I’ve always been a curious person. I love history, exploring, and seeing new places. I asked to go away to sleep-away camp when I was seven, to boarding school at 15, and to study abroad in Paris at 19. And I’m here to tell you that the travel bug doesn’t suddenly evaporate when you have kids.
When we had our first child in the early 2000s, I was game to travel with baby in tow. But when I searched for family trips, I was bombarded with Disney ads. I was already a freelance travel writer for Washingtonian and Capitol File at the time and knew there had to be more compelling options than a trip to Orlando.
So I scoured my travel PR rolodex to find other folks in the travel industry who could suggest alternatives for families — places that offer amenities to ensure parents and kids alike are happy and not bored to tears.
Voila! Lots of word-of-mom recommendations of interesting spots to stay. As a first-born, Type-A person, I started making a travel to-do list. My new beat was family travel. (Ultimate challenge: find a fab spot that allows three young children, plus two black labs!)
So our brood experienced a chic cabin in Maryland’s Savage River State Forest, channeled our inner hipsters at the Hotel Gansevoort in NYC’s Meatpacking District, basked in the slower pace of mid-coast Maine in a quaint cottage at Spruce Point Inn, and watched the wild ponies wander the beaches of Assateague Island.
Last year while debating spring break options, we did the math and were astonished to see that a trip to France for a family of five was quite a bit cheaper than the traditional Florida family vacation. (True, airfare was pricey, but lodging in a French country gîte in shoulder season is quite affordable!)
In order to save money, we took the three girls (ages four, six, and eight) to Brussels, then trained it to Paris. They were great little travelers. We had discussed the trip and worked with them in advance so they could help plan our activities. They were so excited to be in Paris, the city of Madeline the orphan from our books!
They walked everywhere, ate steak frites, learned how to say, bonjour, monsieur, merci, madame. They went on a scavenger hunt in the Louvre and noticed how Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you no matter where you’re standing and made amies at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Later in our trip, they saw finger paintings of prehistoric children in the caves of Rouffignac, walked the steps of Rocamadour where pilgrims have flocked for a thousand years, and slept in a 15th-century chateau.
We didn’t go to the beach or get a suntan for spring break. Instead our family experienced a different culture, had daily history lessons, met new friends, ate new food, learned a little French – and some profound life lessons – together.
Family-travel expert and writer Elizabeth Thorp is the founder of Poshbrood, a curated catalog of mom-tested, upscale family-friendly properties. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband and three daughters. Follow her story on Twitter and Instagram @poshbrood.
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