What is the right age for your children to travel in Europe? When you’re ready to take them. Only you know your kids, their energy levels, attention spans and degree of independence. But as soon as they are old enough to absorb their surroundings and participate in travel activities without wearing you to a frazzle, it’s time for them to travel.
Once you have made a few trips close to home you’ll know if they are ready for a bigger adventure. When they are, there are several reasons why you should consider taking them to Europe.
You’ll Have More Fun
Even when you have been somewhere before, seeing it through the eyes of your child is like seeing it anew. They notice things we don’t, details we overlook. And they often want to take time to stop and play — a good time for us to sit on a park bench and just enjoy where we are. You’ll also find yourself doing things you wouldn’t have done without them. Our pre-teen picked up a flyer in the Lisbon tourist office for the Oceanarium. Could we go? Normally fish only interest me on my plate, but we ended up spending an entire afternoon there and enjoying it tremendously.
You will have different experiences because you’re with children. We were walking down a street in Elvas, Portugal, when a man stepped out of a doorway and invited us inside, saying “your little girl must see our view!” We followed him to the terrace of a retirement home, where indeed we saw the most spectacular view of the city. A verger in an English church watched our daughter carefully making a brass rubbing as we looked around the church, and invited us into an exquisite chapel not open to the public.
They’ll Learn About History Older Than Our Own
Nothing breathes life into history like seeing the places it happened. Standing in the Coliseum or the arena in Verona makes Roman gladiators real; walking the ramparts of a castle bring medieval knights to life; and standing above the Normandy beaches demonstrates the miracle of the D-Day landings. Seeing the size of a real Viking ship makes their sea explorations more impressive. When kids see places they studied about — or study about places they have seen for themselves — these events resonate and take on reality. When they are in Europe, especially the lands of the ancient world, they can also give chronological perspective to our own relatively short history. You don’t have to go to Rome to see works of the Romans: You can see impressive Roman sites in Germany, Portugal, France, even as far as the Scottish border in England.
It’s an Incentive to Learn Foreign Languages
When French, Spanish or other foreign language is among the course offerings in school, kids often wonder why they need them. Once they have traveled where everyone around them is saying things they don’t understand, they will see the use of knowing another language. The younger they are, the better the time for them to begin learning a few phrases they can use — a sure way to get them interested in learning more.
They’ll Develop a World View
The best way to appreciate the value of other cultures is to encounter them firsthand. Beginning this at an early age makes it a part of their lives, as they discover people are people, whatever language they speak or foods they eat. They will meet all kinds traveling, but most people will add that extra measure of kindness when they see you’re traveling with children. Remember what Mark Twain said in The Innocents Abroad: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
You’ll Share the Memories Forever
The memories of adventures together, new experiences shared, challenges met and iconic places you marveled at side by side will always be a part of your children’s lives — and yours.