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.

A Surprise Trip to Athens

My oldest son loves Greek mythology. His love started when he read the first Percy Jackson book, and hasn’t wavered since. He’s endured the movies (despite the comment that the books are so different compared to the movies) and reads the latest book the same day he gets it in the mail. So as a surprise, we arranged to take a long weekend trip to Athens.

The smaller airlines here offer great opportunities to travel. Naples is a large enough airport that you can fly direct to many places and the tickets are not very expensive. We flew with a Greek airline, Aegean Air, and managed to get seats in the second row. No first or business class on the small planes, I think your seat choice is made when you check in since it’s a budget airline.

We always stay with an AirBNB rental because hotels in Europe are small and would require us to have two rooms. It’s easier, and more fun and relaxing, for us to rent someone’s apartment for a few days and also have access to a kitchen if we desire to cook. I found an apartment with a great view of the Acropolis and walking distance to almost everything we wanted to see. But like many other European cities, Athens is laid out in such a way that walking to things is fine. We did the big red bus tour (a favorite of ours to do in every city we visit) and enjoyed walking the tourist strip and side streets.

Outside of seeing all of the sites, finding good food is a priority. We arrived very late and despite it being around midnight (or possibly later?), we were hungry so our taxi driver stopped at a place for us to get gyros. Delicious! And only a few euros each. We had three full days to explore the city.

Favorite museum: Acropolis Museum. Everything from the Acropolis is in here, save for what other countries stole years ago and won’t return. We also went to the National Archeological Museum (statue here is from this museum) which also had really a lot of artifacts from a wide variety of areas. The NAM was nice, and it was cool to be able to take photos (not allowed in most of the Acropolis Museum).

Statue of a kore
Statue of a kore

Favorite restaurant: Piatsa – we liked this so much we ate here three times! Top to bottom: feta w/ olive oil and herbs, chips w/ feta, feta wrapped in pastry and topped w/ honey and sesame seeds. I promise we ate more than feta. We ate at a couple other places that were huge disappointments, we feel like they thought, “oh Americans, give them the American type food” which was hot dogs in one restaurant. No thanks. three foods

Favorite drink: freddo cappuccino! A few euros and served everywhere. I loved these, especially in the hot weather. We paid no attention to the weather forecast when planning the trip.

freddo

Favorite thing about the Airbnb rental: the rooftop eating area and view of the outdoor theater next door. We watched The Godfather one night. It played in English with Greek subtitles.

outdoor theater

A tip about climbing the Acropolis: walking to get to the ticket booth takes the most time. I read review after review talking about the amount of walking you have to do, how steep the steps are, how many steps there are, one reviewer said there isn’t an escalator (we’ll just let that slide), etc. So I was nervous! We are used to talking, but it felt like everyone mentioned only the amount of steps and how steep it was.

And then it took maybe fives minutes. Sure it’s a little steep (but just a little) and the stairs are for sure slick/slippery (JW slipped once on the way up) so care needs to be taken. But otherwise, it’s a relatively easy walk. There were tour groups with older people in the group and they were going slow and doing fine. It’s not a site you would run up the stairs at, but it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time like many reviews suggest.

Acropolis

After Two Weeks

I need to unplug. I need to get away. I love the internet.

Things we’ve all said or had someone tell us. For the past few years we’ve gone on vacation to a place that has little to no cell phone or wifi service. We are sure to download books to the Kindle so we have something to read, and we update our favorite game apps before we go. And then we just enjoy the time.

This year the taxi driver mentioned that us being at the campsite for one week was not enough, many people stay for ten days or two weeks as just a minimum. Maybe in the future we will have this option, but for now one week swimming and enjoying the sun has been enough for us.

After two weeks away from home, with limited wifi during the week in various cities, we all come home refreshed, maybe a little happier. We’ve all read a handful (or more) of books, and enjoy our new magnets. It’s difficult to live in Europe sometimes, the disconnect that happens with family and friends in the US isn’t something easily solved. But getting away and being able to just be present in the space we are in is a good thing.

Camping

First Birthday Party in France

Our baby is 4!

We use a refillable card to ride the local transportation (tram/bus) and JW has wanted one since we all got one. We don’t have a car so having a great transportation available to us is awesome. Every time we asked JW what he wanted for his birthday, he said a korrigo card. He never wavered from wanting the card! Chris took him to the office on the morning JW turned 4 and it actually took a little bit of talking before the card was issued.

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JW doesn’t technically need a card. He’s too young to have to pay for it if he is traveling with someone who has a card. Since he’s too young to travel by himself, he won’t need to pay while we live here. Chris tried to get him a card and the guy at the office kept saying why are you trying to pay for this, why do you want a card with money on it because he just doesn’t have to pay. Chris explained that this is the only thing JW has been asking for, so the guy said, “Oh, I can just make him one!” And so he has his own card.

The party was crazy and chaotic and after it was all over, we were all exhausted. JW’s teacher helped tell me who he plays with during the day and so we invited six kids. I hoped at least three or four would be able to come, I made a mistake with the date and how much time I had to invite kids so I wasn’t sure if everyone could make it. All of them came. It was a pleasant surprise.

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I made small goody bags for the kids to take home and put various Haribo candies inside. Parties here are VERY low-key compared to how crazy they can be in the US. A friend gave me some advice about what a party is like here – be sure to do paper invites just because some people are turned off by verbal invites (I appreciate paper just because it is a better reminder), much less food compared to the US (we just had cake and juice), some parents will leave the kids with you.

IMG_5852

The leaving of the kids was a little surprising to me. We live in a small town, and I feel like we are a part of this small community that involves the kids at the school, the parents, the people who work at the hotel, and the handful or so of military people we have met. The community of ours will expand as time goes on, but the leaving of the kids was still a little surprising because we just moved here and we don’t know each other too well. One of the parents stayed, but the rest left their children. It was a loud crazy party, but it was fun for all. The kids played with Mr. Potato Head (all JW wanted for Christmas was this huge Mr. Potato head we saw at a toy store here. He ended up getting two – one from my Mom and another from my best friend), colored, played with swords, and legos. I tried to be organized with opening gifts but it was over in seconds as all of the kids descended on whatever they brought and tore the paper off. It was funny to watch.

The older kids’ birthdays are both in August, which, like in the States, is a non-school time. We don’t have our summer holiday plans figured out yet, but maybe we will be in a fun city for their birthday’s.

Word Vomit

Whew, what a year this has been.

Yesterday marked the end of my last semester for my undergraduate degree. *big deep breath out* I actually turned in my last final on Friday and I felt so emotional! It has taken me a long time to get this degree and I am just thrilled. I didn’t think I would be as emotional as I was, I cried moments after turning the paper in. My official graduation date is at the end of August, finally.

I finished the baby quilt I posted previously! This is a pattern from the Little Bits Quilting Bee book and is so easy. I pieced the back using leftover fabric, including the triangles that, if I followed the pattern, would have made a border. I quilted echo lines around the chevrons. The quilting is my favorite part about this one, the baby’s room’s decor is grey and white and chevrons. I thought oh I’m just going to quilt lines echoing the design – instant chevrons!

Blog July 8

Blog July 8

Forgive the blurry pic, my son jumped behind the quilt and moved it while I was taking a picture.

We have had many people visit us so we are frequent aquarium visitors. The kids favorite thing to do is pretend to be a sea anemone.

Blog July 8

And I love turtles so here is a baby.

Blog July 8

I recently got a bike and we have been trying to ride daily, or at least several times a week. Riding a bike is a calorie burner! I love it. My husband is thinking he may be able to commute by bike at his next job, so we are researching extras like bags and a different stroller to pull the baby in.

Blog July 8

I thought I would have so much free time now that my semester is over, but I spent today running errands and on the phone. I am getting a lot done though. I won’t be riding bike this evening, but the rest of the week I will be able to! I am now on a prepare to move (again), figure out what to put in storage, sew, sew, sew mission.

Settling in CA

My emotions seem to sway back and forth depending on what I am working on or scheduling. We have arrived in California! I am glad the stress of the move is over, miss my Mom, and can’t wait until my kids make friends.

We took a few days to drive down from Washington, stopping early enough to have a nice dinner and swim at the hotels we stayed at each night. We also stopped at a couple of quilt shops – one really great one when we were visiting Chris’ adopted parents in the Bay Area!

The first week of being here was the normal getting things set up – arranging for our moving truck to be unloaded, getting the gas and electric turned on, getting the internet turned on, finding the library, unpacking a little. Ever since, we’ve been slowly unpacking and getting set up. We all have library cards but haven’t joined the Y. One kid is registered for school but the other has to wait until next month. JW doesn’t have a preschool but he may not because the cost of daycare/preschools down here, wow. I’m working on getting used to the cost of living, but I’m not sure that will ever happen!

We went to Legoland for the 4th of July. I am fairly certain that this year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have fireworks to blow up. I really missed it. Funny how you miss things like that when you don’t have them. As you can see, I don’t know how to use my (new! yay!) iphone camera to take pictures of fireworks.

I have fallen in love with instagram! Are you there? Follow me if you are, my user name there is tsoniki.

Mil Spouse Fun

A Military Spouse Survey – I haven’t done one of these meme’s in ages, so I figured I’d jump right in. 🙂

One of my best military spouse friends Holly did this the other day, so here are my answers too!

1. How did you and your spouse meet? 
We met at the tribal college in my home area. He worked at the library and I worked at the bookstore. It was the semester after he graduated high school, and I’m a year older. It’s only by chance that I stayed home and we met. I was supposed to go to one of the state university’s. I went to orientation, found a job, found an apartment – and when I went to tell the housing office were I would be living, they said I was required to live on campus because I was a few credits shy of whatever (I’m not sure if it was soph or jr). In response I pouted (I’m old enough now to admit this!) and said I wasn’t even going to go. So I stayed home another year and worked and went to the tribal college. There was no way I would have met Chris otherwise.
2. How old were you when you two met?
I was 19.
3. How long have you been together? 
Counting from when we started our long distance phone relationship, in June it will be 13 years.

Us before Sub Ball (I like to call these ball “prom for the military”), probably 2004?

4. Where are you and your spouse originally from? 
I’m from south central South Dakota, he grew up all over northern California, but I say he’s from south of San Francisco.

5. How did you feel about him joining the military?

He was already in when we got together.

6. Where did your spouse go to ( in the Navy it’s Boot Camp) Basic Training
Great Lakes, IL

Alice, Halloween 2004 or so.

7. Has your spouse ever been deployed?

Yes. For the past three years he’s been gone the majority of each year, before that he did a few deployments on a submarine, we had a stretch of shore duty in between subs and officer stuff.

8. Ever been to his promotion ceremony? 

I went to OCS Graduation.

9. How long have you been a military wife? 
 Almost 12 years.

Jacob’s first picture, August 2003

10. Did you marry him before or after he joined? 
After

11. How did your husband propose? 

We were at my Mom’s house and had talked about getting married over the past couple of months before. There was no romantic gesture, no rose petals spelling anything out, he said “so do you want to?” while my oldest nephew (a baby at the time) laid in between us sleeping while we were watching tv. LOL


12. Where did you get married? 

Rapid City, South Dakota – after the championship game of the Lakota Nation Invitational! It’s a great story. And I never knew that my Grandparents eloped until I did.


13. How old were you two when you got married? 
I was 22 and he was 21.

14. Did he wear his uniform on your wedding day? 
No. He didn’t even wear a tux! That’s what happens when you get married at 12:30AM in the middle of a living room, in front of a Christmas tree. (See, told you it was a great story.)

15. Where are you and your spouse currently stationed? 
He’s stationed in San Diego, but the kids and I live in Washington. We live next door to my Mom and will move this summer.

16. Do you live on base? 
No, we live a couple of hours from a base actually.

Chris and JW, January 2010


17. How long were you married when you had to go through your first separation? 
It was about a year until his first deployment. But we were kind of surprised to learn about duty days (staying overnight on the ship every few days) (or maybe I was the one to be surprised about that).

18. What is your favorite base so far? 
Um, probably Bangor, WA. We lived on base for a year of the five that we were stationed in Washington. I liked the Air Force commissary in Charleston, SC though. And I did love Charleston’s downtown, but that’s not really a base.

19. Do you think your spouse looks good in his uniform? 
Yes

20. Do you think military life is more advanced than civilian life? 
Advanced? I don’t think it is advanced, it is just a lot different.

21. Do you like the benefits you receive as a military dependent? 
I do like them and appreciate that like any benefit, there are ups and downs. I also realize that there are things out there that I don’t use – both because I don’t know they exist and because I don’t need them.

22. Do you have a lot of military wife friends? 
I don’t think I have “a lot.” I have a solid handful who I consider very close friends, those I would tell my secrets to. I also have another couple of handfuls of people who I know are there for me when I need them. I don’t need (or want) a lot of friends that I can’t keep track of, I want a few really great ones.

23. What is the hardest part of the military life? 
I grew up literally next door to family members, so not being able to raise my kids around more family is very hard. We try to visit at least once a  year, but it just isn’t the same.

24. Do you own military wife stuff?
No.

25. Do you support your spouse as a member of the military? 
Of course!

I’m snagging Holly’s tag ~If you are a military spouse, tag – you are it!