It’s Good to Be The King.
The site’s been silent recently since we just returned yesterday from a two week trip to Europe – Paris, London and Edinburgh – which was dubbed the It’s Good to Be The King 2014 tour. This is the follow-up to the family’s 2011 European Collapse tour (here and here). Just as I found that traveling with children changes as they age, it continues to change as they work their way through the teen years (Eldest is no longer a teen and Youngest might as well be for what it’s worth). I clearly remember when traveling with kids meant assuring that there were sufficient diapers and plenty of activities planned to make the physical aspect of traveling easier for the youngsters. But that’s progressed and while I love traveling with the family, there are moments when the changes are jarring.
So what’s worth noting with the teens and nascent adult?
- Make sure that the kids understand that if breakfast is included in the cost of the room, then they’d better take advantage of the "free food" instead of sleeping in and then looking for a lunch because they’re hungry. For that matter, make sure that the kids understand the difference between a continental breakfast – the serve yourself available at places such as Hampton Inn – and what is referred to as an english breakfast, which is prepared by a cook and brought by staff for an additional charge. Likewise, keep water bottles refilled so that you don’t have to spend money needlessly on water.
- Make sure that they understand that they are clearly prey for any number of grifters and beggars. Paris was loaded with gypsies at public sites who approached with request for petition signatures; the catch was that if you signed the petition, you’d receive small useless token as thanks and a demand for money to pay for said token. I first learned this schtick in New York City last year after signing a petition for some Buddhist about his temple. He gave me some meaningless fabric flower petal and demanded $20 and when I refused, it got…unpleasant. I’m fortunate that my paternal male line has a recessive asshole gene for such moments. The kids learned to simply repeat no and keep on walking.
- Press personal security. Men’s wallets should be shifted to the front pocket and women’s purses should be held with the strap over the shoulder and the zipper compartment secured. Since I carry a backpack during the travels, I kept it slung over the shoulder with the zippers secured towards the front so that they were near the hand grasping the strap in order to thwart anyone who might try to unzip it from the rear.
- Make sure that the kids know what to expect from the weather and can pack accordingly, and likewise for any special events planned that might require better dress. Since the last stop on the tour was Edinburgh, Scotland, I checked the expected weather in advance and found that the mid-June averages were a full 20 degrees less than here, akin to a mid-Spring day instead of summer. Also decide whether you trust them to pack without a physical luggage check or if you just want to run through a checklist prior to departure. The kids are old enough now that if they choose to ignore common sense in clothing choices, they can suffer well if they’re chilly.
- Expect moments of cognitive dissonance since the kids are now growing and are capable of far more than they were younger. This was personally the case with Eldest, who is well into college and could legally order alcohol at meals. Our traveling philosophy is that the kids should experience the local culture as much as possible but within the bounds of legality and this especially goes to the issue of alcohol. What is the legal drinking age where you’re at? It was 16 in Italy, so Eldest could have an occasional beer or wine at dinner during the Collapse tour in 2011 while Middle could only share ours. But it’s 18 in France, England and Scotland and the wait staff throughout was assiduous in carding, so Eldest could again order at dinner – and not occasionally – while Middle was again stuck sharing ours. My only caveat with Eldest was that she have something that wasn’t usually available here so if you’re going to have a beer, make sure that it isn’t a Budweiser. The dissonance also struck in handling the processes since Eldest was much quicker in figuring out the Paris metrocard machines than I was, leading to an apology to her for being brusque because I couldn’t believe that she had it down quicker than me.
- Security goes beyond the physical and to the cyber aspect as well. Kids should be aware that while they can certainly share with their friends, such a prolonged trip isn’t something to be announced via Facebook or another social networking platform where literally anybody – and if the kid has more than 500 "friends", it’s anybody – can see that the house is wide open for pillaging and/or epic parties.
- Use any opportunity available for teaching the kids, whether it’s about politics, economics, history or simply life. Our accommodations in London were a classic mix of the sixth level of Dante’s Inferno and John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers and as satisfying as yelling would be, I was cognizant that the kids were watching. So the lessons were twofold: first, that the person in front of you is liable to not be the person responsible for your dilemma so yelling is probably harmful since you become the enemy instead of the wronged customer; second, that you need to have a plan and know what you actually want when you find that one responsible party. Talk about the situation and pick it apart with the kids, and then share the results of any actions or conversations with them. In other words, plan, execute and then do a post-mortem on the situation.
- Teach the kids to double-check that what they’ve purchased is actually what’s wrapped up by the sales staff. Twice this trip, my wife and I found that items that we thought we were purchasing weren’t what actually came out of the package. My wife was more upset since she was purchasing silk scarf whereas I was bringing home a bottle of scottish whiskey and cream. I’ll certainly see through my disappointment, but it might not be as easy for a ten-year old who had her heart set on a special something.
One of our principal family values is the exposure to other cultures and we’ll continue to travel as the opportunities arise – or we make them. But all things change and the nature of the family vacation does as well with the aging and maturing of the kids. Carpe diem.