When discussing the pros and cons of having kids, I always thought that showing my children the world through travel would have be a big plus in the “pro” column. Yet so many people tell me one of the reasons they don’t travel is because of their children. Reasons include; the kids are too young, they won’t appreciate it, or the parents are just overwhelmed (and scared) at the prospect of taking their children to a foreign country.
Personally, I believe travel is a way to broaden children’s experience in the world, regardless of age, and can only help to foster an open mind as they grow. This belief is probably why my favorite travel quote is from Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
Since I don’t have any wee ones of my own, my friend Myra of the blog restlesstoroam.com has graciously agreed to share her experience of preparing to go to Paris with her husband and three young children for the first time. Make sure you check out her blog in the coming weeks to see if the trip lived up to her (and the children’s) expectations, if she lost one of the twins on the Metro, and if all of her preparation paid off in the end.
Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you have any other tips for preparing kids for travel.
How to Prepare Kids for First-Time Travel
Guest Post by Myra Beebee
My husband Aaron and I are about to take our first trip to Paris. This isn’t a romantic rendezvous in the City of Light; we’re bringing our kids: six year old daughter and 4 year old twin boys. Three kids, ages six and under. Not feeling so envious now, right? I love to travel and tend to go at what other people consider crazy moments in life. In the last five years I’ve been to Italy twice: once when my daughter was a toddler and again when my husband suggested I leave the three kids with him, and return to Italy alone.
Soon after we booked our tickets to Paris – I panicked. Taking our kids anywhere reminds me of herding cats – meowing, sometimes hissing cats. What was I thinking confining them on a plane for 14+ hours? How will I prepare them for Paris? Better question, how would I prepare myself?
What I did know after years of reading family travel websites and blogs, was that Paris was full of breathtaking parks, many of which included cool play structures, fountains, pony rides and puppet shows. I mapped out “must see” parks and then began searching for an apartment.
An apartment is ideal for families because the ample space and cost (most hotels have a four person maximum per room, meaning we’d have to book two rooms). Most importantly – it comes with its own kitchen, a Godsend when traveling with children.
With a rough itinerary and a carefully chosen home base, it was time to tell the kids. However, my “we’re going to Paris!” announcement was greeted with, “What’s Pear-his?”
We had work to do. We needed to educate them about where we were going and prepare ourselves on how to survive getting to Paris and how to wrangle our herd once we arrived.
The library’s children section is bursting with books that take place in Paris. I slipped them into our bedtime reading, talked about the pictures and explained we were going there. Soon my kids could pick out the Eiffel Tower and became curious: What’s that big, white dome? I wanna go there! –That’s called Sacre Coeur, and yes we can.
They also loved my Paris (Eyewitness Travel Guides) book. I caught them huddled around my guidebook, talking about these colorful, crazy looking statues.
“Those are at the Pompidou Museum. Want to go there too?”
“Can we? Cool!”
When I brought home the DKEyewitness Impressionism and Monet, to my surprise my boys’ flipped through the pages, asking questions about the paintings.
“Do you want to see them in a big building called a museum?”
Family travel sites have sections dedicated to keeping kids (of all ages) content and parents sane for “The Plane.” I watched what quiet activities my kids do at home and then attacked the $1 section at Target. My carryon bag will be full of the following:
- Activity books and crayons
- Stickers and sticker books
- Matchbox cars
- Small containers of Playdoh and pile cleaners
- Small toy (Transformers for my boys, My Little Kitty Place Set for my girl)
- Uno Card game (for 6yr old)
- Ipod Nano loaded with children’s music
- Portable DVD player with 5 hour battery and two DVD’s
- Low sugar Snacks!
The key is giving them only one item at a time or they’ll plow through all the goodies in an hour. Whatever isn’t used on the plane to Paris, will be used in the apartment and for “The Plane” ride home.
Once we arrive, it’s time to tackle my next fear: my kids disturbing people.
Afraid of the potential chaos, I’ve avoided bringing the kids to a sit-down restaurant. But this trip to Paris forced me to conquer my fear. We took baby steps and began with a family-friendly diner. While they didn’t run through the restaurant screaming, they did a lot of squirming and loved sliding out of chairs and under the table. It wasn’t relaxing and we finally used the promise of dessert to keep them in line. But after several attempts at different restaurants, their behavior did improve and I learned to relax. Last week, they quietly ate muffins at a café while I read the newspaper. Success!
In the Apartment
Parisian apartments are notorious for their thin walls – what happens when one kid throws a roaring tantrum? Or when they run through the rooms like a herd of elephants? I don’t have an answer for this yet. My general plan is to keep them focused on activities and physically tired from sightseeing. Plus our portable DVD player works wonders in emergencies. And finally, if nothing else will stop a cat tornado, I’ll have to use the ultimate: if you don’t quiet down, they’ll make us leave and then where will we sleep threat.
My kids pull luggage through the house pretending their on their way to the airport. Their excitement is growing. And for the most part, so is mine.
As reality sinks in that we’ll be herding our cats through Paris, I’m a mix of emotions. I’m thrilled, yet anxious that perhaps I bit off more off than I can swallow. No trip is ideal and traveling with children is always messy. At least if I’ll choke, it’ll be on a croissant au chocolat.
All photos in this post by Myra Beebee.