This is Part II of a three part guide to help families plan an exciting European trip the children will rave about for years. Part I discussed how to design an appealing and child-friendly travel itinerary. This part, Part II, provides the essential steps to maintaining a child-friendly pace. Part III will focus on engaging the children and encouraging their artistry.
When traveling abroad, it is tempting to pack the itinerary with nonstop activities. With children, this does not work. To ensure a child-friendly pace for your family trip, plan only a few “definite” activities for any given day. Beyond those definite activities, have some possibilities in mind in the event the kids can handle more.
Intersperse activities that are primarily of interest to adults with those that have high kid appeal. Spread the adult “must-do’s” over several days amidst more expendable activities.
Plan the structure of the day according to your children’s biological clocks as much as possible. If they are highly active in the morning, try to avoid quiet places. If they tend toward sluggishness as the afternoon wears on, make sure the most important activities happen earlier in the day.
Include a treat stop and a relaxation stop in every day’s itinerary (but be prepared to stop and relax a bit whenever the need arises.)
Keep adult activities short and focused. At art museums, for example, go immediately to one or two pieces of major interest. Resist the temptation to browse en route. Advance research will let you share facts kids can relate to about the chosen pieces or their creator such as what the artist was doing at their ages or something unusual about his life. Keep these facts simple and present them just before or on location. Be willing to leave after seeing the selected masterpieces, or be willing to have one parent take the kids to a pre-planned, nearby alternative activity of greater interest to them.
If choosing among museums, try to select museums with special children’s activity programs. Museum programs that have special scavenger hunts for children tend to allow the adults more time without complaints from the children.
Don’t plan on seeing all or most of what any one tourist attraction has to offer. Enjoy the bits and pieces. Flexibility is the key to traveling with kids, so be flexible about sacrificing some things you’d like to see as the quid pro quo for their patience in navigating the others.
Enjoy the “children’s activities” yourself. Let your inner child roam free!
Kids will need some “down time.” When the kids are tiring, let them be kids. You may need to call an early end to the day and head back to your lodging or perhaps just let them chase pigeons in the park until the restaurant opens. Incorporating a relaxing and familiar activity into your day is another way of dealing with children’s need for down time. Research in advance the locations of swimming pools, play grounds, and other relaxing activities that they enjoy.
Where long and short versions of tours exist, always pick the short one. If you are considering tours that last more than an hour, consider the effect child rambunctiousness may have on the rest of the tour group and on family harmony before deciding whether to take the tour. Also consider whether it is possible to leave early if circumstances warrant (this would not be possible, for example, on a boat ride.)
To maintain a calm pace on a lengthy or multi-destination international trip, secure at least some lodging that allows you to prepare meals. While dinner is cooking, kids have the freedom to play, rather than being constrained in restaurant chairs. Holiday apartments with kitchens, hostels with community kitchens, and farm lodging with kitchen privileges are surprisingly affordable.
Whenever possible, select restaurants or cafes which are entertaining for the children. In many European locations, especially Germany and Austria, there are playgrounds outside a lot of restaurants. These are ideal. By keeping meal times from becoming tedious, you can help your child maintain his optimism and energy.
By keeping the pace of the trip child-friendly, the whole family will enjoy a more relaxed and memorable experience in Europe.