Of all the travel-related questions that people have yet to ask me the one I’ve been dreading the most is how to plan a family vacation to Paris, because I’ve never done it. Sure, I’ve been to Paris as a kid and as a grown-up, but the difference between Paris sans kids versus with them has got to be as stark as talking about parachuting from a plane versus actually taking that shrieking leap out the cabin door.
As a pre-emptive measure I turned to travel agent and tour guide Ann Lombardi, co-owner of The Trip Chicks (www.twitter.com/thetripchicks), who has planned many a family trip to Paris, traveled there often, and several moons ago also worked as an au pair in the 12th Arrondissement. What are the key things she tells her clients, I asked, and what has she found parents and kids have learned the hard way? For starters, troubles often begin with travel documentation, especially if you’re not traveling as a traditional nuclear family.
“If you are divorced, taking under-age kids to Europe without your spouse, or traveling overseas with someone else's child, remember to get a signed, notarized authorization from the parent or guardian not traveling. It's important you have official proof of your permission to travel with the child without one or both parents,” Lombardi says, adding that the traveling guardian ought to ensure that “everyone's passport is valid at least six months from your return date to the United States” to avoid immigration hassles.
Getting your brood excited about your destination may not be a new idea, which is why it could use a re-boot. Before you go, Lombardi says, give your children a taste of popular French music, some of which you can sample online, or perhaps suggest the kids load up their MP3 players with at least a few French songs. It’ll likely be a less painful immersion than overhearing mom or dad struggle with their language phrasebooks. Also remember to pack each child a trip diary and their own (inexpensive) digital camera, she says. “The requisite 'What I Did on My Vacation' school essay will be a much more enjoyable task if your children have kept trip journals and snapped their own photos.”
Finally, if you’ve ever brought your kids to a famously scenic or cultural destination, you may recognize the mistake even seasoned family travelers fall into of thinking “their savvy kids will never be bored by the sights and sounds of Paris,” an issue that could be offset with packing items you might be tempted to leave at home – sports equipment. “Take that Frisbee to Paris and watch the children burn off energy romping around the Jardin du Luxembourg or other Parisian gardens,” Lombardi says. “If you have room in your carry-on bag to squeeze in a wiffle bat and ball, they're great icebreakers, not to mention an excellent way for young and old to share an impromptu bit of sports Americana with locals.”
In keeping with my technique of having other travelers do my homework for me, stay tuned next week for Part 2, when I share more of Ann’s tips as well as ideas about where to stay in Paris from a mom I know who’s taking her husband and two kids to the City of Lights during spring break.