I recently asked my Facebook and Instagram community what burning questions they had about our experiences travelling around Europe with our three kids, and what follows are the answers to those questions!
How did the kids do with traveling?
Overall, they were fabulous. We were really proud of them. We didn’t have a relaxed resort-style 5 star holiday. This was a trip – an undertaking and an adventure – so we each definitely pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones sometimes. We know our children pretty well, however they even surprised us with how adaptable and excited they were. They took it all in their stride and found the whole experience a wonderful adventure. There were some really challenging moments of-course, but that is to be expected.
I’m assuming this means the driving/flying days? Lots of discussion beforehand helps but honestly, sitting down in transportation for long periods of time isn’t ever going to be easy or stress-free, especially with a toddler in tow. It’s just a necessity to us. The other parts – the sight-seeing, the exploring, the memories made – they make the long hours of travelling worth it and that’s what we focus on. We did watch quite a few YouTube videos to prepare for the flights and role-played what would be expected of them in airports to make the experience easier to manage.
What did you take on the plane and on long car journeys for your littlies?
I have a post about what we took on the plane here. That’s all the toys and activities we had so that’s what came in the car as well. We do lots of driving in our everyday life, and personally we don’t use any technological devices in the car such as Ipad or DVD players. We just never have, and didn’t want to start something new for this trip, when the kids are quite capable of entertaining themselves. Hannah and Blake coloured-in, read books, used their activity books, made up imaginary games, played with their plastic animal toys, slept, listened to music and just watched the moving images right outside our window.
Daisy was a little bit trickier, as she isn’t really able to play the way Hannah and Blake are, so she was more restless. We normally try to drive at night when we do big road trips here at home, but that wasn’t really possible overseas as we had booked accommodation for the nights so we just had to roll with it. She had all the same toys and games and her doll to play with but it mostly ended up on the floor! She really just snacked or slept or whinged so we tried to make sure we found great rest stops with a playground so the kids could get some energy out every few hours. We ended up driving over 17 thousand kilometers over 6 weeks so there was definitely a lot of driving to deal with.
I know all the tips say to book flights in accordance to what time you’ll arrive at your destination but for us, we booked 1st based on price and 2nd based on total flight hours. Flying from Brisbane to Europe means you could easily travel for 40-50 hours in transit if you’re not careful about which flights you book. So arrival time at our destination was really pot-luck and I wasn’t sure how we would go with jetlag.
Once we booked our flights and I knew we would land in Paris at 9:30am local time, I realised that the best plan would be to keep all of us awake until at least early evening to give ourselves the best shot of beating jet-lag. And luckily for us it worked! Our longest – 12 hour – flight happened to be at the time we would normally be asleep so I think we all got at least 6 hours of sleep on that flight, and the excitement of arriving at our destination – plus a great playground to keep the kids amused – kept us awake until about 6pm Paris time when we crashed for the night. That jogged our bodies into the new timezone pretty easily.
However, when we returned home, jet-lag kicked our butts! It was awful! We landed early in the morning around 8am and we should have just done the same as we did in Paris – stayed awake until early evening at least – but we all had a late nap instead and this stuffed us up for days. We were still pretty much on Europe time, feeling very tired and distracted, for almost a week!! Hannah and Blake seemed to move into our normal time zone the fastest, but Daisy, Brian and I really stuggled. So based on our experience I would really try to just suck it up and stick with the time zone you’re in as much as possible.
Your reflections on what luggage you took and how much you packed – too much/not enough/just right?
Hmmm, you know, Europe is tricky. Paris, Amsterdam and parts of Germany are cooler, even in Summer, so we needed jackets and warmer clothes and then for a large portion of the trip we lived in summer clothes. If we had only been going to Croatia I would have packed slightly differently as I know what to expect there, but because of the variety of climates I really had to pack for almost all weather situations.
In the end, I feel we got it right with the packing for the temperatures of our cities and for the fact that Daisy needs a change of clothes at least once a day. Plus we could only do washing at certain points of the trip so I had to account for that. The only thing I would change is bring a smaller carry-on bag for myself with slightly less stuff for the kids. The toys and activities we packed in their backpacks ended up being just right, and the stuff I had in my bag was excess.
In total our check-in luggage consisted of 3 regular suitcases and 2 smaller rolling carry/on type suitcases. On board we brought on 2 kids backpacks, Brian’s backpack with all the laptop/camera gear, and I had a carry on bag with extra clothes, nappies and activities. So for 6 weeks it wasn’t a huge amount and it all easily fit on two luggage trolleys at the airport.
What kind of lodging did you stay in?
We had a an eclectic mix of accommodation. We’re not a huge fan of hotels so that was minimal with only 3 nights in hotels over our entire 6 week trip. The longest accommodation was with my grandma and then my Uncle in Croatia for just under 3 weeks altogether. We organised 2 nights in Paris and 1 night in Rotterdam with other unschooling families who we connected with through Facebook. The rest of our accommodation on the Croatian coast, in Venice, and Provence I booked through airbnb.
Brian and I booked and arranged the entire trip ourselves. Our main aim was to spend time with my family in Croatia and then seeing the other cities was secondary as part of our personal holiday. Brian and I spent weeks every night for months researching the best flights which we booked 9 months in advance. Brian looked for the best deal and booked our car through a Leasing company in Paris which meant we received a brand new car to drive for the duration of our trip. I then booked and arranged all of our accommodation (see question above) and then I planned our itinerary.
I googled to find family friendly and popular things to do in all the cities we were going to, then chose what suited us and added details to a word document which we printed out and took with us. We used google maps and the ViaMichelin websites to work out the best/fastest ways to drive and our car had an up-to-date GPS which I recommend. It took months and months of me staying up late at night to plan it all, but it was worth it. In the planning stages, we all sat down – Brian, Hannah, Blake and I – and wrote down a little bucket-list of things we wanted to see and experience in each area/city so I added those to the itinerary too with prices and locations. We also checked out the airports we were going to be in transit in, to see what was available there to do so we were prepared.
This Europe trip was purely just a holiday. Brian took leave from work. When we do our trip around Australia that will be a different scenario.
We knew Daisy would need a sleep and we have the Ergo for that, so we tried to leave after breakfast which ended up being around 9/9:30am usually (we’re not early risers!) and then we’d explore into the early afternoon. In Europe the sun wasn’t setting until 9pm so the kids had plenty of daylight hours in the afternoon to chill out and play.
Sometimes we would go out in the morning, come back to our accommodation for Daisy to have her nap and head out again around 4pm. This worked really well in Provence which sort of shuts down in the middle of the day. In terms of the kids being ok… we try to have 2 water bottles full of water all the time and a snack or two. We did spend a fair bit of money on fruit and snacks, to keep them going, and we usually ate lunch out at a cafe or restaurant and then dinner at our accommodation.
We eat out regularly at home and often go on long day trips so this isn’t an unusual event for our family. Doing it so many days in a row is probably the only slightly different part, but we were all excited about it and going out sightseeing never felt like a bore. There were a few things we had on our list that didn’t get done because we knew we all needed more rest, but for the most part the kids were really great about getting out and doing new things.
We had 9 months to prepare for this trip, so we spent many, many days discussing what it would be like and where we would go, what we would see etc, so this was always something Hannah and Blake in particular felt very much a part of and had ownership of. For the couple of weeks we stayed with my Baka, we only went out sightseeing about 2 or 3 times a week, so we had a lot of downtime there in the middle of our trip.
Not really. Apart from Croatia, we spent most of our time in quite touristy areas so we found that most people know at least a little bit of English. Pointing and smiling and trying our best to communicate works just fine. Especially if you want to buy something – at a cafe or shop – people are more than happy to help you part with your money! We learned at least a few words – hello, goodbye and thank you – in the local language and if we were staying for more than a few days we would definitely try to learn more. I think that is only respectful.
I was born in Croatia but left when I was 8 so I have an average grasp of the language and was able to communicate with the people in the smaller villages we visited without too much trouble. Actually, I did a lot better than I thought I would and it came back quite easily the more I engaged in conversation. The children really picked up a lot of Croatian in just a couple of weeks too and were not fussed at all that most of the people we met – especially the children – couldn’t speak English, they played just fine.
I would LOVE to know how Daisy is doing with daytime sleeps?
We’re not particularly routine type people although Daisy usually has a nap at around 1pm at home. When travelling, she generally let us know she was tired during our day, and we would put her in our Ergo baby carrier to have a sleep, or we tried to head to another destination at that time so she would sleep in the car. While we stayed at my Grandma’s house in Croatia it was obviously easier for her to have naps in the bed like usual.
I guess that can be a subjective question because it all really depends on how and what your family is used to doing. We do a lot of bush-walking (hiking), exploring natural parks, eating out and road trips to new places, so our days on this trip were not too far from the norm. We found playgrounds in almost every town we went to – and that’s without looking very hard – or at least some sort of green space or area where children could play.
Most of the cities that are incredibly old and full of interesting places to see are cobble-stoned or without footpaths, so I would definitely recommend a carrier for toddlers and babies instead of a stroller. In Europe we found there are very rarely adequate railings on bridges – unless they’re quite large bridges over large rivers – and near rivers so that’s one thing to keep in mind. The other is the traffic. Cars often don’t stop at pedestrian crossings so just watch what other people are doing first to get your bearings, or try to find crossings with pedestrian lights.
Venice is one we get asked about the most, but the bridges there are often well constructed and although you do have to keep your kids supervised we personally didn’t find it stressful. There are also big squares all over the internal part of the city which are very child safe. So if you’re good with just a playground to amuse your kids, plus the natural wonders of the history of the city you’re in, then you’ll be fine. The least child/family-friendly place we personally encountered was St Remy De Provence in the south of France. We couldn’t seem to see any signs for parks and there were limited eating opportunities in the main area that weren’t ridiculously expensive – we actually had a cheaper dinner in Venice! But that was just our experience.
We did bring along our Ergo baby carrier. We don’t use a pram or stroller at home, and although we did consider bringing a cheap one with us, I just knew it would be a pain to take on public transport and in cities where they are more impractical. So if Daisy was tired or we felt it was more safe for her to be contained she went in the carrier, but often we just all walked, especially towards the end of the trip when she began refusing the carrier more.
Hannah is 6.5 and Blake is nearly 4.5 and they were fine with walking so no need to juggle. We don’t have many rules but Safety is probably our biggest. We’ve always been pretty stringent with the kids understanding that it’s important to be listening to our instructions in busy places, holding hands across the road and being close to us in public, so that wasn’t a problem. We also had a big chat with Hannah and Blake before the trip and during, about what to do if they accidentally got lost and we pointed out a safe place and meeting area ( the nearest information booth) when we were in transit at the airports.
The answer to this question probably lies more in our lifestyle rather than in our preparation for this 6 week trip. When Hannah was a baby, Brian and I had a big discussion about what we wanted to do with our family, and what our priorities were. His family lives 8 hours drive away and road trips are something Brian and I personally really like, so we knew lots of time in the car was going to be a big part of our future.
Also, having family in Europe means that we knew we wanted the children to travel, not just overseas but in Australia as well. And we love eating out. So the kids have been going to meals in restaurants and cafes since they were all babies. This – plus some other factors of-course – influenced the way we raised our children. We also unschool so there was no school aspect to effect us for this trip.
Essentially, the only thing that was really different about this trip compared to our daily lives, was that we were in Europe, and Brian was with us every day and didn’t have to go to work. We explored, we drove a lot, we ate out, we slept in unfamiliar beds, we spent a heap of time together, we talked a lot – all stuff we normally do with the kids, regularly. So we don’t really have a routine. We don’t have set bedtimes. We co-sleep. We love adventures and exploring new places.
We’re very aware of each of our children’s personal limits and challenges – for example Blake really dislikes being in small public places full of lots of people so we made sure to manage that – and our children are very aware of being respectful in others homes and in public. Our childrens security and comfort is in us. As long as we’re there, they know they have everything they need. We felt very comfortable doing this trip – and although there were some difficult times – we truly found it to be a pretty wonderful experience.
What is best is really what suits each family best! We personally choose to co-sleep with our children and have a family bed arrangement at home. This was a choice we made when our eldest was a baby based on two reasons. Firstly we felt it was the safest and most natural way for us all to get quality sleep together, and secondly we knew we would be sleeping in a lot of beds that weren’t our own as the kids grew, so we didn’t want them to get used to just one bed or cot.
So, this makes travelling so much easier for us, as we don’t need to have 4 individual beds eg, one for Hannah, one for Blake, one for Daisy, and one for Brian and I. For example, for our hotel in Paris we booked a quadruple room and this included 2 double beds in one room which suited us fine, and it was also cheaper than booking several rooms. Also when staying with other’s we only need one room. The other unschooling families we stayed with both provided us with 2 double mattresses on the floor and this was perfect and much easier for them to organise too. We were really grateful to be invited into their homes and I feel that being able to minimise how much space we took up made that easier for them also.
In terms of cost, it’s different in every city and region. France is generally expensive, even for basic 2 or 3 star accommodation. Croatia on the other hand has not converted over to the Euro yet so our beach accommodation through airbnb was quite cheap for the location and service comparatively. Our accommodation on the Croatian coast cost less than half of what we paid in Provence for the same amount of time.
So we just tried to find the most cost effective accommodation for us, while also making sure it had things we needed like parking on site, washing machines, good location etc. We knew Provence would be expensive so we were happy to splurge a little and that accommodation became our favourite. The thing with booking accommodation online means you don’t know how it really is until you get there, and apart from one choice, we had really good experiences and our booked accommodation met our needs.
How did you find bathrooms in a hurry?
In large cities like Paris and Amsterdam this was tricky! We are so used to public toilets being easy to find in Brisbane, and last time we went to Europe Hannah was a toddler in nappies so finding public bathrooms wasn’t as big a deal. We usually just made sure to use the toilet when we at out at a cafe. This time had a really hard time finding toilets in suburban Paris on our way to the unschooling family we were staying with. We tried to find a playground and were surprised to see that there weren’t toilets nearby (in Brisbane there are almost always toilets near a children’s playground for convenience). Hannah and I were busting and I was imagining the worst and hoping desperately that I wouldn’t need to sneeze, when we finally saw a carpark with a toilet.
However no matter what we tried we couldn’t go in. There was a bakery and a few other small shops across the street and we flagged down a man with his two sons asking him if he spoke English. Thankfully he said he did, a little bit, but even he couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the toilet. In the end he mentioned that we could go to the little florist down the road and that they had a little toilet we could use. I felt awful at the thought of asking some lovely shopkeepers to use their personal toilet but we were absolutely busting at this point and now even Blake had expressed his need to pee.
As we walked towards the florist, we noticed the mans son scootering towards us and in perfect English he let us know his dad had sent him to help us as the florist didn’t speak any English at all. We were so grateful that he came over because I am not sure how we would have communicated otherwise, it was already hilarious enough as it was. The florist was really kind and unlocked their personal toilet for us to use and we bought a bouquet for the family we were going to stay with to say thanks! We had some other close calls, but that one was the worst!
Yes. We arrived at Baka’s house about a week into our trip, and we had access to a washing machine there. Also I chose our airbnb accommodation based on them having a washing machine as well. So we arrived home with just a small canvas bag of washing which was great!
No, she is still in nappies/diapers full time. We normally buy our nappies from Aldi (a supermarket here in Australia) and we brought a packet of nappies along with us. Once that was due to run out we bought a packet of Pampers nappies in Croatia in a local grocery store, and they were really low quality. We remembered that Lidl was very similar to Aldi and tried their nappies, and they were the same quality that we use at home so we bought a few packs to last out the trip.
Ok, I know everyone would love to know a big, secret answer to this, but there really isn’t one. We’re just an average, one-income family. When we decided to make this trip happen, things started to fall into place. We gratefully secured accommodation with families in overseas countries. We discovered airbnb and knew we could find comfortable places to stay that suited our needs. We booked our flights at the time we did as Daisy would be under 2 years old and therefore cost 30% less.
We are not flashy spenders… BUT we did want to have a good time, and not be counting dollars on our trip. Our main reason for going was to see my grandma and for our kids to spend some quality time with her as she doesn’t plan on travelling to Australia again. We knew we had plans of more travel and we decided to spend the money on this overseas trip first, just in case our financial situation changed and we couldn’t afford it in the future. I didn’t want to regret not going.