Donkeys, postcards, guidebook,coffee shop1

Preparing for a family vacation in Europe is a daunting task.  Airfare to Europe for the average American family  is exponentially more expensive than a daily tank of gas in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. And many would argue that a European vacation can’t even be appreciated by a child. If we were going to do this we had to make sure it was a dream vacation……………. for everyone.

So, before our trip to Sweden and Denmark, I made sure my 8 year old son, Liam, built some real excitement and anticipation for the trip by having him create a trip-planning tool of his very own.

When he got overwhelmed by my overbearing need for him to read geography books and websites, I instead had him POINT (no forced reading, just point) to pictures of things he wanted to do. No input from me,  no gentle nudges about the excitement of the crown jewels or the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.   If he were in charge of this trip,  what would he do?  Then we made copies of those pictures and he cut and pasted them into a blank book. The result was his own personal guidebook; a completely kid-centric itinerary.

Nowhere in his book will you find anything about art or the history of Scandinavia. Nowhere will you find anything about castles or the royal family. Those are things foisted upon children by adults who read guidebooks. Instead,  you will find some surprising ways to get inside the culture of these foreign places—which is the true purpose of travel, is it not? Here are some examples of Liam’s top travel picks:

Find Pippi Longstocking, eat ice cream every day, eat Swedish hot dogs from “korv kiosks”, find a new candy, see the Little Mermaid, see a viking ship, collect Swedish and Danish money, ride the coin-operated public bicycles, go on the rides at Tivoli, visit cupcake shops for a traditional 4pm treat, take a boat to an island, run in a beautiful field.

What a revelation; here I was making lists of boxes to check and his simple desires exemplified the beauty in the concept of  “be where you are.”. We, the adults, often think we’re planning a kid-friendly trip but, in actuality, we’re just making a statement about what adults think children should enjoy. Liam’s guidebook shook me out of my traditional must-see trip planning and simplified my view of what is fun.

That guidebook went with us to Scandinavia and we consulted it daily. Not just for Liam but for all of us. And you’ll be happy to know that we really did eat ice cream every day—just like the Swedes and the Danes.


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Comments (3)


  1. Posted by: Bryant

    Such a great article and thanks so much for sharing. Our two girls will love this for our next trip!!!

  2. Posted by: erinop

    Did you, by chance, dance around the maypole at Skansen on Midsommer as we did?

  3. Yes! We were lucky enough to be there during Midsommar and danced ecery dance and sang every song until my kid was mortified and made me sit down. I knew all the melodies but didn’t know the words so just sang watermelon – which could’ve been responsible for the mortification. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!

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