I’m writing this blog in my head as I walk through Regents park, on a cold and wet summer’s evening. My feet are cold – I’m wearing my sandals, the only pair of shoes I’ve been wearing for the last three months in Europe. I went out without a rain coat…not even thinking….my glasses are covered in rain drops and I’m having my second shower for the day…a cold one this time. Maybe I should’ve waited…but I saw a break in the clouds, my youngest son had gone to bed early, the park gates were still open and I was taking my “me” time no matter what the weather. I just wasn’t prepared for it..after all, it is summer isn’t it?
Well, it should be, but I happened to check Londons weather and compared it with Melbournes weather and yes both were the same. 17degree, partly cloudy with showers. One city going into summer, the other coming into winter.
On my long, now short walk, I curled my fingers into my jumper, pushed my glasses over my head (I couldn’t see out of them anyway), and figured that while my Melbourne counterparts were experiencing the same weather, I was still enjoying long hours of sunlight (5am – 10pm), admiring the greenest, lushest velvet grass…and best of all, I could still go and defrost afterwards in a big bath of hot water…I knew that my husband would love the opportunity to be out here running in the rain…yet, me….well I’m just pretty Melbournian. There’s no reason to go out in bad weather when you can be curled up inside, instead and because in an hour/ this evening/tomorrow, the sun will shine again.
Londoners take the opposite attitude, if they waited for better weather, well they may never be out again.. Locals go out whether its rain, hail, or snow ( who else invented a show about muddy puddles!). I like this…all it takes is some good warm weather gear, and some blankets provided by the local cafe for some alfresco dining. If your going out with kids, dress in t-shirts but bring jumpers, raincoats, umbrella…basically prepare for all weather…! Of course, it’s all about perspective, ask a Russian from Siberia or Moscow what they think of the London summer and they would probably tell you how warm and mild it is.
So this year, the London summer is taking it’s sweet time to arrive. Last year, we arrived in April to 2 degrees as London was experiencing a long cold winter snap and a delayed spring. However, almost overnight summer snapped into place by June and suddenly it was reaching high 20s, even 30 degrees. A heatwave was upon us. Hard to to describe it as a heatwave when compared to the 40 degree+ + summer experienced in Melbourne only a few months before. But a heatwave in London is different. I laughed too, when I heard the term used but soon I too was feeling it….a humid oppressive city heat, trapped amongst the buildings, and with little relief in a small apartments not designed for airflow or with any type of cooling device….where exactly is the fan/evaporative cooler switch because I could not find one…
However, London city planners are bright, cool and fun people. They must be because even if it only reaches 30 deg for some of the two months of the year that is summer, they have loaded the city with lots of fun water play areas for kids and families. Places such as the Princess Diana memorial water fountain (a round fountain with water spurts, fast water gushes, steep bits, flowing bits etc..), free water play area lidos (Hampstead Heath), south bank spurting jets and so on and so on. Now why didn’t Melbourne think of that….a cool idea for a real summer heatwave….!!
So, my evening walk through Regents park could’ve been very different if the summer sun had arrived and wasn’t too busy hiding behind the thick heavy clouds….I would’ve been walking through the leafy park, watching squirrels and passing many a local relaxing on the grass stripped off to their boxers and bikinis lying in a strategically placed position, avoiding the shady areas, enjoying a picnic, a glass of Pimms, ….as anyone would do…an ode to summer in London!
So maybe by the time we leave London in a month we may get to glimpse a little bit of summer sun amongst the rainy, grey overcast days. If not, as I fly over London with a birds eye view I will wistfully admire the greenest of green patches stretching for miles and be secretly thankful I’m not living it!!
Travelling solo, as a couple or as a family can give you different travel experiences and locals or other travellers may interact with you differently because of it. Travelling with kids can impact on where and how you travel, the countries you visit and what you do once in the country.
It can also greatly affect your budget….kids under 5 years are usually free when camping, travelling by public transport and often incur no entry fees for national parks, museums, galleries etc. It also works well for when staying in accommodation, as you can book a double room and get a child cot or bed for free (depending on age) or for an extra fee of about 10 or 15€. What’s more, you can split meals between kids, or share your own plate with a young one (this doesn’t last long..maybe til 4 yo). So the age/s and sometimes even the gender of your child will influence yours and their travel experiences.
Travelling with younger kids meant that we were more likely to meet kids of similar ages especially during the daytime. Even so, my 4 year old son, was usually the oldest kid whenever we went to any playgroup/ kids daytime activity or hung out in the local playgrounds. We found this to be the case no matter where we were- whether in South America, or Europe. Kids from 2 onwards may be in full-time care/nursery or with nannies.
We have yet to find a country which is a kids utopia! Somewhere kids can be themselves without unnecessary rules, restrictions and expectations to behave like mini adults. Certain places were lots of fun for the kids – usually the outdoors and with fewer people around – bush, beach, desert. Sometimes even the smallest thing captivated my kids… e.g. Insect spotting could take half a day! Meeting other kids and families was pretty special for the kids and for us. In many ways these moments have given us some of our nicest memories…
Below are some of the countries and cities we have travelled in as a family and our impressions.
From the moment you step off the plane and enter the immigration zone consider yourself in family friendly land. You are in safe hands and will be taken care of. There are preferential queues for families in almost every facet of Chilean life: supermarkets, banks, government offices etc. It is built into the Chileans code of conduct to be nice and accommodating. You will always get offered a seat! Why there are even sculptures celebrating the mother /child feeding bond.
When your child is having a tanty, someone somewhere will come and smile and make your child laugh. It might be a teenage girl or a young male, as either gender seems very comfortable with family life at any age and children are just part of regular life. Be warned though, your kids will get lots of lovely attention, and have lots of sweet things said about them. The most Spanish words you’ll hear will be hermoso, muy lindo, guapo, bonito etc…..My son was so used to being given something e.g. a sweet, a chocolate santa, etc, that when a young girl at an aquarium kindly shared her fish food with him to feed the fish with, he simply put it straight into his mouth without thinking! It was a homeless man of all people, who gave my son, a key ring dragon which he still has to this day.
However, your parenting skills or perceived lack of, will be up for scrutiny….so if you think you can get away with kids playing in dirt, shoes off, sticky fingers, running around, without a comment than think again!
Tip: if you want playgrounds all to yourself then go in the day time…many of the playgrounds are eerily empty. Return at 6pm onwards and on the weekends and the parks and playgrounds are the most happening places. Full of families and various activities, a real magnet. So forget the 7pm bedtime, have a siesta instead so you and the kids can enjoy the balmy fun nights.
Patagonia is the ultimate kids outdoor playground, full of rivers, lakes, bush, trails, glaciers etc. Just awesome for eager explorers and outdoor adventurers.
London is a city where there is always lots to do, especially for kids. Plenty of (mostly free) museums, playgroups, playgrounds, large grassy pretty parks, and endless tourist attractions. It’s impossible to not have things to do while in London. We stayed for 3 months and we always had something we could do if we wanted to. Whether its the local library story time, playground, childrens centre or attractions further afield. We visited almost every museum we had heard of…natural history, childhood, horniman, science, transport, tate etc..The list goes on. Most were free and it was almost necessary to visit more than once! We visited the natural history museum 3 times just to get past the dinosaurs and see something else. Every time I spoke to someone, they would suggest another thing to visit even when I thought I had seen everything there was to possibly see.
London has lots of festivals and community events all year round and so whether its winter with festive lights, ice skating, Guy Fawkes day fireworks and Xmas parades or summer time with outdoor theatres, music and lido swimming playgrounds or water spurting fountains, London is very kid and parent friendly. It is not cheap however even with free or minimal entry costs once you account for transport, food and other necessities.
We discovered a local giraffe family/kid friendly restaurant that soon became our favourite, with great coffee and a relaxed atmosphere. The kids got colouring pages, a coloured plastic giraffe souvenir, balloons and no one cared too much about noise. Food was reasonable and usually good, although disappointed with their gourmet hamburger meals.
Highlights: national history and science museums, double decker bus rides, Hyde park, princess diana memorial playground, regents park, countless of theater shows and plays for all ages, free lido/water play areas and meeting international families. London is a dynamic, international and exciting city.
What can I say about Italy. This is where my kids have the most special and treasured of moments. Visiting and hanging out with our family of cousins and aunties, and where I feel at home. There is no experience quite like the one of enjoying a country from the insider’s perspective. Home cooked meals and sitting around catching up on another few years that have gone by since last visits.
I love the exposure of the language and culture for my kids, and I hope that we/they can nurture these family relationships and connections for a life time. I am lucky that my parents are from a lovely part of Italy, the dolomite mountain region, the valley of sun! From a kid friendliness perspective, well, my aunty thought my children were hilarious, she would stir them up and laugh at how cheeky they were….the biondi birichini she would call them (the blonde cheeky ones).
From a personal perspective, while there is a certain expectation for kids to behave appropriately, conform, not get too messy and show a certain level of politeness and respect to older members of the community there is still a level of spiritedness and cheekiness almost expected from children. Children are considered the cornerstone, the mother the backbone of any family. When we travelled with my 6 week old son a few years back, strangers in the street offered us “complimenti/congratulations” to our new family. There are few elderly men or women who could pass up the opportunity to feel like proud nonni’s. Depending on whether your in a small town or big city, or with/without family connections: will determine to some extent how ” free” you really are….someone somewhere will know everything about you before you’ve even arrived and even if they don’t, they soon will!
Highlights and lowlights: too many private beaches, but you will find that these beaches are full of playground equipment and fun for the kids…it’s a user pay system e.g. a coffee may get you in or you’ll have to hire a beach chair for 10€. Of course there are free playgrounds, fun fair areas where you choose what you want to pay for ( or let the kids just have fun without any coinage) and of course whatever happened to just fun on the beach with the waves and sand-in the public areas of course.
The playgrounds and promenades especially on the coastal towns are full of kids and families especially in the evening or all day during weekend and holidays. Bike riding, roller skating, scootering, skate boarding, you name it…everyone is out from the young to the old enjoying a stroll in whatever way they can. The Genova acquario is great fun and has everything!
Getting a gelati or pizza is a must..however smoking is still way too popular…
I’m sure French people like kids. Although in 6 months of travelling through France and Morocco (with mostly French road trip tourists), I’m not so convinced.
One of the most iconic world theme parks is based in Paris; Disneyland, however general town playgrounds in France are scarce or hard to find (you would have more luck finding a church, a pharmacy or hairdressers- there’s about 3 or 4 in every town). If playgrounds do exist these are usually minimal structures and sometimes not well maintained (depending on where you are). I remember my son screaming out in delight “3 playgrounds!!” when we found an unusually large one. There might be one swing, if your lucky, and one or two structures marked for certain age groups. Other kids theme parks or aquatic centres do exist but these are usually big and costly, and of course you have to work out a way to get there if your on public transport. Ask at the tourist office what there is to do for kids and they might stare at you blankly or direct you to the nearest cake shop.
What you will find though which will be inescapable and which will capture your kids attention in every town will be the famous carosuel. No matter how many times your kids have been on one, they will want a ride every time they spot one! It will even bring out the kid in you!
To someone from one of the driest continents on earth coming to somewhere like Europe with its consistent rainfall, is pure paradise. Yet for some reason, it’s a concrete paradise (this doesn’t just go for France) and any grassy areas that do exist, well your not even allowed to step foot on them!! It’s simply for looking at, not running around on!! Any potential grassy site is usually gravel and reserved for bocci playing – not that I have anything against bocci, but a strip of grass wouldn’t go astray.
We received more frowns than warmth and kindness towards our children even though we behaved no differently than anywhere else we have been. Frowns because our kids were too slow walking and in the way, or frowns because my kids showed too much emotion (excitement even, god forbid!). Containment seems to be the order of the day and we get the impression kids are to be unseen and unheard, even if your in a playground or a campground! Travelling through France with kids is anxiety provoking and disappointing. To say we struggled is an understatement. We have been told off for noisy kids in a playground, and another time yelled at by an insensitive camping neighbour. I thought she was coming over to offer support when my youngest son woke up crying after a too short afternoon nap. But no, she was coming over to tell me to be quiet and think of others. Not a good start to neighbourly relations.
Some times you might even be forgiven for thinking that the company of their furry four legged friends is preferred to that of their children.
However, not everyone is so surly. We did experience a couple of small acts of kindness towards our children that was appreciated. But considering the amount of time we spent in country or travelling with other mainly French road travellers, the impression left upon us was fairly negative and oppressive. Even the same styled family restaurant as London, called Hippopatumus did not quite make the kid friendly status.
Highlights: During the peak summer month of August, towns will usually host fun fairs on weekends or other events such as a medieval fete. Look out for whats on and when. Trying to time your visit to when things are on is sometimes difficult if your on the move. The town of St Quentin had the best set up when we were there. They had converted the town square for a weekend into a huge free fun water and sand play area for kids.
The most kid friendly cities: Marseilles. Fantastic grassy park area, that you can actually sit on and enjoy. We spent several days lazing around in the sun, with our picnic bag of baguettes, snacks and the kids having a great time. Check out Palais du Pharo – overlooks Marseille port, amazing views and playground nearby too.
Nice: loved the city. A great centre area of grassy parkland, lots of wooden play structures in playground which is sea themed and fun for the kids, a huge fountain spurting area to run through and misty spray zones. Absolutely awesome. A lovely city area to stroll in with practical shops and a good beach area. Only thing is don’t even think of sitting on the real grass…go for the astro turf – that’s the go zone.
Other cool stuff: try something different, go for a donkey walk with your family. There are lots of donkey farms in France. We went for an 8 day self guided camp/walk- France is full of easy and interesting walking trails. Go for one day or 3 months!
Hire or buy a boat and canal trip through France. There are lovely forested areas alongside the canals for little ones to discover and explore.
Other things to look for: towers, castles, forts to visit and a ride on the tourist petit trains when in a city.
What can I say about Morocco? Well for starters your kids will get kissed a lot. One person told us that it was good luck to kiss blonde kids, someone else said it’s because locals love kids…I believe both! It does however, raise some issues on personal space and levels of comfort for you and your kids. My kids didn’t really like it so much and asked “why does everyone want to kiss them?” Most of the time, it was pretty harmless, an older woman, a teenage girl, even a dad trying to get his 2 year old to kiss my 2 year old…it really is a must, no getting out of it for either party. I would often encourage my kids to hi-5 instead if they wanted to and if they had enough time to. Usually they didn’t, girls just appeared from nowhere and before anyone knew it, had planted one or five smakeroos on my son’s cheeks. There were maybe 2 times that I felt really uncomfortable and it was when my eldest son had long hair, and a couple of young guys, who obviously thought he was girl, kept pointing to their cheeks pushing for a kiss….not cool.
It’s the only place I’ve been to, where I don’t feel like I have to apologise for my kids behaviour whether its a broken glass in a restaurant or my kids wanting to touch everything they see in a shop. The answer always is…it’s okay, they are kids, it’s normal. Either they are telling me this, to appease me, so that I continue to stay in the shop/restaurant or they really do mean it. Whatever their intention, it worked…phew what a relief, I could really relax.. No one got offended when my son turned four and suddenly was into finger shooting everything that moved. I talked to my son, apologised to whoever it was, but again, the answer was…it’s okay, he is a kid, a blank slate…it doesn’t mean anything. Again, a double phew! It could easily have been misconstrued! I could use some of the Moroccan patience!
Locals may also interact differently with each member of the family depending on how you present in public. My husband went out one day on his own into town and in one hour was asked 10 times whether he wanted to buy hasish. It might happen once, if that, when we are all out as a family. If I’m out on my own or with the kids, but without husband, again, locals will interact differently with me. The easiest or most enjoyable way to travel in Morocco is definitely as a family.
Moroccan highlight: camping in the desert!
My only experience of Germany is driving through at 8.30am in the morning when it was -9degrees on a cold and frosty December morning. Yet I want to go back and this time for a proper visit. It wasn’t the landscape that captivated me, nor the weather. It is the people…and I didn’t meet any while I was there..!
After almost a year and a half of travel, I’m under the impression that Germany is full of open and friendly people. This may not be the case, but judging by the travellers we have met and befriended…there’s a strong case for it. No matter what continent we are on, we have come across German travellers and no matter if it’s a single person, a couple or a family we have met some really nice and lovely people. Whether its been a one stop conversation or meeting in a campsite or travelling on similar route trails, we have had many enjoyable interactions. We have toasted marshmallow smurfs over a campfire, cooked and shared a fish and chip dinner and kids and parents have enjoyed hanging out. Sometimes, its the people we meet along our travels that gives us the most meaningful and best travel experiences.
When my son was asked what he thought of Morocco, he answered “I love it!” When asked why? “because of eno and otto”. A German family with twins that we met along the way. Even for kids, meaningful travel is often about the people you meet…and no better way to encourage appreciation and interest in a language than when your son says….” I want to go to German so I can speak German”, after meeting friendly German travellers.
What a surprise Monaco was..who would’ve thought that such a fancy place known for its fast cars, fast money and fast paced life, could be so kid friendly. We only stayed for 3 days but we could’ve stayed more – not just for the stuff to do, but because of its “vibe”. The city or should I say country(!) is well planned and easy to navigate using the bus system. It is very tourist friendly. Then there are the endless parks and gardens- Japanese gardens, exotic gardens and just well plain green gardens, here, there and everywhere. Let’s not forget the beach….if your not into sandy beaches, this one has little pebble rocks that feels like your having a foot massage every time you walk on it! A very pleasant place to hang out in.
Our highlight was the aquarium. It has a good museum attached to it, as well as an outdoor playground area on the terrace – a play with a view. It is a very touristy city, and so busy, but a very nice feel and boy, were we surprised when at 4pm we found ourselves in one of the squares to absolute fun and chaos…school kids kicking soccer balls, scooting, running around like mad and even one climbing a tree…..a really crazy and fun place.
Travelling with kids is a lot of things…. it can be challenging, intense at times, tiring, and trying…but its not impossible and nor will it kill you (can’t promise your sanity will remain intact though). It will broaden your understanding of what is possible and you will look back and be amazed at the places you’ve been to, and the experiences/emotions you’ve shared as a family – nothing like 24/7 living to really get to know one another. Sometimes our imagined fear is much worse than the reality itself.
If you enjoy or like to travel for an extended period than you can either chose to keep on travelling and do it with your kids or you can wait til your kids have grown up and left home. Current statistics put kids flying the coop at early 20s or later and so your faced with the other potentially disastrous situation with leaving the kids at home to look after the house (parties alert) while you travel….
I remember as a 20 year old, making grand travel plans with my boyfriend at the time, who simply turned around and said – these are your dreams not mine…. which is true for your kids as well – it’s important to remember whose dreams they are. However, sharing your loves and interests with your kids is a wonderful thing and giving your kids the opportunity to see you; mess up, get lost, work things out, try a new language, communicate beyond language, make friends, discover new places etc is all part of life’s learning curve…. We want to travel as a family so we can share these experiences together… BUT we also know that are kids are on this ride with us… and it may not always suit them. It ‘s not a one size fits all approach, but about finding how to travel that suits your family at the time.
I don’t know what the future holds. What I do know is that my partner and I have both lost our mums at a young age, and that this time, right now, is as good a time as any … At a time when our peers are making career choices, investing in business, renovating, re-locating to a second or bigger home, we are not… its sometimes a scary feeling that in some ways our “progress” in the ‘real’ world has stopped… we are not making money but we are spending it fast…. However this is our family’s story not anyone else’s…. and so we all chose our own stories to write.
Travelling with kids takes on a different meaning. I have travelled previously as a single person and as a couple with my husband. Travelling at that time was about going somewhere on a whim, changing countries as often as you change underpants – catching planes, overnight trains without a moment’s thought, walking everywhere, eating poorly/living cheaply, leaving the doldrums of routine and responsibilities behind, getting through your book wish list and writing journals while lazing on a beach, cafe, park, lake/mountain side/whatever (ALL DAY), getting lost and not caring, going to places with exotic sounding illnesses and hoping you didn’t come home with anything other than a funny tummy, experiencing the culture, and working/volunteering for travel. Essentially an exercise in real self indulgence and complete escapism.
Well let me tell you that there is no escaping from your responsibilities as a parent when travelling with kids. In some ways its a little easier (because there’s two of you, so its shared), but a lot harder in other ways because there is just the two of you the entire time… through sickness, jetlag, moments of insanity. You thought negotiating with a friend/partner traveller was hard in the past (remember the silly arguments of deciding where to eat, where to go, sleep, etc) well now you have 2 other little travellers whose needs often take priority and there is little room for negotiating!!
Yes travelling is different, but hey, my kids have adjusted pretty well to this whole travel thing, so now its our turn to re-adjust our travels from a single person to a family unit… its not so hard..
Travelling as a single person vs travelling as a family
I’ve had very different experiences of cities/countries I’ve been to as a single person and then re-visited as a family – some have been better experiences, others, well they’ve just been different.
As a single person, I travelled and saw mostly cities in South America. This time as a family, we have spent more time in the countryside (which is amazing by the way) than the cities.
My experience of London as a 20 something year old, was mainly about work, nightlife and living frugaly in an 8 person share house. I spent the last two weeks before flying home doing some last minute half hearted sightseeing. Sure, I enjoyed having a walk (as a means to getting somewhere) through some of the popular parks but its a completely different experience when your hanging out with kids in some of the most beautiful parks in London.. It becomes a lifestyle and a necessity when apartment living. I’ve never been a keen fan of taxodormy, but kids love being able to see wild animals at close range without fear. So this time around, I’ve loved visiting the museums, the parks, and have met lots of other international families along the way. Sure I’ve missed out on lots too – special tours, audio commentary’s, interesting exhibits like the crown jewels at the tower of London. But I’d like to think, my kids have saved me a lot of time. As I’ve walked past the enormous queue’s at a lot of these attractions, I just think… I’m glad its not me….
Travelling with kids can be really fun especially seeing things from a kids perspective.. You get to enjoy being a kid again too. Next time, you factor in legoland, a trip to disneyland, a puppet/kids show etc, just check whether this ones for the kids or secretly for you too…
Kids are more likely to be “out there” and this will get you all sorts of experiences you couldn’t get even if you paid for it….No matter how interesting you think you are, kids are just much more fascinating without having to try too hard… and people are more interested in you as a traveller because you are travelling as a family…
On a ferry crossing in Chile we had two local musicians hand their drum over to my son to join in their impromptu performance, we’ve had a busker improvise a song for our son just for him, a female quartet came over to serenade us when my son – the only one – got up to dance to their music… So you get to enjoy a myriad of unique experiences which will be part of your family’s travel stories and you don’t have to do a thing….your kids will do it for you…naturally…
My kids are littlies, yet they are still learning lots during our travels overseas… My son knows what country/city we are in (although he did shout out excitedly that he had the American flag, when he was handed a free British flag..opps!), what oceans we have crossed, what local animals look like (in real life not just from books), what Spanish/French/etc sounds like. My sons might not be able to articulate everything they see and learn but the interaction they have with the country and the people, have been absorbed by them and will make up the glomerate of experiences that is their world and form their behaviours…. In Chile my eldest son built volcanoes out of sand, in Argentina his favourite word was “vamos”, in London he played all sorts of games/stories that involve animals from the woods, knights/towers, in France he learnt about donkeys and built castles out of rocks and it goes on and on…
I can’t tell you whether its best travelling with little ones or older kids… each will have their own pros and cons…. From our perspective, all ages are great and it doesn’t matter when you go. Each time it will be a different experience and perspective based on your kids life stage/personality at the time.. My one year old, can still go to a museum and have a valuable experience, seeing the animals, being able to touch and feel specimens etc…The next time he goes, he will experience it differently again and something new will catch his eye or he will see the same through his 18 month old perception.
If you see travel as stressful, difficult or a nuisance, than odds are, you wont enjoy it with children… travelling with children wont make adjusting to a new language, culture, finding your way around and dealing with challenges any easier.
We came to the conclusion that even without trying too hard my kids are getting something wonderful from “just being” wherever it is they are. Learning about the big wide world can happen by bringing the world to our kids, allowing them to explore while still in the safety and comfort of a parents arms. To learn that the world is really on their front doorstep, to really care about the world by seeing all the wonderful things on offer, and to learn that it doesn’t have to be a scary, dangerous or fearful place, and in fact that there are children like them all over the world that aren’t so different after all..
So our kids have found new friends in playgrounds to play with even when they don’t speak the same language, experienced the diversity of an international city like London, visited some of the local or best museums in the world – imagine going to see the dinosaur bones that were dug up in that precise region (Argentina/saurus) and discovered that Chile doesn’t mean spicy or even cold – its an actual country!
If you really want to have an adventure, jump in the deep end and go for it.. and don’t forget the kids!
Living life on the move – by road, foot, sea and air