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Trip Report Elmo in Paris Part 2: New Paris Adventures of Our Family of Four

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Inspired by the success of our previous Parisian adventure, http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/elmo-in-paris-the-parisian-adventures-of-two-parents-one-toddler-and-one-red-monster.cfm, we ventured forth again in early October. This time we were a family of four with our second daughter having arrived in March. A stuffed unicorn replaced Elmo on this trip. The same pink dog joined us and several loveys for the baby made the trip as well. My husband and I are hoping to write at least a short trip report eventually but to start we would like to share some of our thoughts and advice on traveling with two kids to a big European city. Please feel free to ask any questions and I will respond. I was very nervous about going before the trip and got some good advice here so I’m happy to reciprocate. This was our first trip with two kids, and let me tell you, two kids is a lot more work than one! That said, it was a wonderful experience that I hope to repeat.

**Pick your destination thoughtfully. We picked Paris for several reasons. We wanted a place we had been before as we were not sure how well it would work traveling with the two kids. We did not want to feel pressure with a long list of must-see sights. We also wanted an atmospheric city where we would enjoy just poking around. We also wanted a place with a lot of outdoor sights. Relatedly, we chose a time when we thought the weather would be pleasant (early October) and the city not too crowded. We lucked out and didn’t have any rain and cool, comfortable weather.

**Like home, but with better scenery. You might be in Paris but you are still taking care of your children! If what you really want is a spa vacation, you are not going to be happy with a trip like this. Our trip involved doing the daily laundry, dishes, diaper changes, tears and coercion. So basically it was like being at home. But in Paris. Which is so much better than being at home, it made all that stuff seem trivial. While this is all quite obvious, I think there is a certain level of mental preparation that you need to do so that you are not annoyed by having to do all the chores of home but without all the conveniences of home (like a clothes dryer that actually works or a dishwasher with a cycle shorter than 5 hours or the chance to drop your child off at school for 6 hours each day).

**Be flexible and do what works for your family. After our last three European vacations with our daughter, I have finally accepted that we are not a family of early birds. This is the first trip that I was not frustrated by the fact that we would regularly leave our apartment at lunch time. You know what, it didn’t matter! In fact, it was great. We let the kids sleep as long as they wanted (which in our case was regularly until 9 or 10am whether from jetlag or just being tired) and we slept in and then had a relaxing morning, eating delicious pastries in the apartment, and planning our day while the kids slept. The kids woke well rested and were able to be out until later in the evening. The one day we were up and out early (we had timed museum tickets) we had to call it a day much earlier.

Our family is a bit, well, pokey. Our older daughter does not like to be rushed. And neither does my husband now that I think about it! We took a deliberately slow pace and built in lots of downtime for the kids (letting them play at the playgrounds (more on that below), look around in a toy store, watch a DVD before bed) and for us (looking in food markets, shopping, meandering). While I wouldn’t call the trip relaxing in a “put your feet up by the pool kind of way”, it was very relaxing to be out of our regular routine and not rushing around anywhere. We really enjoyed just wandering about and seeing different neighborhoods. We did some advance planning (this is an interesting article for inspiration http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/travel/lost-in-paris.html?src=me&ref=travel) and picked a few areas of Paris that were new to us where we thought we might want to wander and mixed that up with going to see the major sites.

**Take turns, but try to go first. While our older daughter is very patient and likes museums, like most people, she gets sick of going to too many of them. Fortunately Paris is a city of beautiful playgrounds. We were able to visit several of the museums we wanted by promising a long playground visit afterwards. To clarify, when I talk about “playgrounds”, these are not a couple of swings in a decrepit schoolyard. I am talking about the beautiful playgrounds (carousels, trampolines, etc) in the Tuilleries or the Luxembourg Gardens. So spending a couple of hours there is actually pretty great no matter what your age. It was fun to meet other families and I really was impressed at how nice and well maintained these facilities are.

**Getting There and Homesickness. The flights were actually fine. We did not buy a seat for our baby based on our prior experiences when we did buy a seat, drag a carseat and end up holding the baby most of the time. If I felt confident that our baby would sit in a carseat, we would have spent the money on a sit for her. We were lucky and got an extra seat both ways. On the way there the flight was not very crowded and we purposely booked our seats with middle seat open, expecting that on an empty flight no one would chose that seat. On the way home, the ticket agent was just really nice and made sure that one of the few empty seats was for us. The kids slept most of the overnight flight but lying on me, so I didn’t sleep at all. It is tough enough to travel without kids and deal with missing a night’s sleep but it is misery to miss a night sleep and deal with your cranky kids who have missed at least half of their regular night’s sleep. I don’t have a good solution here (maybe try to take a day flight connecting through London?) but booking a non-stop flight, hiring a car to pick you up at the airport, making sure you can check in early, and expecting the first day to be lost (rather than wondering whose idea this damn trip was anyway) all might help.

One thing I was not expecting was that our older daughter would be homesick for her friends for the first few days. After she got some more rest and got into the trip, this passed but I do think she genuinely missed her friends. I sometimes forget how important routine is for young kids. She did say on the last day that she wanted to stay in Paris and not come home which made me feel good!

**Stay as long as you can. It definitely took us all a few days to get into the trip. My husband had bad jet lag, I was exhausted and feeling overwhelmed as a result. Our older daughter was tired and a bit jet lagged too. The baby was very happy, however, as long as she was fed and anyone smiled at her. (Note: the baby was great the whole trip and if you are thinking of traveling with a baby, do it while they are still young enough to sleep anywhere and have a flexible routine.) I was glad we were able to book a longer (10 night) trip because the first couple of days were the worst and the trip just got better and better after that. If you can stay for longer, do so.

**Do the touristy things. More on this below but we had a blast doing the things we might have turned our nose up at on a trip without kids like going to the Eiffel Tower and taking a bateaux mouche.

Overall the trip was really fun. Our kids were great, they are probably better travelers than a lot of adults! It was wonderful to spend time with them and whiie our older daughter certainly didn’t fully appreciate the great opportunity she was given, she did enjoy her surroundings. As I mentioned above, we would gladly take another trip to Europe with the kids although our next (short) trip will be without them!

Next up- some of the things we enjoyed doing.

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