Greg & I are constantly researching for my blog and we found some great insights on family vacations from our good friend, Laura. Laura (& her incredibly smart and talented family) have gone on some amazing vacations. Everything from Hawaii and Costa Rica to basically “backpacking” across Europe..yes, with her kids! What has she found out? What tips can she share with us?
Hi Laura. Thanks for blogging with us!
Thanks for including me!
What motivated you to start blogging about your vacations?
Angela did! I didn’t know anything about blogging when I started a few years ago, but since I’m a teacher, a writer and a mom, Angela pointed out that I sort of had the perfect storm brewing for blogging our adventures. It is a bit of a juggling act to be able to blog from around the globe while traveling with kids- but so worth it in the end!
What was the most inspiring place you visited?
I’m most inspired by the places we never planned to be memorable. One of my favorite memories is driving through Alps in Austria and rounding a bend to find a helicopter hovering above the road as men below chained crates of fresh food and kegs beneath it. The helicopter was transporting provisions to a high-altitude mountaintop beer garden that was only accessible by hiking on an advanced trail. We stood there, mesmerized, while we wondered about the people who live and work there. We questioned whether the hikers who stop in ever consider how the beer and fresh food got to the top of the mountain they just climbed. The kids had so many great questions that we couldn’t answer or look up in a book, but it still felt educational because it added to our broader sense of the world.
What was the most exhausting?
There’s good exhausting and bad exhausting. Sometimes the most exhausting trips are the best. My family likes trips that keep us busy, and in Costa Rica I think we did every activity possible. We were so busy hiking, surfing, snorkeling, zip-lining and boogie-boarding ourselves silly that half the time we ended up eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner and going to bed early. That’s good exhausting. As for bad exhausting, I hate pretty much any day we spend physically traveling. Whether it is by plane, train, ferry or car, I just want to get there already! I need to learn to “enjoy the ride” more.
What mistakes have you made?
On our 2nd European trip I got cocky and had some tense moments where I wasn’t sure we were going to have a safe place to sleep at night. I value spontaneity in our travels, but I also consider myself a safety-conscious parent. For the most part, I try to make sure that we know which way we’re headed and secure a room at least a day in advance. I look for generous cancellation policies, so if we want to change our plan and jump on a train in a different direction at the last minute we can.
What are some good tips for traveling with kids to make them educational and memorable?
1) Don’t focus too much on what you expect the kids to learn on the trip. Traveling is inherently educational; just being exposed to a different location or culture gives you an awareness that you didn’t have before, so you can relax and trust that they are learning plenty, even before you step foot in a museum.
2) Value quality over quantity and don’t be afraid of the speed-tour. Your kids are much more likely to learn from their travels if everyone is happy, and let’s face it, spending 4 hours touring the Louvre is not enjoyable for the average 6 year old, or you when he starts climbing the statues. It’s OK to head directly to the Mona Lisa because 6 year olds can appreciate it as an important reason for the visit. Grab a map, circle the top 3-5 things you want to see, then hand it to the kids and have them navigate the way, which leaves your eyes free to take in other works along the way.
3) Down time is still important for kids on vacation, but it doesn’t have to be spent napping in a hotel room. My son’s fondest memories always include the local sweets (Belgian waffles, crepes, gelato and chocolates come to mind). We’ve found that having our dessert in the middle of the day is a good way to rejuvenate the tired and cranky traveler. And that goes for you too, moms and dads… never underestimate the power of good gelato.
How much research went into your trips to Europe? How did you do your research?
Not much, because the first time we decided to go only about two weeks before we left. My husband and I had backpacked through Europe together years ago, before the age of Internet, and way before kids, so it really gave us the confidence to know we could do it. We’re great travel partners, and I think that’s really important if you want to be a traveling family. We picked a travel guide we liked, in our case the Rick Steve’s Best of Europe book. We used it loosely to get ideas for locations and activities. The places that we knew for sure we wanted to go, I reserved hotels in advance. I was bringing along the laptop to blog, so once we knew where we were headed, we’d seek out places that had Wi-Fi and used travel sites like Trip Advisor to find rooms along the way.
From time to time, Laura will be contributing to Angela’s Clues to bring parents another unique & valued perspective. Thank you Laura!