Ten Things about Traveling Internationally with Kids
It's been nearly a year since we took our first trip internationally with our kids and the memories are fodder for many a dinner time conversation right now. These days of winter slowly melting into spring often have us asking why aren't we in Portugal right now?
I thought it would be fun to reminisce and share some things that we learned from our trip to Portugal, Paris and London. And really, these are true whether you're going across the pond or a road trip to the mountains.
The most memorable experiences can come from unexpected places. We had a travel delay in London on our way to Lisbon. It was incredibly stressful and I would love to never again have to spend hours in the Gatwick airport trying to sort things out and keep jet-lagged, hungry children from completely falling apart. But we had the most wonderful experience at a guest house , and a lovely dinner in a charming pub which amongst ourselves we called The Drovers' Arms (IFYKYK). England in early April is magical and it was the perfect antidote to the stress of the airport. We wandered amongst ancient gravestones, marvelled at the stone work of the church and imagined the life of all the houses that we passed by on our walk to the pub. We stayed at the Trumbles' again before we flew home and it was a lovely way to come full circle after our European adventure.
Eat simply. We hardly ate out, sticking more to the grocery stores and filling our carts with what it looked like others around us were buying, minus the octopus. We had a lot of picnics while traipsing around Lisbon, Paris and London. Simple fare but made exciting because the offerings were different from what was at home. Portugual's cheese, meat and olives made us all very happy and we found plenty of gf options for my celiac husband. Our beach picnic across the river from Lisbon, our picnic in a secluded little park tucked away from Shakespeare and Co in Paris and our last day picnic in Kensington Gardens are some of my favourite food memories.
Book passes/tickets ahead of time. I really can't underestimate this one. We skipped a lot of the really long lines with tickets bought ahead of time for the Effiel Tower, the Louvre, and the Musee D'Orsay. We also bought the Paris city pass which also included a Big Bus tour which we rode twice to get around and to rest weary feet. Our kids loved it and they learned a lot from the audio companion. This also helped reduce decision fatigue because we had decided six months earlier what we were going to do and what we were going to skip. It also helped with the travel budget since we had purchased the tickets months ahead of time.
Aim for individual experiences and adventures. Traveling with five people can mean five different opinions and desires to do different things. For each location, everyone had their wish list of experience, food, and place to see. This narrowed the choice down and made our trip very unique to the five of us. This looked like climbing the Effiel Tower, eating macaroons, and having croissants and espresso for a breakfast. Seeing Platform 9 3/4 in London. Eating peri-peri chicken in Lisbon. Collecting sea glass on the banks of the Tagus River. Drawing at Notre Dame.
Be aware of local customs and holidays. We landed in Gatwick at the start of the British spring break which added to the chaos of trying to make connections and get flight information. Our first day in Lisbon was Mother's Day. We stumbled upon a fantastic band playing in the street and flowers were given out to all the mothers in the crowd. Portugal is historically a Catholic country so Easter and Holy Week were very celebrated which was a really neat experience.
Keep some kind of normal routine and make a new routine for traveling. Because we were in the Algarve for 4 weeks, working and doing school, routines were key to making the most of our time there. We went for a family beach walk to a cafe nearly every morning, the kids and I settled into school for a couple hours and then went to the beach. We had our read aloud time nearly every afternoon with a new treat from the grocery store, some become favourites, some we never bought again. I will never think of Five Children and It without remembering pastes de nata and sun-kissed children.
Choose a snack and stock up. In Portugal we ate pasties de nata and orange, in Paris it was crepes from street vendors and London those of us who could ate our fill of little pasties, conveniently located in most underground stations. This helped with long days of exploring and made it fun to try and experience something unique to each country.
Balance stretching experiences with familiar ones. We tried to find green space or playgrounds especially for our youngest on city days, an half hour of playing made a big difference after hours of touring cathedrals and city streets. In Lisbon, we alternated a city day with a beach day. The beach days were so refreshing for all of us and a highlight of our week there.
Things will go wrong. Jackets left on planes, playgrounds closed, boat tours cancelled, stomach flu ripping through almost the whole family. We have a motto that states 'the first time is always a bust'. Travel can be exhausting and exhilarating, often in the same day. It's fantastic but not every moment is magical, just like at home in our everyday life.
Pack a small game. We played countless games of 'sevens' in airports and trains, it helped to pass the time and to distract from hours of waiting or screen time requests. The children also read on the kindle app and listened to audiobooks or played math games on screens.
It's always worth it. We've been home for a year now. Those 6 weeks were incredible, we talk about the experiences all the time. We've added a lot to our inside jokes and memory banks. The children see the world differently, and we talk all the time about our next adventure. Travel adventures aren't for everyone but it's important to our family so we'll make it happen whether it's exploring the ancient cobblestones of Paris or chasing the sunset in the Algarve or a micro adventure to our own local river valley.