A family affair
Traveling with children: Taking the kids to Europe
Yes, you can take the kids! Trips to Europe can often have a much more profound impact on the children than the adults, opening their young eyes and minds to the diversity of the world's cultures and peoples. I mean, look at me: my parents took me to live in Europe when I was 11, and now I make my living by traveling around the world.
Europeans expect to see families together, because it's how they travel. You're likely to encounter entire clans, from grandmothers to babes in arms, caravaning around. In the Mediterranean countries especially, locals tend to love kids. You'll often find that a child guarantees you an even warmer reception from hotels and restaurants than you'd normally receive.
Most Europeans will coo over an infant or toddler, and an adolescent or teenager struggling to order her meal in the local lingo will receive loads of encouragement and attention. (Honest. This is embarrassing, but, as a 12-year-old living in Italy, I was often responsible for getting my family extra attention at restaurants, whether it was the owner deciding to oversee our meal personally or a free round of grappa at the end of the meal; they just thought it was so darn cute that this little American kid could speak some rudimentary Italian. It's a wonder I haven't needed therapy.) Ask waiters for a half-portion to fit junior's appetite. If you absolutely feel the need for a romantic dinner alone one night, your hotel can undoubtedly rustle up a baby-sitter for you.
Be prepared to take things a bit more slowly. Don't go into full-bore sightseeing mode. In between heavy-duty cultural sights, do some stuff just for fun—which is actually good advice for any traveler, regardless of whether he or she has kids in tow.
As an added plus, traveling with a pint-sized person usually entails pint-sized rates. An extra cot in the room ranges from free to, at most, 30 percent tacked onto the room rate. Most museums and sights offer reduced-price or free admission for children under a certain age (which might range anywhere from six to 18, but usually the latter). Plus, kids also almost always get discounts on train tickets (usually up to age 12).
Resources for traveling with the family
Family Travel Network (www.familytravelnetwork.com)
Family Travel Forum (www.familytravelforum.com)
Family Vacation Critic (www.familyvacationcritic.com)
Single Parent Travel (www.singleparenttravel.net)
VacationKids (www.vacationkids.com) - As a travel agency,
deals almost exclusively with Mexico and the Caribbean, but it also
has a "Travel School" section loaded with scads of general
tips for families that apply for travel anywhere.
Tours aimed at family travel
InfoHub.com (www.infohub.com) - Hundreds of family tours and travel opportunities from dozens of different operators.
Smithsonian Journeys (smithsonianjourneys.org) - The Smithsonian run highly regarded, rather expensive educational and adventure trips specifically designed for the whole clan.
Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/outings) - Yes, the premier outdoors network of the USA also plans lots of family-friendly trips abroad, including ones in Europe.
Rascals in Paradise (www.rascalsinparadise.com) - One- and two-week trips in such popular places as Italy, France, Scotland, Ireland, and Finland.
Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) - One of my favorite tour companies offers several family itineraries. They make a concerted effort to travel like real independent travelers—small groups (max of 12 people), staying in mom-and-pop accommodations and getting around by public transport (trains, local buses, bikes, feet) rather than a big tour bus. Aimed at a slightly more adventurous, slightly younger crowd than Rick Steves (below), and even closer to true, independent travel.
G Adventures (www.gadventures.com) - Similar to Intrepid, but based in Canada. G Adventures offers a variety of adventure trips, including many hiking, trekking, and multi-sport active vacations—and many Family Adventures as well.
Journeys International (www.journeysforfamilies.com) - Trips
and tours, designed for families and timed around school vacations,
in more than 60 countries.
Thomson Family Adventures (www.familyadventures.com) - Adventurous family trips to mostly exotic locales—Alaska, Baja, Belize, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Galapagos, Morocco, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey.
Grandtravel (www.grandtravel.com) - Tours designed to bring multiple generations of the family together, aimed specifically at grandparents and grand kids traveling together (though the parental generation in between—as well as aunts, uncles, etc.—is welcome as well). I love how the websites, in the "For Grandparents" section, explains such things as texting and Twitter to prepare the older generation to interact with their grand kids. A couple of summer Italy trips on tap.
Books on family travel
Take Your Kids to Europe, How to Travel Safely (and Sanely) in Europe With your Children by Cynthia Harriman (2003)
Lonely Planet's Travel with Children by Cathy Lanigan (2002)
Adventuring With Children by Nan Jeffrey (1996)
Travel Wise with Children: 101 Educational Travel Tips for Families by Mary Rodgers Bundren (2004)
Fodor's FYI: Travel with Your Baby: Experts Share Their Secrets Ed. by Fodor's (2001)
Travelers' Tales Family Travel: The Farther You Go, the Closer You Get Ed. by Laura Manske (1999)
Gutsy Mamas: Travel Tips and Wisdom for Mothers on the Road by Marybeth Bond (1997)
Safe and Sound: Healthy Travel with Children by Marlene Coleman (2003)
Cadogan's Take the Kids: England by Joseph Fullman (2004)
Cadogan's Take the Kids London by Joseph Fullman (2002)
Fodor's Around London with Kids by Jacqueline Brown (2006)
Dorling Kindersley's Kid's London by Simon Adams (2000)
Let's Take the Kids to London by David S White (2001)
London for Families by Larry & Michael Laine (2004)
Cadogan's Take the Kids Ireland by Amy Corzine (2006)
Ireland for Kids by Derek MacKenzie-Hook (2001)
Cadogan's Take the Kids Paris & Disneyland Paris by Helen Truszkowski (2006)
Cadogan's Take the Kids: South of France by Rosie Whitehouse (2003)
Fodor's Around Paris with Kids by Emily Emerson (2003)