Obstacles - What Will We Do?


CassisThe lovely thought of strolling hand in hand along the Seine, spending a leisurely afternoon visiting wineries, or simply enjoying a famous museum may seem like a foreign (and crazy!) idea with children.  Not necessarily so…

Of course we all know that a vacation with your kids will be very different than one without them.  The question is - how can you keep everyone happy and interested while still making a trip of that magnitude worthwhile for everyone?  First thing - review your expectations.  And secondly, almost anything is possible!

What I have found to be really helpful is getting the kids involved in planning the trip.  Having them excited about what they will do and being involved in choosing some of the excursions (as opposed to simply being dragged around without any say in the matter) does wonders.  'Boring' monuments can come to life with a little bit of backstory and context.  Now  the question is - how do you get them interested?

A good start is taking books out of the library and teaching them a little about what they're going to see and experience.  In the children's section of the library there are many great non-fiction books on every country imaginable full of pictures and information about the country and/or area.  Believe it or not, I have learned a lot about places from children's books - they cut right to the chafe!  As you figure out the different things that you want to do, combine that with things you think they'd be interested in.   Remember that kids live everywhere and so you will find parks and playgrounds wherever you go.  There are also great beaches, zoos, amusement parks, and children's museums  - use these to your advantage. 

An interesting 'trick' that has worked for our family, and ensures that everyone gets a say, is that for every new place we go each family member is allowed to choose one thing that is an absolute 'must-do'.  It could be something small or something big.  For instance, one year in Paris my choice was going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, my husband's choice was drinking wine in a Parisian sidewalk café, our 7 year old wanted to go to the water park, and our 5 year old wanted to eat ice cream on the Eiffel Tower.  Those are all very manageable things!  The kids really enjoyed the trip to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but when they started to get antsy and wanted to leave before we were ready they were reminded that in the afternoon we'd be going for ice cream on the Eiffel Tower, and that the next day we'd be going to the water park.  It's a lot easier to 'get through' some of the stuff you wouldn't necessarily choose when you know it's your turn next. 

Hint:  You can often work these 'choices' to your advantage.  My 5 year old's choice was only to eat an ice cream cone - to which we said, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool to eat it at the top of the Eiffel Tower?"  She thought that was a great idea, and with that we easily added the Eiffel Tower to the 'must-do' list.  When the time came she felt that the whole 'excursion' was her idea and it was a win-win!

Also, let them choose the restaurant occasionally - giving them control does wonders, not only for their confidence, but also for their enjoyment of the various experiences because they feel connected to what's happening.


Even Barbie has fun!




I had always wanted to go to the Louvre in Paris and the summer of 2009 was my opportunity.  The thought of dragging two children around the enormous complex was daunting so we made it into a game.  Our first stop was the gift shop where we each picked out a postcard depicting a famous painting in the museum.  Our goal was to find everyone's painting thus making the Louvre the site of a giant scavenger hunt!  This worked out amazingly well, although I feel my husband may have slightly cheated by choosing the Mona Lisa as his postcard… she was easy to find because we just followed the crowd.  (I admit to being slightly underwhelmed by her - she's much smaller than I'd envisioned.)  As we left the room containing the Mona Lisa we were pleasantly surprised to see one of our daughter's paintings on the opposite wall - and it was huge!  We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves having found 2 of the 4 paintings right away.  Using the clues on the card (and the museum map) we found the third painting then stopped for a snack in the museum café.  Brace yourself for the sad part of the story… we never did find the painting depicted on my postcard, but it allowed us to spend a lot more time in the museum than we probably would have!  The kids were so determined to help me find my painting that we walked through almost the entire Louvre (including Napoleon's apartment) in the off chance it was one of his personal paintings.  No such luck, but we can all check the Louvre off of our list and we all felt pretty good about the experience.


san_seb_beachWho doesn't love the beach?  I would encourage you to consider making at least part of your European trip a beach vacation, or at the very least a 'somewhere with a pool' vacation.  With kids in tow you can't run around and sight-see the entire time (well you could, but no one will be happy!).  Never underestimate the power of a large body of water.  Having a healthy balance of city time and water time will keep everyone's batteries charged; after all it would be nice to come home from your vacation and actually feel a little relaxed.  Going to the beach in a foreign country is educational in itself and makes for great people watching.  As your kids build sandcastles and jump waves you get to oogle the speedos and legally drink beer on the beach!  If a beach isn't anywhere close to where your plans lead you then consider an afternoon at a local pool (or somewhere comparable) where your entire family can just relax.


Europeans, in general, are a lot less uptight about kids and where they can and can't be.  If sipping wine in a nice restaurant overlooking a harbor is important to you - then do it!  Bring some paper and crayons for the kids (even the iPod if necessary) and give them a clear timeline of what is expected of them.  Example - "We would like an hour to sit and relax in this beautiful place.  If you can occupy yourselves quietly for that time we'll go for gelato afterwards."  Is this a bribe?  Um, yes.  But did you just get to sit and sip wine in an amazing place you otherwise would not have been able to?  

PS - take a picture.


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