Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo has traveled to Europe 15 times with his three kids (6, 9 and 11). We asked him for his advice to first-timers.
For a lot of Americans, Europe is the first major international trip they take with their kids. That makes sense – Europe is extremely kid-friendly, it’s easy to navigate, and there are flight options from most US and Canadian cities. I receive a lot of questions from people heading across the pond with their kids for the first time. Here are my best Europe travel tips for families.
Plan in Advance
You can’t just add kids to an adult-oriented vacation and think that they will have fun – long lines and five-hour museum visits aren’t kid-friendly. You’ll have a better trip if you arrange kid-friendly walking tours, museum visits, cooking classes, art classes and other activities in advance. In short, make the trip about the kids. And if your kids are old enough, involve them in the planning process – it will make them excited about your destination.
Learn a Little of the Language
A month before you’re departing, start teaching your kids a few words and phrases from the country that you’re traveling to. Hello, good morning, goodbye, please, thank you, good night and 1-10 are good places to start. Some language skills will help your kids connect with the destination and culture a little more, and locals appreciate when kids make an effort. My daughter’s third word ever was “ciao”, learned when we were living in Italy for a summer.
Don’t Worry About the Flights
Non-stop flights to Europe are anywhere between 6 hours and 12 hours depending on where you’re traveling from, and in virtually all cases the flights are overnight. That makes it easy – you and your kids can get some sleep, and when you arrive in the morning you’ll be ready to head out for sightseeing…even if you’re a little tired. Flights with kids under two are rarely perfect, but all flying is cumulative – you may have some difficult flights early on, with some crying or some time spent in the galley rocking the kids to sleep, but as a result your kids will be amazing travelers by the time they’re five. And remember – no matter what happens, you’ll never see the people on the plane again!
Don’t Worry About the Food Either
If your kids only eat pizza and pasta, there’s no better place to take them! Europe does pizza and pasta extremely well, and most restaurants have kid menus. Of course travel is a great opportunity to broaden your kids’ culinary horizons, but if you need to fall back on the basics, they’re there for you.
You Can Buy Practically Anything Once You Get There
We’ve never traveled to Europe with a stroller or car seat. If we need a stroller, we’ll buy a cheap one when we get there, abuse it on the cobblestone streets, and then leave it behind. For a car seat, it’s always possible to include one with your rental car, but we’ve also found that at some rental locations people have left their seats behind and we’ve been able to borrow one or two for a couple weeks before putting them back for the next travelers.
Don’t Fight the Time Change
Europe is anywhere between 5 and 9 hours ahead of North America, but you don’t have to shift your body clocks that much. Europe has far more of a late-night culture than the US. Some restaurants don’t even open until 8pm. So if your kids’ bedtime is 8pm at home, think about changing it to 11pm in Europe, and then let the kids sleep in in the mornings. That will let you adjust faster to European time zones, and make it far easier to re-acclimate when you return home.
Pharmacies Are a Great Resource
If you have a health concern, head to a pharmacy – there are usually employees who speak English and they have access to different over-the-counter medicines than in the US. And when there’s something that can’t be taken care of easily, we’ve found that pharmacists are willing to look up English-speaking doctors and even make appointments. That’s happened to us twice now, both times in France.
Finally, don’t be afraid to have a relaxed vacation. Paris will always be there – you don’t have to see everything in one trip. Spend time at playgrounds and in parks. Have two-hour picnic dinners while the kids run around and play. If the kids have fun, you’ll have fun.
What did I leave out? What advice would you give to people taking their kids to Europe for the first time?
Eric Stoen is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads, visit travelocitygnomads.com.
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