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Europe, I love you. I love Venice in October when the sun is low over the cold lagoon. I love the fantasyof  living over Shakespeare Co, earning my keep by selling dusty old books in the morning light of the Marais. I’ve been to the States and loved it, but Europe is something magical, and it’s right here on our doorstep. And, until last week’s decision, all of its possibility was open to us. 

This is a post I wrote months ago, and never quite finished until now. Visiting Paris with a toddler sounds like a nightmare, but was actually pure delight. The French are all about family and we felt welcomed everywhere we went. Where the UK would be full of tuts and glares, we were embraced, encouraged, kissed, spoiled.

It makes the irony of our county’s ‘leave’ vote all the more shameful. 

If you’re considering taking a young family on a European city break, I say go for it. Go now, while it’s still simple and easy to do so. Go and show your children how glorious diversity is, how limited the British viewpoint is, how much more we have to gain when we join together. Go, and have a wonderful time.

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There’s a French word that’s hard to translate into English; Flâneur, – ‘the act of strolling, with its accompanying associations‘. It’s my favourite thing to do in Europe.

Flânerie is the perfect slow living thing; opting out of frenecity, the must-sees and should-dos – too many times I’ve returned from a city break in need of another holiday just to recover.

The luxury of returning to a destination a few times is the freedom to ignore the tourist spots completely; we ticked them off a long time ago, & Orla’s much too young to care.
So in Paris, we just flaneur; we pick an arrondisement and wander, stopping for une cafe or un verre du vin whenever we like. This is the best pace for travelling with a toddler; we spend hours in quiet little Parisian playgrounds, Orla looping joyfully between sandpits and slides, while we sit on a bench in the sunshine, laughing (Incidentally, not a single playground we found had swings! Anyone know why?)

On our last trip, I completely forgot to pack my Paris notebook – the little black Moleskine that holds all of our maps, recommendations & addresses for our favourite hidden gems. When I first realised, I felt paralysed – & then I realised the freedom of it; no agenda, whatsoever! No pressure to make sure every meal was the best in the area, or to revisit that exact shop to buy Orla another book. The days seemed longer, without an itinerary to push them along.
Perhaps best of all, we didn’t run for a single metro all week. Now that’s what I can a holiday.

My top tips for Paris with a toddler: 

  • Paris is super child-friendly, but not as well equipped for it as the UK. It’s rare to find baby changing facilities or a high chair in cafes or restaurants. We took this booster seat bag, which straps directly onto normal chairs and has a space inside for a good stash of colouring supplies and toys.
  • Strollers/pushchairs do not fit easily through the Metro entrance turnstiles, and the larger access gates are often unmanned. We got around this by one person entering as usual, then that person holding open the (wider) automatic exit door long enough to push the stroller through. Illegal? Probably, but it works.
  • There’s plenty of room for a stroller on the buses, which are actually a really good way to get around too. If you’re buying a Paris Visite ticket anyway, it’s worth considering a bus journey for stroller trips.
  • If you’re taking an expensive pushchair, take along a combination bike lock so you can secure it outside small cafes and shops without worrying.
  • Alternatively, just take a sling and ignore the last three points!
  • If you suddenly realise you’ve forgotten something essential, Paris has several online and street stores that rent out baby and toddler items, including pushchairs, travel cots and high chairs. It’s not cheap, but it’s a nice safety net!
  • When you all need a bit of space, use google maps to locate the nearest green patch, & head that way. 9 times out of 10, we found awesome play equipment in these little parks, (& a nearby cafe to get takeaway coffee too!).
  • Just go ahead and order fries and juice at every meal, because that’s mainly what your toddler will be living off for the duration.
  • Drink at midday. Continue as necessary.
  • Choose busy cafe-bars for evening meals, so any noise and mess is no big deal. A favourite is La Caravanne, if you’re nearby. Awesome food & that cool shabby-industrial-decor – the kind where crayon marks on the table go quietly unnoticed ;).
  • Try & find a hotel with a lift. Even a tiny one is helpful when you’re staying in the fourth floor & your toddler is too tired for stairs.
  • Orla was too young & unpredictable for the big, expensive old carousels, but the mini carousel in the park between The Eiffel Tower and The Ecole Militaire has carriages suitable for 2yrs+, and costs less than 1E for a ride. It’s also right by the prettiest fairytale-themed playground ever.
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What’s your experience of travelling with little ones? Any other tips I should add to this list?

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  • jack

  • July 01, 2016

Sara, this post was brilliant! As an American, the idea of traveling a small bit and being in another country is as foreign to me as walking an LA red carpet as the guest of honor!

The idea of traveling to Paris, or London, Berlin, Venice, Rome, Dublin––anywhere outside of the North American continent (I’ve not been to Canada or Mexico either, to be just) is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Alas, it would no doubt be a $20-30k bill because I couldn’t stay for JUST one week. I’d have to eat and buy and visit and see it ALL the things and familiarize myself with the culture before leaving. So it’d be a lifetime of living in the span of a month––and so how could I ever grasp the notion of it really happening?

10 members of my family went on a two-week vacation to Italy a few years back and I admit, I hounded them daily for updates (think my barrage of DMs to you but …more, x) because I *knew* all the amazing things they were seeing. I wasn’t jealous, not a bit, but just so curious for information––how was the food, the wine, what was it like to stand in front of the Coliseum, etc. It’s all so unreachable to me and hmm, perhaps that’s why I’ve not been yet? Hah!

Anyway, beautiful photographs and lovely tips! Sorry for the ramble <3

  • Elizabeth Dalton

  • June 30, 2016

Great post and your pictures and words just make me want to book a flight away. We love Europe but haven’t ventured back with the kids, maybe this summer we could brave it. x

  • Marianne Andresen

  • June 30, 2016

Flânerie is an art form I have perfected over the years. London is actually my favorite. Love to stroll around and look at all the people who obviously don’t get it…

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