Seri and I took Mazzy and Gavin for a trip to Paris for Memorial Day weekend. We flew out Thursday night and came back Monday night, squeezing in as much as possible while we were there. I’ll do another post detailing our itinerary with what worked and what didn’t, but for now, I just want to talk about the realities of traveling with kids.
This is not going to be a post complaining about our trip to Paris. I’m not complaining. Our trip was UNREAL. Mazzy and I made memories that we will share for both our lifetimes. Mazzy and Gavin had a vacation that few seven-year-old friends get to experience together. And Seri and I solidified that we are indeed great travel partners in crime— both up for anything, relentlessly documenting and wanting to experience the world to its fullest.
But I also don’t want everyone to think that the four of us just floated through Paris without a care in the world, good fortune and weather on our side at all times, with grateful children tagging along obediently beside us. There were many moments that felt like that, but also moments where we had to change courses, manage expectations, put our needs aside for the sake of the kids, and realize that sightseeing in 98 degree heat is not always a child’s idea of a good time.
It was HOT in Paris this past weekend. The kids were tired and jet lagged when we got there. And then we immediately threw them into a whirlwind itinerary because we had limited time. It was a lot for them and looking back, I know why Mazzy didn’t feel like smiling for photos at the Louvre that first day.
I also get why Mazzy didn’t want to have a picnic in the blazing hot sun with the Eiffel Tour perfectly centered behind us, when it would be much more pleasant to have a picnic under the trees without the view.
And although she might have screamed, “THIS IS FUN, MOMMY!!!!” during the first hour of our four hour tandem bike tour, I understand why three hours in, she groaned, “When can we go back to the hotel?”
Why am I telling you this? So that, one day, if and when you take your kids on a vacation like ours, you won’t say— what did I do wrong? Why did Ilana and Seri’s trip look so perfect?
We did not have the perfect trip. We had an amazing trip with two seven-year-olds who were not about to stop being seven-year-olds just because we had spent a lot of money on airfare and a hotel. I have just as many pictures of Mazzy looking exhausted and miserable as I do of her looking like she is having the time of her life.
As adults, when we travel to faraway places, along with the amazingness of experiencing a new city, there are moments where we feel uncomfortable or tired or homesick or jet lagged, but we set those feelings aside because we WANT to enjoy the experience.
Kids can’t do that as easily.
So, here is a few bits of advice I have for parents traveling abroad with kids…
16 Pieces of Advice from One Traveling Parent to Another
1) If possible, take it easy the first day. Kids are usually excited about the hotel. They want to hang in the room and explore their immediate surroundings. That sounds ridiculous to adults who just crossed an ocean to see a new city, but if you can— let them relax. If there’s a hotel pool, let me them swim in it. Otherwise, if your kids are anything like mine, you will be getting requests to swim in the hotel pool for the rest of the trip.
2) Leave time to play in random playgrounds you might see along your travels. Just like you get excited about unique architecture or an undiscovered museum, kids get excited about a never-before-seen jungle gym. It’s very hard for a kid to pass up a play structure without climbing it. Even better, research the best playgrounds in the city and schedule them as part of your itinerary.
3) Make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep, but let them stay up late to experience the city at least one night too.
4) There is nothing worse than trying to find a restaurant with something your kid will eat when everybody is already starving. Research restaurants and menus ahead of time and if possible, let your kids pick what they are having before you even go. We let the kids see the menu for a dinner we arranged on a boat a day ahead of time. There were very few options and they were not exactly child friendly, but Mazzy studied it and decided she would have the “beautiful shrimp.” Yes, that’s how it was listed. I can’t tell you how happy she was to open the menu and see those familiar words printed when we arrived.
5) Be ready to change courses if you feel your kids enthusiasm fading. After a tough morning trekking around in the heat, we quickly ditched our afternoon plan to go to a local amusement park instead, even though it meant crossing off a few sights that Seri and I really wanted to see. In that moment, it was more important to us that the kids come home with a positive experience than whatever culture we were trying to impart.
6) Figure out ways to spin sights that you might be more interested in seeing than the kids. For instance, the kids had been talking nonstop about having a “baguette fight,” so instead of saying “after breakfast, we are going to see the Palais Royal,” we said, “after breakfast, we are going to have the baguette fight in the Palais Royal.” Then we got the baguettes along the way and let them live out their dream.
7) If you are traveling with your friend and their kid (like me), treat that friend like your co-parent. Decisions on dessert, souvenirs, screen time, etc. must be made together, out of earshot, so that the kids don’t start competing like siblings.
8) A well-timed ice cream cone can solve almost anything.
9) Put down the camera and live in the moment every once in awhile. Being present with your kid and sharing the experience is more important than sharing the perfect photo with people who aren’t even there. I quickly found that my ability to snapchat and Instagram and make sure Mazzy was happy while also enjoying myself just couldn’t happen all at once.
10) Even better, give your kid a camera. Seri let Gavin use her real camera while she took mostly iPhone shots. He let Mazzy use it a bit too and I realized I need to buy her a cheap camera for our next trip. If you want your kids to understand why you take so many photos, nothing helps more than letting them experience travel with a camera in tow too.
11) We have a rule that our kids can only get one souvenir per trip. This way, when they inevitably ask to buy something, I can say— “you can have it, but then that’s it for the trip.” Usually, my kids end up waiting to buy something on the last day.
12) Have alternative plans if the weather craps out. We were on our way to the Luxembourg Gardens when it started raining and told the taxi driver to detour to the Musee D’Orsay instead.
If it’s hot, keep bathing suits in your bag in case you bump into a splash pad for the kids. We were on the lookout for a splash pad the whole time but unfortunately, only found one when it was too late. Oh how I wish I knew that everyone swam in the Trocadero fountains before seeing it with my own eyes on the last day from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
13) Remember that quality time spent together is more important than the sites and activities. When we got to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, it was crazy hot and hard to stand on the balcony in the sun for more than a few minutes at a time. The wait to get up to the top was 40 minutes and although Seri and I really wanted to go, we knew the kids wouldn’t fare well on that line. We decided to get them ice cream and make our decision, while the kids took cover under a staircase.
They were so content and happy in the shade, looking at Gavin’s pictures and talking about god knows what, that when we finally got the ice cream (the line was really long), we decided to join them under the stairs. We spent a good 45 minutes sitting under that staircase, laughing, snacking and telling stories.
No, it was not what we were there to do and spending time there meant we forfeit our opportunity to go to the top, but it didn’t matter. I’ll remember that time spent under the staircase, when we weren’t dragging the kids to the next thing or making them pose for a picture as one of my favorite moments of the trip.
14) Have a bribe/reward in place. The best thing we did was buy the kids fidget spinners in return for good behavior and participation in our photos. It was also something really simple to take away if they were misbehaving.
15) If you take your kid on a one-on-one trip, it’s wonderful quality time spent together but missing the other parent or sibling is a real possibility. There was one moment, right before we went up on the Eiffel Tower, that Mazzy all of a sudden looked crushed. My first instinct was to be like— are you kidding, Mazzy? We are having the trip of a lifetime! You’ve been wanting to do this forever! Why be upset about something NOW??? But instead of getting annoyed or writing her off as ungrateful, I suddenly knew what was wrong.
I hugged her close. “Do you miss Harlow?” She nodded solemnly. “Me too,” I told her. Then I called Harlow on FaceTime so Mazzy could tell her where she was.
“I’m going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Harlow!!!!!!!” The excitement returned. Mazzy just wanted to share her amazing experience with her sister.
16) If you really need a break from the kids, you can use the concierge to arrange a sitter at night. Not only do you get to go out and eat at a place totally unsuitable for kids, I bet the babysitter has a lot better luck getting your kids settled and asleep than you would.
Have any other advice for traveling with kids? Leave them in the comments below!
Looks like an amazing trip! I can’t wait to take our girls to Paris. Our six year old often asks to go. We’ve traveled a lot with our four girls (2-9 years old), and I agree with all of this! Great post!
Love this! Looks like a great “normal” trip with kids. So tired of the “everything is so perfect” bloggers unrealistic world!
I need more details about this babysitter you used? Was it a service provided through the hotel?
We arranged through the concierge at the hotel, which is something I often do while on vacation. Most hotels with a concierge will provide that service. Usually the hotel has sitters that they have background checked and used frequently and we’ve never had an issue.
Great article, although we’re in UK and don’t have to worry about Jetlag we’re over in Paris for almost two weeks in the summer! Definitely giving our 8 year old a camera and taking his swim shorts out Day to day!
Glad you had an amazing time.
The sister comment made me cry, honestly. What a great post!
Not on your itinerary, but when our 3 yr old died of boredom at a chateau, we detoured to Disneyland Paris for a couple days. I linked it here. France should be magical and fun for everyone and I completely endorse your decision to make the best of the time spent together!
Awesome post! We’re taking our almost 2 year old to Italy in August and as over the moon as I am, I’m also a bit nervous admittedly. I would like to know more about the sitter you arranged. How did it work out? Did you have any trust issues? Were you worried at all while you were out? Thanks!
We usually arrange at least one night with a sitter through the hotel while we are on vacation. Obviously if the person showed up and we felt uneasy about her, we wouldn’t leave but that’s never been an issue. We go out at bedtime so the kids know they are not missing out on anything. We get them ready for bed and then the sitter just has to make sure they go to sleep and sit there while they are sleeping. She texted us when they fell asleep so that we knew all was well.
Awesome post ! Love all the picture … Can’t wait to hear more about everything you guys did. Will their be a post on what Harlow did back home?
Oy… this is why I love you! While your travels the last few years are far more exotic than my family’s will be for a while, it is so refreshing that you continue to share the real-as-shit parenting side of things. Your pictures are gorgeous, thank you for sharing these memories with all of us.
We take out mini kicks with us, even when we travel overseas. My kids are the same age as yours and I travel alone with them often, it’s the best way to get around. I’m a really light packer and dragging scooters and helmets around might seem excessive, but I’ve never regretted it. We went to Iceland and Scotland last summer and scooted everywhere.
#15 is so sweet.
This is great. I’m still so jealous of your trip, but thanks for giving us the behind the scenes. Also, baguette fight made me laugh out loud.
Giving the kids each a camera was the best thing we did on our trip. They LOVED taking pictures, and it gave us extra time to explore museums that they might have grown bored with had the y not had the cameras to keep them entertained. And the best part was printing our album of the vacation and being able to show our 7 yr old, look, these were the pics you took! He was so proud and excited. And truth be told, he took some great pictures! And bonus, mom was actually in a few!
When traveling with siblings later, we found it super helpful to give each person their “day” and plan it around what they like. Granted, ours was in Disney, but it really helped to be able to say “This is big sister’s day so she gets to make the final decisions” or “Big sister gets veto power because it’s her day.” We did princesses for the younger one, all family activities for mommy’s day, Star Wars for daddy and Harry Potter for my 6 year old. It cut the sibling bickering by a lot and they got very into giving each other (and us) our special day.
This is a great idea!
YESSSSSSSSS! To all of the above – especially the last point. 🙂
All great advice! We took our 5 year old to Paris over spring break, trip of a lifetime but definitely different (in good ways and not so good) than an adult only trip. Love the baguette fight and ice cream! My kid ate her weight in macarons, our bribe.
I took my 7-year daughter to London over spring break and our trip went exactly the same way. She was thrilled to explore the parks and the fun touristy things like the London Eye but there were times when we’d be in the middle of some amazing place and she’d turn to me and say “How come I had to go to London and Jason (her friend) got to stay home?” I wanted to kill her but then I realized she just missed her friends. But after we got back, she wouldn’t stop talking about our trip. Her school had PJ day and she wore her eye mask from the plane and I heard her telling her friends how she got to sleep on the plane and how cool it was blah blah and I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s definitely not the trip I would have enjoyed most but I think its so important for kids to not have every vacation be Disney or a theme park. Can’t wait to see where you go next…
That roller coaster at the Jardin d’Acclimataton was my favorite moment of my trip to Paris with my 4.5 year old last August. The pure joy on his face as we rode that over and over is a memory I’ll never forget. I’m so glad I made time in my itinerary for that amusement park! We spent a full week in Paris and I have a great, detailed itinerary that was child-activity focused (not a single museum on the list) as I’d already been to Paris twice to see all the museums, paintings, cathedrals. We park-hopped and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. We rented an apartment and I got a sitter one night for a nice dinner out. Getting a sitter, who happened to be a nanny for a women that went to my high school who someone on facebook connected me to, was one of the best decisions I made on that trip.
Paris is my absolute favorite place and I have loved seeing your instagram stories this week. I can’t wait to read more about your trip. My son is 3 so we need to wait a little longer so he will remember it, but you have made me so excited to share Paris with him one day.
Hi, l love the travel blogs! You inspired me to book a trip to Copenhagen with my 4 year old.
One thing I have a hard time trying is the babysitters you get from the hotel. Can you talk about the experiences Mazzy and Harlow had with the babysitters? Like what did they do with them? How quickly did they get comfortable? Any tips?
I just love this and am so grateful for your refreshing honesty!!
I love #6 – works with toddlers too. We had to do some family portraits for my sister’s wedding but in the hot sun in the woods (I was dreading it!). However, I prefaced it to my daughters as THEIR photoshoot so that they would be excited and not give me grumpy faces when it mattered.
I just posted my 5 tips for traveling with 2 and 3yr olds on my blog a few days ago!