"Oh my gosh, traveling with two little kids? How do you do it?"
We hear this a lot. And while I know that mostly people are just being nice/complimentary, I think that some folks are thinking, in the back of their minds, "these people are nuts." And maybe we are. But we've signed up to live in Europe for just two years. And we love to travel. So we're going to try and make the most of this opportunity.
And since we have little kids (Caroline is two, Juliet is five months) right now, taking them along is a part of the deal. And often, it's such a joy.
I asked Josh if I should write a blog post about traveling with kids. His response?
"Pride goeth before the fall."
But let me assure you... our thoughts on this matter aren't coming from a place of we-know-it-all. Because most of the time we're just winging it. But we've come up with a few thoughts on the matter since traveling with little ones has become a part of our life.
There's a lot of crying in the backseat (Juliet), constantly picking up dropped toys (for Caroline), and our double stroller is the nastiest piece of baby equipment anyone has ever seen. Curious what smashed up raisins mixed with baguette crumbs looks like when dribbled over with milk at the bottom of a stroller? Come our way.
But here's a glimpse into our Clark Griswold-ish world of roaming Europe with two littles in tow.
We kiss any notion of sleep schedules goodbye and roll with it, literally. If the kids nap in the stroller, great. We've gotten burned on trying to accomplish true nap times back at the hotel room, so we don't bother trying anymore. By this point Caroline usually falls asleep as she needs to. While we have seen Caroline in complete over-tired meltdown mode, it doesn't happen that often. And it's nothing that a movie on the iPad and/or snacks can't fix.
We get especially flexible in this category. Meals in general can be difficult. We've found that here in Europe there are fewer "child-friendly" options. While it's helpful to get some travel book/Internet/hotel front desk help in this area, we've sometimes simply struck out.
One night in Salzburg we found a place that was recommended by a travel book. When we got in, they tried to put us at a large table with two other adult couples. And then both of our children started LOSING it. The couples at the shared table refused to look us in the eye. I couldn't blame them So we left. We tried the place next door. They were only serving ice cream. So Caroline's dinner that night? Ice cream with a side of goldfish crackers. And Josh and I just picked up some cheese, crackers, wine, and fruit at a grocery store and ate it, picnic-style, in the hotel room.
Don't get me wrong. We ate some great meals at fantastic local restaurants during our trips. It's a favorite part of traveling internationally for us, after all. But it doesn't always work out. Grocery store picnics are a mainstay for our family.
Lest anyone think our travels are glamorous, we've actually learned to fully embrace McDonald's too as a convenient, viable option. I have new respect for that establishment! There's parking, a predictable menu, and lots of high chairs. And - bonus - McD's has free WiFi. We don't pay roaming charges for 3G-type coverage when we leave England, so free WiFi is a major bonus.
We are just not fancy travelers these days. Maybe you like 5 star accommodations and room service? We do, too! But we don't have an unlimited budget and we'd rather take several small/cheap trips over one super posh one. Just a personal preference. But to that end we've found some great deals on little apartments, guest houses, and B and B's via Booking.com and vrbo.com. We will pay extra for location, and look for options where there is a kitchen involved. Beyond that, we're just going for basic cleanliness.
This picture has nothing to do with lodgings. It just makes me smile.
I think our last place was less than 50 Euros a night. One bedroom + kitchen + bathroom in Amboise, France. Mismatched furniture and a junky TV. We had to bring our own sheets and towels. It was perfect! Clean and basic and we didn't even need to sleep in the same room as the kids, who slept in the kitchen in pack & plays. We could walk a couple blocks to the main part of town for meals. That's all our family needs.
We don't do all that many kid-focused activities. All Caroline needs is a safe space to romp and climb and explore. Palace grounds? The interior of a cathedral? Old-school gardens? Or a playground? All fair game. We just try to see what we want to see, and give her some time and space to run wherever we go.
I was asking Josh about his thoughts on our
crazy travels, and his response? "Just be prepared to throw dignity
out of the window." We pack a lot of snacks and cheap-o toys. We
change diapers anywhere. We're not above handing Caroline one of our
iPhones + some headphones so she can watch Cars 2 while we have a
Sometimes the kids cry. Or have a tantrum. On the plane. In a museum. In the car. At a restaurant.
We do our best to stay calm. Keep a positive attitude. Remember that it will pass.
I flew solo from London to Salzburg with both girls. Praise Jesus the lady sitting next to us on the flight was a grandmother and held the baby for me a couple of times while I dealt with Caroline. Both kids did great on the plane. I gate-checked the stroller in London, but sadly I couldn't collect until we hit baggage claim in Salzburg. So that meant that my 2-year-old was not contained during the entire passport check line. UGH. She was totally uninterested in holding my hand, and got several time-outs for running away from me. As a result, we were the last ones in line. By the time we finally got through, Caroline had lost it altogether. As we waited for our stroller and suitcase, I was simply holding onto her torso as she flailed all four limbs, screaming. Juliet was mercifully sleeping in her car seat. But the stroller came off of the belt, and I wrestled her into it. And by the time we were in the taxi, the tantrum had ended. And she was great for the rest of the day.
Looking back on it, 20 minutes of toddler tantrum is a small price to pay for a fantastic time exploring Salzburg and other central European cities.
My biggest piece of advice? If you want to go, just go. You will figure it out along the way.
We treasure our memories of going places with our kids. We'll always remember how Caroline used to serenade us to sleep in our hotel room, and how we explored York with tee tiny 3-week-old Juliet in the Baby Bjorn. And how when we were in France Caroline would say, "I want to go see the chateau, Dada." Caroline has zero understanding about architecture, geography, history, etc. But she enjoys a visit to a castle or cathedral just as much as Josh and I do. Maybe more. Her innocent enthusiasm for exploring new places is a joy to behold.
Plus, there's something extra special about the family time we get in when we're off gallivanting around the countryside. Josh works long hours, and doesn't see that much of the kids during normal work weeks. But when we're off together, exploring? It's our special chance to bond as a family.
I wouldn't trade those memories for anything.