Last week, without confirmed knowledge on whether or not we would return to a country still part of the European Union (spoiler alert: we still are) my family and I boarded the Eurostar and made good on the sale-price tickets to Brussels I bought on a whim back in January. We packed passports and extra snacks and several unnecessary changes of clothes, just in case we were held up coming back over, and took off. I was anxious about how it would all go down, but in the end we were fine – the risk was only one in our own heads, never coming to fruition.
Perhaps it’s because we didn’t do a lot of traveling when I was young, or it’s some wanderlust genes handed down to me by my paternal grandmother, but traveling has become one of my top priorities and one of my fondest, most poignant ways of learning new things, simply because there is no option to sit on the sidelines and theorize (which I might be compelled to do otherwise); you are forced to dive in and learn by the experience of getting your hands dirty.
The thing with travel, and especially while traveling with children, is you never quite know what lesson you’re going to learn or how, only that at some point you’ll have both your ass and your ego handed to you. Traveling with children is a lesson in endurance right alongside possibility. Children will surprise you by rising to the occasion in one scenario, and then free falling from another in ways you can’t quite anticipate. On our recent trip to Brussels one day we had a child so sick she lost complete interest while visiting the Chocolate Museum and couldn’t even be bribed with the buffet of chocolate to try (we loved it thought so don’t skip it if you go!). The next day we had another child who turned to me after our waffle making class and tour (this was so fun!) and said she loved the class “not just for the food but for all the learning”. Be still my beating heart.
It doesn’t have to be far or fancy, but traveling, especially to new places, allows you to break away from routine and discover something new about yourself and the people you are with, not to mention wherever it is you visit. Though we are only seven years and four countries in on our traveling with children career, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Most of these nuggets we’ve discovered, through experience, works with grown ups only travel too!
- The grocery store or a food market (if available), especially in another country or city can be just as much of a fun food adventure and experience as a restaurant, whilst being cheaper and without having to be patient or well behaved for too long. We’ve wandered the aisles of grocery stores in the US, Italy, Scotland and now Belgium with the kids curiously pointing to foreign looking items on shelves and it costing only a couple pounds to indulge them in their curiosities.
- Whenever possible, Airbnb is our preferred choice for accommodation. Especially in a major city eating every meal out can get expensive, hotel rooms can get small and claustrophobic, and everyone needs somewhere they can just be without having to be on their best behavior. Renting an apartment with a small kitchen, access to laundry, and separate living room so grown ups have somewhere to be when the kids go to bed, really helps to manage travel burnout.
- Much like every parent who has ever taken their child to a restaurant knows, grab-and-stash items like notebooks, sketchpads and pens/markers/crayons provide free entertainment and can really help when you’re in the midst of an activity lull. One morning while trying to figure out how much our children were up for doing, we loaded backpacks with notepads and markers and set out for a walk. The girls on several occasions asked if we could stop so they could sketch buildings and fountains, plopping themselves on the ground in the sunshine to do so. It was an ingenious way for Nick and I to sneak in some quiet time to people watch and sign read while the girls were happily self entertained. Admittedly, it was their idea not ours, but what a wonderful way for them to understand and remember some of the places they’ve seen! I only wish I had been able to anticipate the scenario so we could have enjoyed it with a cup of coffee in hand.
- Take the medicines you know they’ll tolerate. We learned this one the hard way. It’s hard enough if you our your kiddo gets sick while you’re on the road and out of your comfort zone. Adding the additional struggle of fighting with them to take a medicine with a flavour they aren’t to used and don’t like is something we could have easily avoided, and will now for the future. Lesson learned (see earlier comment with the ass-handing).
And of course, a few highlights from our trip (sadly of phone not camera quality as I left the camera at home this time). Brussels was a wonderful and welcoming city. We missed several things we wanted to see this time round due to illness and the desire to slow down rather than rush through, but I see that as all the more reason to go back!
They humoured me with this photo.
Enjoying the fruits of our labour from our waffle making class.
She was so impressed someone was allowed to do this on the side of a building!
Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium