~Marcela De Vivo
Backpacking is associated with early twenties, post-college free-spirited wanderings—a far cry from traveling with children in tow; however, more young families are choosing to backpack with their children as it less expensive than the traditional travel to Europe, but no less culturally stimulating.
Backpacking through Europe with kids can be an enriching, rewarding, and yes, an enjoyable experience if you thoroughly prepare yourself for the trip. Not only do you need to be very detailed with packing and planning, but you should also modify expectations of how much ground you will be able to cover and how many stops you’ll need to make (especially with younger children). Doing so will help make the vacation more stress-free for everyone involved.
Here are some tips on how to prepare for an extended travel through various countries in Europe with a backpack, a modest budget and children in tow.
Planning is even more essential than regular travel preparation when backpacking through Europe with kids. Unlike carefree travel of youth, you will need to make reservations for accommodations and transportation in advance, rather than waiting until the last minute.Plan your route so that you will know what train and bus schedules you will need and what rooms to book. Consider staying at a few base cities and setting out on your backpacking adventures from there, so that you only have to take your essentials with you while traveling around, leaving the extras at your “home base.”
Research online for inexpensive hotels (TripAdvisor), hostels (Hostels.com) and vacation rental apartments or swaps (Airbnb.com). Look for the accommodation’s proximity to major sightseeing attractions, restaurants—and make sure they accept children (some hostels do not accept children under the age of 18).
You can expect to pay 10-percent of the cost of an international flight ticket for children under the age of two—ask in advance to get the roomier bulkhead seats and bassinets for the flight. In many cases, the ticket cost for children between the ages of two and 12 will be around 70 to 90-percent of the adult fare.
It is important to take note that ear pressure from a plane taking off or landing can cause discomfort (and screaming children). With this in mind, invest in a pack of gum, candy or a pacifier—anything that can help alleviate the problem.
Things to Pack
Keep in mind that because you will be moving around often when traveling (usually via public transportation or by walking) packing will have to be even lighter than usual. Start by making a list of everything your family will need, and then try to reduce it down to the absolute necessities.
Since you are traveling to Europe, the countries you will be visiting will likely have comparable products to the U.S., therefore, you will easily be able to buy toiletries and clothing as necessary. Bring a week’s supply of basic needs and restock as needed. Pack an additional lightweight shopping bag or backpack that folds up so it can be easily stored away when not in use—invariably, you will need the additional space this bag provides for anything you’ve purchased along the way.
Children can carry lightweight backpacks, but keep in mind that when they get tired, you may end up carrying all the packs—so make sure that the total pack weight is something you can handle. Invest in high-quality, fast-drying luggage and clothing; pack clothing and toiletries in plastic zip lock bags to prevent water damage to items should your luggage be exposed to water. Don’t bring sleeping bags unless you plan on camping. But, even if parts of your journey involve hosteling, sleeping bags are generally not necessary as the hostel provides bedding. Many hostels actually prohibit the use of personal sleeping bags due to the risk of spreading of bedbugs. Check with your hostel in advance about bedding accommodations.
If you have younger children, you should pack a stroller. Not only will it be a saving grace when the kids get tired and need a break, but it also doubles as a luggage cart when your shoulders need a break. Invest in a model with big wheels as the cobblestones popular in European streets can be tricky to navigate with smaller wheels.
Pack a few lightweight toys or games to keep your children entertained or download apps onto a tablet that allow your children to read books or play games that will not require and kind of Internet connection.
Things to Consider
Everything will take much longer than you plan on, especially with tired kids in tow. Expect to miss at least a few trains and buses as you are likely to stop a lot to examine fountains, statues, parks, graffiti—whatever catches your children’s eyes. Take advantage of this, as it is a unique opportunity to see Europe through a child’s eyes. You are much more likely to notice the architecture and statues if your children stops frequently in awe (and attempting to climb them).
However, don’t expect the same courtesy in return—you are unlikely to enjoy leisurely strolls through museums and galleries. If you have your heart set on exploring the Louvre, you may want to invest in a babysitter. If staying in a hotel, consider asking the hotel concierge about their childcare options. Keep in mind that hostels may not have the same benefits. If you are staying at a borrowed apartment, you can ask your host in advance if there are any reputable services.
Also, pin paper with your child’s name, your name, the name and address of where you are staying, your phone number (if you are using your cell phone) and any health issues to your child’s clothing so that should your family be accidentally separated, your children will be able to get help to find their way back to your hotel, hostel or apartment.
European families travel a great deal with kids, so you will find plenty of child-friendly establishments; however, keep in mind that Europeans (in general) are more laissez-faire with safety regulations, and expect their children to be more resilient than in the U.S.—so don’t expect the same level of childproofing in these kid zones.
With a good amount of planning and preparation, a backpacking trip through Europe with kids can be extremely rewarding—enriching the lives of both you and your children’s, creating long, cherished memories.
Have you ever traveled to Europe with your family? Have you ever backpacked with your children? Do you have any tips to add?
While I am in Mexico for the summer, I have some wonderful parents and educators sharing tips here about how they teach their children about the world. Marcela De Vivo is a mother and world traveler who writes on everything from international travel, to budget vacations, to family health. She is also the founder of Gryffin Media. As a mother of three, she is always sure to thoroughly prepare when traveling around the world. Here are her tips to go backpacking through Europe with kids!