In late 2009, I made the decision to take a position overseas in Europe, having never been there. The main reason was to let my daughter experience other cultures, languages, foods, and all of the life lessons that come from travel in foreign lands. Crazy, you may say - probably! But it was the most memorable 3 years of my life, and I would venture to say hers as well.
It wasn’t always a cakewalk, trying to navigate new places as a single parent with a 4-year old in tow. There was that time when we were waiting in the dark for the AirBnB owner to give us the keys after a two and a half hour train ride into Paris...and it was snowing. We made the best out of our wait and made a snowman!
So what did I learn during those few years and numerous trips?
- Strollers suck, especially over the cobblestone at Versailles. And any other cobblestone in Europe. No really, if you need one, use the lightest, smallest one possible. Otherwise, carry the baby or have the toddler/kid walk. Also, most restaurants are small, and although they’ll try to accommodate your stroller, it may be to their chagrin and end up outside or smashed into the side of your table. Oh, and not every hotel or AirBnB is going to have an elevator. I used a stroller a few times, then ditched it and was much happier and less stressed out while navigating mass transit/sidewalks/restaurants/museums/everywhere!
- Bring snacks that your kid likes, but they won’t starve with food choices in a foreign country - promise! Most places we dined out at offered a kid’s menu, and if they didn’t, pasta, pizza, hamburger, and fries seemed to always be available. As a bonus, I taught my daughter how to say “Check please” in the language of the country we were in. Her cute little voice would request the checkl before we would leave. Breakfast was the most challenging meal to find something my daughter would eat. So, I would usually find a grocery store and get some nutella and bread or cereal and milk to make sure she was set for first thing in the morning.
- Build time in your itinerary for kid-friendly places and activities. I know, you have only 3 days in Rome or Paris and there’s so much to see! Luckily, Europeans have kids to entertain too, and I was very grateful for the strategically placed carousel next to the Eiffel Tower, or the huge spaces at Les Tuileries to run around. Every place we went to had something fun for kids, whether it was the Stockholm Zoo (even open in the winter), or the Innsbruck Zoo (also open in the winter), museums everywhere, the puppet shops in Prague, the Lisbon aquarium, or Paris Disney. Making time for my daughter to see these places made it fun for her as well as me, and she got to experience them hearing different languages.
- Check out local festivals and fairs. This was one of our favorite things to do, because all throughout the year, you could easily find some random (and not so random) festival happening. There was the Paulinka fest held on the castle grounds in Budapest, and the ever-popular Trombone festival in Prague. We didn’t even know these events were occurring until we explored the cities and stumbled across them. My daughter had a blast because they were all kid-friendly and amusing. The Christmas markets were also fun, and even Oktoberfest has a family-friendly tent (just be sure to get those tickets in advance)!
- Gelato and crepes for the win! It can be a long day exploring the sites and trying to see everything, so I would make sure to take breaks to let my daughter (and me) refuel. It seemed like every place we went, had gelato or crepes, and they became something my daughter looked forward to after spending time in a museum, at a monument, or on a walking tour of some sort. Plus the pictures of her with chocolate gelato all over her face in front of the well-known spots are priceless!
Don’t be daunted by the idea of traveling with kids. There are so many great things for them to experience, especially at younger ages when they’re little sponges. I never had any regrets about trips I took that included my daughter, even the ones that weren’t as smooth as I envisioned. Now we love to look at the pictures and reminisce about all the amazing places she got to experience and actually still remembers.