All too often kids get left behind, while Mom and Dad go on their European dream vacation. And while I am sure the adults deserve some alone time, I don’t think the children should be deprived. Not only can travel can be a great education for kids, but introducing them to new cultures can broaden their sponge-like minds and help them become more well-rounded little people.
That said, traveling with children to Europe can definitely be challenging, so here are some quick tips to help everyone have a bit better experience on their European vacation.
Things to do before you go:
1. Get them involved in the planning. Explain where they will go, have them pick some things they would like to do. This way they know a bit about where you are going and are more likely to have ‘buy in’ if they get to choose some of the destinations and activities.
2. Practice some of the language. Kids will enjoy learning and be excited to use some basics from a new language. It will be a hoot for them to speak a few words to locals in another language, especially in Italy – a very kid friendly place.
3. Get them excited. Watch movies and read books about your destinations well in advance. Scour the Internet for fun videos for them to watch or scroll through photo slide shows. It certainly gets adults psyched, so I am sure it will have the same effect on children.
During your trip:
1. Plan for bathroom breaks. Know that you will need to make many more than when you travel without the kids. When in doubt, seek out the closest McDonald’s for a clean, free bathroom.
2. Give them their own digital camera. Letting them spend hours snapping their own photos, will keep them occupied. It’s a sure bet you’ll get some great shots at their eye level – which is a much different perspective than yours.
3. Remember you’re on their time. Don’t spend a whole day in a museum. It’s not fair to them. They’ll be board. Break up the day with a little of what they want and a bit of what you want. And no matter what activities you are participating in, take lots of breaks
4. Make visiting museums fun. Kids will only be engaged at paintings, photos and artwork for so long. Try to make it fun for them by giving them things to try to pick out in the artwork. Get creative and play a “Where’s Waldo” type of game when you can.
5. Keep them hydrated and fed. Pack plenty of healthy snacks and water, skip the soda and sugar. Meal times or restaurants can vary compared Visit a local food market, get some fresh fruit and perhaps adventurous kids might want to explore a new type of food. Visiting a local supermarket can also be a fun and educational experience. Hydrate with water, rather than surgery juice or soda, which is also more expensive. This will hold them over until meal times. Some fountains even have fresh, potable water – which I can imagine being cool for a kid to fill up a water bottle in a La Dolce Vita moment.
6. Seek out kid-friendly activities. Plan on visiting a local park, to run around and play with some other children. Perhaps there is a zoo in town. Many cities also have children’s museums that you should make part of your plans.
7. Try to avoid standing on long lines. Kids are only so patient. Waiting on-line for an hour to get into a museum that may not hold their attention very long isn’t going to help your cause. Try researching when a particular attraction may be less crowded. Or, if your budget and travel style allows, try booking ahead to avoid waiting in line. Sometimes arranging a private tour guide also allows you to avoid lines and having another person to interact with can keep children engaged and entertained.
8. Be patient and flexible. Nothing involving children will ever go 100% as planned. You need to roll with the punches. Kids get board. Kids get tired. Their feet can hurt from all the walking and they can get hungry. Stay in tune to what your child needs at the time and make adjustments as needed. Is keeping them unhappy and possibly causing a major meltdown to see the tiny photo of Mona Lisa really worth it? Mona Lisa will always be there.
9. Reward with sweets. When all else fails, a little bribery or a treat for being well-behaved can really go a long way. You can’t go wrong with gelato, chocolate, ice cream or one of their favorite treats.
What are your best tips for traveling with kids? Share them in the comments.
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Don’t forget to check out Cherrye’s travel tips!