For even the most experienced travellers, adding children into the mix can make it a whole new ballgame. You have to do a lot more preparation, budget much more carefully (thank God for cheap family travel insurance) and be far more aware of your surroundings once you’re actually abroad. These helpful tips and tricks will make all that planning a snap – and before you know it, you and your family will be enjoying a croissant in front of the Eiffel Tower.
The Right Age
Before taking your child abroad, it’s a good idea to consider whether or not it’s practical to do so. Lots of parents agree that, as long as you’ve got child-friendly activities planned each day, primary school kids can be the best to travel with, while others believe kids in secondary school are the ideal age. Regardless, a good rule of thumb is that if your child has no problem with sleeping away from home, is able to withstand full days of walking and is comfortable eating whatever is placed in front of them, they are probably old enough for a holiday in Europe.
The Right Destination
The right destination can make or break a trip with children. For younger children, it’s best to pick places that offer lots of fun kid-friendly activities so they don’t get bored (e.g. playgrounds and petting zoos). They also tend to be happy with rural accommodation – as long as there’s a grassy field to run around in and a pool to swim in, they’re set.
However, if your children are older (and especially if they’re teenagers), enlist their help in deciding where to go and what to do. They’ll love being a part of the decision-making process, and researching locations and things to do will make it their trip as much as yours. If you take their answers into consideration when finalizing the planning, you’re far more likely to end up with a trip everyone will love. Once you know where you’re going, introduce the country by finding some age-appropriate movies and books set in the place you’re jetting off to!
Although you always want to be prepared when travelling, it’s especially important when you’re going on an international holiday with children in tow. Come up with contingency plans should there be an emergency, and go over these plans with your child. For example, if you lose each other on crowded public transportation, a good backup is reconvening at your accommodation.
Give your child a business card from your hotel to carry so that they have local contact information. Many parents also invest in pay-as-you-go mobile phones for easy contact in case of emergencies. Some families even come up with a unique loud noise, like a whistle or whoop, to catch each other’s attention easily.
Inspire and Excite
Buy your child a journal (purchasing it abroad can make it a cool souvenir) and a disposable camera and encourage them to write about and take pictures of their trip. Make the journal important to them by suggesting they record more than just the day’s itinerary – they can include their feelings and reactions, and even paste in the photos they take! To boost their confidence, teach them a few useful phrases – with their newfound foreign language skills, the bravest among your brood may even try to strike up a conversation with one of the locals.
Before You Go
Get everything in place before you go, especially if you’re on a budget. Your flights will be way more affordable if you book ahead of time and there are lots of great options for cheap family travel insurance that will set your mind at ease. It’s also important to pack correctly (you only need a few toys, and super bulky clothing often just takes up space) so that you don’t have the unnecessary expense of checking in that extra suitcase.
An international holiday with children may seem daunting but that doesn’t mean it’s not more than doable – and it definitely doesn’t mean your trip won’t be enjoyable. Your travelling days are nowhere near over just because you’ve got some little ones running around. You just need a little more planning…and a lot more snacks!
Weird But Wonderful: Europe’s Top Strange Attractions (More for the Parents!)
A museum filled with locks of strangers’ hair, castles inhabited by monsters, swimming pools filled with beer…who comes up with these things? Find out for yourself. (And remember, it’s always best to prepare for the surreal by basing yourself in reality. Book your flights in advance and invest in some travel insurance.) Europe is home to some of the most bizarre and obscure attractions in the world. If you’re looking for an utterly unique and sensationally strange holiday, consider adding some of these attractions to your itinerary.
Out of the Box Oddities
• Museum of Broken Relationships, Croatia – What would it look like if you had a room filled with all the physical remnants of your past relationships? The Museum of Broken Relationships explores this idea, displaying gifts and tokens exchanged between lovers who have since parted ways. This melancholy collection includes items such as wedding dresses, lingerie and dental floss, and provides an intimate look into one of the most human emotions in the world: heartbreak.
• Avanos Hair Museum, Turkey – When the friend of a Turkish artist and potter was about to move, she left him a lock of her hair so he would never forget her. This was his inspiration for creating Avanos Hair Museum, a museum of memories and remembrance. Now filled with over 16,000 samples of hair, the majority of women who tour the museum leave a lock of their own behind.
• Beer Swimming Pool, Austria – If you love beer, you’ll love this swimming pool. Located in the cellar of a brewery, a former fermenting vat has been turned into a bath filled with freshly brewed beer that is warmed to a toasty temperature of 32C. Although swimming in this beer is supposedly wonderful for your skin, drinking it isn’t recommended. If all this is making you thirsty, don’t worry – the Austrian brewery will provide ice cold beer you’re more than welcome to down.
• Renegade One Man Church, Spain – In 1961, a man dying from tuberculosis made a deal with the Virgin Mary: if she spared his life, he’d build a cathedral in her honour. When he survived, he remained true to his promise and, using any materials he could scavenge, has been building the church ever since. The cathedral is wobbly, lumpy and completely handmade – and he’s still working to this day. You can visit this one-man church for free, and will likely run into the 90-year-old architect himself as he works tirelessly to complete his tribute.
• Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine – What’s a little radiation poisoning compared to a lot of history? Those fascinated with the nuclear accident that destroyed Chernobyl will enjoy learning all about the effects the disaster had on the people who worked and lived in the area. During this visit, you can see the ghost town of Pripyat, the ‘red forest’ (pine trees that have turned a strange reddish orange due to the radiation) and a nuclear reactor.
• Dracula’s Castle, Transylvania – Visit the home of the real-life Dracula to see where Bram Stoker got his inspiration. Bran Castle was where Vlad the Impaler once lived – swing by and sink your teeth into the horror and history. It’s bound to be a bloody good time for all vampire enthusiasts.
Reality really can be stranger than fiction and these are certainly some of the strangest places out there. And, since you’re about to be braving nuclear radiation and vampire-filled castles, it’s a good idea to see if you can find some monster- and nuclear disaster-inclusive travel insurance. Europe and all its weird, wonderful and out of the way attractions are waiting – and you really do have to see them to believe them.
Patrick Chong is the Managing Director of InsureMore, an award-winning team of specialists in global single trip, family, annual, cruise travel and winter sports insurance. If you need cheap travel insurance, Europe is just one of the many destinations around the world covered by InsureMore’s policies. Besides offering great deals on travel insurance, Patrick also collects and shares the best free travel competitions to help his clients get the most out of their holidays.