I’m writing this post from Prague at the end of our annual month in Europe. Czechia is our 47th country with kids and our 10th this summer alone. Over dinner we started talking about what we’ve learned through all of this travel and quickly came up with ten pieces of advice that we’d give to anyone traveling, with or without kids.
Advice for Travelers
1. Check Your Passport Expiration Dates Annually
On January 1st of every year I physically check all of our passports to see if any are expiring in the next year and a half. A lot of countries won’t let you in if you have less than six months on your passport, and the renewal process takes a few weeks, so I make a note in my calendar seven months before expiration to start the process. And if that date falls near a school break, I move it back so that there’s no risk of not having valid passports when we need them. I’ve seen a lot of friends and frequent travelers get caught on this recently. Don’t take a chance!
2. Learn How to Say Hello, Goodbye and Thank You in the Local Language
And use them! Some languages are easier than others, but it’s always possible to learn the basics. I’m amazed at the people I see in Europe who make no effort at all to speak anything but English. Even in places where English is the language of tourism, locals appreciate you making an effort.
3. Say Yes
If someone asks you if you want to go somewhere or do something cool/fun/unique, say yes. Life is short. Fill it with adventure. Don’t have regrets. The highlight of your trip will likely come from an impromptu decision.
4. Don’t Expect Everything to Be Like Your Home Country
And that’s a good thing. The differences are what make travel interesting.
5. Look for Small Menus
The fewer items on a menu, the better the odds that those things are amazing. Some of our best meals have been at places where we weren’t even given a choice – whatever the cook was making that night we would be eating. Never go to a restaurant with a 10-page laminated menu on display with everything under the sun and, even worse, photos of their dishes. The simpler, the better.
6. Eat Local
Find out what the regional specialities are and search them out. We have a list of eight new things we’ve found this month in Italy, Greece and Czechia that we absolutely love and are going to make at home when we get back. My son liked Czech honey cake so much that he’s requested it for his birthday cake next month. Every country’s culture is integrated with its food, so the more you find out about the food, the more you can understand where you are. And because my kids have grown up doing this, they have nicely sophisticated palates and have never been picky eaters.
7. Don’t Visit Florence, Rome or Santorini For a Day Off a Cruise Ship and Check It Off Your List
This goes for any great city/destination in the world. If you visit on a shore excursion, you’re not getting much of a feel for the place, and you’re doing it at the worst possible time – in the middle of the day surrounded by thousands of others doing the same thing. Enjoy cruises but use them as an opportunity to get a small glimpse of a place. Then go back for several days or a week, wake up for sunrise, become a local and see why it’s special. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you judge a destination based on a few crowded, rushed hours there.
And I feel so strongly about Rome and Florence that I wrote this blog post!
8. Never Pack More than You Can Easily Carry
You’ll frequently need to get your bags in and out of airports, onto trains and ferries, and to and from hotel rooms. Make it easy on yourself. And bring an extra duffel for the things that you purchase on the way and make sure you’ll be able to carry that too. It doesn’t matter if you wear the same three outfits for a month. No one is paying attention. You can do laundry in hotel sinks.
9. Take Your Kids Everywhere (But Be Realistic)
There are children everywhere in the world – there’s really nowhere that’s off limits. But that doesn’t mean that all activities are appropriate or easy with kids. Skip the long museum visits. Maybe don’t climb that mountain until the kids are older. And incorporate downtime! Kids can’t keep up an adult pace for long.
10. Travel For Yourself
Don’t let others tell you how to travel. Ignore all of this advice if you want (except 1 and 2)! If you’re in an amazing cultural destination but all you want to do is relax at the beach, do it. If you really just want to see the Eiffel Tower and not explore Paris, that’s fine. We like to travel deeper and explore cultures, but we’ll take whole days and go to parks and play. There are no rules.
What would you add to this list?