The thought of traveling with kids, especially young ones, can be stressful. But with a little planning (and a little willingness to deviate from those plans), the whole family can enjoy the mountains, the beaches and the history and culture of Europe.
The key here is to think ahead, but be flexible and keep an open mind. Kids find joy and wonder in things that adults often overlook, so seeing the world through their eyes can give parents a whole new perspective.
Plan for naps and downtime
Little ones may try to forgo their naps in favor of exploring new surroundings, but that can also make for very grumpy or unmanageable kids in the evening. To avoid this, try planning a quiet activity after lunch, where parents and kids alike can rest and recharge. If your kids are very small, make sure to bring a sling or baby carrier and they can sleep on the go while one parent “wears” them.
If you are driving, this is less of an issue, but for air, train and bus travel, be willing to do laundry or spot-clean clothes. Bring clothes that dry easily. One comfy pair of shoes should do it. Less to carry, less to coordinate. If your kids are big enough, they can carry their own backpack and ideally have all their clothing inside. If you have a little one in diapers, and are flying a budget airline with strict baggage limitations, consider buying diapers when you arrive at your destination. This also goes for snacks, wipes, etc. You will have no problem finding these items in most European cities.
Make it fun for them/get them involved
Walking through the Louvre may not be quite as thrilling for kids as it is for adults. But who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Make a checklist with kids for things they can spot while in a museum, with a small reward at the end. If kids are old enough, you can check out books from the library in advance of your travels and learn together about the places you will visit. Ask kids to write in a journal about what they saw and did during their trips. Give your child a camera and have them take pictures; you’ll be surprised how theirs differ from yours. Keep in mind that kids get a kick out of escalators, elevators, boat and train rides, and other things that you can make part of your adventure.
Some tours or attractions require reservations or prepayment, but if you can get away with it, it’s nice to have the option to bow out if necessary. For example, let’s say you had planned to climb the Eiffel Tower, but your toddler has a meltdown and needs a break. Or maybe you realized that you’ve tried to pack too much sightseeing into one day and everyone is exhausted – parents included! To be able to instead walk to a park and view the tower from there or even jump on the metro and head back to your hotel or apartment, is priceless.
You’ve registered with the Smart Traveler Enrollment program (https://step.state.gov), you have cell phones, but there may be a few other things you can do to ensure your family’s safety, should anything happen. Talk to your kids about what to do if you are separated. Have kids carry a card with your phone number and the address and phone number of the hotel or apartment where you’re staying. Know the emergency number in the city where you’re staying.