Trip of a Lifetime: First Time Traveling to Europe with Kids
I trained them well. They were going to be travelers, no matter what. I put them on airplanes from the time they were four months old so we would be a family “on the go.” We travelled across the country several times per year to visit family and I would single handedly schlep strollers and toys and change planes at O’Hare. We made it work, in spite of the occasional turbulence. That meant we were ready for Europe, right?
My husband and I saved a ton of frequent flier miles and created the first “trip of a lifetime” for our family. We would start in London, go to Paris, then meet family in Berlin and travel with them to Prague. We bought our first iphones, new suitcases, and renewed passports for all. It was the perfect plan.
As our plane was landing in Heathrow, our older daughter, air-sick and sleep deprived, began to shiver uncontrollably. Don’t panic, I thought, she will be fine as soon as we land. And she was! I had booked a service to take us to our hotel, thinking we wouldn’t have cash or the wherewithal to figure out transportation. We were excited for a chauffeur holding a “Zinn Family” sign. Our driver was not to be seen however, and our brand new iphones did not work. Don’t panic, we’ll find a taxi and figure out the cash somehow.
The driver dropped us at the hotel and we unloaded, tired and amazed at how beautiful the neighborhood and hotel lobby were. How could such an inexpensive, family style hotel, be so inviting? Well, it couldn’t be, because it wasn’t our hotel! Imagine our surprise when the concierge said we did not have a reservation, but that our hotel was down the road and across the street. Don’t panic. Picture us walking in the morning rain of London, wheeling our suitcases, with backpacks, looking grossly like American-family-on-tour, bumping along on the cobblestone street.
We land in a room so tiny, there was no space for our suitcases, but who cares, because we are in London! Stay awake, everyone, off to find food and the Apple Store to fix our phones. The glory of Regent Street was all we needed to rejuvenate us! The Apple Store activity took over an hour and involved calling AT&T in the states to access the proper international plan, (which I had already set up before leaving). No need to panic! We made a lovely friend and were enjoying our first few hours in London.
After a pasta dinner and walk to Piccadilly, we all slept well. Then the morning came and our little one was sick. We had three days planned, family friends to meet for dinner, the queen waiting, and my nine year old was sick in our tiny hotel room bathroom. Don’t panic. I found a pharmacy downstairs and bought a thermometer. No fever, so that was good. I sent the other two off to the palace and sat with my baby in the bathroom, thinking to myself that I might not survive if I had to spend my only three days in London in the hotel bathroom. When suddenly, at about 11 AM, she felt fine! Magically fine and ready to roll!
We met my husband and daughter and off we toured! Luckily the iPhones worked! Of course, everyone’s favorite stories are how I remembered everything from my trip to London in college, but how everything I remembered was wrong! Literally, everything. Oh, here is Big Ben, but actually it was the Tower, etc, etc. You get the picture. The Tate Modern, seeing The Lion King, the London Eye, and Harrods were like a dream. Our friends wrote a list of all the must sees on a napkin at dinner, and we did it all! We fell in love with London and the daily rain drops, and travelled on to Paris.
The tiny Novotel Les Halles Hotel room rivaled the London room in size. Although my daughter continued her morning episodes, we continued to have fun. We worked so hard to make this trip happen and I was determined to feel the wanderlust again. Motherhood means you flex the schedule, see the highlights, and let go of the plan. My daughter’s face while standing underneath the Tour Eiffel with the pink beret she purchased on the Champs Elysses, well…priceless.
Warning to all, most Paris museums are closed on Monday, which we only discovered after walking all over town. When one door is closed, however, another one opens! We found plenty to see and do, including little puppies along the Seine. The next morning we made it to the Louvre. The girls had enough museum time after we showed them Mona, so we split up and tag teamed. My husband sat outside with the girls, while I went in search of Venus de Milo.
Grace at the Louvre
I raced through the crowds, clutching the map, trying to find her, and was suddenly struck by the simplicity of her standing before me. I started to weep. Honestly, I could have really cried. Wailed, in fact. If only I hadn’t been in the midst of a thousand summer tourists trying to take photos. I wept for how exhausted I was, and felt the years of graduate school and jobs and marriage and motherhood all collide together in that moment. I had not been to Europe since my junior year in college and had neglected the part of me that was determined to see the world and be a part of it. I wept for how proud of us I was that we were able to do this together, to prove to our selves, and our girls, that this is important. I wept for how stunning life can be and how art never fails to remind me of that. Grace. It was like a moment of simple elegance that has happened to me only a few times.
I emerged from the Louvre that day with photos of us and Mona, and the girls by the pyramid, and eating baguettes on the lawn. The morning sickness subsided somewhere in Berlin and Prague, as my daughter acclimated to the time change. She would later become crowned as “the best traveler in the family.” We indeed had the trip of a lifetime. In fact, it was the first of many, and my girls will always remember the best parts, not the rough ones. They have become amazing world travelers and see the planet as so much smaller and accessible than I ever did. They have skills beyond what we hoped. They are keeping the wanderlust alive. Don’t panic. The challenges were so worth it.