Planning - Type of Trip
Are you adventurous? Do you like to fly by the seat of your pants or does that completely terrify you? Not to fear, there are many different types of trips for many different types of travelers. Have you traveled before but are unsure how to incorporate your children into the desired destination? Perhaps you already have an idea of where you'd like to go based on where you've been before, or maybe you have some vague ideas based on your favorite movie scenes. If Europe has a lot of allure but seems so 'foreign' then perhaps you need to start with something simple. Alternatively, if you enjoy throwing yourself into crazy situations and delight in finding your way out then you can tackle a whole different style of trip.
I've broken down some basic trip types based on what type of traveler you perceive you (and your family) to be;
If you have never left North America, speak no other language, and the entire prospect seems quite daunting then you most likely fall into the category of Completely Intimidated. Perhaps you have been before as a carefree young adult with a backpack, baguette and a bottle of cheap beer... but feel uncomfortable with the idea of making your kids sleep on a park bench after an all night party like you did in 1996. Relax, you just need to change your mindset.
First of all - language. Do you or any of your family member speak another language? Are you willing to learn? Having some basic phrases and the ability to decipher menus and street signs will allow you to branch out and explore, as well as give you some much needed confidence. (For information on helpful books look under Resources.) If you want to stay in large, major cities then you can get away with just English - combined with good manners of course. Tourism is a huge industry, and countries want you to visit! In most major European cities getting maps and information at tourism offices is simple, and you are pretty much guaranteed to find an English speaking person working there who can set you up with maps and brochures that you can actually read. However, a little goes a long way in terms of knowing the basics of another language. Simple please and thank-yous mean ten times more when you say them in the language of your destination.
If you are Completely Intimidated then I'm going to assume that you'd like to stick with countries that will be easy to navigate and ones in which you can easily communicate. Let's start with the most obvious choice - Great Britain! Of course you'll need to interpret the various accents, but England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales are excellent choices simply due to their usage of the English language. However, that doesn't mean that you are limited to those countries - The Netherlands, for instance, will surprise you with the percentage of the population that speaks English. Unless you travel out into the countryside and very small villages you will have no problem getting around using English in major European cities. And although Parisians have a bad rap for being rude to foreigners we have not found this to be true. We have enjoyed Paris more than once using a little bit of basic French, some manners and a smile.
The first time we took our children across the ocean we stopped in London for 3 nights before continuing on to France. It was a great way to get our "Europe shoes" on and gave us a chance to adjust to the time change without having to think about other languages. It made us comfortable and gave us the confidence to tackle France with vigor!
To me, a Moderately Adventurous trip would involve going to a country or area that I've never been to before and one in which I am not very familiar with the language or customs. It involves doing a little research, learning some key phrases, and being brave. If you don't know any Italian it doesn't mean that you shouldn't go to Italy. Millions of people go there every year without a word of Italian (outside of spaghetti and pizza) and do just fine - but if you're taking your kids with you I can't recommend enough that you learn a little bit of the language so that you can communicate effectively. Either that or get a great app for your iPhone.
If you fall into this category then I'm going to assume that you've been to Europe before or that you've traveled with your kids a lot already and are ready to take on a new challenge. Or maybe you are simply ready to tackle something new and exciting! Everything mentioned for the Completely Intimidated still applies regarding language, and you'll need to do your homework ahead of time if you're planning to visit a country that for all intents and purposes you're illiterate in. When you're traveling without your kids it's a lot easier to handle being a little confused or lost, but when you have them with you it's always better to make like a boy scout and be prepared.
Everyone's definition of moderate is different so you'll have to decide for yourself what you are willing to tackle while maintaining the sanity of you and your loved ones.
Crazy and Brave
Wow, good for you! In my opinion a Crazy and Brave trip would be one of two types; a completely whirlwind trip, or going to a destination that you know very little about.
Whirlwind can be two different things - it could be a very fast trip where you see all the sights in record speed zipping between cities barely able to catch your breath, which while doable as a young adult, is not recommend with small children. It could also be a longer trip in which you change locations frequently and never stay in one place for long. If you have a long list of desired destinations and want to fit them all into your vacation then you can certainly attempt to do that, but you will exhaust yourself, your kids will be miserable, and you'll need a vacation from your vacation. Limit yourself to a few places and plan on returning another time to the other places you'd like to see. Or, completely ignore this advice and do whatever you'd like to do - the beauty is that the decision is yours!