10 Tips Learned from Traveling Europe with Small Children

Our family getting to ready to celebrate Oktoberfest

After living in Europe in the age before we had children, and now with children, my husband and I have experienced two very different dynamics of traveling around Europe. Long gone are the romantic getaways to the Tuscan villas and lingering, carefree dinners savoring local wine and scrumptious cuisine for the entire evening. We’ve traded in our honeymoon type agenda for baby carriers, diapers, and pacifiers.

Of course, you can still have those trips to the five star Michelin rated castle for dinner and bring your little one along, but instead of looking at each other with starry eyes, you'll be trying to convince your little tot that the blackboard with the daily menu is not for his next art project, and not all places have crayons and coloring paper to occupy busy hands.

It is forever etched in my memory the horrific experience of fine dining with two little ones in a nice restaurant. We had just moved to Germany and were house hunting and heard good reviews of this authentic German restaurant nearby. I didn’t realize it was such a fancy place and should have trusted my gut instinct to walk out upon first eyeing the table setting which screamed fancy-multiple-course-meal and a whole night affair...but I didn’t. I also should have been a little more in-tune to my oldest daughter’s behavior (who was one at the time)...but I wasn’t. Every trick in the book failed to calm her, and I thought she was acting out due to jetlag and a long day house hunting. I happily gave her over to Dad as our two-month old woke from a nap and needed to be feed. Dad finally got her to lie down on the bench after she tried to pull literally everything off the table: forks, knives, candle, wineglasses, all the while throwing a major temper tantrum. Well, if every other diner didn’t know who we were by that point, they sure did a few moments later, when she started sobbing hysterically, “Ahhhh, I have to spit-up!!!” and… well…she sure did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of spit-up that she was accustomed to her little sister spouting out, but full blown, child who eats everything “spit-up." It seemed like a hose had sprayed the entire restaurant. Okay, not really, but it sure felt like that. I was completely covered in “spit-up” along with the nursing infant, Dad, the entire table, cushions, bench, just about everything in arms reach. A disaster to say the least, and to top it off, we had to walk through the entire place to get to the W.C. (Water Closet) to clean up, leaving a trail behind us as we went. I wanted to hide in there and not come out, but I knew I had a screaming, hungry baby to tend to on the other side of those walls. So, we managed to get “cleaned” up and walk back to our table rather uneventfully.

Well, on the bright side, our food hadn’t arrived yet, so it was still salvageable by being packed into aluminum foil. After as many ways as we could think of “I’m so sorry” in German to utter to the owner, I took the girls and fled to the car as my hubby helped repair as much of the damage as he could. He eventually came out with our “take-out” and some roses from the owner for me because the owner thought I needed them. Boy was he right!!  It turned out to be the stomach bug which Mom and Dad eventually caught, too. I can honestly say living in a hotel room with an entire family sick with a tummy bug is NO FUN!! But we survived to tell the tale and add to the chronicles of traveling with little ones.

So with lots of other stories and experiences chronicled, I have learned a few lessons about traveling with small children around Europe…

Taking a break to get Eis in Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

1.     Slooooow down-I mean slow way down. Frantic, busy agendas are a recipe for disaster with little ones. There is no prize for seeing the most sights and posting the most pictures of famous landmarks. Nevertheless, you are making memories and the day is going to be chock full of extra stimulation for you and your little ones anyways. Why set out with unreasonable expectations that will be disappointing for everyone from the get go? Really. We feel accomplished if we can do and/or see two things in a day. I’d rather enjoy the things I do than have two hungry, whiny, grumpy, fit-throwing toddlers in tow and see a whole gamut of sights I won’t remember because I was tending to my worn-out children.

2.     Book an Apartment-Opt for a larger space with little ones. Sure, hotels have great locations and breakfast, but sometimes the ability to be in a separate room (and not the bathroom) can make all the difference on the trip.  Most apartments have fully equipped kitchens, and those, too, can be a lifesaver after an exhausting day. Instead of your little one sitting in strapped-down-yet-again-for-an-hour-while-waiting-for-food, they can play and only have to sit while eating. Yes, please! Happy kids make this momma happy while traveling!! Or better yet, put the kids down and enjoy dinner AND conversation with the hubby in a cool place!

Experincing a considerable amount of Holland in a single place at the Openluchtmuseum in Arnhem, Holland

3.     Visit Open Air Museums- hink a park with antique houses, nature, and living history. It’s a perfect combination for families, and built with children in mind. There is a rich history of the culture, hands-on activities, and interactive presentations. Most open-air museums’ exhibits are closed during the winter, but are wildly popular with European tourist and locals alike in the other seasons. I enjoy the visual history lessons of the lives of the ordinary people way back when, and my girls seem to like the freedom of running around and seeing all the animals and actually being able to touch almost everything. It astounds me what they pick up on running by an exhibition, thinking they aren’t really paying attention, to later find out they really did understand how the windmill works. Another plus for these fabulous museums are the dining options. There is almost always a place that accommodates families with young children, and by that I mean, they have a place for the kids to play while waiting on the food, and the workers are used to small children running around-win for our family!! 

4.     Eat Italian-Authentic Italian Ristorante tend to be more family friendly and laid back when dealing with small children. They are Italian after all!! After a long day’s adventure with tired and hungry children in the group, finding a good restaurant can seem like quite a daunting task. Trying to find the perfect mixture of food, atmosphere, and service is no easy feat in a place you aren’t familiar with, so on days like this, we always prefer Italian. Who doesn’t love the authentic brick-oven baked pizza made by real Italian hands?? Plus, the espresso might just be the perfect pick-me-up after some trips!

Not letting the rain stop birthday girl and Grandmother from visiting Neuschwanstien Castle in Germany

5.     Children Choose-Kids always take a little more ownership of something when they have input, and traveling is no different. It may sound a little odd, but go ahead and give them some choices of things to do and see what they prefer. Your children will amaze you with how much they gain from the experience to which they contributed. At my mother-in-law's urging, we let my two year old decide what she and grandmother would do to celebrate her birthday when Grandmother came for a visit. Out of thin air, my two year old choose to visit a castle with Grandmother wearing pink dresses. So, of course, that is exactly what we did, and the entire day was full of wonder and awe for my daughter since the whole idea was hers.

6.     Think Outside the Cities-This one was a tough one for us to finally come to terms with. I mean, all the famous, notable sights (think Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Coliseum) seem to found in big cities, right? But after multiple disappointing and stressful episodes in big city sightseeing, it became clear our kids just weren’t into those sights. After all, how many times can you muster up some really intriguing tale about REALLY old buildings and streets to a three-year old? Taking some roads less travelled outside of the big cities definitely has its perks with the little guys...and your sanity. For example, Versailles has fascnating gardens which are a welcome relief from the busy-ness of the subways, strollers, and strict handholding of Paris. Every major city has a great place just outside that is a haven for young ones (and parents, too) with abundant space to run, climb, and be a kid.

Taking time to enjoy life like a local and visit a park in the heart of Metz, France

7.     Picnics and Parks-When visiting cities, parks seem to be a saving grace. My children seem to spot rows of green trees and grassy lawns a mile away and relentlessly beg to do nothing but go there. These are a great way to break up the day and renew energy for everyone (or burn stored energy-whichever the case may be). We especially like to grab a snack or pick something up at a local produce store or bakery and take it with us to the park. It takes care of a meal and avoids the sitting and waiting at restaurants, which I despise after travelling all day with my two. Sometimes I feel as though our city tours are really just a tour through all the great gardens and parks the city has to offer, but that's just fine. Besides, these are the places that the locals prefer anyway, and visiting them allows you to experience the culture more than if you simply stick to the big sites.

8.     Sneak Peek-Introduce your kids to where you are vacationing to ahead of time. Pre-exposing them to what they will encounter while travelling gives them a little bit of a framework to file away the small pieces of knowledge they gain while visiting sites. Children’s Literature, stories, pictures, and YouTube are great resources to gain those necessary tools to give kids a little glimpse into their future adventure. The acclaimed children's author Miroslav Sasek has a great series for visiting famous cities, This is..... For more about his books, visit here.

We are enjoying the hiking trails Germany has to offer at the Zugspitze and in the Black Forest

9.     Venture Out into Nature-Choose somewhere outdoors with little or no agenda but to just enjoy Nature and your traveling companions. Europe is a lot more bicycle and pedestrian friendly than what we are familiar with in the U.S., so take advantage of this and get out and go. Winter ski runs become hiking or biking trails in the summer months, so even if you aren’t an avid outdoors person, you can take the lifts up and walk down and enjoy fabulous scenery with little effort. Taking my girls into nature is an eye-opening experience for me, as they seem to notice (and ask questions about) everything. They have keen observation skills for spotting ladybugs and locating bird’s nest. I never knew so many ladybugs and bird’s nests existed in such close proximity.

10.  Relax and Enjoy-This is much easier said than done when traveling with small children. We have adopted the mind set of we’re coming back to minimize the craziness of trying to do it all. We know more than likely we probably won’t ever be back to most places we travel, but it mentally makes less of a rush and gives us a more relaxed state of mind. After all, this is a vacation!!

Do you have more tips?? Or better yet, good stories while traveling with little ones across Europe? We love to hear from you! Email your stories and tips to me at Sarah@CampMakery.com or share them on our Facebook Page :)