Have children, will travel! Yes, we're doing it again, and I couldn't be happier to spend some real, quality time with my family while we embark on this year's European Summer Adventure.
"Look kids! Big Ben, Parliament..."
I'll admit, it's not all sunshine & rainbows traveling with 2 young children. There will be plenty of days when we need a little space to ourselves...when tired kids will whine and staying patient will be a challenge.
A lot of people ask how we do it. The travel part. For me, it takes a boat load of planning ahead to make things go smoothly. Seriously - I spent a year on this next trip. (It can be done with less time, of course, but we can only travel in the summer due to hubby's work.) It's a whole different approach than the carefree days of college and pre-children travel when we'd come roaring into Bordeaux at 1am looking for a hotel room. It's also much easier to plan thanks to the Internet and the help of sites like Trip Advisor where you can read reviews & look at photos to help find the right places to stay or visit. Or Homeaway and other home booking sites, or find so much helpful information on blogs :)
Some quick tips: Fly non-stop as often as possible. Changing planes & worrying about making or missing connections is even worse with children in tow. Pack snacks and activities for the plane & airport. Let the kids get their wiggles out by running around the terminal before boarding. We fly to Europe on overnight flights, in the hopes that children will sleep most of the trip. Since they're getting a short night, we make sure they're well-rested prior to the trip. As in "get to bed early for at least a week before we leave" well-rested. That helps with the jetlag a bit too - resetting their internal clocks - but is harder in the summer when it's still light out and I'm trying to put them to bed.
Don't overbook your days. I fully expect the first 2-3 days to be shorter (and the children a little tired) due to adjusting to the time difference. Usually 2 major activities per day is all they can handle, and we split up from time to time and one parent will go do one thing (ie. my older child was very excited to spend a day in Pompeii while my younger would have been bored) while the other does something else. I also try to fit in special activities that the children like (Julien has picked the catacombs of Paris and visiting a glacier as high on his list for this upcoming visit.) Sometimes we're surprised when we take them somewhere and it turns out they're not at all interested, "NOOOOOO, not another chateau!!!!" was often heard on our last European vacation. Who doesn't love a good chateau? My children at that particular age, apparently.
Since having children we also rent houses or apartments when we travel. It's more relaxing to have a home base and a little space to spread out. My requirements are: laundry facility, good central location, outdoor eating area. For properties outside the cities I always look for a house with a pool. There has to be something special about it. Several times we've rented vacation homes with other families and it's been wonderful. We don't always want to do the same things, but for breakfast and in the evenings we often share a meal and drinks by the pool. We shop at the local markets and most often eat 2 meals at "home" and pack a picnic blanket/tablecloth and do picnics for lunch or have lunch out. We also bring our reusable water bottles and fill up as we go. Dehydrated children are just cranky and no fun.
I'm also big on doing travel journals - there are some good online articles on how to make that fun for the kids with ideas like doing "highlight graphs" for the day or other ways to get creative. Sometimes it's recorded on postcards. A funny "journaling moment" from our last trip though was discovering that the kids had gotten hold of the camcorder (does anyone call them that anymore or is it just me?) and recorded their own documentaries and those are just priceless. (And crooked and likely to cause motion sickness, but still priceless!)
Do we forget to pack things? Of course! The good news is we can pretty much find whatever we need while we travel and we find lots of other cool stuff. Except sometimes WiFi, but that's getting better :)