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Liadan Jul 16th, 2013 01:02 PM

Kids' First Trip Advice
Hi, there!

My husband and I are starting to dip our toes in the water of planning our kids' (they are currently 3.5 and 8.5, and will be 5 & 10 at the time of travel) first trip to Europe. They have previously traveled to the UK at ages 1 & 6, but that was mainly for a funeral. I'm calling this their first trip as it's the first one both will remember.

We are open to anything, but would prefer not to repeat just a UK itinerary. DH & I (as well as my parents who may travel with us) have traveled to Europe before. In fact, we went to Italy earlier this year and received some great advice on these forums!

My kids are good travelers. They are great on airplanes/trains/cars. They are typically pretty adventurous eaters. They both like learning about cultures, languages, and other countries.

For their first trip, I'm thinking no more than 10-12 nights. I think we'd be best to only change locations about 3 times (4 at the absolute most).

Where would you go? How long would you stay? We have thought about and talked about Iceland, Italy, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland.. on and on.

I'd be grateful for any advice you have. Thanks!!

adrienne Jul 16th, 2013 02:54 PM

I would not change locations 3 or 4 times in a 12 day trip. You're going to lose time whenever you change locations so your 12 days would be cut back to 10 or 11, depending on how far apart your destinations are from each other.

If you only have 10 days I would choose no more than 2 locations; moving once. And choose only 1 country. I see you're using nights, rather than days. 10 nights is 9 days. I think in terms of days as I'm sleeping at night. I plan my sightseeing around how many days I have.

I would go where your interests and your budget lies and to places that are easy to get to from your home at the time of year. I would hate to be in southern or central Italy or France in the summer as I hate the heat. So destination is dependent on time of year.

I would probably go to France. Some time in Paris and time in one other location, perhaps Normandy with a rental car.

wayfinder45 Jul 16th, 2013 03:12 PM

That's a pretty open agenda. It would be helpful to know what time of year you plan to travel (summer, I assume?) and what basic type of trip you envision -- there are LOTS of different ways you could go. Do you envision visiting a few cities doing all the "must sees" or a more leisurely trip that balances touring with afternoons by the pool? Are you hoping to enjoy a deeper experience in one area (say Tuscany or Dordogne) or enjoy a taste of several regions/cultures?

Liadan Jul 16th, 2013 05:33 PM

Thanks, adrienne. Budget will be an issue, for sure. But as far as the adults, we will go pretty much anywhere. And for this trip at least, we're not involving the kids in picking the destination.

We would probably try to travel during fall/spring break to catch shoulder seasons. I'm okay with the kids missing 2-3 days of school for a trip like this. Summer would be a last resort! I don't like being hot either.

I'm okay with staying in one country. We've definitely talked about France--I think it would be a good fit with balancing city vs not city. There's also great food, and it's historically relevant to what they'll study in school.

We've also talked a lot about Germany for many of the same reasons. We have some friends in Munich which would be an added bonus.

Liadan Jul 16th, 2013 05:40 PM

wayfinder, we would prefer fall or spring with spring being the priority.

This isn't going to be (I hope!) a once in a life time type trip. We hope to do this every 3-ish years with taking domestic trips in between. So I think I'd prefer to dwell in an area/region vs trying to catch a whole host of 'must sees.'

I could definitely imagine spending 10 days in Tuscany or Bavaria (or France or...). But I would want to move around a couple of times within the region. Even if we stay in one country (or one part of one country) I do still want to move around a bit. I think it would be fun for the kids to ride the trains. Heck, I like riding the trains! =)

adrienne Jul 16th, 2013 05:53 PM

You can ride trains without moving lodging every few days. I like trains too and German and French trains are very efficient. You can choose a base for 5 days and explore the area by train. Have you ever taken a trip with the children and packed up and moved every 2 days? I think that would be a chore.

In Bavaria there's a train pass where 5 people can travel (off peak times) for about E30 per day.

nytraveler Jul 16th, 2013 06:15 PM

If It were me I would pick one country - with half the time in a major city with some "big" sights (but also parks and a kids playground) and the other half in one area of the countryside - that you can easily explore by car to see several towns, castles, places of natural beauty, etc.

If you're there in april there should be a lot of places where spring is established in the country.

Also I would prepared the kids - with books and videos about the areas and sights they will be seeing - so it means more to them. And I think a 10 year old is able to do some research of his/her own about specific sights to see.

surfmom Jul 16th, 2013 06:49 PM

Liadann, I have traveled with my kids - and written some trip reports about it. It is absolutely magical and fun and exhausting and frustrating traveling with kids. Usually all of those emotions in the space of about 5 minutes!

I understand you want to see as much as possible - but I urge you to re-consider. Your kids will remember the train between cities... the driving... going through security... schlepping stuff. Not actually experiencing those places. In addition, if you are doing 3 nights in 3 or 4 places, lodging is much more limited and more likely to include hotels instead of apartments.

I find apartments invaluable for many reasons:
- meals. after a long day of being "out", there are times the kids just want fruit and yogurt and bread (love France for this!) for dinner.... I'm cool with that - and quite honestly, kids need downtime as much as adults do.
- space. It is so nice to have room to spread out in and give the kids their own rooms. They can go to bed (and should be encouraged to do so!) while Mom and Dad plan the next day, check email, read, etc.
- packing. It is so nice to be able to do laundry! I hate carrying bags. Kids hate carrying bags. We almost have it down to a science of what to pack. Recently, for 10 days in London/Paris, it was 2 pr. jeans, 2 sweatshirts, 4 tees, long underwear, wind pants (in case of rain), 2 pr. shoes. I (reluctantly) allow them to travel in sweats or yoga pants and those become pj's on vacation (long underwear make great pj's too). I don't mind throwing in a load of laundry each night - how long does it *really* take ?
- cost. So much more affordable because you will end up eating meals in and saving that expense.
- entertainment value. Didn't know what to call it, but it is really fun to see how apartments are different in different countries. Our most recent was on Ile St. Louis in Paris - up 3 flights of stairs - and over 3 flights inside. They loved exploring and one of the most recent favorite games is House Hunters International - with them showing the apartment to siblings and highlighting the pros and cons. I get a good hour or two when we arrive to get settled while they play and explore.

As to moving locations? My experience is that even a short trip is at least half a day door to door. For example, we recently took the train from London to Paris - a little over 2 hours, right? Not so much. Our train was 4pm from St. Pancras in London. We could only plan an activity that am that would allow us to be done by 1pm - we had to get back to our apartment, and check out. We had pre-arranged car service that picked us up about 2 - to leave enough time to allow for traffic. We arrived at the train station about 2:30/2:45 - and were glad for the extra time since it was so crowded. We arrived in Paris about 7pm (lost an hour en route due to time change). By the time we got our car service there, stopped at the agency and got the apartment key, got to the apartment, it was after 8pm. We took about 30 minutes to get unpacked and quickly settled and went off in search of dinner about 8:45pm. By the time we had dinner - it was after 10pm by the time we got to bed.

So, while it was a 2 hour train ride, it really was a much longer travel day. And I find that is a realistic experience.

We like to travel off-season, too. This past year, we took them out of school for 2 days prior to Spring Break and 2 days after Spring Break, so we had almost 2 full weeks. It was wonderful - and we were lucky to have a lull in sports schedules that we were able to do it without missing games, meets, etc. Last year, we traveled the week of Thanksgiving in Italy - which was a great week to travel. It was not crowded, prices were cheaper, and we got lucky with nice weather (we hiked Cinque Terre in tees and jeans on T-giving day!)

I've written enough for now - let me just put my plug in for London and Paris. I know you would rather avoid UK, but London is great for kids for many reasons. It is an easier transition to Europe to start - speaking the same language. It is extremely kid-friendly - we found kid pamphlets or activity books all over. Many museums are free. And it is well-known.

Combine this with Paris - which is relatively easy to travel to - and you have a nice contrast and two great classic cities. Paris is also extremely kid-friendly.

good luck -

Mimar Jul 16th, 2013 07:51 PM

Over the years the conventional wisdom on Fodors about traveling with kids is that they prefer spending time in one place. Probably not a place out in the country where you have to drive to get anywhere -- unless maybe it's an agriturismo with a working farm. The kind of trip they remember years later is when the family stayed in one place, getting to know the neighborhood, the baker, the butcher, the ice cream store.

I concur with surfmom in recommending self-catering accommodations, maybe an apartment in a city and a cottage/gite in a small town. There are lots of places to rent in the UK, France and Italy. I'm not so familiar with Germany. Maybe another Fodorite can help you out there.

Tony2phones Jul 17th, 2013 01:44 AM

I have to feel sorry for the kids..up to 4 countries in 12 days..This Holiday is either about You and what you want or the Kids and what they want. Have you asked? Speaking from personal experience I used to hate getting dragged around my dads must see places when I was a youngster.. Having one week self catering (yes you can eat out) base somewhere and touring the other 5 in another country might be a good compromise.

bilboburgler Jul 17th, 2013 02:19 AM

2 bases, appartments or gites
chose one base for adults and one for kids (the second one)

so maybe Strasbourg for one and the Mosel Valley for the second

Liadan Jul 17th, 2013 06:20 AM

Hi, surfmom, thanks for the advice! It's great to hear some of the been there, done that.

I do agree with you about apartments. We had a flat while we were in London with the kids, and it was great for all the reasons you mentioned.

The kids loved London, so I'm sure they would have a great time going back. My son loved Westminster Abbey, of all places. My thought was mostly that I don't want to get into the rut of going back to the same places again and again.

Thank you for all the suggestions!

Liadan Jul 17th, 2013 06:32 AM

Tony, we would not travel to 4 countries in 12 days (with or without the kids). When I mention 4 locations, I was thinking in Italy, for example, perhaps 4 nights in Rome, 3 in Florence, 2 in Bologna, 3 in Ravenna.

At their ages, I don't think we can really ask if they would rather go to France or Germany? Or if they would enjoy a day trip to Salzburg from Munich? We can involve them in learning about the country, and picking some of the daily activities, and learning some of the language.

They claim they want to travel. But if they, like you, end up not liking it, we won't force it on them in the future.

Thank you for your advice! It sounds like splitting our time in 2 locations is the way to go.

nytraveler Jul 17th, 2013 11:28 AM

Well I have experience with doing London and Paris with our 14 and 11 year olds - and the younger had some very specific sights on her list - so don;t know why your 10 year old wouldn't. A 5 year old not so much - but might still express specific wants - boats in the lake of Kensington Gardens for example.

Definitely think you should be looking at 2 places - 5 or 6 days in each - to make it more enjoyable for all.

justineparis Jul 17th, 2013 11:45 AM

Well first off I totally disagree with your attitude that kids can 't contribute ideas.. I had my 11 yr old research and come up with three sites in each city we went to .. Kids do not need to be dragged along without a clue, let them contribute for goodness sake, help them by letting them watch some travel videos ( libraries have them for free often ) or watch online.. Rick Steves are pretty easy to watch for instance. Also watch some Disney cartoon movies for your younger child, Ratouille and Hunchback of Notre Dame are great for a trip to Paris for instance!

Secondly , keep this in mind.
Two nights in one location means one full day there only. If a place is only worth one full day put it off for another visit when kids are a bit older ..

I suggest three places max.

Fly into London( do you really think you have seen it all,, and kids don't really remember it much anyways from 1 and 6 yrs old) ... few days there , then Eurostar to Paris, then perhaps fly out of Amsterdam or Rome.. That's actually more then I would do ( to me 12 days is 2 big cities with a few day trips out)..

Oh yes, I would suggest May for northern cities rather then March or April, cold and rainy is still possible in early spring and not much fun for tots. And yes, I would pull kids out of school for such a trip too.

PS My own first trip to Europe was when I was 7 or 8,, I remember the Eiffel Tower,taking the metro, the crowds, and just wanting to play in my grandmothers gardens.. don't expect too much . ( oh yeah , remember seeing my first "beggers" and it still haunts me to this day a mom and babe on sidewalk, yech)

Liadan Jul 17th, 2013 11:52 AM

nytraveler, it does sound like 2 sites for 5-6 days each makes a lot of sense.

We will definitely involve the kids in selecting some things they would like to do. When we went to London DS was 5, and he--from the very beginning--was very excited about the London Eye. I know DD (who will be 5 when we go again) will have some clear opinions on what she will and won't want to do.

I just don't think, at this point and at their ages, they should be asked to decide England vs France vs Germany vs wherever. But maybe once we have things narrowed down, we'll give them some potential day trips and see what appeals to them.

Did your kids like Paris? Or did they prefer London?

Thanks for the video suggestion, by the way. We got some books for DS before the UK trip, but I think videos are a better idea. We're taking them to Disneyworld this fall and they have watched their free planning DVD about 100 times.

justineparis Jul 17th, 2013 01:04 PM

U didn't ask , but my son preferred London and Paris( he loved the Invalids Army Museum and the Tower of London because both had great exhibits of old weapons ( battle axes and swords etc you know the knights in shining armour stuff) and armour( including horse armour!) at Invalids it starts medieval and goes to present day( well WWI and II) and it includes stuff like Sammurai swords and foreign weapons and armour... T of London was mostly Tudor era armour etc ,, and my daughter preferred Florence ( art) and Wengen( hiking) ( Switzerland) .

Liadan Jul 17th, 2013 02:07 PM

justine, thanks for your suggestions! We were posting at the same time, so I just read your thoughts.

We will absolutely be asking the kids to contribute ideas. But I think it makes more sense to provide some ideas of things to do in Munich or Paris, and ask what interests them. We will talk to them about food they'd like to try. We will try to talk with them about the context for the things they'll see and do. All I'm saying is that we don't intend to give the kids executive power over the entire trip.

I've been to London six times, and haven't seen even close to all of it. My reluctance to redo a UK itinerary has more to do with forcing ourselves out of our comfort zone. My DS was funny about London--I thought he'd be really into the Tower of London, but he had the most fun at Westminster Abbey. Turns out, some kid show he'd watched had talked about Elizabeth I, so he was just ecstatic she was buried there.

It's nice to hear your daughter liked the art in Florence. I did, too. How old was she when you went?

wayfinder45 Jul 17th, 2013 02:24 PM

Liadan, I think you have a sound overall approach to the trip and how you might involve your kids in the planning. If I was at this stage of the planning process, I would sketch out a couple of different options and see what starts to gel over time. If I had recently been to both Italy and UK, then France would be at the top of my list, followed by (for me) Spain. From your list, I'd focus sketching out a possible itinerary for France and one for Germany -- and then see what sparks the most excitement/interest within the family and what seems to work out best from a logistics and budget perspective.

crazyfamilyof4 Jul 17th, 2013 02:31 PM

Hi there! Haven't read all the advice but as I am currently in travel mode with my 2and 4yr old can I say that I adored France! The kids loved Disney and we chose to stay at the Marriott ...great if you have a car ... The 3bed town house was huge and there was heaps to do at the resort and tight security etc ... I loved staying in Paris but I really really really loved Sarlat and all the site seeing that went with that ... You would have such a great time with your kids! An easy week there! Sooooo much to see and do with a car. I also loved Uzes but as your time is limited I would do a week in Sarlat and then a few days at the Marriott before flying out of Paris (if you get the choice of a fly out option) however I. Saying that the drive from Marriott to Sarlat did take us close to 8hrs! So you may need to look at trains etc.

I am yet complete this trip ... We still have Italy, Prague and Germany but I know that France would be a wonderful location for you! Although I am also loving the food here in Barcelona!

Ask away if you want to know anything ... I'm not as experienced as the others on here but ill help where I can :) good luck and enjoy the planning!

justineparis Jul 17th, 2013 05:43 PM

Ah , my point exactly,, kids enjoy seeing things they have heard or seen something about,, so yes, you can choose where you go , but then fill them up with ideas of what they will see.. it does mean a lot more to them.. hence my idea of letting them see a lot of vidoes etc and then asking them what seemed fun or interesting ( I totally agree kids don't get all the excutive power till they are old enough to pay to take YOU to Europe, lol ).

Pi0neervalleygirl Jul 18th, 2013 08:46 AM

We took our boys to Europe for the first time when they were ages 6 and 12. We spent two nights in Amsterdam, then took the train to Paris for 2 nights. Next we took the train to Bruges, Belgium, where we spent two nights. Then back by train to Amsterdam, to the same hotel as the beginning, for our last two nights.

Eight nights seemed like the right amount of time for us, and the trip worked out beautifully.

Pi0neervalleygirl Jul 18th, 2013 08:51 AM

I should add that we moved around every few days to keep the kids engaged. They loved the idea of traveling by train and visiting different countries.

We also had each boy keep a journal about their experiences. Nothing fancy or long, just enough for some nostalgia later.

travelswithcurley Jul 22nd, 2013 01:07 PM

We just returned from a trip to Ireland with our young kids (not quite 2 and not quite 4) at the end of May and I thought it was a very family friendly destination. We flew into Shannon and spent all of our time in the western part of Ireland to avoid long drives. We especially loved our day trip to the Aran Islands (Inis Oirr), Connemara National Park, and the Cliffs of Moher.

There are so many family friendly B&Bs (you can easily find B&B owners that also have kids in the house, which means built in playmates and toys!) and restaurants.

Here are the links to our family blog with pictures and details of each location to give you an idea of potential kid friendly activities:



Inis Oirr:


Good luck with your research and have fun!

flpab Jul 24th, 2013 02:07 PM

Travelswithcurley, great pictures and blog. So nice to see people planning vacations with their kids. Germany is a very kid friendly country. There is so much to do and see in Bavaria. I think my favorite times were weeks at the beach but loved the first time we went to Boston and history books came alive. We lived close enough to Philly and DC that we were able to see it not just read about it. Very important. Washington DC is free, even the zoo. Love that you all are giving this gift of travel to your children.

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