5 things my wife and I learned taking our kids to Europe

My wife and I just took a romantic trip to Paris. We stopped in London and Amsterdam, too.

Oh, and we took the kids. So by “romantic,” I mean “not romantic.”

Credit: Giphy

People had strong opinions on the issue of whether or not we should take our kids with us on a trip like that. If you’re considering such a trip, and are thinking of taking the kids, here are a few lessons we learned along the way.

See everything you want – but make it quick. 

My wife and I wanted to see things like the Louvre, the Tower of London, and the Notre Dame cathedral. Our kids may not have picked some of those places. But they did just fine, and were largely entertained everywhere we went – so long as we kept it moving. (And told them that Taylor Swift had just been there.)

If you linger anywhere too long, kids get bored. They want to constantly be in motion, experiencing something different. Unless it comes to that weird Thunder song by the Imagine Dragons where they repeat the word Thunder about 542 times in 4 minutes and call that music.

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Don’t skip the big, touristy highlights. Really.

A few places are generally considered must-see attractions wherever you go, kids or no kids.

For some reason, my inclination is to avoid these tourist traps and try to find some hidden gem, something authentic off the beaten track. But we learned that the big ticket items are often big ticket items for a reason, and they’re very much worth seeing.

Like in London, Westminster Abbey is a very touristy place to go. The line stretched around the street when we went.

Family photos from our vacation. Credit: Dominic Verstegen

But there’s a reason – it’s goll danged fascinating. They’ve been marrying kings and queens there for almost a thousand years, and burying them right under the floor, too. The kids were super interested by this, even if they didn’t appreciate the irony/efficiency of that.

Make an effort to learn a bit of the language

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In our whole time in Europe, we only had one waiter who genuinely didn’t seem to speak much English.

Rick Steves, travel expert and best friend I’ve not yet met, advises that Americans traveling to Europe should at least try to speak a little bit of the native language in whatever country they are headed to. I mean, it’s polite. And, he suggests, residents might be more willing to speak in English to you if you make this effort — particularly in France.

So before we left, our family tried to learn a few words and phrases in Dutch and French.

We tried that out when we got there, and it worked — most people helped us out by speaking English to us.

The Parisians, however, may have been willing to speak English just to get me to stop my inadvertent crushing of their language.

Me: Bonjour, s’il vous plait, monsieur, oui, vive la France.  Chocolate crepe.

Crepe store owner:

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Me: [thumbs up, in a cowboy hat]

Crepe store owner: Oy. That’ll be five Euros.

Give thanks for dryers

Bedding is set out to air dry on a balcony in France. Credit: Getty images

Really. This is a serious thing. We were gone for 11 days, so we rented a couple of Airbnbs. We wanted to show the kids genuine European living – and to do some laundry.

The washing machines over there were a little different, but that’s no where as weird as the fact that they had no dryers. This mind-boggling phenomena is apparently somewhat common.

I get how Europeans sometimes view Americans as living in excess. I didn’t see any Parisians driving a pickup truck to a Starbucks drive-thru to order a venti frappuccino, for example. Their drinks are small; their rooms are small; and you can fit many of their vehicles in your pocket.

Family photos from our vacation. Credit: Dominic Verstegen

Fine. I could get used to that. And it was good for the kids to see a different way of life.

But what’s the objection to a dryer? Our lovely Paris apartment had a view of the Eiffel Tower – and my grundies, because they were hanging on the window ledge to air dry.  City of Love, my fat [bottom].

Just do it. Take your kids.

Our biggest takeaway from our trip was that it was the right decision to take the kids, at least for us. Sure, we could’ve had a great time without them. But we had a great time with them, and they got to see and do things they’ll remember forever.

Here are a few specific benefits of taking your kids on a trip like this:

  • You’ll learn a lot. Before we went to several museums and historical sites, we read about what is/was there, and why it was important. Often, I was learning about this stuff just as much as the kids were. Note – this benefit may only apply to me, as I spent the majority of my time in world history class back in the day trying to learn how to tight roll my jeans and otherwise impress the ladies.
  • Being in Europe showed the kids there are different ways to do things that aren’t necessarily better or worse, just different. Like driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, calling fries “chips,” calling chips “crisps,” and calling T.J. Maxx “T.K. Maxx.”

“T.K. Maxx” instead of “T.J. Maxx” in Europe. Credit: Dominic Verstegen

  • We had quality family time. Any kind of vacation with the kids forces you to slow down from your hectic schedule and just hang out. Some of our best memories from our trip aren’t just seeing the sights, but having French people gawk at us while we played catch with our baseball gloves in a park, and yelling out variations of our unique last name in the Netherlands (where my ancestors are from) to see if we’d meet any relatives.

So if you get the chance, take the kids to Europe.

Sure, you may not have the same experience as if you leave them behind, particularly in Amsterdam, but what we missed out on in myriad local vices, we made up for with quality family memories.

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