Top tips for planning a European Vacation with Kids in Winter
After spending nearly a month travelling Europe by rail with our kids in winter, here are some of the top family travel tips we wish we had known!
Some of our tips may seem like no-brainers in you live in Europe or cold climates, but we hope newcomers to European winter travel will pick up some gems there they may not have thought of before.
This post is part of our family-friendly series Discover Europe with kids
You may also want to dig a little further into our European archives for travel destination inspiration:
We’ll be back soon with our next instalment – how to travel Europe by rail with kids using Eurail!
Keeping Kids Safe and Healthy Travelling Europe
Keeping your group together
We thanked ourselves time and again that we left this trip a little longer until our kids were a little older. Not saying they use 100% commonsense all the time but being able to talk, communicate, follow instructions and move independently was essential in crowded places.
Not saying Europe is a no-go if you have younger ones, just think ahead, a lot; how will you communicate with one another if separated, what is your contingency plan if you become separated in a crowd?
Some tips we’ve always installed:
Assuming you have some sort of phone or WhatsApp on you, make sure this is written and with your child somewhere – coat pockets, jean pockets. And if possible, have them memorise your numbers, the old-fashioned way!
Another option we didn’t personally use, though could completely understand why you might want to try it is using the likes of Air Tags in your child’s coat or having them wear a GPS tracker watch.
If catching metro trains, for example, set up a protocol for what happens if you get separated. For example, tell them to get off and stand on that exact spot at the next platform – thankfully, we’ve never had to instigate this one!
Have your family dress in bright colours
The crucial mistake we made was having dark blue and black coats on our male family members. Miss and I were in peach, and light blue, easy to spot in a crowd; we needed hubs to put his bright orange beanie on so we could see him.
Hindsight, yep, you’ll stand out a little more than the drab dark colours, but oh so handy!!
And hey, it can help your insta photos pop, too, right? At the very least, something bright and colourful on their heads can help to spot your offspring in the crowd.
Covid, what covid?
Yup, it seems unless someone mandates it, we’re not a terribly bright society when it comes to the basics of hygiene. COVID may be less present, but there is a myriad of other seasonal cases of flu. Stick with it, mamas!
It’s not hard; continue to sanitise at every stop you make and before touching food, after travelling on public transport etc. Thoroughly wash hands at every restroom stop you get.
Covid rules still vary slightly by country. Although, as of 2023, it’s less of a concern, do keep abreast of changes when travelling. For some transport, for example, it’s still mandated you need to wear an N95 mask (as of December 2022).
General Health When Travelling
We were super lucky to avoid the lurgy in general until the last few days. Covid aside, bugs and germs in winter are almost inevitable in Europe.
We started late in the trip but wish we took all along multivitamins and vitamin C. When you travel, there’s a tendency for the general diet to slip, less of your normal balanced meals, veg etc.! (Yes, breakfast one day was crepes, followed by the chocolate factory…)
So keep up healthy practices when you can and consider complimenting with vitamins when you know the balance is off.
Stay in command of all your possessions
One other safety point, thankfully we were not victims this time, is the sad occurrence of pickpockets in Europe. We were at pains every stop we made (and the train conductors will remind you) that pickpockets operate particularly in tourist areas.
If you’re on a ‘moving trip’ changing stops every few nights, you won’t have the convenience of a hotel safe. Everything of extreme value needs to be on you at all times. Hence, bring nothing of more value with you than you have to. Passports, credit cards, phones, and minimal cash. ATMs are everywhere for topping up your walk-around money.
In the event your wallet or phone is stolen, somewhere else in your luggage, keep the emergency phone numbers for your bank. Don’t keep any passwords written down, but DO know someone’s phone number, perhaps a trusted parent, or relative who you can leave your emergency details with.
Your phone, especially if stolen these days, not only holds your maps, camera, and messaging – but your way of accessing banking passwords and the like with 2-factor authentication. Sure take some snaps with it, and navigate your way, but guard it with your life!! Use inside coat pockets zipped up to keep your phone safe in crowded places.
Don’t forget your suitcases too. Do NOT assume the luggage racks at the entrances on trains are safe. The overhead racks in trains are large enough to hold small and even medium suitcases; your best bet is to always keep them immediately with you.
Let’s talk about public conveniences
Far from convenient in Europe. Anyone in the immediate stages or aftermath of toilet training will know the importance of properly planned bathroom stops.
Do be aware throughout most of Europe, you’ll pay for the pleasure of peeing (even in McDonald’s!)
The exception in our experience was London, where the majority of bathrooms in fast food restaurants are free (yet public conveniences marked on maps are almost invariably closed).
The price ranges between 50 euro cents to Є1. Keep coins in everyone’s pocket – some let kids go in with an adult for free, others not. The plus side to this, bathrooms are generally well-maintained, with toilet paper always on hand.
Nonetheless, we always keep tissues in everyone’s pocket, from bathroom stops to runny noses.
Oh, and if you’re in the potty training phase, peak-time Europe city travel is not your friend, especially in winter. Delay this stage until post-trip if you can, or expect some accidents in the cold and wet, which is not pleasant- see our travel potty training tops here.
Top Tips For Keeping Warm in the European Winter
Whilst we’ve been desert dwellers for a decade with the kids, Mr Globetrotter and I spent much of the previous decade working in Europe and travelling Europe; we knew it’d be cold, but it’s easy to forget how to layer appropriately (and expensive to get ‘the right gear’ when your visit is only brief).
We thought it’d be easyish to pack for Europe; just assume cold every day, right? Nope, cold comes in a lot of different varieties, it seems.
Our daily temperatures ranged from -15°C to +13°C (5°F to 55°F). We were not fully prepared for such a range! Oh, and those warmer days were invariably very wet!
Rain, sleet, and snow with humidity make that all-important ‘feels like’ temperature vary dramatically different, even during the course of the day after leaving the house.
Here’s how we’d recommend you prepare:
Layer it up
You’ll be told it a thousand times, but layer, layer, layer is key.
At an absolute minimum, think base layer (thermal), mid layer (breathable material) and a top outer layer, but there’s more to it!
And, of course, walking in and out of heated transport, shops and buildings while rugged up can lead to immediate discomfort and layer stripping – cue potential to lose items!
We’ll be publishing our complete winter packing list shortly, which is perfect for city travellers. In the meantime, if you want some cold weather suggestions, perhaps try this family ski packing list to get a good idea of winter items you should stock up on.
We may look all smiles but can’t tell you how much we needed beanies and scarves on this mild Christmas Day cruise on the Seine
Some cold weather dressing pointers that may help – from experience!
Always on your daily packing list – scarf, beanie, gloves (even if it feels warm enough to strip off your outer raincoat). Ours liked the convertible fingerless gloves with mitten covers you can pull over.
Good thermal layers are your friend. We went with neutrals colours; that way, if they stripped to one layer, they weren’t embarrassed to be seen out and about “in their underwear”. Synthetic and wool thermals both have pros and cons depending on your weather conditions and washing situation.
Taking a river cruise, always think about how cold it gets on the water. Even on two glorious sunny winter days when we set off in Paris and London, we froze! Remember, you’re sitting still, and your extremities really feel it – back to the point gloves, beanies, always!
Waterproof pants were a late addition for us after the first ice skating experience, easy to pull over trackies and thermals. My tween daughter loved them and wore them as her out layer every day, but our boys still preferred thermal and track pants layered (except on snow and skate days); you’ll need to work to their comfort levels, and don’t force any bulky outfits they’ll refuse to wear.
Check everything for tags the first time they wear it. Or have a small pocketknife with you for running repairs if you forget, as their comfort isn’t just warmth, it’s how ‘itchy’ the layers can make them, especially when they’ve come from a warmer climate and are used to loose clothing.
Waterproof boots are a must. Forget regular trainers in the rain and slush. Even if they don’t want full-sized hiking boots, we found Timberland had many excellent waterproof leather boots that came up to their ankles.
With all the train travel and transfers, we honestly tried our best to keep it light, with one small suitcase and a backpack each for kiddos.
On day trips out, finally post-strollers and diaper bags, I refuse any longer to be the family pack camel. Credit cards and a few folding paper notes, coins, phone and health essentials (e.g. tissues, lip balm, mask) could all fit in inside pockets of my coat.
For the kids to do the same, they had to downsize to notebooks and games that were pocket-sized to their coats rather than taking our normal little backpack of dinner table entertainment and absolutely no electronics that could get lost.
A few pocket-sized travel toys include – a notepad with a small pen, Top Trumps, fidget puzzles, Games on the Go, Pocket Uno – see our full selection of travel toys for all age groups here
We finally have our crew travelling light with only a few essentials kept in our inside coat pockets in winter
Technology these days is great, but not always.
Although all your hotel and tour bookings may be on a mobile device, to our point above about items going missing, always keep a printed copy somewhere in your luggage of anything electronically booked.
We would also recommend keeping a downloaded version of Google Maps for each of your destinations, too. Although data signal in Europe is excellent, mostly, it can drop out when you least expect it and you’ll want a reliable map – that’s if you’re not still relying on a good old paper map, there is absolutely no judgement there!
If you’re completely reliant on your phone for capturing memories, too, make sure you frequently check that your backups are going to some sort of cloud device or you have some sort of plan B.
Back to Basics Travel Advice For Europe
Hopefully, you know most of these already, but just to reiterate:
Currency – The Euro is used in 20 countries, but importantly NOT in the UK and Switzerland. Even within the EU, the Euro isn’t used in Denmark, Sweden, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Poland, and Bulgaria.
Driving – if you do decide on the driving route, only The Uk, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus drive on the left side of the road (steering wheel on the right). Continental Europe is all drive on the right, steering wheel is on the left. Do expect manual transmission vehicles, though (or “driving stick”) – come on, tell me you’ve watched the Amazing Race contestant struggle with this!?
Language – most Europeans are taught English at school and have a basic understanding, especially working in tourist places. Not to say don’t have a go at learning some local languages – please do, and let the kids have fun trying – but don’t despair; if English is you’re only language, you should be able to communicate everywhere in the big cities at least.
If you have particular needs, like allergies, disabilities, special needs children etc, it may pay to learn some of the more technical phrases you might encounter and perhaps have them printed out on a card; but honestly, Google Translate is your friend in the majority of circumstances.
Powerpoints – most of Europe is type C round pin (with exceptions UK, Ireland, Malta & Cyprus). You’ll want the plugs that disappear into the wall to avoid huge heavy converters that fall out of the wall when too many things are plugged in. We like to go with a single converter plug in the wall; then a power strip can connect to it for all our devices.
Have you got any more questions about travelling to Europe in winter with your kids?
We’d love to help you from our own experiences if you comment below, or why not pop over to our handy Facebook group Family Travel Inspiration which we co-admin alongside many of our international travel blogging friends?
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