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Where to go with 3 year-old?

Due to budget and work issues, we haven't made it to Europe in 4 years! It looks like we're finally going to be able to go in mid-May for about 2 weeks!! However, I'm having a hard time deciding where to go. Budget is a big issue, so I'm looking for the best airfare to sort of guide me, plus I'm hoping going at the end of shoulder season will help. I dream of Paris, Gimmelwald and Cinque Terre all the time. Places high on my list that we haven't been to yet are Spain, Portugal, Northern Italy (lakes area), Czech Republic (we sort of went there during the floods of '02 but didn't get to see anything), and France other than Paris. Would it be better to go some place that we're been before so that we would more likely go slow and just enjoy rather than wanting to see all the sites? For example, we've been to Paris 3 times so I don't 'need' to go to the Louvre as badly as I would need to go to the Prado if we visited Spain; in Paris we would spend our time in the parks, picnicking in front of Sacre Coeur, which we actually did on our last trip there anyway. Originally I thought Paris would be a good start because we can fly direct and it's one of the cheaper places to fly to, and then maybe head to southern France and/or then Gimmelwald . But I'm wondering if we should just go somewhere new. Is Spain still cheaper than say France for accommodations? Of course I know Switzerland is expensive, but we would do lots of picnics. Is it hard to find rooms for 3? This is such a hard decision... Thanks for any input!

Posted by
6 posts

Rick says, 'Europe is your cultural playpen, a living fairy tale, a sandbox of family fun and adventure. Grab your kid and dive in.' I'm not imagining days in museums and nice restaurants, I'm imagining enjoying culture and nature, playing in kid parks and meeting European kids, having picnic lunches, etc. Those types of things are my favorite kind of memories in Europe. When my child is 5 or 6, I may have another child. Time to save more money isn't necessary, I like to travel 'through the backdoor.' And as far as luggage, we always took small backpacks, we know how to travel light! I once went to Paris with only a school backpack! Of course packing for one more, but still, no diapers or baby food, just some clothes and a few toys. I will be sad to have to buy a huge suitcase for all of us to share.

Thanks for your comments. Everything I had read before was so pro-traveling with your kids. I guess I'll have to really consider keeping the trip as simple as possible to make it do-able.

Posted by
3313 posts

Monique - We've taken our daughter twice. Once when she was 5 months old and last year when she was just over 4 years old.

What made a difference for us is that we did go places we'd been before. Just as you suggested we skipped the Louvre but played in the Tuileries. She began walking a lot farther than we expected - even climbed the stairs to Sacre Couer.

We also rented a car for three weeks after leaving Paris. That meant we could carry extra supplies and keep juice boxes, etc. on hand. But we stayed out of the bigger towns with the car.

Taking a child does means traveling slower. It means finding carousels (which suddenly appear everywhere) and playgrounds, instead of cafes and museums. But what kid doesn't like castles?

Taking a child that young meant we were able to squeeze her into a double hotel room with additional charge. Usually they would have cot or a crib (take the mattress out and place it on the floor).

Posted by
3313 posts

(cont.)

Sometimes we'd just spread a blanket on the floor with a pillow and tell her she was camping out. She loved it!

Will she remember the trip? Right now she does. She knows she saw the Tower of Pisa and that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris. She also knows that some kids speak different languages than she does. She knows that people eat different foods than she does -
"Daddy, you ate octopus!"

She also knows that when her parents have an adventure, she gets to be a part of it.

Posted by
11432 posts

Traveling with a child is not the same as traveling with only adults.

May I suggest you start by going to the link below and reading an article on the subject by Rick and then read the expanded version in "Europe Through The Back Door" and then check out the other resources he mentions:

http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/kids.htm

While I have not personally travelled with anyone that young, I have friend who have. The one's who geared much of their trip with the little one in mind had a better time than those who just dragged the kid along.

One friend, took their 5 year old to London. Before going they showed her pictures of the things she was going to see. They made it into a game so when she did see it in real life, she was excited. They also added fun things for kids to do to balance out the sightseeing.

Posted by
277 posts

A 3 year old? What enjoyment could you obtain? I waited until by child was 6 before we traveled to Europe. I would wait another three years before you go together. Or, of course, let a family member babysit.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks, Frank, I read that link. I have read the chapter in the book, and I've watched the video about the Steves' family travel adventures. It's hard to get info for an almost 4 year-old, when the typical family travel books are geared for kids much older.

Posted by
11432 posts

Monique, there's a reason why there's no book for traveling to numerous places in Europe with 3 year olds...it's a bad idea. Why not wait a couple of years, take that time to save some more money, and then go back with enough financial resources to travel easier with a 5 year old.

To see what it might be like, why not give it a test run. Take a long weekend and go away. Not to one place...but go two or three days the way you would travel through Europe. Stay in more than one place.Treat your day like you would in Europe. If you plan to take the train in Europe rather than drive, take the train here. See what it is like to travel with a three year old and all the stuff you need. You think a 3 year old travels the "Rick" way? And make sure you take the exact same amount of luggage you would in Europe. Rick suggests doing a trial run with your luggage to see if you can manage. You can do the same with a 3-year-old.

Posted by
1 posts

I recently went to Paris with my son, his wife, and my grandson (age 1.5). Although I think the demands of a 1.5 year-old and a 3 year-old would be somewhat different, I think the basic plan we used worked well. We traded off spending time with him. When it was a sight they really wanted to experience, i.e. going up on the Eiffel tower, I simply took him and found a park at the base of the tower to play. We traded off at the Louvre by meeting every hour or so and it gave us private time as well as time to play. We still spent plenty of time as a group and this actually gave us some needed time apart. We still kept up a pretty aggressive pace but got free time to ourselves and great, one-on-one, time with my grandson. So if you have a parent that would like to travel with you, you could try a similar soluton.

Posted by
1167 posts

It seems to me that it would cheaper, easier and just as memorable for your 3 year old to take a trip in the United States and/or Canada. Maybe the West, since you are from MA. Places like Yellowstone, the Oregon coast, California redwoods, Yosemite, San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon would be at least as memorable as the things the child would see in Europe.

Posted by
5669 posts

While we never made the trip, as baby number two came along, my sister and I thougth about two places that we would have gone with her 3-year old son. One was Italy, where the weather would be warm and there would be lots of places for him to play outside. The other was the UK and Scotland. He was / is a Thomas Engine boy and there are lots of cool trains and lovely places in Scotland in particular that children enjoy. You might want to look into the places that Europeans take their children on holiday.

Pam

Posted by
87 posts

There is a book called "Take your kids to Europe" by Cynthia Harriman. I think hers were a little older, but she updates her books with readers feedback. You may be able to get it from your library. It was through reading her book that I found this website.

Posted by
582 posts

There is even a DVD I saw for sale on Amazon called,Traveling With Kids/Paris.
This DVD is on Paris only.
You may want to look into that since you want to spend time in Paris anyway. and even watch it with your child!
Have fun!!!

Posted by
990 posts

It's been a long, long time since I traveled with a child that young, but we used to do it frequently. Here are a few other things to think about: Naptime is sacred. Assuming that your child still does the afternoon nap, don't be tempted to skip it. Instead, one of you can stay with your little napper while the other heads off to a museum.

Trains are more fun to look at than to ride it. We always included a brief trainride, but mainly going to the station to look at the huge trains is a treat at that age. Boats are also a good activity--no matter how corny a boat ride is for an adult, it's fun for kids.

What kid doesn't love gelato? Mine would have eaten it three times a day if we let them. And crepes with nutella...and sausages...and pasta...and hot chocolate with churros...and pastries...and frites with mayonnaise...and yogurt.

Europe with young kids is a different experience than for adults. But it can be no less terrific.

Posted by
710 posts

Take lots of pictures and create a storybook/memory book when you return home. They will enjoy reading their very own book that included pictures of themselves and mom and dad in the places you visit. At that age they will tend to forget, but the pictures will help them remember their adventures. We ran into a mom and dad at St. Peter's. They were taking turns playing with and watching their child. They had arrived early and toured the chuch together. Then the dad had taken and earlier Scavi tour and the wife was on a later tour with us while dad watched the child. It took alot of planning for them before they left, but they both got to go on the Scavi tour although at different time. They said they were doing the same thing with other places.

Posted by
82 posts

We took our daughter to Italy when she was 4 and had a wonderful time. Yes, we weren't able to see as many scheduled sites but we had interactions with the locals that happened only because of our daughter. I remember the waitress bringing her mother and the cook out of the kitchen when our daughter said "Grazie". I disagree with those who say to wait until the child is 6 because s/he might not "remember" the trip. It wouldn't keep you from traveling here, so why let it stop you from going to Europe or anyone else. Our daughter is now 13 and has made 5 trips to Europe. Her favorite class in school:geography! I can't imagine not going or not taking her!

Posted by
11450 posts

Well, I am sorry, but I think that most people who take children under 5 to Europe are in fact doing it because THEY want to go and don't want to wait for kids to get older. They try and make if "fun" for the kids, but really it is about how to make the museums and sites THEY want to see doable for the kiddies. I am talking about the little kids, not the ones over 4or 5.

Go to Europe if you want , there is not a thing wrong with it, but, be honest, your 3 yr old would love a park ANYWHERE in the world, europe is for you( and there is nothing wrong with that) so , with that in mind pick where YOU want to go and adapt where needed.

Kids like animals, parks, picnics, lakes , beaches and fountains.
I would choose the easiest flight and transport options, and least air time.
I have heard Portugal has some incredible beaches and renting a car and doing the Lake area in nothern Italy also appeals.

Cities would not be my #1 choice. The countryside is pretty in so many places

Posted by
11975 posts

Although our kids started tent camping as babies, they weren't ready for overseas travel until much later. I hope you have a great time but it's hard to predict anything but a horrible experience trying to keep your child rested, fed and entertained. It will consume your trip and the child won't remember it.

At three it's so much better to leave them at Grandma's house while you and your spouse spend some much needed time together.

My daughter just picked up our three year old grandson after a vacation to Hawaii. We and our younger kids were glad for the time with him and my daughter was able to enjoy a relaxing vacation.

Posted by
47 posts

Monique, you might also consider traveling with another family with a child. Some friends of ours did that -- they went to Scotland and northern England (Hadrian's Wall etc.) with another couple who have a child their son's age. It gives the kids someone their own age to play with and helps alleviate boredom. Everyone has to be clear in advance about what they want to see and do, and agree to be flexible, but it worked for my friends.

Posted by
47 posts

Addendum to previous post: traveling with another family also gives parents some time alone. One parent or couple can watch both kids -- take them to a playground or other kid-friendly attraction -- while the other parents go off and do something "adult" for a couple of hours, then they switch off. Everybody plays, everybody wins!

Posted by
51 posts

Monique - If you are crazy for taking a 3 year old to Europe - than I am just as crazy for taking my 4 year old. My daughter is pretty well traveled and has alot of stamps on her passport. I say go for it (join the madness!). You just can't expect to do alot and you need to go slow. A suggestion - get your child an inexpensive digital camera and have him/her take pictures from his/her perspective. There is a book "Take your Kids to Europe." I haven't read it completely yet, but renting a house/apt is more cost effective than hotels for longer stays in one place. Good luck!! Just remember, it's an adventure. Things probably won't go as planned, but those are usually the best moments.