France “en famille”
Travelling in France for an extensive period...away from the cut lunches, the school pick-ups and the music lessons can be an unforgettable experience for a family. My wife and I have, since our two children were very young, travelled regularly to France with our children for short and long term vacations. The shared memories we have are something we always treasure. We would say to any family that if you get the opportunity for an extended time away together, then grab the chance with both hands - you won’t regret it! Now our children are teenagers, it is a pleasure to see their outlook on life developed through these many travel experiences and to their “internationalization” that this exposure has given them.
Here are some comments which we know will help you with your family travel in France:
The most important thing to remember is to plan a holiday where you don’t have to move around much. Children HATE packing up! My style of itinerary tries to slow people down. Ideally, you should base yourselves somewhere for four or five days before moving on. Then you really get the feel of a place. Children relate to and remember people as individual characters. As an example, we were based in a rental villa for three weeks and every morning Sarah got up and dressed and went and bought the bread from the local bakery which was two minutes away. Every day she came back with the right bread and money and on the last day the baker was so enchanted with the children that she gave them chocolates!!
The most important thing is having your hands free, so that in crowded airports and railway stations, you can literally have the children “in hand”. A back pack is ideal for this and if you have a detachable day pack for everyday use, you’ll be set.
A back pack is also a good idea for the children, so that they can carry items for every day. You can also include activities for travelling: books, a favourite toy and a change of clothes. Just be aware of how much a child can carry when he or she is tired.
There are some preparatory measures you can discuss with your travel agent about departure times, inflight meals and stopovers. Departure times do have a bearing on jet-lag. A lunch-time or early afternoon departure is ideal. If you want the children to eat first so that you can enjoy your own meal and a glass of wine in peace, it is worth remembering to order special children’s meals via your travel agent. Some people like to pack extra food for long flights including the children’s favourite snacks. Don’t let the children drink orange juice on the plane as it is thick and acidic and can make them feel sick.
If you are having a stop-over this is a great opportunity for the family to “refresh”. You can shower at most airports and is well worth it to continue the flight feeling fresh and clean. For long flights from the other side of the world pack a change of underwear and pyjamas (if you use sweatshirts and leggings, these look very much like ordinary clothes!) for the children to change into after they have had a wash or shower during their transit stop.
You will be shown priority when travelling with children which means that you usually get to the front of the queue and are boarded first. You aren’t as rushed and the children have more time to settle before take-off.
As much as possible, let your lifestyle in France evolve to the French way of doing things. Eating out is an aspect of the French way, however, you do not have to eat every meal in a restaurant. Markets have a wide range of delicious fruit, vegetables, cheeses and rotisserie chickens, and with a crusty baguette from a bakery, you have the makings of a very fine meal! Supermarkets are fascinating and cheap and you can stock up on some basics - as well as wine and drinks for the children. Meat is expensive, so you become inventive!
You will notice a lack of breakfast cereal and sliced bread in French supermarkets, which may slightly alter your breakfast routine. A croissant or tartine (bread roll with jam) and a bol of milky coffee or hot chocolate is the standard fare at French breakfast tables.
You can eat a relatively cheap lunch using the set menu in a restaurant. Children’s menus are available at most restaurants. These can be limited in choice, but offer three courses for about 10 Euros. With the three courses and the complimentary bread, a separate children’s menu for each child may not be necessary. Children under the age of 13 years can get away with a children’s menu, but beyond that the restaurant will expect you to take a normal meal.
The evening meal often does not start until 8 o’clock. We instituted l’heure de l’apéritif (Happy Hour!!) observed by many French families. So at about 5 o’clock we would have a quiet time for about an hour where we would sit with a bottle of rosé (around 3€) and the children would have juice and nibbles which they had chosen from the supermarket. Then they would watch French television for a while. After this we change for dinner and wander out to look for a restaurant, relaxed in the knowledge that the children were no longer starving and we, having enjoyed our wine would often just order water to drink. Wine can be expensive in restaurants.
No matter where in the world you go, there is always dirty laundry! Laundry services are expensive and laundrettes can be a hassle as they take only correct change and you have to sit and wait for your clothes to go through endless wash and dry cycles. There is no point in buying a box of soap powder when you are travelling around as they are bulky and once opened, have a tendancy to spill. You can buy tubes of laundry detergent - we used GENIE - which are cheap (around 3€), resealable, and available from all supermarkets. Baths are great places for doing the washing!
accommodation in france
There are different types of accommodation, which, if chosen carefully can suit a family with children, at varying levels of budget. You have the choice of hotels, bed and breakfasts, canal boats, rental villas and apartments. If you are travelling with another family, villa rentals are a good option as some can sleep two or three families combined. Make sure in hotels that you ask for adjoining, interconnecting rooms if available. If this is not possible, request rooms which are side by side. This means that both parents and children have some space, but that you are always close by. It is a good idea to write out the address and phone number, and if applicable, your apartment security code, and put this in the childrens’ pockets before you go out anywhere. This way, if you become separated, they don’t have to worry about remembering where they are staying, as they can show this card to a policeman or “rescuer”.
If you are renting a car and doing some touring or travelling long distances, it is a good idea to take your own music tapes. We took some romantic Mozart and the children chose the Spice Girls! It’s nice to have music that is familiar to everybody.
entertainment and activities
Travelling with children is a definite advantage because it makes you slow down and see the sights through their eyes. But you have to be realistic. While you may love the shops and art galleries and the historical slant to a city, when you are six, this is not a priority. You have to learn to compromise. For example, we visited one floor of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris rather than attempting to see the whole gallery. Then we balanced that with something for the children, like finding a music or toy shop. Having said that, don’t assume the children will be bored either - they often rise to the occasion. Sarah and Alexander love visiting the galleries and as young children would run from room to room to see what came next and would pick out their favourites. Now my children are teenagers so life is a breeze, yet just as much fun!
Balance is the key. If you have some serious shopping to do, get it out the way in the morning and then spend the afternoon at the beach. Wherever we went when our children were young they found things to do and amuse themselves with. They loved the lavender fields in Provence and spent hours picking lavender which we tied up with raffia and put on their pillows. They made fishing rods and dipped them in the local lavoire (former public washing area). One day they took ages collecting almonds which they smashed open on the rocks and we toasted and ate that night...
Children see what they want to see and they are fascinated with the people, the antique markets which had roosters running around, the differences at the supermarkets.....There were often carousels in the villages which the children loved to ride. We did lots of walking and talking. There was time to meet people and make new friends, to stop and take in the beauty of the countryside, to listen to music, and to really enjoy being together as a family. We never once thought, what are the children going to do now? If there was a lull they had their diaries to write and postcards to send to friends. On long trips away, both Sarah and Alexander kept a journal in which they wrote about the trip’s highlights. They kept any ticket butts, stickers, postcards and other mementoes. In addition for these longer trips away, we took 100 maths sheets for Sarah - one for every day we were away, so we didn’t feel her schoolwork was being neglected.
Bon Voyage and Bon Courage!
check list of must haves
|Page design by CTi Communications Ltd.|