Europe for the Summer with Kids…by Real Mom; Megan Jones
Megan and Lalani have been friends for 18 years. They worked together in the United States Senate as young staffers and later were neighbors in Las Vegas as new moms. Now, they live in different states but still share a passion for travel and adventure. We are excited for Megan to share her experiences traveling with her family through Europe last summer with Six Little Birds.
Turning our Dream into a Reality
I’m excited to be the Inaugural post for the “Real Moms Travel” edition of Six Little Birds Travel. I think as moms in the modern technology age, we are always looking for ways to truly unplug and our dream of a summer in Europe started out with just that—a way to get our family reconnected. Fast forward to over a year’s worth of planning and our dream turned into the reality of an exhausting (keepin’ it real) and magical 5-week summer vacation in the UK and France with my family (and along the way 4 other families joined for some or all of it). Granted, not all families will have the desire or the flexibility to do what we did, but hopefully there are some nuggets below that are applicable to all fellow wanderlusts.
Instead of trekking the kids all around Europe in 5 weeks rushing from train to tourist sight, I decided early on in the planning stages of the trip that the idea of unplugging also meant that on our trip, we would get to really know places instead of just visiting them. So we narrowed in on fewer locations with our final itinerary including a total of 12 days in the UK and a month in Paris.
The Logistics of Our Trip
In the UK we traveled via SIXT rental car up through the countryside so that we could be more flexible than a train schedule would have allowed. In Paris, we used HomeAway to rent an affordable apartment in the city as a home base. We stayed on the border of the 6th and 15th arrondissement near the Saint Germaine area of Paris. It was far enough from the major tourist sites making it a bit quieter but we were still within walking distance to some great areas near the St. Sulpice Cathedral and Luxembourg Gardens. The apartment was also right across the street from the metro system, which despite the crazy looking map, was actually easy to navigate. The kids loved the metro, so much so, that a few of them said that it was one of the things they missed the most when we got back. It gives your kids a whole new level of independence to know that they can get around the city on their own. We bought a monthly pass directly at the Paris underground that allowed us unlimited use of the metro, the bus system, and access to go out to places like Versailles and Giverny (Monet’s home).
Tools That We Used To Prepare
There are two lessons that we learned over and over traveling with kids, that are no earth shattering revelations, but 1) it definitely pays to be prepared and 2) you will always do less than you plan to do and that’s OKAY. We had some trip bibles that helped us prepare and use our time thoughtfully including:
Favorite Book: Rick Steve’s Paris
Favorite iPhone App: Lonely Planet App (no matter where you are it will pull up a list of sights, restaurants and shopping nearby)
Favorite Website: The Official website for Paris is surprisingly really good.
Favorite Blogs: My Little Nomads, Mommy Poppins and of course; Six Little Birds Travel
Custom Itinerary Booklet: Once we had our itinerary nailed down we had a booklet created for our trip by fellow traveler, Moxie Ink Designs (Moxie can create a custom booklet based on your itinerary too). The kids loved having this cool booklet detailing their trip and it doubles as a keepsake after the trip too to remind you of what you did. Click to download / view the Itinerary Booklet
Tips to Make Traveling with Kids Easier
Travel in Europe can be exhausting in the summer with long lines and tired feet, so we spent a bit more money for some skip the line tours on the most famous attractions that you can get sometimes through the tourist site itself or through tour groups like Blue Fox Travel. It definitely cut down on the “I’m tired…I’m hungry…I’m bored” complaint cycle. We invested in both the London Pass and the Paris Museum Pass and used those passes to get acquainted with the cities we were staying in the first few days. Kids get to do a lot of things for free in Europe—basically any museum is free for kids in Paris so we only had to buy the passes for adults in Paris.
Longer visits to both countries allowed us to have quiet days off from crowds and see the sights on a slower pace. There were definitely some packed days, especially in the UK portion where we were driving from place to place, but some of our most magical moments were eating street crepes at the park in the shadows of the Notre Dame Cathedral or watching our kids sword fight on the grounds of a medieval castle in England. I know there is a temptation that when we travel to big destinations like Europe to rush through and check off those bucket list items, but those magic moments come when you have some time to stay a bit longer at the park, linger near the riverbanks to watch the sunset, or stop to sample the fresh produce in the nearby open air market.
Traveling with Kids is Worth It
I’m here to say that while a longer travel experience like ours isn’t cheap, it also isn’t reserved for movie stars or rich jet setters. We budgeted bonus money, gave kids airplane tickets instead of toys for Christmas, as well saved days off and arranged for flexibility a year out from our employers to leave.
There are some obvious trade offs to traveling to Europe with kids—the more constant need to find public bathrooms, not as many fancy meals (although we did get a few in with some babysitting help), the ABC complaints—“Another Beautiful Cathedral, Castle, etc,” but overall we felt like we were able give our kids a gift that will keep on giving them memories to last a lifetime.
The rest of the week on the blog will be spent with Megan’s Itinerary, and Europe Top 5 as well as a link to her Itinerary kit. Stay tuned…