Travel provides a tremendous learning opportunity. It’s amazing to be able to hop into an airplane and travel to a completely different part of the world. You become immersed in foreign architecture, new people and places, a different culture with unfamiliar customs and laws. And, if you don’t speak the language, the entire experience can be simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. Throw in a child and you’re bound to create even zanier memories during your travels.
Even though we’ve traveled to the Czech Republic three times in the last five years, each trip is defined by a different set of experiences and lessons learned. On our first trip, I was enamoured by Prague’s gothic architecture and history, and because it was my first time to the city, I wanted to see all the BIG sights. Back then, almost everything was less expensive than back home, and with Canada’s currency riding high, the conversion was especially favourable. We did a lot of shopping and brought back a lot of alcohol, souvenirs, and other trinkets.
Our most recent trip was the first one we’d taken as parents, and we had our 2-year old in tow. We wanted to keep our expenses to a minimum, so we didn’t rent a vehicle and spent most of our trip bunking with family in Prague and a small village in southern Bohemia. We also attended a wedding, and we had a different list of sights we wanted to explore. We knew that our toddler wasn’t going to show any interest in history, gothic architecture, castles, or anything that wasn’t a playground, so we put those attractions further down on our priority list. We spent time at the Prague Zoo, visited Hamley’s, walked up to Petřín Lookout Tower, and explored urban parks along the way.
With a toddler at our side, our experiences differed from past holidays. On many occasions, I came to appreciate the way that Canadians accommodate families, and vice versa.
So, what did we learn?
Playgrounds are one of the easiest ways to entertain a small human and mingle with the locals. Many playgrounds in the Czech Republic are fenced, which gives parents peace of mind, and it’s such a welcome feature for parents of children, who like ours, like to run. Play is universal, and no language barriers kept our son from playing with other kids, and the added security meant I could read a bit, quickly scan social media, or close my eyes (did anyone say power nap?!) for a few seconds. If you’re a parent of multiples, and one is stroller-bound, fenced playgrounds must be a godsend. If you’re a breastfeeding momma, knowing you can nurse your baby while your older child plays without your constant supervision, would make it far easier to get out of the house with your kids. I’ll also add that Czech parents don’t really play with their kids, unless their kids are quite small and need assistance. Taking your kids to the park is more a social event for parents and/or a well-deserved break.
Change tables were almost non-existent. Very few restaurants, even if they accommodated children with high chairs, didn’t offer change tables in their bathrooms. We ended up changing our son’s diaper on the grass, on park benches, and more. Nobody gave us “stink eye” for making use of a reasonably clean surface, and we made sure to wipe down the area before and after diaper changes. This is a pretty stark contrast to Canada, where the fight is less about the mere existence of change tables and more about ensuring change tables are available for both parents, in both washrooms, or making a universal/family washroom available to patrons. Shopping centres were the most convenient and, more often than not, had baby rooms with change tables and comfortable chairs for feeding or resting. Pubs and restaurants were the least convenient, and while kids are allowed in almost every pub, they weren’t always welcomed with open arms. The general observation was, “Sure, you can bring your kids, but you’re on your own. Keep them under control.” I will add that many restaurants and pubs also allow dogs, and the same applies – keep them under control and make sure you’re not disturbing other patrons.
Czechs are, in my opinion, remarkably cynical people. Well, they’re generally indifferent and aloof towards strangers. It’s kind of the complete opposite of Canada and, to some degree, the United States, where everyone’s up in your grill with their politeness and incessant apologies. The idea is that everyone minds their own business. BUT, any time I had to navigate a set of stairs with our stroller, somebody stopped to offer assistance. And, if I declined, nobody seemed offended. They just nodded or shrugged and carried on with their lives. It’s kind of an introvert’s dream.
We attended a wine festival in Prague, and the biggest difference was the lack of separation between alcohol and children. Alcohol was available everywhere, people could drink anywhere (public consumption of alcohol is generally acceptable), and children could be…anywhere. Reality is that North Americans have a pretty archaic view about alcohol consumption. At concerts and other events, adults that want to consume alcohol have to enter a “beer garden,” which is basically a booze cage. And, in my experience, this results in North Americans being really bad at handling their alcohol. I have no doubt that public drunkenness and obnoxious drunks exist across Europe, but at this wine festival, all we saw were families having a great time, where parents could enjoy a bit of wine, kids could have some lemonade, and the whole family could sit on a blanket with their friends and enjoy their surroundings. The presence of children seemed to remind people to drink responsibly.
Finally, the biggest surprise came in the form of sticker shock. As I mentioned earlier, our first trip was a treasure trove of cheaper food, drink, and consumer goodies. This time, we traveled with a weaker Canadian dollar and a strong Czech koruna, plus inflation. Some food was cheaper (milk and some cheeses, some produce, and bread), but a lot of foods were on par with prices in Canada. My husband laughed at the “low” cost of Laughing Cow cheese, but when I did the conversion from the 4-pack at Costco, it was the same price in both countries. I was more surprised by the cost of children’s clothing and toys. Everything was more expensive. On sale, I found pairs of toddler-sized shorts for $10 (170 Kc) and, considering I bought clearance shorts at OshKosh B’Gosh for $3.99, I simply couldn’t justify stocking up on clothes while overseas. We bought a few T-shirts, but I think we’ll stick to doing our shopping at home.
Overall, we had a great (also, exhausting) time, and we learned a lot about a destination that we’ve come to call a “second home.” Having a kid definitely puts a new sheen on the experience, and despite the differences, we can’t wait to go back.
Now, it’s your turn. What kinds of experience have you had while traveling with your children? How do other countries accommodate families, and were you pleasantly surprised or disappointed with your holidays?