So I’ve already written about our experience with an international move with little ones and what worked (or didn’t) for us. We’ve ventured out into Europe three times so far since we’ve been here, and after each one (frequently during!), hubby and I “debrief” about what went wrong or right. Since it’s summer, there are lots of great posts out there about traveling with kids (like this one with great ideas, particularly if you’re a family with multiple kiddos!). I doubt mine will rank up there with some of the best or most practical ideas/thoughts, but I wanted to share what we’ve learned so far.
On our trip to Prague:
-Don’t Bank on Movies for Road Trip Entertainment. Watching movies on the iPad makes our oldest a bit queasy (bummer!).
-“I spy” is an EXCELLENT Car/Road Trip Game. It’s also great for long walks, waiting in line, waiting in restaurants, etc.
-Ice Cream Rocks. Ice cream (“Eis” in German) is abundant in Europe, super cheap and can come in kid-sized portions just perfect for occupying little ones’ hands, attention and bellies.
-Never Underestimate the Power of GOOD Walking Shoes. I have pretty much lived in mine since we moved here as the girls and I probably walk close to two miles daily, sometimes more if it’s nice weather out.
On our trip to Austria, Castle Neuschwanstein and Zugspitze (the highest summit in the German part of the Alps):
-Don’t Forget About a Change of Shoes If Your Activities Dictate. Snow and ice + tennis shoes and socks = cold, wet feet. It’s impossible to keep a toddler away from snow and ice, so either bring back up shoes/socks, or better yet, appropriate boots. We did remember to bring a change of socks, but we had to let our oldest’s shoes dry out on the balcony that evening.
-Layers Are Good. Particularly if your trip includes a visit to different altitudes (either up to a peak/summit or down to caves, salt mines or mine shafts) or differing weather, layers are the way to go.
-Separate Space for Mom and Dad. Finding a separate “space” for Mom and Dad in the hotel room makes things much more enjoyable. This could be an adjoining room, a separate sleeping space (in our case in Austria, it was an “alcove” separate by floor-length curtains), or even a balcony with a place to sit and talk quietly. We do an early bedtime (7ish) for our girls and we quickly realized that traditional hotel rooms would present a problem for hubby and I unless we wanted to go to sleep with the girls at 7pm (tempting, some days..). It isn’t always possible to find a separate space, but we’ve found that Bed and Breakfasts tend to be most accommodating (many have “family rooms”) in this respect, and more affordable than if you purchased either a suite or two rooms in a hotel. I’ve had to email or ask the bed and breakfasts directly and in all cases so far, they have been extremely accommodating and willing to help if they can.
-A Travel Backpack is a Must. I say “travel” because the style is smaller, has more “compartments” and has straps and snaps in places to allow you to adjust and fit more – kind of like a small hiking backpack. This allowed us to eliminate my separate bag and gave a place to store and carry our larger digital camera (when we wanted to take it).
-Share Suitcases. Packing in one suitcase (if you can!) for everyone makes life a lot easier (can you tell we’re into minimizing bags??)
-Use Free Travel Websites. Trip Advisor is an excellent resource for things to do as well as hotel recommendations. Just type in a city/region and go!
On our trip to Brussels & Bruges, Belgium and Luxembourg:
-Get Your Driving In Early. If you’re road-tripping, getting up early in the AM allows you to get the driving out of the way and still have a day to explore your destination AND allows your kids can sleep for a larger portion of the trip. This is all around great. This also would work late evening driving, but it works better for us to do it early in the morning.
-Pay Early. At restaurants, pay for your meal as soon as you can (i.e. before you’re finished eating) so you can leave as soon as the kids are finished. This avoids the boredom and wiggly-ness that can quickly set in when you’re not-so-patiently waiting for your bill while your kids run a muck.
-Look for Hotels with Black-Out Curtains and Quiet Location. Black-out curtains (particularly here in Europe in the summer when it stays light until 10pm or later) and a quiet place for sleeping = happy kids who fall asleep easily which therefore = happy Mom and Dad (in our case, we learned this the hard way in Brussels…)
-Don’t Underestimate the Information from Commercialized Tour Guides. Rick Steves is a great “starting point” for travel inspiration, must-dos and highlights. Yes, I know, a bit cheesy but the free stuff that’s on his website have been some of the first places I’ve looked when figuring out our “itinerary”. Good suggestions on local places to eat, etc. as well.
-Be Realistic With Your “Must-Sees”. As much as we (err, I) wanted to visit the Brussels art museum that contained all the ancient Flemish art, this didn’t really pan out. Art museums are tough when you have a toddler-ized attention span. Visiting parks, statues, fancy buildings, bell towers, castles, fountains, etc. are all better more kid-friendly options. As are many “must-eats” (this trip featured Belgian waffles, chocolates and, mussels and french fries – and yes, our two and half year old LOVED them!) I am determined, however, to figure out how to make it into some art museums. Maybe we’ll try a massive game of I-Spy
-Try to Stay as Flexible As You Can. Since we live in Europe right now, we (so far) have been driving everywhere. This has allowed us some flexibility with our travel plans. For example, on this trip, we had not booked a place to stay for our last evening of the trip. This turned out to be a blessing because we changed our plans and headed back a day early (see above where we learned about sleeping difficulty the hard way…) so we could have one day of total rest before starting the next week. Of course, if you’re flying to your destination, you can’t be quite as flexible.
What Have You Learned From Traveling With Kids?