This summer, my husband and I had an incredible opportunity to live and work in London. We rented a flat and set up shop, hiring a babysitter to cover the kids for a few hours each morning. I would work till noon, then run around with the kids in the afternoon and evening while my husband finished out his day.
Going into the summer, we knew it would vacillate between awesome and awesomely challenging each and every day. Juggling work with the needs of children in a foreign country while seeking to maximize every moment of our time is both mentally taxing and physically exhausting. But it’s also eye-opening and mind-expanding for us and for our children. We’ve been able to explore London during the weeks and the UK and France on the weekends, and along the way we’ve learned a lot – especially on the topic of traveling with kids.
One thing I can say for sure is that traveling in Europe with kids is a lot different than traveling unfettered. And because our experience has been so different – and so monumental for our children – I’m creating a photo book as I go to capture the trip from the perspective of my children.
Here’s a summary of what we’ve learned – and how it will inform what goes into the kid-friendly photo book…
Embrace the Role of Tourist Prior to having kids, my husband and I had both done lots of travel all over the world and had developed a healthy distaste for all things touristy. But when you’re with kids, it can be fun to suspend your cynicism and just watch them take it all in. Another aspect of embracing your inner tourist is learning to dress comfortably. Lots of Americans go abroad thinking they’ll dress the part – in other words: stay away from jeans and sneakers and look chic like a European as a result. But there’s nothing less chic than limping along in uncomfortable shoes. And what’s the point of blending in? What do you gain, really? Just be yourself (your best polite self, of course), and enjoy taking it all in through your eyes – and those of your children.
Hand Your Kids the Camera Now and Then The perspective is so different – and it often amplifies the grandeur of tall, big or expansive things ranging from buildings to vistas. Just make sure the wrist strap is wrapped around their little wrists. And know that the most vulnerable moment is when you get worried and try to grab the camera from them before it drops…and then you drop it. That’s what happened to us, crushingly, one week into our trip. At least we’ll have some of those great shots from before the accident to feature throughout our photo book.
Always Have a Sandwich in Your Bag (and Summer is for Sugar) Even in a first-world, western, English-speaking country like the UK, the food is different. And kids notice. Even if they’re relatively adventurous gastronomically like mine, their patterns get thrown off and they can get hungry at odd and inconvenient moments. Therefore, you will almost always find a ham-and-cheese sandwich on baguette in my purse. They’re ubiquitous here (as in France) so there’s no reason not to have one at all times. And when the kids crave ice cream and juice, I’ve suspended my militant limits practiced back home. Two reasons: the first being that it’s summer and they’ve been troopers. The second reason is that here in Europe there’s about a third less sugar in EVERYTHING than in the States. I’ll be sure to snap photos of all the boys’ favorite snacks from Fruit Shoots to Cadbury chocolates to feature in our photo book.
The View from the Park is a Good One Hyde Park, Battersea Park, Luxembourg Gardens, Tuilleries – I’ve spent loads of time in European parks this summer. I joke with my husband about my glamorous European tour of play structures, but the truth is that the public play spaces for kids here are truly amazing. And – in stark contrast those whirlwind tours of Europe –they afford you the opportunity to JUST SIT and take it all in. From the overwhelming fragrance of Gardenia in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris to the play of light on lily pads in the Italian Fountains of Hyde Park, there are things you see when you just sit with your kids. We’ll snap photos to remember.
Even European Kids Play On Phones at Dinner Sometimes We had the opportunity to spend a couple days with some lovely English hosts this past weekend. They invited us to their beautiful home near the Cotswolds, which was great for the kids to get out of the city and just romp. I confided in on of our hosts that I was embarrassed by my son’s desire to be on his portable Nintendo DS amidst such breathtaking beauty. She reminded me that kids have to discover the beauty around them on their own terms. So while I had been thinking that I was being a good mother by saying “put your game down and look out the window at all this beauty!” I realized that I was actually forcing something on them. They have to come to it on their own. Later that day I saw a family sitting peacefully at dinner with three perfectly scrubbed-and-tubbed children dressed in what appeared to be ironed shirts and trousers. I was jealous for a moment thinking that they had some sort of magical British power over their children’s behavior until I noticed that the kids were all playing video games on iPhones! Even I don’t let my children do that at dinner. It gave me a moment of relief to know that even well-disciplined British kids are allowed to use digital entertainment. I will definitely include photos of my kids plugged in on countryside drives and TGV trips, after all, it’s been part of their experience.
Happy traveling with kids! Happy Mixbooking!