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Taking the kids to Europe for the very first time

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Hi all. My wife and I are hoping to take the kids (ages, 6, 13, 14), to Europe come Spring vacation (end of March / beginning of April). We've both traveled to London, Paris and Rome previously and usually go through Europeandestinations.com to book travel. I think the kids are done with the Grandparents watching them while we frolic across the pond...

A few questions if I may. Does Airbnb make more sense financially than a 3 or 4 hotel for a 10 day stay between London/Paris for the 5 of us? Should I involve a travel agent or is there an online site you recommend for family travel?

The thought right now is London for 3 or 4 days, and 6 or 7 days in Paris. Maybe a side trip or two outside Paris (Loire Valley, Provins, Bruges).

Thanks in advance.

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    >>> Should I involve a travel agent or is there an online site you recommend for family travel?

    I am not sure when was the last time you used a travel agent. Having tried to use several with idiotic itineraries since the emergence of internet and having seen many people coming here to get their TA mangled itineraries salvaged, those without commercial motives here have low opinions for TAs for individual trips.

    What you are trying to do is a quite simple itinerary. If you do this by yourself, you can choose precisely the itinerary you like within your constrains without having it tainted by commission motives.

    I think it is too simplistic to look at rentals such as Airbnb (where it is presumed to be legal....) from the financial point alone. Airbnb and hotels bring in different space and facility configurations, locations, check-in/out constraints, luggage storage angles, cancellation terms in case of schedule changes, etc. If you book a rental at a bargain but with a stiff cancellation penalty, if you have to cancel, you savings is an illusion.

    If you can articulate what you want to do at each destination, a relevant numbers days allocation falls naturally. If you do it other way the many people do by asking a "how many days here" question in a vacuum, you get tossed to and flo by the difference in the way people value destinations.

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    Unsolicited advice:

    -get the passports taken care of now

    -book a flight into London, and out of Paris (open jaw/multi-city/multiple destination, NOT two one-way tickets)

    -take the Eurostar between London and Paris

    -book the Eurostar as soon as seats are released, from the Eurostar's official website, for the best prices

    An apartment rental may be less expensive than a hotel, or not (it would depend on the apartments and hotels in question!), and it would likely be more comfortable in terms of space, but as above, there are many other factors to consider.

    As you may have noticed, Fodor's travel boards tend to attract DIY travelers, but even so, the trip you propose is very straightforward and could easily be planned by you. However, it's your trip and if you'd rather use a travel agent, that's your decision.

    Further unsolicited advice: I would go to my local public library and get all the guidebooks they have for London and Paris and read them all. I'd also have the kids help plan the itinerary.

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    London is catnip for kids. Four days is short.

    <<A few questions if I may. Does Airbnb make more sense financially than a 3 or 4 hotel for a 10 day stay between London/Paris for the 5 of us? >>

    Hotels won't make sense because you'll likely need two rooms. Check on the rental rules in Paris - private rentals are restricted. London has a whole cottage industry for private rentals and vacation flats - go googling. No need to restrict yourself to airbnb.

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    Well, having traveled in Europe with kids and for what it's worth (maybe nothing) I'd ask a different set of questions to start.

    Top of the list, what do you want to do while you're there? Ages six to fourteen is a pretty wide range of interests, energy levels, patience... While London and Paris certainly have more than enough things for you and your kids to see and do, they may not always be the same things, and they definitely won't always be the same sort of things you enjoyed on adults-only trips. Bistros, pubs and evening walks along the Seine? Theater in the West End? Not likely.

    Let me throw out a couple of thoughts that might or might not resonate:

    1. Skip or at least minimize big-city time. London and Paris can be intimidating even for the experienced traveler. With ten days you'd only be able to scratch the surface of either/both cities so you're already talking about the need to edit your plans.

    2. The end of March and the beginning of April can be wet and miserable if it's a late spring. You might want to think about alternative locations where there's a better chance of decent weather. Mind you, no place is safe from disappointing days, but you can hedge the odds a little by looking farther south. Italy? Spain?

    3. Think about a driving holiday. A car will give you the freedom to move about the countryside, staying in small villages where the kids will be welcomed and where accommodation is cheap, eat in small town restaurants, explore old castles... In addition, not forgetting it's March/April, the car will provide a "safe zone" out of the weather, and can become something of a "sanctuary" if things seem chaotic. Plus, driving through the English or French countryside (or Spanish or...) is a splendid holiday in its own right.

    4. Look at farm stays. Don't know where you live or under what circumstances, but there are thousands of working farms all over Europe that host visitors, particularly kids. You can travel about the countryside during the days, or stay and participate in farm life - handle livestock, etc... Talk about a change of pace...

    5. Days urban, nights rural. Stay in a budget- and family-friendly village or small town within commuting distance of the big city, travel into the town to see museums or sightsee, then back to a (hopefully) cozy place at the end of the day. Both London and Paris (and pretty much every other major city in Europe) is surrounded by small towns, many of them quite picturesque, with terrific access to the central part of the metropolis, usually by inexpensive and quick commuter trains.

    This will take more planning than just hiring a travel agent (who, sadly, for the most part don't do much these days except sell cruise vacations.) But your kids are probably pretty internet-savvy, so you could enlist them into the effort and make the planning a fun part of the whole experience, as it is for most of us.

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    First, the Eurostar booking window opens up about 6 months out (today, for example, you can book trains up until about 3 March 2017) www.eurostar.com

    I VERY strongly disagree with the blanket statement as to how a hotel won't make sense because, "you need two rooms."

    It all depends on which hotel, how expensive it is, etc. And remember, some of those hotels come with a buffet breakfast and no AirBnB is gonna provide that or any daily housekeeping, etc.

    There are all KINDS of booking engines to find decent and very affordable accommodations and it is not too soon to be doing that, either.

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    Thanks all for your great and candid feedback.

    Greg, I don't believe we have ever used a travel agent aside from the aforementioned Europeandestinations site for booking their package deals (airfare/stay/transportation). Being unfamiliar with booking such a trip, I brought the topic of Travel Agents to the mix - a concept that I've deduced is mostly frowned upon here.

    The conversations with our kids (ages 6, 13, 14), started a year or so back. Listening to our stories and observations of the places we visited stoked the fire a bit I suppose. In turn, we discussed museums, churches, bridges, parks, ruins and just the ambiance of these ancient places.

    General Draft Itinerary (highlights based on recent conversations with them)

    England: Day 1: Visiting friends in Peacehaven (staying the night)
    Day 2 - 4: London Eye, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, British Museum, Emirates Stadium (Arsenal), Hyde Park

    As BigRuss mentioned: London is catnip for kids, so I may add a day to the London stay. I may need more kid-friendly options here...

    Paris and Neighboring: Day 5 - 10: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Lux Gardens, Versailles, Day trip to the Loire Valley, Jardin de Plantes, Pompidou Centre, a myriad of other churches we've visited throughout our travels.


    I would also consider staying at small towns outside the major cities / renting a car. The slower pace would be a welcome sight from the bustle. The suggestion from Gardyloo on staying at a farm or on the countryside makes a lot of sense.

    On the topic of stay, I'll take a look at what London has to offer - Cottages, vacation flats and so on.

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    With your target destination list, it does not seem to make sense staying in the country and trek back into big city, except if you stayed in the Loire Valley and increase for visit there as the primary activity while in France.

    France days 5-10 means day 10 is the departure day? If this is the case, you have days 6,7,8, and 9 as full day. Loire Valley and Versailles as a day take one full day each. The remainder of the Paris stay would take remaining two full days leaving no time for Bruges.

    The TAs being frowned upon, is not a only a personal taste, but the consequence of the airline deregulation and the emergence of internet as the booking tool. TAs make money by booking business trips and selling prepackaged tour - no research, but sell someone else's product and pocket the commission. Business trips are simpler. The trips are usually limited to limited destinations with business connections and companies often specify only a limited number of accommodations with contract prices. The travelers has little choice in the flight, accommodations, but don't have to pay the commission from their personal pocket.

    Leisure trip is a different product. It would take a lot of time on the TAs part to put together a custom trip with peanuts commission opportunities. My experience working with them as well as the quality of the trips put together by TAs we have seen in this forum point to TAs slam banging an itinerary as quickly as possible with maximum commission opportunities. It is the reality of the current market place.

    With a rental, think about a contingency plan. If a room in a hotel becomes not available, unless the hotel is fully booked, you will be offered a similar or higher level room at the same location. If a rental become not available, damage, construction, declared illegal, etc. then if it is an agency with multiple listing, they might offer you an alternate accommodation ELSEWHERE in the city. Otherwise, all you get is a refund. You are on your own to find an alternate accommodation at the last minutes. It would be much less hassle if you already know what options are available if your rental vanishes at the last minutes. For many, this kind of thing never happened so see no need for concern. If you travel enough, at some points, you might encounter a snafu - can be during the first trip.

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    There are plenty of legal apartment rentals in London.

    If you opt for a hotel be sure you know what the regulations as to how many people are allowed in a room. While it is common for a family of 5 to share two queen beds and a roll-in many places in the US, don't count on that in London or Paris.

    Since your children have not traveled with you to Europe, you won't know yet how jet lag may effect them. You may want to add a day at the beginning of the trip to help get over a lack of sleep.

    If you are interested in exploring a city with the family, then stay in the city.. transportation in and out of a city is time consuming and can be expensive.

    for a first time visit there is plenty to see in Paris. but if you want to travel out of Paris, Versailles is easier.. perhaps more crowded. but you can take the train from Paris and walk a pretty short distance to the palace. For the Loire Valley you would need to arrange transportation to any of the chateaus.

    The weather may not be great that time of year but there are plenty of indoor activities, so I would not be deterred.

    you need to determine how you will get the family and luggage to Peacehaven, unless your friends have a van and can pick you up at the airport. allow for time to clear immigration

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    Thanks. I think the temperature/precipitation will not deter us. It's really the only time of the year we can take the kids.

    I hadn't considered the jet lag element, so thank you for that.

    As per my draft itinerary, Bruges has been expunged for the time being.

    I'll do some research on accommodations for 5 in both London and Paris.

    Thanks again :)

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    It may not suit your budget, but when traveling with my family this past June, we stayed at the Rembrandt, London. I've been to London dozens of times, but the places I usually stay were not right for us. I chose the Rembrandt for several reasons, primarily because they offered connecting rooms for families. The hotel is across from the V&A and the History and Science Museums. It's only a 4/5 minute walk to the South Kensington tube station, close to Hyde Park, and there are a number of restaurants within easy walking distance. The hotel also offers an excellent buffet breakfast.

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    IMHO London has more for kids than Paris - both are great for kids but London has more activities. Your 6 year old is a little young but your 2 elder kids should do a lot of the planning. The fist time we did London and Paris with our DDs, 11 and 14, they picked out a lot of the sights they wanted to see, some activities and a couple of restaurants. They esp loved the chance to use the French they were learning in school to be able to order and trek around on their own during the day to do some teen shopping. Let them havea look at the Let's Go Student Guide and I bet they come up with a lot of good ideas. And make sure all of the kids know the basic polite phrases if they aren;t yet studying French in school.

    IMHO a travel agent is a really bad idea, since unless you pay them a sizable fee they will want to send you only to places that give them a large commission. We do the planning ourselves (plus checking with DHs corporate travel planner to see what special deals she had).

    There are so many resources online and in some of the standard guide books (I esp like the Michelin green guide since it tells you how long it takes to see specific sights) that there is really little useful a TA can do except for a cruise.

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    Thanks history (and) nytraveler. Luckily the 13 and 14 year olds are both studying French in school, and the 6 year old can say a few polite phrases.

    I purchased a book for the kids (forgot the name now), that summarizes Paris in a more vivid manner and allows them to read up on a bit of the history of the city and its highlights.

    From what I've gathered on this forum, England is a much more kid-friendly destination. Museums and Hyde Park are right up their alley. :)

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    I am not so sure about hotels making no sense either (for once that I agree with Dukey...).

    I've been to the hotel Citadines Les Halles : it is a cross-over between hotels and apartments : legal (unlike 90% on rental sites), with a 24/24 presence (someone speaking english and able to help you, recommend things to do, call a taxi, reserve a restaurant, these sorts of things).
    This one is located close to Les Halles -> dead in center.
    Tarriff price was 275 €, (I paid half but I only stay one night so I can grab big discounts), and it had 2 rooms, one kitchen, wardrobes etc. Very recent, no prob.

    The one we went with the family was Elysees Union on rue Amiral Hamelin (in the 17th or 16th) close to Arc de Triomphe, so a little excentered, but with a view on Eiffel Tower when in the street (no view from the apt).
    2 rooms, 2 bathrooms, one kitchen and a hall where you can watch TV when everybody sleeps in their rooms. Standard price was about 440 € some years ago and we paid half.

    The other apartments I've selpt in in Paris were really small. I am not a fan of apartments in Paris, I reserve them through booking.com or hotels.com to be (more) sure that they are legit and to be sure to get an invoice. Getting an invoice and paying with credit card is the first step to be reasonably sure they are legal. Paying cash is a big step towards renting an illegal apartment.

    Renting an illegal apartment means that you encourage breaking the law, are accomplice to fraudsters (none of which you may care for) but also that the apartment can be withdrawn from the market just before you arrive.
    In that case, you are on your own and may not even recover your downpayment if you rented directly through the owner. You may have some help with big agencies, but nothing is guaranteed - after all these agencies know they rent mostly illegal apartments, so I don't trust them that much.

    Depending on when you come, where you sleep etc you may find good hotels for about 100 € per night/per double room and correct ones for less (no breakfast).

    I have slept in 153,4 hotels in the last 4 years 3 months and 21 days. from no stars to B&B to apartments via 2,3,4 and 5 stars hotels.

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    We took our 5 and 9 year old daughters to Paris in mid-April over their school vacations. They have been to Europe before and we frequently travel to Hawaii so they have done the red-eye flights. Just a few thoughts.
    - the jet lag wasn't too bad in terms of getting used to the time. it actually worked out well because they slept late in the morning (which was fine with my me and my husband as it gave us time to have a nice quiet breakfast and get organized) and they stayed up late so we could have late dinners and walk around rather than need to get back early.
    - they were exhausted for the first few days and had trouble losing a full night sleep. I suggest you plan for that.
    - Paris was plenty kid friendly. Interesting sites, Eiffel Tower, plenty of open green space (playgrounds, etc). We haven't taken the kids to London so it may be even better but kids certainly enjoy Paris
    - We stayed at the Citadines along the Seine for two nights and an apartment rented through US-based Vacations in Paris for the rest of the trip. I had actually made a mistake booking the apartment which was why we had to stay in two places. We very much enjoyed the kitchen in the apartment and the extra space. Although the girls shared a bedroom in the apartment (they don't at home), they got sick of each other and we were glad to have a living room and some space to spread out. The Citadines was good but much smaller. I loved the location.
    - There is a great series of kid travel books called "Not for Parents" by Lonely Planet that my kids really enjoyed.
    - Don't overplan your days. Everything takes longer with the kids and I suspect my kids prefer a leisurely pace rather than rushing around.
    - we gave the kids some pocket money and they loved buying knicknacks. They looked like junk to me but they enjoyed buying them and enjoy them back at home too.
    - Weather in mid-April was lovely. I hope it is the same for you.

    Where are you coming from in the US? Lots of flights on sale now from the East Coast.

    Your kids are older than mine but if you click on my name I have written a few posts about traveling with kids to Europe. have fun! our kids LOVED the trip and I am constantly amazed by the details they remember.

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    I would be flying out of Raleigh-Durham, NC. Typically we make a stop at JFK before continuing onward. With Delta now offering non-stop flights to and from Paris, it is another option to consider.

    I've looked into staying at one of the Paris Apartments before. We had to cancel our trip when an unforeseen pregnancy came about :) . We had planned on staying in Montmartre at the time, at a lovely apartment in Rue Cortot.

    I think the key will be to go lighter on the schedule to allow adjustment and frankly to take our time. Sometimes it's easy to jot down a number of highlights and locations to visit and we lose sight of the real reason you are visiting in the first place.

    I asked the kids about the weather and their response was.."We are originally from Boston, we'll be all-right"

    The plan is for spring vacation 2018.

    I may engage my English friend for suggestions on potential apartments and hotels for a family of 5 in London.

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    personally, when travelling with kids, when the choice was a) probably cool and possibly wet weather but moderate crowds, and b) risk of muggy weather and massive crowds, (a) wins every time, so I think the time of year is really a good choice.

    be careful with a six yo and large museums (Louvre) - a possibility of massive fatigue. Lots of brief tours with tourguides is easier to keep the little ones attention span focused.

    jet lag is just a variable one cannot count on. we've done europe four times with kids and the only jet lag to speak of was after coming home in the US. Be flexible, you may or may not have lots of energy the first few days.

    I'll concur with some of the above comments - some hotels have mini-apts with private kitchens and a small common space. - the best of both worlds. We got a deal like that in Venice and it worked very well.

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    A non stop to and from Paris means you will also have to travel to and from England as well. It may make more sense and cost less to travel to London via JFK, and return non stop from Paris.

    Also be sure that the non stop will be available when you will travel, sometimes these flights are seasonable. And as your plans are for 2018, its hard to know if these non stop flights will be continued or not. its not unknown for airlines to change or cancel routes.

    lots of museums have family oriented programs. for example The British Museum has activity backpacks most days of the week for kids. Check the websites of the places you want to visit

    Lots of people have posted questions about apartment rentals in London on this forum. If you are so inclined you can do a search or post a new inquiry about rental advice.

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    The vacation apartment situation in Paris has changed, with the new laws which were passed in July 2016. The property owner (not the agency) must now acquire a registration number from the City. If an agency lists a rental, it's entirely possible that the listing could be removed at the last minute, if the owner has not applied for the registration number. This includes AirBnB listings, as well. I wouldn't want to risk trying to find alternative housing for your family at the last minute, especially since an apartment sleeping 5 people will be very hard to come by and will be small. The other thing to consider is that if you arrive before the apartment is ready, you will have to haul your belongings around town before you can access it - not fun in lousy weather.

    There are legal apart'hotels, which have the benefit of 24/7 desk staff, kitchens and maid service. If your room is not ready, you can drop your luggage, freshen up in the public restroom in the hotel and go have a bite to eat or explore the neighborhood.

    Citadines and Adagio are good chain options with kitchens, family-friendly sleeping arrangements and many locations and different price points, depending on the neighborhood. There are often internet specials, if you can purchase in advance.

    It can be a lot of trouble to find and purchase food and other supplies for an apartment. If you don't feel like taking the time to buy and prepare food and clean up afterwards, there are family-friendly hotels in Paris which can sleep 4 to 5 people. Some include breakfast. The other option would be to ask for connecting rooms, which would give you the huge benefit of having two full bathrooms.

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    Just another random thought. if the weather looks at all wet, take rainboots for the kids. I wasn't sure whether to lug along the heavy rubber boots and I'm so glad it did. It only rained one day on our trip, when we weren't wearing the boots, and the kids were soaked and miserable. We quickly went back to the apartment and changed into raingear and were able to stay outside and walk around comfortably the rest of the day.

    I am not following the issue regarding legality of rental apartments in London and Paris so I defer to those who are but in terms of comfort for 5 people, including two teenagers, a good size apartment will be much more comfortable than one or two hotel rooms in my experience. Especially having a living room and a kitchen. Being with one's family nonstop for a week and then living in 1-2 rooms together can be tough. I think you will enjoy the extra space! I have never had a problem finding food or supplies in Paris, London or many other cities in Europe. There is always a little market nearby for basics and often a small supermarket within a few blocks. If your kids are big eaters like mine, you will be happy to have a kitchen. But of course if renting an apartment is not possible or there is a chance your apartment will not be available, probably not worth the risk.

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    Thanks again. I appreciate the information and your feedback!

    We are definitely leaning towards flying into London via JFK and returning non-stop from CDG. We did the Delta non-stop from CDG this past summer and it was quite comfortable. Delta is establishing quite the presence here in the Raleigh-Durham area with its suite of direct flights.

    And I'll certainly look into both the Citadines and Adagio options. I do like to cook/prepare meals, so I wouldn't mind heading out to local markets for ingredients and the such.

    I like the idea of activity backpacks for the 6 year old. I think she will get very excited about this.

    Rainboots, got it. I expect the weather to be somewhere in the 50's during the day, to 40s at night. We'll go prepared. Paris will probably be in the same vicinity, though with less precipitation.

    2018 seems so far away....yet it will probably sneak up on me...

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    We did this trip with grandchildren ages 11 and 13. They loved London and were sad to leave for Paris. Of course they liked Paris a lot but London was #1. Are your kids Harry Potter fans? We did our own version of a Harry Potter tour in London and it was so much fun for them. It was the same dates as your trip. We had a little snow in London and it was cold and sunny in Paris.In Paris the Eiffel Tower and Musee Rodin and the Musee de l'Orangerie were favorites.

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    Hi HappyTrvlr, we actually prefer the cooler more comfortable weather than the suffocating heat. While the kids are not huge Harry Potter fans, I'm sure there is some value in visiting a few of the highlight locations.

    On another note, I checked out hotelscombined.com for stay in both London and Paris and was astonished at much cheaper the overall trip would cost versus going the package route that we normally take. There is a sense of adventure in booking everything yourself. I think this will work.

    I will return with a more refined itinerary in the near-term, taking into account potential jet-lag and so on.

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