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By Chris Egan
Imagine a relaxing walk along the beachside promenade in the French Riviera, a gentle breeze rolls of the blue Mediterranean sea and kisses your skin, your hand firmly clasped with your lover’s. A man plays guitar, providing the soundtrack for your walk. It feels like he is playing just for you. Further along, as the plucking of guitar strings grows faint in the distance, the collective sounds of life itself seem to grow louder—conversations, disagreements, people ordering food, children laughing as the play on the rocky beach, nearby cars, tires from passing cyclists grinding into the pavement. The sun starts to set, turning the sky pink and the sea a brilliant purple, the air is cool, and as you look up to marvel at the miracle of nature—noticing for the first time the sky in its vast all encompassing essence, the sheer size of the mountains in the background, beasts emerging from the earth to lurk about the horizon watching over us—you can’t help but feel alive, happy, connected, and part of the world.
This was my experience in 2014 in Nice, France.
I’ve heard people say Europe is for Lovers and I agree. Maybe that’s just something people say about any city their fond of, but I digress—it’s not that moments like this, beautiful, connected, and alive, cannot happen when traveling with kids. They certainly can, but you owe it to yourself to experience Europe alone with your significant other first.
My wife and I planned to start having kids in 2015, so in 2014 we went on a two-week backpacking trip through Spain, France, and Italy. Two weeks would be the bare minimum that I would recommend if you want to stay in as many places as we did—two cities in each country, Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Carcassonne and Nice in France, and Venice and Rome in Italy (in that order). Our lodging ranged from hostels where you may share a bathroom, shower, or even your room with other guests, to cozy bed and breakfasts with views of a medieval castle, to more typical hotels. I prefer the bed and breakfasts. Unique, full of personality, and just the right amount of community and social interaction.
We traveled by foot, subway, train, boat, and plane. Public transport was easy to use and fairly efficient everywhere we went. We had discussed renting a car while we were planning the trip, but fortunately, we decided against it. It would have been more of a burden than a blessing, having to deal with gas and parking.
My wife speaks a tiny amount of Spanish, and I took two years of French in high school, so neither of us is conversational in any of the languages we encountered, but we knew enough to put some of it to work for us. We downloaded a few translation apps, but I only remember using them a handful of times.
We flew from Cincinnati, OH to Madrid, explored our destinations from Spain to Italy, then flew back to Madrid for our flight back to Cincinnati. Even with the added cost of a flight from Italy back to our starting point in Spain, booking round trip flights from and to Cincinnati was cheaper than departing for the U.S. from a different European city than the one in which we had landed.
That’s my whirlwind advice for planning a whirlwind trip to Europe, but this post isn’t about the nuts and bolts of a successful Eurotrip. Everyone has different tastes and destinations on their checklist. We could plan a 100 different trips to the same six cities in Europe, each one uniquely different offering any sort of experience the travel-bug in you may desire—and that is my point.
To the newly married couple planning to have kids in the next five years, what do you want to experience right now? Go.
Things are going to be different when you have kids. Some things will be harder, like romance, but everything will be different—not worse, different.
I have been fortunate to have supportive people in my life, even when I have half-baked ideas. In my early twenties, I sold everything I owned—which honestly wasn’t much—and moved 1000 miles away from home to a city where I didn’t know anybody except for my traveling companion. I had no home and no job. It was awful and I quickly came back home, but I’m happy I tried it while I was young.
So many of us wide-eyed children become silly adults that get ourselves stuck in the mud, neck deep in a career we are afraid to leave, underwater, drowning in debt, or hypnotized by the idea that some future-time will be better than now. All the while we forget that the terribly cliche saying, You Only Live Once, is beautifully and sadly true.
This post focuses on a backpacking trip through Europe because that’s where my wife and I went to do a bit of exploring before our next journey—parenthood—but obviously, your travel and experience options are not limited to the European Union or backpacking for that matter. This is about one of those times that self-indulgence is appropriate. Indulge in your desire to—whatever you may call it—travel, collect experiences, immerse yourself in different cultures, get a different perspective, explore. Indulge in your wanderlust.
Just go. See new places. Experience new things.
Do it now, then do it again when you have kids because your world will change, your interests may change, and you will certainly change. Then there will be a whole new world to explore.