Friday, May 1, 2015

8 Travel Tips for Big Families

We're a brand new expat family of six. Six months ago, we left the States and moved to the tiny country of Luxembourg. And then three months later, we welcomed our fourth baby, doubling the kid-to-parent ratio.

We're staring down our spring and summer travel schedule, with trips planned to chateaux-hop in the Loire Valley, hang with the princesses and pirates in Disneyland Paris, weekend in Heidelberg with friends, visit Holland's Tulip Festival, take a beach vacay in the South of France and zip back to the States for homeleave. So we took a deep breath and decided to practice with a four-day trip to Paris. We figured since it's close to home (four hours by car), drivable and a short visit, it would be a great opportunity to practice how to travel in a large city as a pretty big family. Here's what we discovered:

1. Dress the Kids in Bright Colors
Those Europeans love to wear black, black and more black (with a splash of gray). This definitely worked out to my advantage! I could spot my kids instantly as they ran circles around the crowds in their kelly green, bright orange and fire engine red coats. It happened by accident, but I certainly will plan it that way in the future. In fact, I might even dress them in MATCHING colors!

2. Spring for the Cab (or Cabs)
With four young kids, a double stroller and infant carrier, we decided to skip the Metro and bus lines. When someone was tired or we needed a lift, we flagged down a couple of cabs (yes, with four kids, you need TWO cabs, unless your driver is willing to break the law) and caravanned around the city. Most fares were only about 7 Euro each, so it hardly broke the bank. It was easy, comfortable, convenient, and completely on our schedule. Instant relief when you're tired, soggy or just plain lost. And best of all, we could look out the window and ask the cabbie questions as we rode.

3. Splurge a Little for the Most Convenient Location Possible
It's wonderful if you can stay in a hotel, but with four kids, we pretty much need to rent a flat. I've spent hours on Airbnb and VRBO, searching for the perfect rentals for our family, and you can definitely save some money by renting a place a little off the beaten track. But with a young, large family like ours, I will always, ALWAYS pay a little more for a convenient location that will allow us to walk or take a quick cab ride to where we want to go. Rob and I decided we'd rather travel less in order to enjoy each trip more.

4. Travel Light
When you're traveling with kids, it's tempting to bring everything you think you might ever need. And there were days that we did! But we realized we were a lot more relaxed on the days that we threw a few diapers and an umbrella in a backpack, put the baby in a carrier and walked out the door hands-free. When little legs got tired, we found a coffee shop or jumped in a cab. When someone was thirsty, we bought a bottle of water. Traveling light let us be nimble. Well, as nimble as you can be with a 7, 5, 3 and 3-month-old!

5. Have a Detailed Plan. And then be Ready to Chuck It. 
Every night, Rob and I planned a perfect itinerary. And every morning, there was a curve ball. Couldn't find taxis on a Sunday morning. Someone's socks are wet. Three-year old needs a nap. Naturally, some of our favorite moments were the ones we didn't plan. Isn't that how it goes? It was most fun when we could just let ourselves be in the moment and make adjustments as the day went along.

6. Arrive Early
It doesn't matter where you're going.....just get there early! The City of Lights felt like it was ours for the taking just by getting out the door shortly after the kids woke up. Since our kids are early-to-bed, early-to-rise, this wasn't hard at all. We got a jump on the day and showed up where we were going before the doors even opened. We left before the sun was up; the streets were quiet and peaceful, and we had leisurely breakfasts before the hustle and bustle.

7. Travel with White Noise
Lots of people crammed in shared spaces with full days and some later-than-usual nights. Everyone needs their sleep. We threw our white noise machines in a bag and never looked back. Thank you German Amazon.

8. Make an Experience Checklist
Having a list of silly and fun things to do in the place you're exploring was so fun for the kids and for the adults! It made our little family feel like a team our on a scavenger hunt...our very own Amazing Race.

No comments: