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We are in the final countdown for my four year old’s first trip to Europe and I am both Christmas-Eve-Style excited and First-Day-of-School nervous. We intentionally waited until she was around this age to go to Europe as heading across the ocean with a toddler or infant didn’t sound like my style of fun, especially since there were great adventures we could have with her closer to home. I know that is blasphemy to some family travelers who happily put their six week old infant in a carrier and start jet-setting the globe (and more power to you if that’s your thing!), but we preferred to wait until our daughter was fully potty trained, fully conversational, could aid in the planning, can pull her own bag, doesn’t need a stroller, had a longer attention span, and was actually excited about going before tackling a journey this big. I’m sure some think a 4.5 years old is still too young to head to Europe, but (I think) it’s the right age for us.
I’ll share all about the experience after we get back, but I wanted to document some of the things I am most worried about as we go into the trip. I think it will be interesting to see if those were indeed the biggest hurdles, or if maybe the biggest challenge was one I didn’t even think of in advance.
Worry #1: She won’t sleep on the TransAtlantic flight, or at least won’t sleep anywhere near enough
The flight we are currently on leaves a bit early in the afternoon for me to trust she will go to sleep shortly after take-off/meal service. I would have loved to book a later evening flight that was closer to her bedtime, but none of those had confirmable upgrade space at booking, so I had to take what I could get.
I’ve been talking to her extensively about sleeping on the plane, and will continue to strongly encourage that on the flight. I am also going to try and do a free same day change to a later flight at T-24 hours if there is confirmable upgrade space on one of those flights. However, this is not looking overly great at the moment.
Worry #2: She’s too exhausted to function normally – especially during our connection at Heathrow after flying overnight (see worry #1).
Just like any of us, landing very early in the morning in Europe (really the middle of the night back home) can be a bleary-eyed experience, but I’m going to be doing it solo with a four year old. If she is too tired to function, it’s going to be very hard getting through Heathrow and killing time until our connection to Paris. I’m barely going to be able to manage her bag, and certainly won’t be able to carry her if she is tired. She will have to walk, and that may get interesting if she doesn’t get at least a decent amount of sleep on the plane.
There is no perfect solution to this, but we have used my United Premier Global Upgrades to upgrade to lie-flat business class seats to help her (and me) get as much sleep as possible on the plane. Depending on how long our connection is at Heathrow (with is dependent on the success of a potential same day change to a different United flight) we may get a room at an airport hotel for a bit to take a nap and/or find a place within the airport to rest. I’ve printed out info on the children’s play areas and lounges in Heathrow that have rest areas (several are available via Priority Pass Select that comes with Amex Plat cards), but most seem to be in terminals we won’t be transiting, so that may be of limited help. I’m going to make sure I can manage both of our bags so all she has to do is walk. We have had some experience with this during flights back from Hawaii and recently to Vancouver, so she has a pretty good track record rallying when she has to, but I am a little concerned about how this will play out if she is totally zonked.
Worry #3: Jet lag hits her hard and we aren’t able to do some of the things we hope to do in the first couple days
Our trip only allows for four days on the ground, so if we waste much of the first day or two dealing with jet lag then we will have lost much of the trip.
Kids are resilient, and I’m pretty sure we will be on relatively equal footing dealing with the time change. I’m not making any firm reservations for things the first 24 -36 hours so we can just go with the flow a bit and head out for things when we are ready. Since we have waited until she is a bit older, she is able to power through being a bit tired sometimes, so I’m not near as concerned as I would be if she was in the 2-3 year old range and really needed more structure and naps.
Worry #4: I’ll get us lost and/or confused due to not knowing Paris and not knowing French at the same time my kid gets impatient, tired, needs to use the restroom, is starving, etc.
When it is just me, or just my husband and me on a trip, I’m not as worried about getting us lost or confused as I know we will eventually sort it out. However, flying solo with my four year old makes that all a bit more worrisome since I have zero first-hand knowledge of Paris.
I have mapped out many of our destinations in more detail than I normally would, and have a couple of helpful apps downloaded to my phone (like a Metro app, a translation app, and Yelp to quickly assess restaurants/cafes). I also will not hesitate to use Uber or a cab if we just need an easy way to get where we are going. We will also be meeting up with my mom and aunt for portions of the trip, so three heads can be better than one, especially if you are trying to find your way with a potentially impatient four year old. I’ll also just be honest with her that it is an adventure and we have to figure it out together. We have both been practicing French together via a free app, so she totally understands I don’t know very much French!
Worry #5: She’ll hate the food and not eat anything but junk
She doesn’t just stick to foods like french fries, macaroni and cheese, and chicken tenders back home, but when she is tired her eating does become less adventurous and less experimental.
Let them eat cake. Or bread. Or eggs. Or whatever. I am a bit concerned about us eating in some joints that don’t really specialize in foods she loves (not to mention that I may not even be sure what everything on the menu is), but ultimately my plan is to just not worry about her diet too much for the few days we are there. If there are a few meals where she just nibbles on bread she won’t die. I don’t want her to eat so much junk she feels sick, but a few off-balanced meals is okay. Heck, I’m sure I’ll have a few off-balanced meals! I’ll be sure to hit a grocery store to get a couple healthy-ish options in her if all else fails.
These are the five things I am most worried about as we go into this big adventure, with some of them being of more concern than others. I’ve flown so much with my daughter I’ve long since lost count of our flights, but every trip is different and presents its own challenges.
My excitement about having another awesome adventure with my daughter way outweighs the fears/concerns, but it doesn’t totally erase them.