Since I am just one person, and I know so many people who have traveled in many different ways with all ages/numbers of children, I thought it would be fun to learn from their experiences too and share what they tell me! First up, Kate Kooyman, a brilliant mom and social justice activist from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has 5 and 7 year old boys and recently took a trip to the Netherlands with them. She was already in Europe on work travel, so her husband, Erek, an elementary school principal, traveled solo with the boys to meet up with her.
On choosing The Netherlands as a family vacation destination: Both our families trace back to a Dutch heritage, so it was fun to explain that to the kids and see a bit of that culture. We'd talked for a little while about trying to prioritize travel with our kids. I had a conference come up for work in Italy, and so I subscribed to a travel deals email list (Scott's Cheap Flights) -- sure enough, we found a direct flight for a pretty great price. The timing was totally terrible for my husband's job, but we were really lucky to be able to make the week-long trip work anyway, as stressful as that part was. I flew from my conference to Amsterdam, and the kids and my husband flew in the next day from Chicago.
I perused the Lonely Planet chats for ideas of what to do and what to skip, and I found a few blogs about traveling to the Netherlands with kids that were helpful. We really tried to keep the itinerary loose and have a few main things we hoped to do/see, without pushing things too much. I think that was an important part of keeping things fun.
Traveling with kids this age: My kids are super fun to travel with at these ages. They definitely get tired and crabby, but generally they're up for adventure and they have a good attitude. They notice funny things, and get excited about details that I would otherwise miss. They both got a camera from their grandma before their trip, and Sam (who is five) was very into documenting all the things he saw. I had to remind him to look with his eyes sometimes, too, instead of just through his viewfinder.
Toilet situations are far easier than they used to be (they can hold it! They can tell you when they have to go!). They don't need to pack changes of clothes all the time. They need fewer loveys and toys to keep entertained. And they don't nap! It's amazing.
Discovering Dutch Gems: We had so much fun in the Netherlands. We rented a whisper boat and drove it through the canals of Utrecht, which was so picturesque, and the kids loved the adventure of it. We rented a car (which we were very glad we did) and took a different day-trip every day. We visited a Kastel De Haar, ate cheese in Gouda, saw the windmills at Kinderdijk, and discovered that the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a really engaging scavenger hunt-type activity for kids -- they loved it, and that was a surprise to me! We went to an outdoor museum in the town of Arnhem, which was really cool and interactive for the kids. We also visited the Hoge Veluwe National Park, and rode their white bikes all over the trails. The kids definitely got their energy out on that day.
Aquariums, Grocery Stores and Raspberry Men: We went to a zoo, and the kids were just enamored by the tropical fish exhibit. I thought this was totally skip-able (since we've been to aquariums state-side), but my five-year old still talks about those fish. When you're captured by something, doesn't matter where you are.
The town where we stayed (Tiel) is most famous for being the hometown of a little raspberry-man who was the mascot who showed up in commercials over the years for a Tiel-based jam company. The town has statues of Flipje, and Flipje memorabilia, and little icons of Flipje on the street signs, etc. Jake spotted, and commented, on every one like it was an amazing discovery.
They thought the best thing ever was the grocery store. There were two stores in the town where we were staying, very close to one another, and somehow my boys turned it into a competition. "LIDL is so much better than Jumbo, right Mom?"
Traveling like locals: We stayed in an apartment in a small city called Tiel, which the kids loved. They had the time of their lives going grocery shopping and peeking around at the Target-like store they have called Hema.
I actually think the best part was getting to know our Dutch family -- Erek's second-cousins all live nearby each other in a small town east of Amsterdam. They showed us such hospitality, and were truly fun to be with. I think it was a very eye-opening touchstone for our kids, too, to build relationships with "real Dutch people" who were also family.
For most of the trip we stayed in Erek's cousin's apartment, which helped us to feel even more like locals. The only hotel stay was a Novotel by the airport, which was super luxurious. (The kids took a long bubble bath and pretended to be the Baron and the Baroness at De Haar castle.)
Eating on the go: On our many road trips around the US over the years, we've always packed a cooler, and I do a bunch of cooking before we go. Our go-to lunch is a nice loaf of bread with smoked turkey lunch meat. Then we customize -- mustard, cheese, avocado... everybody has their aversions and favorites. I often bring a kale salad for dinner, which holds up well all day in the cooler. It tastes so good to eat something fresh after all that driving, and you avoid the fast food gut rot. We were able to continue this tradition on this trip, which worked out well!
Changes to make next time around: I wish I would have done more planning for our day in Amsterdam. We aren't a super big-city-loving family, and so I knew it was bound to be a more stressful day -- but not having a good sense of what we were going to do, and where we would eat, meant we did a lot of aimless wandering around which is hard for tired kids (and tired parents). Next time, we'll make a gameplan. And use more Uber.
Future travel plans: I made the mistake of subscribing to Scott's Cheap Flights, so I get emails every day of amazing flight deals to destinations I'd love to explore in the future. We're saving our money, though, and especially if my 7-year old Jake has anything to do with it, we'll be finding somewhere new to go sometime soon. He's been bitten hard by the travel bug - Jake informed me today he'd like to go to West Africa. Sam wants to go to Alabama or California.
Thanks so much for sharing with us Kate! I just subscribed to Scott's cheap flights and will be scouting my next trip - thanks for the tip!