Undertaking a 5-week trip around Europe with an eight-year-old presents a whole new raft of challenges. It’s quite a different proposition than the 10-day jaunt to Hawaii or the obligatory 7 days in Fiji.
Logistically getting around, tolerance levels and need for a constant supply of English books to read, make a for a far different journey than my husband and I were used to taking.
The most important lesson learned first time round was, slow down. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t possibly see it in a day either (although we did try). Even with an easy child, patience wore thin in heat and crowds. Gelato bribes could stretch out her tolerance, but only so far. We learned to slow down the pace, build in lots of rest stops and people watching, we learned to paddle in fountains, visit parks rather than too many churches and most importantly, build in something for everyone.
Another thing we learned was insisting on her writing a journal was worth all the arguments and grumpiness that came with the daily chore. When we got home and turned her diary into a beautiful Photo Book, we cemented the memories and we can all look back and laugh at the way she saw things. The priceless commentary of her “worst day ever” when Mum and Dad dragged her away from Euro Disney to look at “boring Champagne caves” has become folklore in our family.
Armed with lessons from the past we are again embarking on another European adventure in June this year and we can’t wait. I will be blogging as we go and Charlotte may add a few insights along the way. Feel free to post questions about places and we’ll do our best to respond.
In the meanwhile, here are the top tips we learned from the last trip we did with our daughter, that we have built in this time round.
Tip 1. Where ever possible book hotels with a swimming pool or near to the sea. Yes, it limits the options, can push up the price and isn’t always easy in places like Rome, but heading back for an afternoon swim almost always guarantees you’ll get a stress-free evening adventure. In June and July in Southern Europe, it makes all the difference. If you’re up early with Jet lag, you can see a lot of the sights before it gets too hot and then spend an afternoon reading by the pool or sea, before venturing out again in the cool of the evening.
Tip 2. Plan an adventure that brings history to life for everyone. Charlotte’s love of Greek and Roman Gods teamed with our desire to head out of the big European cities and visit more out of the way places, has lead this trip consisting of a stopover in Dubai, an extended 3 day stay in Rome (more than a day this time), a cruise around the Greek Islands, then 2 weeks in Malta and Sicily before back to Dubai for a final shopping excursion for Mum.
It is important to get the ebb and flow right. Mixing up busy sightseeing with down time helps let the smaller members of the party catch their breath and that helps everyone see and do more.
Tip 3. Have a plan for each place, even on a cruise. You don’t have to stick to it, but at least you won’t be wasting time working out what to do next or how to get there. Most places have “things to do with kids” readily available on line, so research ahead of time. Building in an open-air bus trip which stops at a beach, means you might just get to see a church or two along the way. People watching over lunch is a perfect pass time for children who need a break before the next adventure. We took advantage of drivers in Italy last time, to see more, to have air conditioning and to minimize the time between sights. It worked a treat in places like Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. It wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t for every day, but when you were tight for time, it was wonderful.
Lesson number 4. Buy a Kobo or Kindle. As parents, we have been reluctant to expose our book obsessed child to them for fear of hurting her eyes, but after lugging around 13 novels, stopping at every city and spending hours finding the local English bookstore, we have caved. She wouldn’t leave a precious book behind, so we added a suitcase and carried on. This time we are a Kobo family.
Lesson number 5. Take lots of photos with the family in them. When you get back you really don’t care about the ones of buildings, you want the one’s where something happened than made you all laugh. For us it was the endless pictures of all the dogs Charlotte had to stop and pat in Paris, the photo of the grumpy child in a champagne cave, the delight in her face as we walked behind the cast of Frozen at Euro Disney or the daily photo in the lift on board the cruise boat (it had a different mat with the day of the week on it). Charlotte insisted on bringing her ever expanding collection cuddly toys in too. All moments that at the time were insignificant but with hindsight were some of our highlights.
Lesson number 6. Don’t wait. If you can, travel with your kids and see the world through their eyes. We had wonderful conversations about history, privilege, poverty, refugees, terrorism, culture, diversity and incredible human capability. And we squeezed in some Disney moments too. Whether you have a big budget or a small one, don’t wait, take them on adventures that shape their sense of self and place in the world and you will find they start to shape yours too.