Traveling with a family is a completely different beast than traveling solo or as a couple — I’ve done both numerous times, and the two experiences don’t even seem related.
Eva and I just got back from a 3-week trip through southern Europe with five of our kids. It was a wild adventure, going through six foreign cities on foot and by train, speaking broken bits of three foreign languages, exploring cities and coastlines all day long, soaking in sun and history and wine.
We loved it. We exhausted the kids, but came back wiser, tanner, and better off for having seen more of the world and its peoples.
This post isn’t meant to give an account of our trip, but to share some of what I’ve learned about traveling with a family, in hopes that it will help other families who travel.
Here are some random things I’ve learned:
Pack light as hell. If you’re traveling in multiple cities, that means you’re dragging everything you pack around for miles. We each carried a tiny backpack (mine was 16 liters) with just a change of clothes, a book and a few toiletries. My packing list: a t-shirt, shorts, 2 pairs of quick-dry boxers, 2 pairs of socks, a book, deodorant, razor, toothbrush, 11″ Macbook Air. That all takes up very little space and weighs a tiny amount. In addition I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, underwear, socks and tennis shoes. There was a big contrast between us, with our small backpacks, and others who had roller luggage, big backpacks, suitcases and other heavy things they were lugging around everywhere.
Stay in central apartments. We avoid hotels, as we’d have to rent several rooms for our large family. It’s cheaper to rent an apartment, which also comes with a kitchen and often a washer/dryer and a living room. It’s much more comfortable. We will rent an apartment in each city we visit, and try to find ones that are central, so we can walk to the best areas from our home base, and come back for naps if necessary.
Walk everywhere (with some mass transit). The best way to explore a place is by foot, not car or tour bus. You cover less ground on foot, but you only really see a place when you walk it. Bikes would be next best, but not manageable for a large family. We have good walking shoes and are in good walking shape from walking around in our home city. It’s so much fun to walk through winding medieval streets, stop and drink from ancient fountains, grab a croissant or gelato whenever you like, see locals walking around, stop in a little shop if it catches your fancy, see nature up close. And it’s a good workout. We learn to use the local mass transit system a bit, when we’re in a city, so we can easily get to further areas and walk around there.