My husband and I have traveled quite a bit with our children since they were born. Planes, subways, and automobiles—we have done it all. I always tell my children that they traveled even while in my belly. My son traveled to Tennessee in such a warm and cozy fashion, and my daughter enjoyed her first travels in the same method to the Grand Canyon. Once they were born, a passport wasn’t too far off. But Europe? My husband pleaded with me for years before I decided that, yes, it was time.
So call us crazy, but we took our two kiddos on my first trip to Europe this summer. Thankfully, we are beyond diapers, strollers, and those extras that fill up two luggage carts at the airport, but traveling as a family was not quite what I envisioned when I dreamed of travels to Europe in my twenties. Back then, I envisioned a little backpacking and a lot of wine, pubs, and coffee houses. I dreamed of great adventures, cultural epiphanies, and perhaps, a little romance. But as that version never materialized, I decided it was time to take the plunge and do the adapted family version of that trip.
As we began to plan, I wondered what this vacation would bring. My kiddos are 7 and 13—and not exactly up for hours of exploring cultural sites and perusing museums that I would have loved to stroll through. Pubs and coffeehouses? Not likely when hanging out the kids. I wondered if my great adventures would consist of trying to find food that my kids would eat. I figured I would be guzzling a glass of wine at dinner as my kids whined about being tired. Romance? My kids tend to laugh and groan at our kisses, and hand-holding is usually reserved for my seven-year-old. Backpacking? Well, I was sure that in this adapted version of my European vacation backpacking would consist of me carrying a backpack with antibacterial wipes, water bottles for all, kid-friendly snacks, and whatever else the kids desperately wanted but couldn’t possibly carry themselves.
So, how did we do? Surprisingly, we not only survived, but we enjoyed our travels! Spain brought the amazing city of Madrid, amazing coasts, Flamenco dancing, and so much more. It also brought getting lost for hours, sunburn, throwing up in the rental, and many changes of plans along the way. Adventures? Definitely! We were like the Griswolds at times. Hey, those roundabouts are no joke!! How do you lock/unlock the bathroom door? How can you feed picky children when there isn’t even a menu? Trying to find exact change in a currency you don’t even know when your seven-year-old needs to go NOW and the bathroom attendant doesn’t care? That’s the definition of adventure. My children ate (some) paella, tapas, and so much jamon…along with pastries for breakfast (churros and chocolate to dip) and McDonald’s (twice). My 13-year-old loved the mall in Fuengirola, but both kids also loved the cathedral in Granada. Really!
London was wonderful…and hot! We went during a record heat wave, but being from Texas, we survived. We enjoyed our tour on the famed double-decker bus. While the boys went to check out the torture chambers in the Tower of London, my daughter and I opted for ice cream and air conditioned shopping. While we did make it to Westminster Abbey, my daughter tired soon thereafter, so we rested and enjoyed a proper scone and cup of coffee (no tea, please!) in the ancient eatery. My husband and I enjoyed the Swedish bells tolling from the Swedish embassy in the West End, while my kids enjoyed the antics of a street performer. The M&M store was a hit with my daughter, but we all enjoyed trying to recreate the walk across Abbey Road that the Beatles made famous. My husband, a huge Beatles fan, enjoyed sharing this with the kids. My kids loved fish and chips but were hesitant in trying the Indian food that most Brits love. While I would have loved to tour Shakespeare’s Globe, I was glad my son’s wish to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace came true. My daughter and I just started reading Harry Potter together, and my son has been a fan for a long time. We loved checking out the Harry Potter sites and bought all the necessary souvenirs.
The key to surviving our travels to Europe with kids? Compromise! Some sites we did at warp speed or not at all. Plans sometimes changed because of hunger, heat, tired feet, or disinterest. Yes, we ducked into a British pub to get my child to the bathroom ASAP and then stayed for a pint. My husband would have loved to head to a bullfight in Madrid, but they generally start at around eleven at night. He opted for the tour of the Plaza de Toros de Ronda instead. We went to a very late Flamenco show, but it was totally worth it!! We would have loved to eat at cool, chic restaurants in the West End in London, but we opted for walk-up sandwich shops instead due to hungry children who couldn’t wait. Food choices were a little difficult, but I ordered something that sounded familiar and enticed the kids to try the “weird” food. It worked…most of the time. My children also had choices on (some) of our adventures.
Our family vacation had its share of hiccups, but I think our sense of adventure made it work. I know that my youngest will remember only parts of this trip, but my 13-year-old will never forget Europe through his teenage eyes (especially the trip to the beach with topless, sunbathing Europeans)! I am glad that once again my husband and I were able to open our kids’ eyes to life beyond their own borders to see differences and commonalities across cultures no matter where we go.