Europe with Preschoolers: What I Would do Differently

This last summer we had an amazing family adventure in Europe with our four year old son and five year old daughter. It was a great age for a first overseas trip and I’d highly recommend Europe to anyone looking to travel with young kids. Pretty much everything went smoothly and we all had a great time but there were a few minor things I’d do differently if I had it to plan the trip again.

1) Different Connections

There are no direct flights from the west coast of Canada to Venice, so we knew that we’d have to connect somewhere. The choice was to fly to somewhere else in Europe, then make a short hop to Venice, or fly to the East coast and fly direct to Venice from there. (Or we could have done both, but that would have been silly, right?) Anyway, in the end we went with the cheapest option, which had us flying to five and a half hours to Toronto, then eight hours to Venice.

It actually worked out okay on the way there. The connection went smoothly despite the bad luck I’ve had connecting in Toronto in the past and the kids slept for most of the second leg. But that trip home felt like the longest set of flights I’ve ever taken. We left Europe in the morning, so the kids didn’t sleep for the eight hours to Toronto and then, just when they were getting really tired and cranky, we hauled them off the plane, over to another terminal and onto another flight that was almost as long. It was just awful. Next time I’m connecting in Europe so the only place I have to go after an eight plus hour flight is home.

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2) Bringing the Stroller

To stroller or not to stroller will always be a bit of a dilemma for people travelling with preschoolers. We decided to err on the side of caution and take one just in case. Well, we only used it three times, and two of those times were to carry our bags. It spent our entire trip parked under the stairs of our rental apartment, sitting in the trunk of the rental car or tucked under the bed in our cruise ship cabin. If the kids didn’t see it, they didn’t want it. We were actually really impressed with their stamina and the terrain really wasn’t that stroller friendly anyway. When they tired out, a short shoulder ride was usually enough to perk them up anyways. It feels really great to have hit the “no stroller” milestone at last!

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3) Not Bringing Enough Activities

It’s probably not something to be proud of, but when we travel we tend to rely on hotel television for a lot of our entertainment. At home we only let the kids watch for a few hours on weekends and even then there’s no cable, so when we’re in a hotel it’s a real treat and we can turn on pretty much anything on PBS in the morning and they’re happy to watch for as long as they can while we sleep in, read or just relax. Well, you’d think this would have occurred to me before we left, but non-English speaking countries don’t tend to have English children’s programming. Even on the cruise there were only three English channels and they usually all had news.

So, while I planned on activities and IPad entertainment for the plane, I didn’t really plan anything for our downtime while we were actually in Europe. We did manage to get by; we had a few movies and shows on the IPad and we brought a few craft supplies and a bit of Lego. Having the cousins around for part of the trip was a huge help in the entertainment department and we bought a few toys along the way. But next time I’ll remember that when you’re in Europe and your kid’s up at six am you can’t just reach for the TV remote, say, “Here, watch Curious George” and roll over for a bit more sleep.

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All in all, it was an awesome trip and everything went off without a hitch. But there’s always something to learn for the next trip and those are some of the things I took from this latest experience. The only problem is that just when I think I’ve figured out travelling with one age, the kids go and grow on me and I’ve got another stage with all new challenges! Oh well, it’s all part of the fun of travelling with kids.

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