Planning a trip to Europe with kids can seem like a daunting task. You have to consider flight arrangements, accommodation options, what cities you want to visit and how to travel between destinations. "The learning curve is sharp and strong when you have little kids and you're traveling around with them," says Jennifer Miner, co-founder of The Vacation Gals travel blog. But you can pull off a successful trip if you're armed with the right information and tools.
To help families organizing a European vacation, U.S. News has rounded up the top travel tips from experts who have been planning family trips and traveled with their own families to Europe for years.
[Read: The Best Family Vacations in Europe.]
Flexibility is key when booking a trip to Europe with children in tow. "Be open to destinations and look at a variety of different airports," says Jodi Grundig, editor at FamilyTravelMagazine.com. "The more flexibility you can have in terms of dates, the more you can really research." Grundig says considering different days for departure and arrival helps. "We'll often leave Sunday night come back Thursday night; just playing around with the dates a little bit can lead to huge savings," she adds.
When deciding on which European cities to visit, consider what your kids like and what they might be learning. "If you know what your children are studying in school, you can tailor your trip to some of the things that they may be curious about and that they want to learn about," says Kay Merrill, travel adviser and founder of the Are We There Yet? Family Adventures website.
Miner suggests an English-speaking country, such as Scotland or England, as a good place to start. Grundig recommends Greece, Portugal and Italy as family-friendly destinations. Meanwhile, Merrill is a big fan of Croatia and its surrounding islands because there are plenty of active pursuits, such as kayaking, swimming and catamaran trips, for parents and kids to enjoy together.
Consult a Travel Agent or Adviser
With so many online resources, some families may feel they don't need any assistance planning or booking travel. But travel agents have ways of spotting flight deals and securing hotel discounts that the average traveler may not realize, Miner notes.
If you're traveling to multiple cities or even through several countries, travel agents can help you set up your whole itinerary. "It takes the load off if you're someone who doesn't like to do a lot of online research," Miner says. She notes that websites such as triphobo.com and inspirock.com are great online tools to use for planning as well. A seasoned travel professional can also aid in organizing tours, especially ones that will hold kids' interests, Merrill says.
The best thing parents can do to ensure a successful family trip to Europe is to be as organized and ready as possible. That means thoroughly researching the destination, prepping kids for airport situations, such as security and loud airplane noises, and packing the right products in carry-on bags. "Usually our carry-ons will contain some sort of electronic device, a book, headphones, one or two snacks and travel blanket," Grundig says. She also stresses the importance of bringing portable chargers.
Miner also suggests taking tablet screens away from children for a week prior to the long-haul flight, with the promise to give the tablets back on the plane. According to Miner, this helps kids get even more excited about the flight, knowing they'll be able to play games or watch movies on their tablets once they board.
If you're traveling to a country where English isn't as widely spoken, teaching children a few words and phrases in the local language is also a must, Miner adds. "It delights other people to see kids make an effort, especially if you make an effort too," she says.
Be Strategic to Save Money
Sticking to a budget in Europe can be tough, especially when souvenirs, gelato and unique experiences are calling your name. But it is certainly possible to plan a European family vacation without breaking the bank.
"You can save a lot with food and on your accommodations if you pick wisely," Merill says. She recommends picking up lighter snacks and sandwiches to enjoy as a picnic lunch, cautioning that expenses will add up if you go to a restaurant for each meal. "And when you go out to meals at night, it's nice to share things too," she adds.
Don't Overdo it
With all of Europe's interesting cities, museums and cultural attractions, families may be tempted to fit too much into one trip. But Merrill suggests taking a more relaxed approach."The children get a little bored and overwhelmed, and sometimes they don't enjoy it as much as if you slow it down and stay a little bit longer in each place and have the afternoons off to do other things," she says.
Choose the Best Lodging for You
When deciding whether a hotel, an apartment or a home rental is right for your family's European trip, consider the amount of time you'll be staying in each city and the types of amenities you'll need. "I tend to feel more comfortable reading reviews from a variety of different sources and we use hotel amenities a lot, so we like having pools or access to beaches or any sort of kids clubs," Grundig says.
Vacation rentals are typically more conducive to longer stays, while hotels are ideal if you only have a few days in a destination. Some vacation rental sites like Airbnb even allow you to select certain criteria when you search, such as apartment buildings with elevators, and often offer more flexible check-in and checkout times.
Take the Train
Those who want to see several cities throughout England, France, Italy or Europe as a whole should consider the train. It can be an affordable alternative for those traveling with young children. Plus, taking the train provides a different vantage point than driving or flying.
[Read: The Best Hotels in Europe.]
"If you are nervous about getting around, get a Eurail pass because it's a beautiful thing to travel by train. You can cross from one country to the next and kids travel free until they're 12 years old," Miner says. "It's efficient, you don't need to look at a map, you go where you need to go and it's often through beautiful countryside."
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