In my last post I outlined some of the activities my daughters and I most enjoyed while we were in Paris. Here I’ll outline for you some of the tips and tricks that will just make traveling life with les enfants much more enjoyable for everyone. This is a bit of a hodgepodge of collected wisdom but I hope it will suffice none the less.
I really cannot emphasize this enough. When traveling with kids of any age, planning is key. And by planning, I don’t mean a loosely assembled idea of what you are going to do. I mean a PLAN. Thought out, researched, written down, reviewed, and rethought out. A big time, capital letter PLAN. For those of you who aren’t planners by nature, this may seem intimidating but trust me, it will be worth it.
For my planning purposes I adopted a modified Bullet Journal (or BuJo for short). I started with a nice, new Moleskine journal (ahhhhh) and a few colored Sharpies. For coloring coding, or course. I’ve included some pictures so you can get a sense of my organizational scheme.
First page…..flight info. Which changed after I originally wrote down the information so I had to redo it.
An Index is indispensable…..
A list of sights we wanted to see. Blue notes indicate cost, whether or not the sight is covered by the Museum Pass (MP) and any other logistical information. Orange notes indicate random bits of information for consideration.
List of shopping stops we wanted to make with references to pages that have more information about that stop.
A more detailed entry about a specific activity or neighborhood, again with color coded comments.
Transportation: This probably won’t come as a surprise to you but plan your major transportation needs prior to your arrival in Paris. Upon arrival at CDG Airport we were tired, hungry and spent. Our host at the flat we rented recommended using a driver he knew well for our airport to flat transportation. I have to say, this worked exceedingly well. When you are the only adult and you are towing children behind you, you do not want transportation hassles. When traveling alone to Paris I used the Metro to get to the city from the airport. While it served it’s purpose, it is infinitely more difficult and cumbersome and requires you to pay a fair bit of attention. Not my strong suit after a transatlantic flight. Uber is another option and works in Paris much as it does in the rest of the world. A private driver is your most expensive option, followed by Uber, followed by the Metro.
For day to day travel, we loved using the Metro. There was a stop within a few blocks of our flat which made hopping on and off seamless. When looking for a flat to rent, one of my specific requirements was that it be within walking distance of a Metro stop. And by walking distance, I mean a few blocks. I’m all about minimizing the whining at the end of the day. Metro tickets are affordable, the system is easy to navigate and the efficiency is pretty great. If you don’t believe me, try traveling the same distance above ground. It makes the Metro seem like a dream.
One of the tasks the girls enjoyed immensely was planning our Metro routes. Each evening we would lay out the strategy for the next day. The girls would take turns looking at the Metro map we carried with us and strategizing the route for the next day. They had fun and better yet, learned a lot about distance, time, strategy, etc.
Food and Drink: This one is easy. Rent. A. Flat. Get on VRBO or Airbnb or parisperfect.com and get a flat with a kitchen. You can hit up the local bakery for breakfast and bring it back to your flat where you can enjoy your coffee and eat your pastry and take in the view and plan your day. The kids can do handstands and pick on each other and no one will be offended. We were often out for lunch, sometimes ate at restaurants or grabbed a bite in a cafeteria or cafe. We carried snacks with us everywhere, nuts, trail mix, maybe a piece of fruit. We bought bottled water at the grocery store and carried a bottle with us each day.
When you have a flat, you have maximum flexibility with your eating choices. Going to the neighborhood grocery store or the bigger Monoprix was always a grand adventure. It could take hours if we wanted it to and that was just fine. We also LOVED the fun of stopping off at the end of the day at the fromagerie, the boulangerie, the charcuterie, the produce store and the wine store and picking up the components for a delicious dinner at home. An assortment of cheeses, a few meats, a baguette, some tomatoes, olive oil, salt, wine. Dinner. And everybody loved it. Some nights we went out but only when we felt like it and when people were in a good mood. We either made reservations or arrived at the beginning of the dinner hour. Some restaurants had lovely menus for children, at other places the girls ordered off the regular menu and discovered new foods that they really liked.
Not uncommonly, we would pop into a cafe for a pre-dinner drink, an afternoon espresso or ice cream or a quick crepe and some people watching. I always carried in my daybag some postcards, a small sketchbook or a little game so the girls could be entertained while the adults enjoyed their drinks.
Shopping and Souvenirs: The best way to ruin a vacation for me is to have my children nickel and dime me on a routine basis for this or that junky trinket. I hate it. So for Paris, my kids had to save their own spending money. And their own money for activities but we will get to that later. They had about two years notice that we were taking this trip. We told them that in order to go, they had to save a specific amount of money. They both opened bank accounts and saved and saved. Before embarking on our journey I sat down with them and we created a budget. We delineated what I would pay for (airline, accommodations, three meals plus one snack a day) and what they would pay for (souvenirs, gifts for friends, extra snacks or drinks, Metro tickets, entrance fees). They made a list of what they hoped to find or buy while on vacation. Once we hit the ground, they found lots of things they wanted. And each time they got to decide whether or not they really wanted to spend their money on it. If it had been my money we were spending, I would have been broke. With their money, however, they were conscientious. They deliberated, they walked away, they went back, they decided to wait. They didn’t bug me once. It was amazing.
They found great clothes at Zara and H and M. I know, I know, we have those stores stateside but they are way cooler in Paris. And much more affordable than Parisian boutiques. Art stores and art supplies were a major hit and they stocked up on high quality sketch books, colored pencils and paints. Museum gift shops were a great spot to find posters of art they loved. Scarves and bracelets bought at neighborhood street markets were also popular.
This whole approach really made my travel experience about a million times better than usual.
Activities: My previous blog post details the various activities and sights we enjoyed. There are specifics for each of these that are worth paying attention to. I urge you to get a good guidebook (Rick Steves’ series are my favorites) and study it religiously. Find out how to skip the lines (hello, Museum Pass) and when to go to avoid the crowds. You might be able to suffer through a long line in the heat of the day so you can go stand shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of other tourists in the Louvre. Your kids, on the other hand, will have a melt down. And then you will have a melt down. And then you will wonder why you ever go on family vacations. And then you will find a nice café, order a glass of rosé and regroup. And go back to the Louvre on Wednesday night when it’s open later and the crowds are gone.
Also, one, maybe two activities per day is plenty. Any more than that and you will have a mutiny on your hands. So go, do your thing, and then spend a little down time at your flat in the afternoon. Your sanity will thank you.
We did a lot of “pre-work” before we visited the main attractions. We would read at night or in the morning before we left and talk about the history of the attraction, what we expected to see, etc.
We made our own Bingo card and scavenger hunt and completed them as we made our way through Paris. Poodle? Check! Dog poop on the sidewalk? Check! It gave us something fun to do, made us more observant, and led to quite a few laughs as we pointed things out to each other and compared our Bingo cards at the end of the day.
One more tip……go off the beaten path. Do something just a little unexpected. We had the best time spending an afternoon at a cooking class. We learned a lot about French pastry making, the girls practiced their techniques, we met other travelers, we spent some great time together, had some good laughs and now relive our memories when we make eclairs and macarons at home. We spent nearly an entire day in Montmartre on an exceptionally fabulous food tour that will be talked about for years to come. So whatever your passion is, or your interest is, find a way while traveling to explore that. It will be worth it. I promise.
Journaling: I brought my own journal for the trip and kept lots of notes about what we did, what worked, what didn’t, etc. The girls each had their own journal as well. They really enjoyed using it to write out the plan for the day, write about what we had seen or draw. They both discovered a new passion for drawing the sights and this filled many quiet hours in the flat or at a café table.
Boredom Busters: You, and your kids will need some downtime. I know, Paris is vast and amazing and how could you ever get bored or need to take a break? Trust me, you will need a break. It’s no small feat navigating a huge, bustling city where you don’t even speak the language. We brought along a deck of Uno cards, a travel cribbage board (I love this one from Walnut Studio https://walnutstudiolo.com/products/travel-cribbage-board) and one new game, Iota. We each brought one book to read and others that were on our electronic devices. As an aside, I really love a real book but when traveling, I really don’t love lugging them around so…..e-books suffice. I also made a travel pack for each of the girls before we left home. It was a basic plastic school type folder filled with fun pages. Crosswords, word searches, sudoku, coloring pages of French sites, maps of the world, USA, Europe, France, Paris, colored dot stickers for marking, a few fun Parisian and travel theme stickers. These were great on the airplane but also in the flat or at cafés when they needed some down time. I allowed screen time, too. I’m not a purist by any means but screen time only goes so far and there were lots of times they wanted something other than a show to watch.
Money: I know, I know. No one likes to talk about money. But you can’t travel without talking about money. So here goes. As I alluded to above, we had a pretty well organized strategy about saving and clear delineations about who was paying for what. The girls bought their own Metro tickets, paid for admission to all the sites, paid for all their own shopping. I did pay for the food tour and cooking class because they were a bit more pricey and because I was the one who really wanted to do those activities.
So, what does it cost to traipse a family around Paris? Here’s the breakdown….
Fresh fruit at the local street market: €10
Eiffel Tower tickets: €17 each adult, €12.50 each child
Lunch at the Quai Branly Café €40 for three people
Grocery store for water, snacks: €12.71
Dinner at Café Constant: €60 for three people
Bakery for pain au chocolate: €6.00
Notre Dame: no cost!!!
Lunch at café: €47.50
Saint Chapelle: covered by previously purchased Museum Pass
Assorted dinner supplies (cheese, meat, baguette, wine, nuts, oils, vegetables): €80
Metro carnet: €5
Picnic lunch supplies: €30 for four people
Glass of wine in Luxembourg Gardens: €6
Louvre: covered by Museum Pass
Dinner at Le Nemours: €66.50 for four people
Just a few examples but, overall, I think they are representative of our spending habits. Breakfast was usually a small price at the bakery and accompanied by eggs and fruit we had at the flat. Lunch was at a café or picnic style in a park. Dinner was at a less expensive restaurant or assorted supplies we picked up and ate at home. Restaurant costs always included at least one glass of wine and maybe more. The kids drank water at restaurants but had more fun drinks at the flat that we purchased while at the grocery store. Our €80 dinner supply expense easily covered 2 or 3 dinners. Seemed like we spent €25-40 every few days at the grocery store for water, wine and snacks. Cost for activities varies depending on what you are doing on any given day. We were thoughtful about our spending but didn’t try to penny pinch. By the same token, you could easily spend lots, lots more if you wanted.
Au revoir and happy travels!