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You’ve dreamed of this moment for years. You are finally traveling to Europe with kids. You have figured out your airfare. You think you found the perfect hotel. Now what? You know you should probably figure out what you want to see, but how do you narrow it down? How do you see it all? And what about all of that gear the baby needs? The questions seem endless, but it’s really quite simple. Do your research, pack with purpose and set a pace for seeing the sights that will work for your entire family. After all, this is your vacation. You should enjoy it.
Research ahead of time
When it comes to traveling with kids, the more you know before you go the better your trip can be. This does not mean that you must have every minute planned, but it does mean you need to know what attractions are kid-friendly, which hotels you want to book while in town and have a few restaurant options up your sleeves. If you are going to a beautiful country like Scotland, figure out the city or towns you want to visit. Find the historical sights you just can’t miss, but also look for a few parks nearby so the kids can do some running when they just have to get the wiggles out. Knowing the best ice cream place in the area is also great for bribing when your kids don’t want to visit just one more museum.
Set your own pace
Traveling with kids is not a sprint; it is a slow and steady marathon to the finish line. What is your finish line? Well that is up to you. Maybe college? Maybe never? After all you might want to vacation with those grand kids one day. Don’t feel like you have to stick to a set itinerary or keep up with the family staying next door. Everyone has his or her own pace. If you push too hard, you may not have the trip you hoped for.
A good rule of thumb is to pick one morning activity per day. Have a secondary list of other things you would love to see and do that you can draw from if you have time, but if you don’t hit them, it won’t wreck your trip. Let serendipity take over or let your kids pick a direction and start walking that way to see what you find. With a handy map you can always find your way back to your hotel.
Pack with purpose
Packing the kitchen sink isn’t an option when you have kids. Leave it to the hotels to have sinks for you. Your job is to pack clothing and gear that you know you can’t find at your destination. Think about gear that can pull double duty— don’t pack that cute little fold up high chair, but instead pack your stroller that can be used as a high chair, nap zone, luggage cart and baby carrier. Any bulky piece that you plan to bring should be able to pull double, if not triple duty.
Pack enough diapers and wipes to get you through the first three days. Unless you have extra room in your suitcase (good for bringing back wine and other trinkets you pick up in Europe), plan on buying diapers and wipes at your destination. Pampers diapers are everywhere in at least Western Europe. I guarantee you can even find those sensitive wipes your baby’s bottom needs. Baby food is also prevalent across Europe as long as you are passing through a major city.
Pick activities that work for the whole family
Children’s Museums and playgrounds can be boring for parents, while art museums and fine dining restaurants will have your kids climbing up the walls. When you travel to Europe there is no reason you can’t find something that the whole family can enjoy. Instead of the Tate Modern (although this art museum is actually very kid-friendly), bring the kids to the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum in London. Hit gastropubs at lunch instead of dinner when there are more families dining and you don’t have to worry about the kids being on their best behavior during an 8pm meal.
Designate one person as the food finder
Picking a restaurant when we travel, especially when we are in a food-loving country like Italy, is never easy. It’s actually the activity I loathe the most. I don’t want to be the one to pick the bad restaurant. My husband and I always go back and forth- “what do you think of this restaurant?” I would ask. “I don’t know. Whatever,” my husband would respond.
This is no way to pick a restaurant. Finally, we decided one of us would just have to pick the restaurant or we would never eat, which is not an option when you have kids. I actually got this idea from friends we were visiting in Italy a few years ago. While we would all wander around looking at the sights, my friend’s husband would wander off to look at the restaurants within a two-block radius. He would make sure there was a table big enough for our group (there were 8 of us) and that there was enough on the menu to satisfy the adults and the kids. It was ingenious and something my husband and I have practiced during our travels, and also while I was in the Cinque Terre with my friend Tai in Spring 2015.
Take breaks- you don’t have to see it all
As I’ve already mentioned, traveling through Europe with kids isn’t a sprint. It is a slow marathon. It is OK to take breaks. You don’t have to see every museum in France or every palace. If everyone needs a down day eating ice cream and playing in the park or at the beach, do it. This is your vacation. Enjoy it! Yes, this may be a once in a lifetime trip, but if all you come back with is tales of exhaustion and no memories of the fun you had as you and your child biked around Versailles or looked out over Paris from the Eiffel Tower on a rainy day, then your trip wasn’t worth it at all.
This post was written as part of a partnership with Expedia. All opinions and tips are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.