“Why travel with children if they won’t remember it?” Here is my answer.
Being stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army provides the unique opportunity to experience the world. In two years, we’ve taken our boys - both under the age of five - to eight different countries. They’ve played in London, Paris, Prague and Istanbul, just to name a few.
Things haven’t always been this way. Before children, my husband and I traveled Europe for pleasure. We enjoyed museums at a leisurely pace, romantic restaurants, late night parties and sleeping in. Now, we look for family-friendly attractions and get home before naptime. Our evenings consist of a bottle of wine after the boys are in bed and drinking espresso the next morning just to keep up.
Knowing this, we do it anyway and have no regrets. In fact, we have positive experiences and a burgeoning magnet collection to show for it.
Why We Do It
The world-class education my sons receive is unmatched. They’re exposed to ancient castles, Roman ruins, museums with priceless works of art, and local cuisines. They know when to say “Danke” in Germany, “Merci” in France and “Grazie” in Italy. More importantly, they’ve learned that there is no singular way of doing things, as they’ve experienced other ways of life. They are becoming citizens of the world, whether they know it or not. I admit that I also have a selfish reason - wanderlust. By taking my children along for the journey, I’m able to travel more. With the rate at which we adventure, a babysitter is simply not practical, so financially it makes sense. At their ages, my children are nearly always free. We’ve not had to pay for train tickets, museum admissions, historic sites, or restaurant meals. In the cases that we did, prices were discounted.
The Method to Our Madness
Although there are moments of stress, I highly recommend it, as the payoff is unsurpassed. With research, coffee, some bravery, a sense of humor, and realistic expectations, anyone can successfully travel with children. We employ tried-and-true tactics such as sticking to our schedule, planning kid-friendly activities, pacing ourselves, and allowing for plenty of downtime.
Here are our keys to success that travelers may not have considered:
1. Use public transport. Reduce the stress of driving and potentially getting lost. For long-distance travel, it allows cuddling, bathroom breaks and stretching without having to pull over. Plus, what child doesn’t love a ride on a train, bus or underground?
2. Rent an apartment. Often cheaper than a hotel, this provides a great location, more space, the coziness of home, and the ability to prepare meals in-house, which saves money and reduces guesswork.
3. Skip the lines. Reserve tickets for attractions in advance, cut back on wait times and potentially prevent meltdowns. Besides, who doesn’t want to walk directly into the Louvre like a VIP?
4. Backpack it. Small children are akin to luggage in that they need to be carried or held by the hand, so when possible, wear your children! We have both worn boys on our fronts and backpacks on the back for convenient, hands-free travel. Our favorites are Deuter  backpacks and Manduca carriers.
5. Plan adult time. Take turns without the children. My husband and I make solo trips to browse stores, visit museums or get a coffee. Even 20 minutes away makes a difference. Also, plan vacations sans children - you’ll appreciate them in a new light.
One for the Road
Travel teaches confidence, understanding and appreciation. Although my children may not always remember hearing the bells of Notre Dame, riding a double-decker bus in London, or taking a water taxi in Venice, I will. When their memories inevitably fade and my son stops asking, “Remember the gelato in Italy?” or “Remember the Tower Bridge in London?” I will have photographs and videos to share with them.
When we return to the U.S. we will continue our family travels stateside and eventually my sons will be old enough to take their own photographs and write their own journals.
My dream is that they’ll grow up and ask “Mom, can I backpack in Europe next summer?” Perhaps one day, they will eventually invite mom and dad along on an adventure. Maybe, just maybe.
View Jackie’s family adventures on her “European Travels” playlist online at www.youtube.com/jackiebleu .