Mar 25, 2012

Traveling With Kids: Lessons Learned

Not being an expert on traveling with children, naturally I feel inclined to write a blog post about it. Mostly,  I want to write down a few things that I've learned from our last few trips, so as to not have to relearn them on our next trip. Much of these tips are geared towards a big-city tour in Europe, where there will be lots of museums, cathedrals, and other things not at all enticing for children, but many can be applied to most any vacation with children in general (the words "vacation" and "children" being used together do not necessarily imply a mutual correlation).

  • Start things off with something exciting. For example, in Paris, go to the Eiffel Tower first, then take a boat tour. In London, I would also start with a boat tour, and climb to the top of St. Paul's. Do the things that give you a good feel for the city, and that will give you a spectacular view. In Amsterdam, ride a boat through the canals, climb the Westerkerk tower, and then head over to Vondelpark (on your bikes of course). It will probably all go downhill from there, but you know what they say about Alpha and Omega. Well, actually it's really just about the Alpha. 
  • You will be tired the next day. Even if you're not dealing with jet lag. Don't plan for anything early, and feel good about yourself if you get out the door by noon. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you are awesome.
  • Kids need cameras on vacations. This I learned by default: in Paris, nothing made our kids happier than getting a hold of our cell phones to take pictures.  And of course, nothing made us more nervous than our kids having free reign with our cell phones. For our next trip, each kid will get an inexpensive digital camera to take blurry pictures with to their heart's content. I think it's Newton's 4th law that a body that is preoccupied with taking pictures will forget to to whine and complain that it doesn't like all the things it is taking pictures of. Can't argue with science, people.
  • Along those lines, little backpacks for each child are a must. They can carry their own water bottles, snacks, and cameras. And if your kids are anything like mine, they might pick up a few tourist pamphlets, give or take a hundred.
  • Another thing kids need for their own: money. Having a small amount of spending money for souvenirs and treats that they they get control over just might make them realize, miraculously, that they don't actually reallyreallyreallyreallyreally need that 10th miniature Eiffel tower after all.
  • Bribery. I recommend it, but it needs to be specific. I purchased a few little items they could earn each day (travel puzzles/games, small Lego sets, moon sand), and then spent the whole day dangling it for good behavior. The entire day was just too much. Instead, keep the bribery specific to the places and times you want them to behave. "I have a small prize at the hotel for anyone who doesn't say 'stupid' or 'poopy' while we're in the Lourve." Or, "we're going to be riding the Metro a lot today, and we'll get ice cream this afternoon for all kids who pretend to be a deaf-mute on the train." I don't really love the cheap toys as prizes, but they ended up keeping them occupied at night, which is a big improvement from jumping all over the beds. And definitely use whatever local treats and desserts are being sold in little roadside stands.
  • I know they are super touristy, but the Hop On/Hop Off bus tours are actually a great way to see a city with kids. Chances are you're going to want to see most of the things on the route anyway, and you might be surprised that your kids actually listen to the prerecorded audio tour for a few minutes before they start climbing all over everything. It's not necessarily inexpensive, but I really regretted that we didn't do this in Paris. Riding the metro might have been more efficient, but you don't get to see the city underground.
  • After 3 days of sight-seeing, they are going to need a day to chill. It stinks to be in an amazing location and have your kids need a day to decompress in the hotel, but bring a book, catch up on some emails, and let them watch a movie.  Take turns with your spouse going out on your own, and then find a park to let them play. 
  • If you'll be going to a museum, check their website for any kid's activities or packets that they offer (usually for free or very low cost). The museums in London are fantastic this way; the museums in Paris? Not so much.
  • When your kid throws a mammoth tantrum in the middle of some public, famous attraction, do not acknowledge that you are related to them in any way. Just keep repeating, "Don't worry, little girl, I'll help you find your mother."
As for ideas of actual things to do with your kids on vacation, I love My Little Nomads, CiaoBambino, and Kids Can Travel for ideas.  Also, feel free to comment with your own tips of the trade. It takes a cyber-village to take your kids on vacation, after all. 


april said...

I just love all your posts.

This and the last one I can absolutely relate to. I came home from Cairo fuming. (to put it mildly)

The good news is that over time, if you try hard enough, you wont remember the specifics of the bad and will actually only have fond memories of the trip.

Time. Just give it some time.

Saskia said...

Check, filed away for future reference!

Aimee said...

I am so glad I am friends with you.

I drive by your house multiple times a week and feel really sorry for myself that I can't just pull in and have an afternoon chat with you.

When are you coming home again?!

Alice Andrews said...

Thanks for this post! It was just what I was looking for! I am taking my kids on their first trip aboard soon. We are going to Paris in the summer with my partner and straight after booking it I was so scared we would have nothing to do to keep them entertained! In terms of plans we have booked the paris serviced apartment and booked the flights but have made no other plans! I have never been to Paris so I do not know what there is to do other than climb the Eiffel tower, visit the Louvre and climb the arc de triomphe! I am hoping the weather will be good because my worse nightmare (apart from them kicking off in the middle of the street) is that I will have to not only deal with the kids, but deal with them AND umbrellas!

Bribery…you genius!

Bardsleyland said...

Alice, I've updated the post and added a few websites that I love to help plan trips.
Good luck in Paris!

Unknown said...

Got a good laugh from this, I've just waved my in-laws goodbye as they set off for a strictly Adults-only Paris vacation. I think I might send this their way to show them how good they've got it ;)

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