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!