Traveling Europe with your kids teaches them invaluable life lessons that go far beyond the interesting historical facts they pick up while visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites. They learn resiliency, patience, curiosity, adventure, and appreciation.
Kids learn resilience and patience when trains are delayed, the boring bus tour drags on for hours and hours, the only food options are weird and unfamiliar, the hotel is just another 20 minute walk up the steep hill, and the only bathroom option is disgusting, weird or very awkward to use.
They can explore their natural curiosity and adventure when we set off from the hotel without a plan or a map to see what we can find or the tour guide says, “Touch this.” And if you are lucky enough to be traveling with an adventurous eater, they learn the many different (and not always in a good way) tastes available to them.
Lastly, they learn to appreciate other cultures by experiencing other ways of living, especially if your travel plans include stepping off the beaten path. If you are lucky, they also come home with a new appreciation of conveniences of home after a journey that required them to step way outside their comfort zone.
Wondering if your kids are ready for an epic holiday in Europe? There are many things you can do to prepare your kids for traveling Europe, but the main consideration should be whether or not they are simply ready for that kind of travel.
How to Prepare Your Kids for Traveling Europe
Museum Practice — Don’t expect your little ones to magically develop the patience it takes to stroll through museums just because they happen to be world famous ones, like the Van Gogh museum. Visit your local museums and art galleries and practice looking at the paintings and finding elements that spark their interest.
If they can only last 20 minutes before the squirming and whining begins, either plan an itinerary that does not involve any museum visits or wait until they are better able to tolerate museum visits or you will be cutting your trip to the Louvre short before actually seeing the Mona Lisa.
Our then 5-year-old daughter kept it together until we reached the last floor of the Van Gogh museum right before we got to all the paintings he was the most famous for were located before having a meltdown so as an emergency measure, we took turns sitting with her on a bench where she played with a doodle app on my iPhone.
Cultural Curiosity — Involve them in the travel research process before you go, especially if their idea of a holiday is going to a hotel with a swimming pool. There is plenty to spark every child’s imagination, from castles and dungeons to natural wonders of the world.
You know your child best so choose destinations that appeal to their curiosity. Look at pictures, talk about what happened in those places way back when, ask them what they want to see when they get there. Chances are it will involve ice cream, playgrounds and castles, but if you do your homework, they may surprise you with what interests them.
The good news is the Europeans have children too so there are plenty of kid-friendly activities almost everywhere you go. The picturesque Overhanging Gardens of Marqueyssac (Les Jardin Suspendus de Marqueyssac) in the Dordogne region of France featured child-sized mazes and tree houses throughout the garden.
Expand Their Palate — Don’t count on being able to feed them one of the three meals they deem acceptable at home. The food will be different, the chefs less tolerant, and the availability of convenience food limited. If your child is a picky-eater, address it before you go.
There are many ways of working around picky eating habits while traveling. You can pack a stash of emergency energy bars and other familiar favorites in your suitcase and certainly Europe has plenty of bakeries that serve the most amazing bread and croissants you will ever taste, but it’s better to set the expectation that food is not going to be like at home.
Our picky eater surprised us at a fancy French restaurant where the chef was unwilling to accommodate special requests by opting to try duck. This was the same child who refused to try white chocolate because it was a different color so I was pleasantly surprised at her choice. And it turns out, she loved it so we all learned a lesson about over-accomodating her pickiness.
Plan Kid-Friendly Days — Give your kids something to look forward to, especially on days when you know your plans involve activities that are less appealing to them. So if you are visiting the Notre Dame in the morning, plan on going to a playground in the afternoon.
Most kids can handle half a day of museum boringness if there is something to look forward to later. Sometimes bribery is required (and thank goodness for all the yummy possibilities to choose from). Be patient while we tour this boring museum and we’ll go for gelato after.
Again, it’s important to remember that Europeans have kids too so often museums and galleries have kid-friendly activities. The museum at Pont du Gard, the famous Roman aqueduct in France, includes a children’s museum with kid-friendly depictions of Roman life and hands-on activities.
Traveling Europe with your kids does require planning and preparation (and sometimes a whole lot of patience on your part), but it’s worth it. The things I remember from my family trip to visit my grandparents in England stayed with me more than any other moments in my childhood. I hope the same is true for my daughter (even if all she remembers is that time the ferryman in Italy yelled at us in Italian for 5 minutes while gesturing wildly).