Our family of five recently returned from a 10 day trip abroad. And despite it being our first time in these countries, not knowing their languages and the jet lag, we came close to having the perfect trip away. From the perspective of my three elementary school age kids, here’s how to make the whole family have a great time regardless of where you’re going.
1. Do Your Homework
Ok, this is not the most fun sounding start to a kid-centered vacation, but knowing something about your visited places makes the trip much more meaningful. To give you an idea of what we mean, here is how we prepared for our trip to the Czechia, Austria and Germany.
Books We Read
Movies We Watched
Music We Played
2. Pack Activities for Downtime
We spent several DAYS worth of time getting from one place to another (by plane, bus, train, van, taxi, funicular railway), waiting in line and eating out. In the past we overlooked how to fill these idle moments, but during this trip my girls were prepared!
You know your child best, but here are the most portable activities we came up with:
Journals (great for remembering interesting/funny moments)
Digital cameras (we used old iPhones without data plans)
Audiobooks (finished first two Harry Potter books)
The Happy Families Card game (thanks Alison Rainbow!)
3. Stay in the City Center
“Home is where the heart is- and the coffeemaker”
Hotel Monastery– Prague, Czech Republic
Our first stop on the trip was within walking distance of the conference Matt attended. Having a large space to spread out and sleep off the jet lag was key to starting the week off right.
We’ve had incredible luck staying at Airbnb the last several years. Below are the two we used with this trip.
Last Renaissance Residence- Prague, Czech Republic
In a 400 year old building, this two story apartment was amazing! Each window of the top floor had an historic view. One revealed the St. Charles Bridge, another The Lennon Wall, and another The Petrin Observation Tower.
Central Apartment 2– Saltzberg, Austria
If you’ve ever wanted to move directly into one of the IKEA showroom displays, this is the apartment for you! The flat was well-organized with its strait lines and spacious bedrooms. It was perfect for a family of five. Our first day there, Matt decided to make us a breakfast complete with fruit, Nutella, Diet Coke and my favorite song playing. Located within walking distance from the train station and downtown Salzberg, we loved having this as our home base.
Traditional Hotel Chains
We also stayed at a Marriott and Sheraton in Germany which was every bit as special and comfy as our other stays!
Munich Marriott Hotel– Munich, Germany
This Marriott had a crazy awesome breakfast which was included with our stay. My kids also loved working off some extra energy in the pool after sitting on the tour bus those days!
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel and Conference Center– Frankfurt, Germany
After lugging literally #200 of luggage from airport to train to hotels and back again, this hotel was a welcome sight! Located at Frankfurt’s train station AND airport, we couldn’t have been happier to end our trip here. We got off the train from Munich, checked in at the Frankfurt hotel, hung out with friends and then flew out from the Frankfurt airport the next morning.
4. Try New Foods
Anytime we travel to a new place, my daughters always find food they love. Eastern Europe was no exception. The people of Czechia, Austria, and Germany serve fresh fish, sausage, eggs, fruit, bread and pastries. Every meal was fabulous- especially the apple strudel and the street vendors’ Trdelnik.
A traditional Slovak rolled pastry originating from the Hungarian-speaking region of Transylvania, the trdelník is usually served warm and topped with a dusting of sugar, nuts or cinnamon. This delectable treat is made by wrapping the pastry dough around a wooden or metal stick, roasting it over an open flame and coated with sugar or cinnamon.
Watching this pastry being prepared is a fascinating sight. A common Prague street food, you can easily find stalls selling this treat along streets and open squares everywhere. It is the perfect treat to savor during a cold winter day!
-Peter, Owner of Airbnb Prague Site
5. Visit Friends
We happened to know someone in each of the cities we traveled and our time with them became everyone’s favorite part of the trip! If you aren’t already traveling to see specific friends or family, make a point to reach out to those living in your travel path or destinations. Kids especially love meeting other kids. Hannah and Florentina were my girls’ fast friends in Austria (even though they knew no English!). Also, getting insight into how other families live, spend their time and interact was fascinating for us all.
First we visited Prague Castle in Czechia. Attending a work-related dinner for my husband, we had a formal tour of the enormous castle (large enough to contain 6 football stadiums!). Teams of tuxedoed servers served five courses paired with wine, revealed simultaneously by lifting the silver plate covers. But the time wasn’t stuffy or solemn. Adults exchanged jokes with the girls and asked about their life back in the US. Friends from South Dakota humored us by thumb wrestling over cocktails and Shirley Temples.
We had two full days of time with Salzberg, Austria natives Wolfgang and Julia. Somehow they found the time to travel with their two daughters via The Festungsbahn funicular railway, opened in 1892, leading up from the town to the Hasengrabenbastei to see the Hohensalzburg Castle (one of the best preserved castles in Europe). As a storm approached, we ran for cover and had dinner together with our girls.
But our family’s favorite Austrian meal was The Holzingerbauer on Mondsee Lake, a secret spot for locals, we had Julia and Wolfgang to get us there. The restaurant owners only serve what is grown/raised on the property- apple cider, liquors, veggies, cheese, pork, and homemade black bread. We hung out three hours on picnic tables and swing sets just watching the lake and the owners’ children ride their ponies.
In Germany, our friends Rolf and Heika Schwind hosted us for a fabulous dinner and swim in their Aushoffemburg, Germany home. They served the seasonal favorites- locally made sausage, white asparagus, and fresh baked bread- paired with German beer and wine! His daughter, Theresa, made apricot cheesecake for desert.
6. Get a Good Tour Guide
Don’t be afraid to be lured into a tourist trap or two! Our guides expedited travel, helped find bathrooms and customized the arrangements based on our family’s interests.
Our first guides were Patricia and Vaclav from Empire Tours in Prague, Czechia. This married couple drove their van around Prague explaining with Vaclav’s valuable history degree how interesting the city really is. Our first stop was Old Town Prague, first settled in the 9th century, contains Old Town Square, The Astronomical Clock, and The Old New Synagogue.
Then we traveled to “New” Town Prague (founded in 1378!) to see the St. Charles Bridge, Strahov Monastery, Prague Castle, and Letna Parks.
Built as a mini version of Paris’s Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Observation Tower was built in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition. Many families might choose to climb to the top for spectacular views and the challenge of the climb. We, however, enjoyed the gardens and the Hall of Mirrors. Hey! This trip is about the kids, ok?!?
Matt and I love WWII history and we watched Anthropoid and read Madeline Albright’s book Prague Winter. Although the trip could have been laden with concentration camp tours and battle sites, we thought it best to keep the overall experience positive. One deviation from this included the tour of the where the assassins Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis of General Heydrich eventually perished by the Nazis. Tour of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius was our most solemn of moments. Of note, my daughters took all photos taken below.
Who says you can’t have tours combining Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and The Von Trapp Sound of Music?!? Panorama Tours doesn’t! We loaded in Salzburg and traveled by bus to both locations- a day dedicated to each. We gave the Eagle’s Nest Tour a kid-friendly PG rating.
Sound of Music Tour was perfect having refreshed our memory by watching the movie the day before.
Last, we cannot forget how our princesses (they were called that in all three countries!) visited several castles during our time. Below are just a few of the captured experiences we had!
Happy kids make happy family vacations. Regardless where we head next, we’re taking our own advice! Do your homework, pack activities for downtime, stay in the city center, get a good tour guide and visit friends. And as always, let GleanforGood know if you have wisdom to share!