After travels this year with my four-year old, it's safe to say that I learned a few things. For some of you hoping to travel abroad with your baby, toddler or bigger kids, rest assured; it can be done. My daughter and I traveled to four countries in less than a month and she was more upbeat than I was the entire time. I learned a few tricks along the way, and I hope I can help you learn a few here too.
1. Create an Itinerary - I cannot over-emphasize the importance of planning ahead of time. Mapping out locations, activities, and tours ahead of time helped me avoid chaos down the road. Once you get on the plane with a toddler, there is no turning back. My daughter is energetic, loves to be occupied, so I planned outdoor activities that would dissipate that energy on the road. My spreadsheet included activities by area, ratings and reviews. We didn't get to do every activity, but we did the most important ones, for example, in Paris, visiting the Eiffel Tower was a no-brainer. Remember to be flexible. Your kid may get sleepy, tired or anxious due to the new environment. Look for cues that they need their rest, and return to hotel for a short nap.
2. Schedule for Sleep, Nap and Jet-Lag: Plan your travel times to co-incide with a day-time arrival. Don't make the mistake of putting them to bed as soon as you get to your destination. My daughter had no issues with jetlag. We booked a late night flight out of the U.S to France. I kept her up halfway, and she slept halfway. Upon arrival in the morning, we had brunch and went touring the Eiffel tower, she later fell asleep and we went back to the hotel at 6pm. I woke her up to eat dinner, and she went back to sleep at 7pm. She was fine the rest of the week and adjusted to not only Europe, but Morocco and Nigeria time-zones since the time zones were so close. Kids actually fare better when it comes to distance travel and overcoming jetlag. Keep your child up if it's not bed time at your travel destination.
3. Location is Key: Because you have a toddler, it's important to stay close to an area where there are tons of activities within walking distance. We stayed at La Defense in Paris which had shopping malls, playgrounds, restaurants, carousels, picnic area, coffee shops, and plenty other things to do. If you decide to stay in a remote location that requires travel, your daily commute may put a strain on your child. We practically rolled out of bed to eat at our favorite brunch restaurant, tour the Grand Arch, shop at the mall and visit a nearby park where my daughter played with other kids. We did this in every country we visited this year.
4. Travel Light: We had to pack heavy because we were stopping to visit family but we left most of our heavy luggage in Paris with a friend while we visited some parts of Europe and Morocco. Less is more when it comes to travelling. She successfully wore one pair of black ballet flats for the entire month. We wore this same dresses in Paris, Morocco and Nigeria. There are washing machines in most hotels and while in Nigeria, I handwashed everything. It helped reduce the amount of time we would have spent deciding on what to wear. My rule of thumb is to bring half of what you think you need, and only pack things you can't find elsewhere.
5. Just Do It: There are other things to consider when traveling with a toddler: potty-training, keeping them occupied on the plane so they don't freak out other passengers, worrying about their eating habits, bringing their favorite pet (we have a teddy bear that traveled far and wide this year), the list goes on. My advice is to just do it. You will never regret taking your child on a journey across the world. My daughter learned to speak French, Arabic and Yoruba this summer, a few words here and there, but she held conversations with friends she met in those places and even taught some of the Arab friends English.
Yes, you can't have the type of vacation or experience you will have with friends, a partner or traveling solo, but you will make amazing memories with your children and they will learn so much more about themselves. You'll look back and cherish every bit of it.
Paris. Full glamour & romance, there is a lot more to this infamous destination then the clichés we are brought up to believe. Paris happens to be one of the most diverse cities in the world with thousands of immigrants from Asia, South America & Africa. I had always been taught to perceive Paris as an untouchable, conservative, white-only society. When I arrived, I was surprised to find a large population of African descent with an indelible sense of style and grace.
During my month long stay in Paris, I was surprised by a few thought-provoking cultural differences. Unlike America, France isn't allowed to collect information pertaining race, only information regarding an individual's birth country. As a result, there is no accurate count of African immigrants living in France. When I met other young blacks, they referred to themselves as French first, as there is no such term as Afro American or African French. When walking down the streets of Paris, I would always receive a warm smile, nod or conversation, something starkly different from where I came from. In Los Angeles, in the same scenario, eyes of African Americans I'd cross paths with would be diverted in other directions. These black Parisians never made me feel like I was alone.[gallery ids="652,663,665,653,664"]
Along with the difference in culture, I discovered some amazing things to do (other than visit the Eiffel Tower). Follow this list for an amazing way to view of the city of love!
1. Versailles. Here you will find an incredibly glamorous palace filled with art, parisian pool sized ponds and magical gardens. If you've seen the movie Marie Antoinette, you should definitely visit. For those who haven't seen the movie, watch it and then go visit (ha!). This palace is located right out of Paris and with just a hop on the metro you can get there in just under an hour.
Paris is my all time favorite city (not counting Ireland of course!). If I could I would travel back to France right now!
I was lucky enough to meet up with my good friend in Paris to show me all the cool places to go! My favorite spot that we went to was Montmartre. It’s a long hike up to the top, but walking through the streets and past the cute restaurants and shops make it worth it. There are hundreds of steps to walk up which make you pass through groups of people, drinking eating and enjoying music being played by a bystander! At the top are the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur and the Saint Pierre de Montmartre. I recommend coming up an hour before the sunset, sit on the church steps, bring cheese and wine and have fun!
Tourist spots that are definitely worth seeing are Notre dame, the Eiffel tower, and the Louvre museum. After I went to see the Notre Dame, we walked down by the river as far as we could and stumbled upon the lovelock bridge, which is a cool place to check it! We ended up checking out the Eiffel tower a few times because we kept walking past it. The Louvre museum is definitely a cool place to check out, especially if you want to see the Mona Lisa! (Way smaller than I imagined). A day trip also worth doing is visiting the Palace of Versailles. The rooms, garden, and lakes are breathe taking!
One restaurant that you HAVE to find is “Pain Vin Fromage.” My friend told me it was his favorite restaurant and that I needed to try the fondue. It was the best cheese I have ever had in the world! The bread that we had to dip in the cheese was also incredible. Another amazing restaurant that offer great tapas that are tiny appetizers and fantastic wine is called “Avant Comptoir.” I tried so many interesting things but I loved every single one!
Obviously desserts that everyone must try in Paris are the éclair, macaroons and crepes. You can find these anywhere you turn in Paris, but try and look for a nice authentic café rather than a street cart! Try all the baguettes you can because you don’t find bread like that in America!