This is my first piece that I wrote when I started travel writing. I decided to reach back in the past and write about the first time my kids traveled abroad with me.
How do you determine if your children are ready to travel abroad?
The first thing I did was evaluate my children’s personalities: Are they shy around strangers? How is their attention span? Are they usually moody? Do they consistently cooperate with you in your daily life? How do they react when they are in unfamiliar surroundings? Be honest with yourself on these points, as you would like the best experience possible for all.
Aaron and Kate’s first trip ever was two years prior, when I took them to Disneyworld, arguably the best first time trip for kids. The following year, we took a trip to California. In those first trips together, I silently evaluated how my children took to another environment different from their own. I don’t want to sound like a bragging Mom (well maybe a little) but my children adjusted quickly to the routine of airport security, flying, hotel rooms and sightseeing. I waited until my children were ten and eight respectively, when I determined they could enjoy the experience of traveling abroad for the first time.
I chose a week in Paris, France as my first adventure with my children abroad. I had visited Paris in the spring of 2000, so I was familiar with the city. In the months before our trip, I did a ton of research on Paris and the French culture.
Whenever possible, it is best to purchase tickets beforehand to save money and time in lines. I had used the web to purchase tickets for the Metro and the Louvre for the family before we left.
I suggest a handy guide to help research your chosen destination for kid friendly activities and places. I had purchased a book called Paris with Kids by Valerie Gwinner. This guide gave me numerous suggestions on how to keep the children occupied and happy. The book breaks down each of the 20 arrondissements in the city and lists child friendly activities in each district in the city.
For my children, the coolest thing for them was eating at a Paris McDonalds. They were fascinated their beloved fast food chain was in another country. A local restaurant we discovered was Hippopotamus Restaurant and Grill. This restaurant served kid friendly meals such as chicken skewers, fish sticks, burgers and fries, plus many delicious desserts such as chocolate mousse. Each table had crayons and placemats for coloring to keep young minds occupied.
The most important thing for a successful trip abroad with young children: have a loose itinerary. If your schedule is too jam-packed with activities, your children may be overwhelmed. You also may not want your kids to feel like they are still in school (my goal was to introduce my children to a new culture, so it was educational). Also, every parent knows that occasionally a calamity may happen with our kids and we may have to refer to plan B if circumstances dictate.
With your resources, find ways to engage the interest of your kids. Of course, we went to The Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, and Arc de Triomphe. I had many other ideas for fun activities from Paris with Kids. There was a suggestion for a game on the north tower of Notre Dame Cathedral: a gargoyle hunt. I handed my son our camera and send him on a hunt and take pictures of all the gargoyles he could find. We also did a canal cruise along the Seine during sunset, with breath-taking views of the Eiffel Tower.
Another day we visited the Louvre. An art museum can be tricky for some children to hold their interest. Fortunately for me, my children were like little sponges and absorbed everything that surrounded them. I have many photos taken at the Louvre by the children as a sort of treasure hunt. It was unbelievable to me that my preteen children were so absorbed in priceless works of art. My children saw the Mona Lisa up close (albeit behind glass).
We also visited the Rodin museum, where my children could explore freely in the beautiful gardens enclosed by some of Rodin’s most famous sculptures. We saw precious works of art such as The Gates of Hell, The Kiss, and The Thinker.
Many other suggestions from my guide included places I was not even aware of in the city of Paris. These include:
Luxembourg Gardens. I was not aware of this beautiful garden my first time in Paris. The central fountain is a great place to sit and relax on the many park benches. It is a great spot for your children to get out their extra energy by running around. If you have a sunny day during your trip, this is the place to go feel like a real Parisian, where you can sit and soak up the atmosphere and pretend that life has slowed down, for a little while at least.
The Catacombs. There are approximately six million skeletons in the abandoned quarry tunnels underneath the city. If you or your child is sensitive to dampness or tends to be claustrophobic, it might be wise to skip this activity. I discussed the history of the Catacombs with the kids and made them aware there were real skeletons there. I also explained that although it may be creepy and scary, it is also a historical site. I assured my kids that nothing there below ground could hurt them. We agreed to go, and as you can see by the picture below, they were a little uneasy being there, but otherwise had a great time.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery. We spent a few hours wandering around this massive cemetery. We visited the graves of Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Honore de Balzac, Marcel Proust and Isadora Duncan. There are many other past contributors to the arts in the over 70,000 tombs in this cemetery.
If you would like to have a memorable trip abroad with your age ten and under kids, do your research to keep their interests growing minds blossoming. It is now thirteen years later, my children, now in their early twenties, still remember our trip to Paris as one of the best and most memorable in their lives.