Tips for Creating a Kid-Friendly European Trip

If you’ve been considering a family trip to Europe, now is a good time to start planning. As a travel planner specializing in family travel to Italy, as well as being the mother of 4-year old twins whom I’ve dragged across the pond a fair number of times, I like to suggest several ‘rules of thumb’ for making an overseas trip to Italy or Europe more kid-friendly.

Scale back your expectations. Traveling to Europe is a big deal, both in terms of cost and time, so it’s no wonder families attempt to make the most of big trip by seeing as much as possible. 

The reality is, however, traveling through Europe with young children slows you down. You might be surprised to discover you’ll only get to see one, or possibly two, major sights a day.

Make time for down time. An important component of your daily itinerary will be to find places for the kids to run around and play. Open spaces, like piazzas are good, though local playgrounds–where you’ll find other children and play equipment—are often more appealing. 

Public city pools can be lifesavers in the summer and with a good map you can pinpoint lakes and beaches for day trips out of town.

Balance time in European cities with time in the countryside. It’s wise to limit the number of transitions you make during your trip. A reasonable itinerary with children would focus on no more than two destinations, or three at max, during a 10 to 14 day trip, in favor of spending less time in big cities and more time in the countryside.

Use Google as a guide book. Google Maps offers an amazing tool for getting a feel for your destination. I use it to plot out the major monuments I want to see, and where they are in relation to my hotel or apartment.   And 
I pinpoint nearby playgrounds, green space, restaurants I’ve researched as well as supermarkets, so I’ll have a sense of the possibilities depending on where we end up. 

I also use Google to research the names of local, English-speaking doctors and emergency clinics in each city I visit…because you never know! 

(Tip: you can often find a list of recommended English-speaking physicians on the US Embassy website and on expat websites.)

Consider a local guide. A local guide can help you skip to the front of museum queues, quickly navigate to specific art works within a museum, get you off the beaten tourist path, and help your family understand more of what you’re seeing around you. 

And they can do so in less time than you manage on your own. Guided tours with children should be short, geared towards children’s interests, and the guide should specialize in working with children.

Choose your accommodations carefully.
The two biggest benefits of an apartment or villa rental are a kitchen in which to prepare meals, and a washing machine. Renting one, however, is a bit trickier than choosing a hotel.

When considering a vacation rental, ask detailed questions like the 

- walking distance to tourist attractions, 
- nearby parks, 
- and the noise level from the street below. 

Inquire into the safety of windows, balconies, curtain cords and staircases. Most importantly, be certain someone is available on-call to fix problems or address concerns. 

Realize, too, that maintaining your rental apartment and doing the family’s laundry can make feel like you’re not actually on vacation!

On the other hand, hotels offer greater convenience and, in some cases, give parents a much-needed break. Some city hotels offer swimming pools, babysitting services, and kids clubs.

When choosing a hotel, pay a little more for the biggest room you can afford. European hotels often can’t accommodate more than 3 or 4 people, and even that can be tight. (Occupancy limits are strictly enforced.) With hotels, the cost per person tends to be higher than a rental, and the lack of kitchen, washing machine or space for children to run around can make long hotel says challenging.

Help your kids prepare for their departure. 
Reading books about your destination and showing children images of monuments, art and architecture they’re likely to see is hugely beneficial. Even young children get excited by seeing recognizable images from their books in person. Allegorical paintings enchant young children, as do statues and art that relates a story. 

Finally, keeping a journal or starting a collection while traveling is a great way to help focus children’s attention on their surroundings while giving everyone a memorable keepsake of their European vacation.

Have your own tips for traveling overseas with kids? Feel free to share them here. 

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