Traveling to Europe with Kids: Tips for a fun and stress-free journey

Author: Stacey Goodale

Family Travel Specialist

Taking your children on their first overseas trip to Europe may seem like a challenge, but with a little planning, you and your family can have a wonderful experience.

Passports: Make time to apply for your child’s passport about 4-6 months ahead of your departure.  You will need apply in person and bring your child with you, along with the appropriate documentation and the filing fee (the passport book fee is $100).

Check to see if there is a local post office that handles passport applications— you may be able to walk in without an appointment. Children 16 and older need to apply for an adult passport.  Child passports are only valid for 5 years. 

Flights: Whenever possible, try to fly non-stop to minimize travel time and eliminate the stress of multiple deplaning/boarding situations.  In each child’s carry-on, pack a few comfort items like a small blanket and stuffed animal, as well as several types of activities like coloring books, a deck of cards, even travel games.

Consider making a packet of fun worksheets about the country to which you are visiting. Although many planes have wifi, it is best to pre download any movies or apps on your devices and don’t forget your portable charger.  Bring lots of snacks, too! Airplane food may not cut it when it comes to keeping your kids’ stomachs full and happy.  

Red-eye or early morning flights:  Many people will take overnight flights with the expectation that they will sleep on the plane and adjust to the change in time zones by staying up all day long.  But, is this a realistic expectation with kids? You will need to think about whether your children will be too excited to sleep on the plane and how you will manage your time without being able to check into your hotel room until the mid-afternoon.  Consider an early morning flight with a night-time arrival instead.  A later dinner and a good night sleep may help get them on track quicker.

Food:  For the picky eater, food may be the biggest challenge on your overseas adventure.  You will need to find the right balance of trying new food experiences and maintaining your child’s energy level and mood.  Choose hotels that include an American style breakfast to start your day right and then don’t wait until everybody is starving to look for a place to eat.  To avoid last minute decisions that will demoralize your picky eater, it may be worth the extra effort before leaving the hotel to scope out some restaurants in the area of town you will be exploring close to the lunch or dinner hours. Pack several boxes of granola bars that you can add to your day bag for snacking.  But don’t pack things like applesauce which may not make it through security. If you have a local supermarket near your hotel, buy some peanut butter and bread for sandwiches.  Activities:  With children try to avoid waiting in long lines and standing around.  Airport style security is now the standard for all major attractions, so if you know you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or visit Buckingham Palace, make sure to have your travel advisor buy your tickets ahead of time.  You will still have to go through security, but you at least will minimize the additional wait of buying tickets.  If possible, have your travel advisor book private tours or “Skip the Line” entry for your family.  If you do have to wait, be prepared to entertain your kids— a good game of “I Spy” can make the time go faster.

Rest: Make sure your itinerary includes lots of rest and down time.  A few hours back at the hotel in the early evening may refresh them enough for that evening activity.  Consider a late morning or early evening to slow down the pace. A few well-timed quiet moments will help everyone. Above all, be flexible with your itinerary.  If your kids are getting cranky, take a break.  If they are hungry, get them something to eat. In the end, even if you don’t see everything you planned, you and your family will still have an amazing adventure.