European Travel Tips with Young Kids

Our family, including our young kids (3 kids under 7) made an epic trip to Europe (France and Spain) recently. It was wonderful, but also exhausting and stressful. A few tips/recommendations/lessons learned:

  • Attack Jet Lag: Flying from the East Cost of the US to France, we took the advice we heard of taking a red-eye flight to Europe, and then staying awake all day once we arrive to force ourselves to adjust quickly to the time zone change. It was hard to stay awake but was nice to ‘rip off the band-aid’ of shifting time zones. We ended up hanging out at the Eiffel Tower, which was nice to get some fresh air and go up the tower.
  • Research Ridesharing Options: We were willing to invest the money in ridesharing/taxis instead of buses and subways. If you’re going that route, I’d recommend researching the most popular ridesharing options. Barcelona recently re-approved Uber, but there aren’t many drivers using Uber there (or Cabify, which we also tried), so we got rides much faster using Free Now. In Paris, Uber was great.
  • Regarding car seats, consider looking at inflatable car seats if you want something more portable, though many of the vans we rode in did have one car seat available for use, which was nice.
  • Schedule USPS to hold your mail, and then ask a neighbor to check, because USPS isn’t perfect at this
  • On big planes with over-night flights, we found it nice to have a lightweight car seat for our 1 -year-old (see this TheWireCutter review), but for other flights, we would check the car seat
  • Pick some good travel adapters (we liked these adapters, because they have USB-C for faster phone charging and USB-A)
  • Consider bringing a power bank to carry with you, to keep your phone charged (I regret buying one which was about this size, because it was bigger and heavier than I wanted, so I didn’t carry it with us around)
  • I borrowed a big hiking backpack from a friend, and used that instead of a rollerboard carry-on, so my hands could be free to push strollers and hold bigger kid’s hands, which was great — it was also nice, because it has a smaller “day pack” backpack that could be zipped off, so I put that under the seat on the plane, and the big backpack in the overhead bin
  • We read Rick Steves travel books and watched several of his YouTube clips, which were great for preparing
  • One thing we heard was that pickpocketing was an issue (we didn’t actually experience it that we know of) — to mitigate that, I bought a Scottevest vest with several interior, zippered pockets to keep things like phone, wallet, and passports. Ignoring the pickpocketing issue, it was great to have all these pockets while traveling to keep random things without needing to carry a backpack! (Some people prefer money belts)
  • For the red-eye flight with the kids, we bought some of these footrest pillows for them to be able to sleep better (because we didn’t pay for first class tickets)
  • We bought some huge carabiners for the strollers, to be able to clip on small bags to the handle, which was great
  • We upgraded to a fancier stroller than we had, which was light, but not flimsy, which was so worth it for our 1-year-old!
  • Packing cubes were great, so we could quickly unpack and re-pack
  • We bought this big, red bag to plane-side check our stroller (and sometimes jackets and other small stuff), which was great — it came out dirty and banged up, so I’m glad it was the bag and now the stroller that got filthy
  • We bought these Apple AirTag watch bands for our kids to wear, in case we ever lost them in a crowd. We ended up not using them much, and fortunately we didn’t lose any children in Europe, but it was nice to have the option.
  • We also, thanks to a great recommendation from a great friend, put Apple AirTags in our checked luggage in case the airline lost any (which they fortunately didn’t). It was also fun to watch in my Find My app as the luggage moved around
  • We learned that Uber drivers in Paris were more flexible with cramming people in on short rides than in Barcelona, where they were very strict with the number of people in each row of the car (including babies on a parent’s lap or in car seats)
  • If you’re in long line somewhere, like a museum, pull out your phone and see if you can buy the tickets faster than the line. That was a big help at a great science museum in Barcelona (thanks to my amazing sister-in-law!)
  • Buy Eiffel Tower tickets long before you want to go — they sell out quick
  • For long flights, have lots of activities for kids (we found a good mix of screen-time (either the plane’s or your own tablet) and other stuff like sticker books or these drawing tablets worked as well as can be expected for super-long flights with very young kids)
  • Read age restrictions well — we thought we could take all our kids up one of the towers in Sagrada Familia with the “Under 11-year-old” tickets, but only kids 6 and older can go up the towers, because of the treacherous steps down from the tower
  • Make a good list of places/things you want to do, but then be careful not to exhaust your kids — it’s easy to make everyone stressed and cranky if you try to cram too much into each day

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