So Vanessa, tell us a bit about you and your family?
I’m married to an Englishman, and we have two sons who are seven and four. We share our house with our mad Jack Russell Terrier, and two very friendly cats.
And where have you been of late with your little ‘hips’?
We have recently returned from a buying trip to Europe with our two children. We had a stopover in Dubai for two days, which completely amazed the boys, and then flew into Paris, from where we made our way up through France, Germany, quick stops in Amsterdam and Brussels, then on to Yorkshire where my husband’s parents live.
How did you get there?
We flew Emirates. They were great. The food was pretty good, the children loved their toys and snack packs, and the inflight entertainment was great. So much choice, and it really kept all of us entertained for the duration of the flight. I think it was especially exciting for my children, as they are usually very limited in their television watching. The thought of being allowed to watch television for more than an hour was a bonus!
Where did you stay?
As we were moving around so much, we stayed in loads of different places. I have to say, though, that there was one particularly useful accommodation website, called www.booking.com. This was the only website I found that allowed you to put in how many people you had in your party. It’s really difficult trying to find family rooms when you have two adults and two children!
Your biggest challenge?
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Jetlag! We couldn’t keep the children awake in Dubai – they were face down on the dinner table at 6.00pm. In Paris, they were awake on the first morning at 3.30am. We ended up getting up and going for a walk around the Bastille at 5.30, and having early morning coffee and hot chocolates in a small café. Everyone else was coming off night shift, and we were sitting with two very wide eyed, wide awake and raring to go children! There’s nothing you can do about it, just try to keep to your routine and eventually you adjust.
Any big recommendations?
We did a ‘greatest hits’ tour of Paris, which kept our children entertained. I made sure that they already knew what we were going to see, the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomph, etc., so it was exciting for them to see it up close. They thoroughly enjoyed it.
Realistically, though, the thing that my two enjoyed the most were parks. Any sized park, anywhere. We managed to find a ball on our first day in Paris, and we dragged it with us all the way through to Amsterdam, where we finally left it on a park bench for another child to find and enjoy. Children are children everywhere, and it was amazing to watch mine playing in a park in Strasbourg with other French children, even though they had no common language. Fantastic stuff.
What are your main tips for travelling with kids?
Get organized. Travelling with kids is so different from backpacking, where you never know where you’ll be staying that night. Children, especially small ones, need predictability. My seven year old really needed to know our itinerary, and what to expect. I think it’s the comfort of routine for them, even when they are on holidays. Unfamiliarity is not exciting for them, it’s upsetting and uncertain. But don’t worry, you can still have a good time even though you know where you’ll be staying that night, and the next, and the next!
What would you not have left home without?
For me the question is more like what should we have left at home? We’ve travelled a lot with our children, and I’ve got our packing down to a fine art. We only take three days worth of clothes, and we make sure that everything is either a favourite, or an absolute essential. It’s too hard travelling with children when you have heaps of stuff! If we do need anything, we tend to buy it as we go. We had to buy a raincoat for our youngest son on a particularly wet day in Germany, and when he pulled it out of the cupboard again the other day, there was a serviette in his pocket from a café that we’d loved. We had a great time remembering why we’d bought the raincoat and where, and what we did while he was wearing it.
Having said that, my children are that bit older now and don’t need all the baby kit. We could definitely have used a Hipseat (more on that to come) for carrying my four year old when he was tired, as he no longer has a pram.
And finally, anything else you want to add?
I know a lot of people who are worried about travelling with their children. Don’t be! It’s so much fun, children are the best icebreakers. You get talking to so many different people when you have children.