seen as this lovely stroll you are taking, but to a little one it can be the worst thing ever. Oh and be aware that not every park with grass is for anyone to play on, it’s simply for looks, thank you very much. (I’m looking at you Paris.)

Your child will love being with you, but they might not love not speaking while you tiptoe around a museum. Depending on their age, let them help decide what to do and what to see on the trip. We love the Big Red Bus tours and take one in every city we visit, something our kids love and it might be our youngest son’s favorite thing. And who knows, that walk from place to place could be the best thing about their day.

*kid = human child, not baby goatfeet in the water

2. Plan your trip

We all love to be spontaneous. Scratch that – the idea of being spontaneous is fun, but when it comes down to it, traveling around Europe calls for a plan. Take the time to figure out what you want to see and where you want to stay. A lot of cities are very easy to walk so a car is not necessary, and many cities have really great public transportation.

Once you have a place to stay, take the time to read a few reviews for local restaurants so you aren’t disappointed with your first night out. Look up the closest grocery store so you can buy a few snacks to have in your room. Restaurants in Europe open much later than in the US so you can decide if you want to venture for dinner at 8PM with your little ones, or if you’ll have a great lunch and cook dinner at the Airbnb place you are renting. While you are at it, check the times that things open. Often restaurants will open for lunch from 11-2, and close again until dinner at 7. And if your restaurant is very popular you might need to make a reservation because they only have room for 20 people. Keep in mind that European restaurants do not have you in and out in an hour. Once you sit down, that table is yours until they close. You are, of course, free to leave when you wish, but no one will rush out so you can sit down.

Taking the time to plan your trip will make the time be that much more fun. If I have things I need to print I use a folder that is organized by date based on what we are doing. Tickets to various things can often be bought online, which can no only save you time but sometimes will also give you a discount. I also use the TripIt app, and I have various airline apps downloaded as well. I don’t know about every airline app, but few I’ve used recently show the boarding pass on the app.

I am reminded of a spontaneous stop to go up the Eiffel Tower. Since we didn’t plan we ended up having to stand in line – for over an hour. However, you can buy a ticket online and by doing so, you can typically walk right up to the front and go up the tower. We also waited in the (light) rain, which doesn’t drive away nearly as many people as you think it does.

Which leads us right to number three:

helsinki

3. Schedule one thing a day

Yep, I said it, one thing. “ONE thing! Only one? How can I plan one thing when I am taking my family to visit {insert name of your favorite or dream city here}!” I didn’t say do only one thing, I said schedule one thing.

When you schedule that one thing, you know you will do it. You can have breakfast and leisurely walk to the museum and maybe you pass a hole in the wall restaurant with great reviews on the way, or maybe you turn a corner and see a street market. You can take the time to walk through the market since you just have one thing scheduled and not four things. Maybe you decide to go down the narrow street with a small shop every ten feet and find your favorite souvenir. If you have a schedule to do six things a day, you could miss out on the fun stuff. Walking from place to place is at least half the fun.

If you are traveling to a major city such as Paris or London, you need to work in travel time from museum to museum and check the schedule to determine if it is quicker to walk versus taking the metro or tube. The maps will have walking travel time to help you decide. Sometimes there will be closures so be sure to double check this! Also check for strikes because that can shut down major transportation as well. And the person selling metro/tube tickets will not always volunteer this information. We had this problem when we finally went to see the Palace of Versailles – part of the metro was shut down for work, yet we were not told by the attendant. However, in Glasgow, we were told about the subway issues. Glasgow has a much, much smaller system, but it was still really appreciated that we were told versus having a surprise waiting for us.

Also keep in mind the times of opening and closing for a museum, or whatever attraction you are interested in visiting. If something closes at 5 pm and you are leisurely walking to the location, stopping at the hole in the wall restaurant, and walking through a market, you may arrive only to be told you can stay for one hour.

We visited London with a list of places to see and while we checked most (or maybe all) of the boxes on our list, it felt like we were walking or taking the tube for most of the trip. The mistake we made was staying too far outside the city. While it is cheaper to stay on the outskirts of London, versus staying in the city, it might be worth it to spend a little more to stay closer.

market

4. Entertainment

One of the hardest things for my family is figuring out any extra things to bring with us. We all read voraciously and it’s natural to want to take a book (or seven) on a trip. But that leads to heavy luggage, something we’ve dealt with while standing at the check in counter. For our trips this summer, I’ve given in and downloaded books to my Kindle app. I am also finding books for the kids and made a note in the calendar to download them to kindle the day before we leave. Download before you go, you never know the state of wifi where you will be staying (or if you’ve made a mistake and booked a place with no wifi like we did one time).

helsinki

5. Check the weather

If you are traveling Europe from October to May, pack a rain jacket. If you are going to Ireland or the UK, pack it regardless of the month. Packing for a trip is difficult – you want comfortable shoes, will you and your partner sneak away to a fancy restaurant that says no to jeans and sneakers? How much do the airlines let you bring? What about room for something you buy to take home? We go for casual because it’s vacation, no extremely fancy restaurants, and remember to layer our clothing. It’s easy to have little kids wear a shirt and a sweater, and take off the sweater once the weather warms up. The Big Red Bus tours will give you a poncho in case of spontaneous rain.

starbucks mugs

6. Admire the touristy stuff in the store

My kids are lucky to have Grandpa Dan in their lives. And Grandpa Dan once told them, “don’t buy the junk you see in the stores, it will be wasted money, buy something you will use.” I’m paraphrasing, but that has been really great advice. My husband likes to collect the Starbucks cups that have city names on them, yes even if he only stopped in the airport. I like to get a tea towel. It is so hard when you are young because you want everything – you want a keychain, and maybe a button, and oh look at this mini Eiffel Tower it is only one euro that isn’t much! It’s hard to not buy stuff because it really is everywhere.

But when our daughter took a school trip to the UK and came home with chocolate, I knew that Grandpa Dan was proud of her. She brought something she could use, something she could share, something she knew we would all appreciate, and it was edible so it didn’t collect dust on a shelf.

So look at the stores and smile at the touristy stuff. Laugh at the fact that you will see the same thing seven different times, with just slightly different prices depending on the area of town you are in. Remember you can buy that Eiffel Tower keychain at every tourist stop in town. And then stop in at the corner bakery and buy a box of treats to take back to your hotel. Take a selfie with the Eiffel Tower, or pretend you are holding up the Arc de Triomphe. It’s the memories we make, not the one euro toy that matters. Of course if you are somewhere like Quimper, France, and you need to buy pottery, I say buy two. We’ve also bought tshirts, which can scream tourist, but do get worn in our house.

chocolate

7. Relax and have fun! Traveling with kids can be stressful. Plans can change, metros can be closed, the weather can be just too hot/cold for you to want to enjoy anything. During a trip we will sometimes have packed days and other days we have little to do, either way it ends up being fun.

Life in Italy has taken some time to get used to and we’ve decided that we will make the most of our time here, but sometimes the best part is being able to travel to another place.

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