Traveling with Kids

Our kids are one of the main reason we Indians love to travel. It is more for their sake than fulfilling our joys that we plan to take vacations in far away lands. So please keep the kids in mind while planning all aspects of your trip. The children should be the nucleus around which you should plan your travel..

Ensure that your vacation is more oriented towards playgrounds, zoos and parks rather than museums and blockbuster sights. Fortunately, Europe has an abundance of both options. Make sure your kids get as enthusiastic as you are about traveling to Europe. Encourage them to learn about the countries, cities and sights they will be visiting. Encourage them to read books about the places you intend to visit or stories that are set in the cities you are planning to visit. You could watch films like Hunchback of Notre dame or Red Balloon if you intend to visit Paris or watch the Sound of Music which is a must if you plan on visiting Salzburg, so that the kids have a general idea as to where they would be spending their vacations.

Mind you, kids do not care where they travel to, as long as they have a good time. It could be Disneyland in Paris or a walk across from home to your local park. So, while traveling, the onus is on us to make these travels count and involve the kids in the travel process, right from planning to execution. If you give them ownership, they will enjoy the process more. There is nothing worse than hearing a child complain that their Europe trip was a complete bore.

The most important thing while traveling with kids is to slow down. Take each day as it comes. Encourage the kids to set the agenda for the day. Museums visits should not extend more than an hour. Swish in, see the must see exhibits, and swish out. Keep more time for parks and playgrounds. Search for places where there are children oriented activities like cycling.

This year while in Paris, I visited the Palace of Versailles twice with my children. On one occasion, we spent about an hour in the Palace and the rest of the day was spent in the sprawling gardens, riding bicycles and buggy cars. The second time around, I had no choice but to drop my plan for a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of Paris and instead, due to popular demand from the kids, was forced to visit Versailles the second time (I am not sure how many people would be ready to do Versailles two days in a row) where we skipped the Palace and spent the entire day in the gardens. It may sound blasphemous, but when traveling with kids, it is sometimes better to allow them to take charge.

Traveling with kids can be expensive. You will end up spending almost double of what you would have spent traveling only as a couple,if you were traveling with two children. Most hotel rooms will charge extra for kids above six years or in some cases you will be asked to take a family room, which may, though, be roomier and have an extra bed, will be pricier than a double room.

With kids around, you may also end up eating most of your meals at either fast food chains or the first restaurant you see that provides kids meals. This will indeed diminish your Backdoors experience. But with careful planning you could overcome these problems.

Firstly, avoid traveling too much. If your entire visit is for three weeks, then stick to a city or a village for at least four to six days. Do not travel or shift hotels every two days. Try renting an apartment instead of a hotel room. Apartments tend to cost much lesser than hotel rooms, though you may have minimum stay requirements. Apartments are much bigger than hotel rooms and the kids will have extra space to move around. Most apartments come with kitchenettes, washing machines, microwaves, etc. You can go to the local market with your kids, buy fresh produce and cook your own meals. As you have laundry facilities, you also need not bring too many clothes, which automatically reduces your baggage. You will become more of a local European than you had ever imagined. Your children become your ambassadors, opening doors to new experiences and relationships

You can have a great family vacation if you take things slowly and lower your expectations. You will be keen to checkout the nearest landmark or spend an extra hour at the museum. But do not overdo it. See a couple of sights a day at the max. Take time off to relax. In the middle of your two week vacation, set apart one day to do nothing. Take a day off from your vacation. Go for a movie or a show. Spend an afternoon in the park. You will take home many more happy memories of quality time spent with your family.

Teach your kids a few phrases like “thank you” and “hello” and “good bye” in the local language. These magical words spoken by your cute children will be enough to melt the heart of any hardened person and will automatically open the Backdoors of Europe for you.

Some precautions:

Traveling with children come with inherent problems too. Be always prepared because unwanted things can happen unexpectedly. Always keep an eye on your children. Keep in mind that they are in a place that they are not familiar with at all.

The traffic runs on the right side of the road and not on the left as in India. Vehicles travel much faster than what we are used to in India. Always, hold hands and cross the road. Use only designated pedestrian crossings. Europeans drivers are pedestrian friendly and will stop their car for you to cross the road. But do not expect them to do this always, especially in Italy and Spain. Do not ever jaywalk. You will be fined very heavily.

Even the most well behaved child could get lost in the tourist crowd. Make sure you give your child your hotel business card and your mobile number. If your kid can operate a phone, consider giving him a cheap mobile phone for his use. Run through with the kids the drill of what needs to be done if the kid is lost. Make it a point to repeat the drill on a daily basis so that the kid is aware by heart of what he needs to do if he is lost.

While using public transport, especially when using the subway system, do not attempt to get onto a train while the doors are closing. Instead, wait for the next train, which should be on its way in a few minutes. Always allow the kids to get in and out of the train first. Mind the gap between the platform and the train during ingress and egress.

Summer months can be very hot, especially June to mid-September, sometimes even as hot as in India, and much worse if you are confined to hotel rooms with no air conditioners or even fans. Europeans had not planned for global warming so soon.

Give your children plenty of water to drink. Use lots of sunscreen lotion as the sun can be very harsh on your skin given the low ozone density. During winter, bring layers of clothing instead of a big jacket. Temperatures in the sun can be very different from temperature in the shade.
Bring a set of medicines for common cold, fever, constipation, loose motion, headaches, joint pain, back pain etc. and any other regular medications that the child is already taking. There is no restriction in bringing Indian medications for your personal use.

Traveling with children is bliss, but take care to not make it a chore for the little ones.

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