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5 week trip with 1 and 3 year olds

We are planning a trip in May starting in Warsaw for 2 days, then flying on to Zurich. We are staying a total of 5 weeks and want to spend 5 - 7 days in Switzerland (Bern Lucerne, etc) then move South and spend some time in Northern Italy including Lake Como, Milan and CT, then back to Switzerland for a week (Basel, Geneva) then move up the Rhine exploring France and Germany, then move on to Benelux and fly out of either Amsterdam or Brussels. My questions: 1. My husband is set on spending 2 weeks in Switzerland exploring some cities, then hopefully the mountains. Where should we go and what should we do with 2 toddlers in the mountains (one of which will be 13 months old and barely walking)? or should we skip this with such small children?
2. How much time should we allot for the other locations, and where should we go, keeping in mind we need family-friendly places for the toddlers? I'm hoping some of you may have some insight about traveling in these areas with small children. Thanks in advance!

Posted by
501 posts

I'm not answering your question, but why are you taking your children?? I realize you are good parents.....but ....the children will not remember a single thing about this trip. Grandparents aren't available?? I say go alone and look for all your answers while there. YOU, the mother deserve a break from your wonderful children.

Posted by
9110 posts

I must have missed the part where Dominica asked how to raise her kids . . . or if she should take them.

Posted by
16 posts

Well Jim, I see you're in Dallas. Care to take my kids for 5 WEEKS while my husband and I traipse around Europe? ;) We're bringing the kids, that's non-negotiable.

Posted by
3696 posts

I would try to find out where the locals with children vacation. They don't all leave their kids home to go on vacation, the same as parents here don't when they travel in the US. I would definitely try to find places that are kid friendly with activities for the children...at the very least parks (prevelant in Europe) as well as zoos. Bring good strollers... and you will probably be able to do half of what you want to, but if it were me I would rather be in Europe with my kids/grandkids than home. Lots of people travel with children.... you need answers from people who have done it. There are lots of beautiful mountain towns and I am sure you will have a wonderful family experience. And it doesn't matter if your kids will remember the trip or not....you will. Maybe someone you know from the US will be traveling at the same time and you could plan to meet up for a day or two and if they have a teenager you could have a sitter
for an evening out.

Posted by
1804 posts

Have you flown any considerable distance with your kids? The overseas plane trip is typically the most stressful part of travelling with kids that age, unless you are one of the lucky moms whose kids are lulled into sleep by jet engines. But some small kids have problems with cabin pressure changes that bother their ears and that coupled with being confined to a small area for hours can turn nightmarish. If this is going to be their 1st flight, I'd suggest you try to squeeze in a short airplane trip of about 2-3 hrs somewhere in the US before you go to Europe as sort of a test run to see how they handle it. Do try to base yourself from very central locations once you arrive so you can do day trips and avoid having to pack up and move every couple of nights. And Terry K is correct, expect to complete about half of what you may have planned for any given day and if the kids are not getting cranky or tired and you can do a bit more than half, consider it a bonus! You really won't be able to do any serious mountain hikes with them when they are that age, but there's always a gondola somewhere that can take you to the top for a view and 1 or 2 trails that will be fairly easy and hopefully level enough to bring a good stroller. Maybe the 13mo old is still small enough to fit into a Baby Bjorn type carrier, but still bring a 2nd stroller because the constant weight on your shoulders & back can start to feel like you're lugging a sack of lead after a few hours. As for the suggestion to leave the kids with their grandparents for 5 whole weeks, I for one don't know of any grandparents on the planet that would be willing to sign up for caring for a 1&3 yo 24/7 for that long! A weekend...sure, a week...maybe. But if I had kids that age & asked my mom and dad for that kind of favor they'd think I was smoking crack or had lost my mind!

Posted by
1357 posts

I'm going to suggest to slow WAY down. When traveling with kids that age, it's hard to be moving from place to place every few days. I'd cut the itinerary down to 5 one-week stays. Then you can get an apartment in each place where you stay. An apartment will give you more room (and a separate room for mom and dad), access to a kitchen and a washer/dryer, and a place to call home for a bit. Kids that age are not fun to have in restaurants, especially after a busy day. Having an apartment will give you the luxury of eating in and not having to wrangle 2 cranky toddlers in public. Take a look at a map, and see where you can set up home bases. It'll make life much easier.

Posted by
115 posts

Wow. That is ambitious. I understand that taking the children is non-negotiable. I would never have left mine for 5 weeks either. However, I agree that the airline trip will be the toughest part. Maureen sounds like an experienced mother and traveler. I think she is spot on with her advice - especially the part about renting apartments. Not only do they give you space and make life easier (for both the parents and the little tykes), they immerse you more into the culture. We have rented apartments a couple of times in Europe and had nothing but wonderful experiences. And, when my kids were little, we just made sure that the moment someone got cranky (kids or Mom....typically, Mom...), it was time to take a break. No need to ruin a fun vacation by trying to cram in too much. Better to do a few things and everyone is happy than try to do everything and everyone is miserable.

Posted by
638 posts

I've never traveled to Europe with children but from experience here's my two cents worth., After your trip to Warsaw (and flying to Switzerland) I like the idea of basing yourself in one area since your husband wants to spend a fair amount of time in Switzerland I recommend getting a rental car, it's often difficult enough to meet timetables with more than a couple of adults, with a car at least when you are going hiking, going into a city or just traveling to another area you can travel at your own pace, plus you won't have to carry everything, strollers, bags with food and toys for the kids, etc. On a positive note, once you've done this you'll be our resident expert of European travel with children under 4 years old!

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks for all the great suggestions! The 3 year old has flown several times across the country, and generally does pretty well. I think this will end up being the 1 year old's first plane trip, although both girls have been back and forth driving from TX to NY, which takes much longer than a trans-Atlantic flight, although is not quite the same thing. We have lunch or dinner in our business club at least once a week, so they are used to restaurants, but we'd rather not be "those Americans" with the obnoxious kids in a restaurant, so we will stick to cafes or picnic most of the time or eat in the apartment, should we be staying in one. We've been looking into apartment rentals, but our biggest concern is the security deposits that seem to be required in cash upon arrival. Does anyone know when you typically get the deposits back? It seems like these deposits could add up pretty quickly if we rent several apartments. We are aware that we may have to miss some of the places we want to see, depending on how the kids are handling things. For the first 2 weeks my husband will be working from wherever we are and will need reliable internet access. For the last 3 weeks we can be "unplugged." We are definitely only spending a couple of nights in Warsaw, as we are only stopping there so that DH can work out of his company's office there. We were thinking that it would be nice to have him work from the CT for part of the first 2 weeks. Does anyone have any experience with the internet access there?

Posted by
16 posts

lol Barry :) My husband keeps saying that after this we should write a travel guide for traveling Europe with toddlers. We've been debating whether to take trains or rent a car. I have tons of research to do comparing costs. During the first 2 weeks, we will only have mornings for sight-seeing as my husband will be working NY hours in the afternoons. A car would certainly make it easier to make sure we are back to where we are staying in time. There's just so much involved in planning this trip, it's rather overwhelming.

Posted by
1357 posts

I've never had to pay a deposit for any apartments that I've stayed in in Europe. Are you going through an agency? Your best bet is to go through the local website to find accomodations there. I'd HIGHLY recommend getting Cynthia Harriman's book "Take Your Kids to Europe." It's full of practical advice, along with lists of websites for apartments in different countries. Playground visits are a must. As is daily afternoon breaks for ice cream.

Posted by
813 posts

Personal comment, first, you asked for insight.....I personally cringe at taking those ages on a lengthy trip around Europe, because I've done it even with the luxury of living here already. Around the 18mo old mark is truly the hardest. They won't sit still, won't be quiet, but that's what makes them so cute. BUT My kids are under 13 now and much easier to travel with because they've had the experiences of dealing with travel, getting on and off trains, dealing with various languages, etc. when they were smaller. Now, having said that, here's some suggestions to make your trip a whole lot happier. www.kinderhotels.com These are incredible hotels. Mostly around Austria. Absolutely worth every penny. You don't mention being on a budget, so go for these hotels you and the kids will LOVE it! Getting an apartment is really great. Settling into a place for a week and being able to whip up some easy mac'ncheese in the microwave for the kids is awesome while you eat your fabulous local take out. I also would rent a car to schlep all your stuff around. We really liked using the backpack carriers for our kids. It was easier to get in and out of train stations, museums, etc. than having a stroller. I still think you need a stroller which makes having a car that much more needed. Also bring your own pack n' play for the littlest one to sleep in. They'll sleep better in familiar surroundings and then you don't have to worry about whether or not hte hotel has enough beds, etc. for a tiny person. I think staying in fewer places longer and taking day trips is really your best bet. Enjoy!!!! You're very brave, but it'll be a great trip!

Posted by
115 posts

I think Barry is correct about the car. When looking at your budget, I think that is the place where you should splurge. Even if your children are on a pretty solid schedule, it is going to be wrecked by jet lag. A car will give you the luxury (necessity?) of working around whatever schedule the little ones are on... And everyone is correct that trying to carry the little ones and all their stuff on trains is going to be a challenge. Make this as easy on yourself as possible....apartments and a car.

Posted by
2297 posts

Yes, Europeans do travel with their kids throughout Europe. But they don't do road trips that stop in different places every other day. They stay in ONE place for 2 or 3 weeks. I like your husband's idea of staying in Switzerland for 2 weeks. Do base yourself in ONE appartment for that time, maybe rent a car and do day trips. We did that with our kids and rented an appartment in the Emmental region. It is not as touristy as Murren, was very affordable and the location lend itself to daytrips to Lucerne, Bern, Thun, Ballenberg open air museum, taking a dip in the river Emme under a traditional covered bridge (where our host learned to swim as a little boy) ... www.kapfschwand.ch (the owner speaks English) Take a backpack along to carry your youngest. That way you can do a bit of hiking to explore the Alps. We didn't do much hiking but the kids really liked going up the Niesen in a funicular. And then you just walk around a bit on the top and watch the paragliders. Take a similar approach to Italy. Stay a week or two in one place. For our kids, the best time in Italy was when we stayed put for a week in Tuscany in an agriturismo with a pool. In your case with very young kids, I'd choose a location close to a beach.

Posted by
16 posts

I can't thank you all enough for helping us rethink our vacation. We just realized that we had been planning on flying from Warsaw to Zurich, spending a few days in Switzerland, then taking a train to Italy. Why on Earth would we fly to the middle of our vacation? We are now thinking that flying from Warsaw to Rome makes sense so we are going in one direction for the rest of the trip, instead of backtracking for no good reason. And as a bonus, it is CHEAP to fly from Warsaw to Rome ($88 on AliItalia). It does make a lot of sense to spend a full 2 weeks straight in Switzerland in an apartment so that the kids don't have to adjust to so many new sleeping arrangements. It also makes sense to rent a car for those 2 weeks. Anyone know where to buy a car seat in Switzerland? I've read that buying one is cheaper than renting it in many instances. Thanks for the tip about apartments. I was wondering why I hadn't seen anyone talking about security deposits. By "local sites" do you mean a city's webpage?

Posted by
1357 posts

As far as the car seats go are you planning on getting seats on the plane for both of your kids? If so, taking the car seats on the plane is the safest thing for them. And you can strap 'em in when they're getting antsy. Plus, they're usually comfortable sleeping in their car seats, so sleeping on the plane won't be that much different. You can buy bags for the car seats for carrying them around the airport. We've just usually put the car seats on our backs, though, with our arms through the straps, like a backpack.

Posted by
16 posts

We're undecided about getting our younger daughter her own seat. As for our older daughter, we once brought her car seat on a plane to Vegas and she screamed the whole time she was strapped in (made us very popular, lol). We gate checked it on the way home and had a much more pleasant journey. She was 18 months at the time, and will be 2 years older at the time of this trip, but we are a bit gun-shy from that experience. It's not like we could ditch the car seat mid-flight if she hates it again. We are considering the CARES restraint for her. Also, we know that we will be taking trains through Italy, so we don't want to have to lug 2 car seats on trains until we get to Switzerland.

Posted by
8385 posts

If you stay in hotels which have restaurants, you can put the little ones to sleep, put your remote monitors on and go downstairs for dinner, just like you do at home. At least that's what we used to do thirty years ago when our kids were little. Maybe we'd get arrested nowadays.

Posted by
638 posts

As someone who flies to/from the States twice a year, I would reconsider your decision on not getting a seat for your youngest. You would potentially have to keep her on your lap the whole time, and deal with a 3 year old. This will not make you very popular with your seatmate(s), and it's dangerous. It will make a long flight even longer. Yes, it's an added expense but if you can't afford it you shouldn't go, IMHO.

Posted by
11450 posts

Have to agree with Elaine and James( but James post is a bit TOO blunt) ,, not getting your youngest child a seat is dangerous as well as will be uncomfortable for everyone. My kids knew they had to sit in carseats when in a vehicle,, whether or not they hollered,, so why is a plane any different? Plus the plane ride to Warsaw is LONG,, where will child sleep,, in your arms,, yikes,, most kids eventually pass out in their carseats.
Personally I understand why you want to take the trip, but I would totally cut down on the moves, rent a car,, and stay put alot more then you are planning,, but perhaps your kids are alot easier then mine were.. we took them on trips alright,, but 6 hours was about max on plane at that age,, and we never stayed anywhere less then a week.

Posted by
11450 posts

Darren,, remember since there were two adults and only one child when you took your little one to Europe you and wife could take turns holding child,, each getting little breaks to eat etc,, but since Dominica is travelling with two little kids they will each have one kid full time. Also I was told the bassinets were only for smal babies,,, did they work for you little one, ( asking,, don't know myself)

Posted by
709 posts

@Pat: The bassinets are to be used for children without seats (any under 2). on our trip to Italy there was a little German girl across the aisle using one who much much older than our daughter. Since the 3 year old will have her own ticket, then they won't have her "full time", as she'll at least have her own seat (of course, she'll need to actually WANT to sit in it...). Required attention, on the other hand...
Dominica, don't get me wrong, travelling abroad isn't easy with a little one(s), we've done it several times, and I still get nervous on what the night will bring each time, but the bassinett for our daughter has been an enormous benefit while she sleeps.

Posted by
709 posts

Hi Domenica, First, I applaud you for taking your kids on such an exciting trip. They may not remember it, but they'll have a blast, get cultural exposure, and YOU will have the excellent memories. Plus, you're grooming good little travellers. We just got back a few months ago from 3 weeks in Italy with my 14 month old daughter, so I can pass on some of my experiences. First, seat or no seat on the plane. The 3 year old gets one, you don't have a choice. I would not get one for the little one, and not to just save money. We flew Lufthansa and mentioned that we are flying with a little one, so they seated us in the bulkhead and provided a snap on bassinet that she slept in hanging from the wall in front of us. This was HUGE! She loved it, she had her own little space, and we had ours. No additional cost for this either, but bulkheads are limited, so request early... And you won't feel any guilt that other posters may be trying to suggest. Second, jet lag. If it's hard on you, just wait. Here's my advice. You CANNOT make them sleep, but you CAN make them stay awake. So, rather than letting jetlag run it's course in 5 or 6 days, concede to one day of hell and keep them awake until 8 or 9 on day one, then they'll sleep through the night (hopefully). My daughter slept on the flight over (most of it), then was up all day in Rome, out at 9:30, up at 8am. Never had a scheduling problem after that. Third, we moved a lot in those three weeks, some train, some car. We had our best luck staying in the Tuscan Agriturismo with a car for that leg, and it was much simpler than moving every 2-3 days and dealing with trains. Try at least a week per stay.
I hike with our daughter a lot, and the kid carrying backpacks work great (she LOVES it).

Posted by
1068 posts

Per what Darren said: Even if all the bulkhead seats are taken, you might as well ask. You might be pleasantly surprised. My husband and I were booted out of our precious, reserved-way-ahead-of-time bulkhead seats last time we flew Air France - because a persistant parent asked us to be moved! Of course, I was irate and fuming and snarly and horrible about it at the time (I have really long legs, so regular seats are painful...) - but the kid really did need the snap-on basinett dealie. Slept soundly the entire flight. So - bonus!

Posted by
709 posts

@Kira: Bummer. But, the sleep was likely worth it ;-)

Posted by
2297 posts

I second the thought that a bassinet can be a life saver for flights with small babies. Do keep in mind that the airline you're flying with might have a weight limit for the use of a bassinet, usually around 20 lbs. My babies were always on the lighter side i.e. they were well beyond their first birthday before they reached that weight. But I don't think the average growth curve would allow for that.

Posted by
3313 posts

Since the post has revived, I'll add my own experience to traveling with very young kids. We flew with our daughter to Europe from the West Coast when she was four months old and when she was four years old. In between, we flew with her to Hawaii and multiple trips to California. Does she remember much? More than you might think. But she acclimated to traveling and has been a wonderful traveling companion her whole life. If we had packed her off to stay with relatives, she'd now have to be introduced to traveling instead of it being second nature to her.

Posted by
837 posts

Dominica, must admit that when first seeing your post my eyes went wide with terror. But if anybody can pull this off, you seem to have the right attitude! I think a car and some long apartment stays can make it doable. I think I would consider spending some extra time in Italy where children seem universally loved. We took a 15mo to Lucca for a week and every restaurant welcomed him. I hesitate to even say this, but in Germany I think they really preferred I bring my dog. (Please, don't anyone get mad at me. I LOVE Germany!!)

Posted by
16 posts

I had assumed that the baby would be too old for a bassinet based on the information I had read, but if it's a weight limit (which makes a lot more sense) and not an age restriction then we may be in luck, because both of my daughters are little peanuts. The older will be 3 in November and doesn't yet weigh 30lbs, and the baby is 4 months and weighs under 13.5 lbs. I will definitely check into the bassinet idea. If we can't get a bassinet, I think we will probably get her a seat, because the flight is almost 9 hours, and she really would sleep better in her own space. We are seriously considering doing a buy / buy-back car program, has anyone done that? It appears to be less than renting a car and not that much more than train passes with the bonus of unlimited flexibility. Also, we wouldn't have to lug car seats on and off trains if we end up going that route instead of the CARES restraints. We are still in the dreaming stage of planning where every new place we learn about makes us want to go there, so I'm not certain exactly what our itinerary will be, although we have discussed the need to include longer stays with toddlers. Being of Italian descent, I want to spend more time in Italy, and I think I'm winning, especially because we just re-watched Rick's Hill Towns of Italy, and the Tuscan countryside had us drooling. Thanks for the continued advice and encouragement, and even the criticism. After all, I read several posts on this board before posting, so I know a bit of snark comes with the responses of some of the resident experts.

Posted by
12040 posts

Well, I have nothing to add on the logistics of traveling with two young kids, but perhaps I can make some destination recommendations. As I type this, I'm in Flumserberg, Switzerland (an hour's drive from Zurich). This looks like the most kid-friendly Alpine resort I have seen. There are lots of playgrounds, lots of animals to see, and a Sommerroldelbahn. More important with kids, though, if you want some impressive Alpine hiking, many of the trails at around the 2000 m level are relatively flat and smooth enough to use a stroller. You can ride a ski lift to reach this elevation. There's a nice loop that takes about a hour or two to walk and the altitude will vary by less than 20 meters. One downside- there's almost no English available. The most kid-friendly attraction in Brussels is probably Mini Europe- scale models of landmarks throughout the European Union. If you're driving along the Rhine from Basel, you'll pass Europapark, which is kind of like a European EPCOT with better rides.

Posted by
709 posts

Dominica,
If you're angling for more time in Italy, I can tell you that you have some great leverage in your children. You will NEVER be viewed as a disturbance or annoyance anywhere in Italy. In fact, you should prepare yourself as if you'll be travelling with a celebrity. Everyone will want to take pictures of your baby, even WITH your baby! We had a guard leave his post in Castel Sant'Angelo so that he could pick up my daughter and dance with her. Another Italian called his wife to tell her of the amazing 10 month old who was walking. I was expecting her to humor him, then end the call, but she proceeded to ask what my daughter's name was, what she looked like, etc. She wasn't even there! A waiter in Venice picked my daughter up and gave her a kiss, and she blushed! At 11 months! In short, Italians will LOVE your children, and your stay will be that much better for it. Trust me.

Posted by
3696 posts

I traveled for a few days in Paris with a friend who had her 4 year old daughter and I have to agree that the child was noticed and spoken to by lots of the Parisians...especially when both she and her mom had on wonderful designer outfits as I was photographing them in Paris... so yes, it is all about what you wear! (controversial statment, I know) so bring the cute clothes for the kids!