Every few years I take what I call a Reconnaissance Trip to Europe.
These are solo trips of usually 8 – 10 days where I travel to new or rarely visited locations along my usual tour routes. I make sure the food is still good, make sure none of the walking paths have changed, look for new and exciting things, and just re-familiarize myself with the towns.
With several upcoming trips to France this year I decided I should brush up on my French, so Recon France 2012 was planned.
I usually plan these trips in the off season to save money and avoid crowds. This time I decided to go during the high season to see what all the fuss is about.
A crazy idea
Since I’m traveling in the summer, I thought “Hey, why don’t I take my seven year old daughter?”
She loves the Eiffel Tower, she’s very smart and might make a great assistant.
My wife would have one less husband and one less kid to watch over for a few days.
I have enough SkyMiles for her to travel for free.
She’s even traveled to Italy with us before.
I spoke with my wife, who loved the idea.
We spoke with our daughter, and of course she was all for it too!
Planning and blackmail – not what I had hoped
I love to plan trips. I love the planning and logistics almost as much as I love traveling. I tried to get my daughter excited with the planning stages too. Didn’t happen.
Me: “Let’s get out the maps and plan our trip!”
Her: “Are we going to see the Eiffel Tower?”
Me: “Of course, sweetie.”
Her: “Yay! Can I go do something else now?”
Her priority was seeing the Eiffel Tower, she didn’t care where we sat on the train or where we ate.
Still we continued with the planning. A daddy, daughter trip through France!
We would visit the Eiffel Tower, hunt gargoyles in Notre Dame, and cruise the Seine!
We would see the lavender fields of Provence, walk the beaches of the French Riviera and window shop for Ferraris in Monaco!
And just because we could, we would spend a few days in Rome!
I was also excited about using the trip as parental blackmail. For example, “You can’t go to France if your room is messy.” I tried this a few times, but realized that I was not going to take away the trip to France and didn’t want to look weak if she didn’t clean up. So now she gets to go to France and I get to step on Legos in the early morning hours.
Oh well, a parent can dream.
Reality and panic
One night, right as I was drifting off to sleep, I had a very basic, simple thought cross my mind, I’ll be traveling with her alone…
What happens when she needs to use the restroom?
Obviously I can just take her in the men’s room. But it made me realize that I had not thought everything through.
The last time she went to Europe, she was three. My wife was there, my parents were there, my aunt was there, and 20 other friends were there. Now I’ll be alone!
So that little question sparked days of panic attacks, with thoughts like…
What if I leave her in a taxi?
What if she doesn’t have fun?
How do I explain the topless beaches, or more importantly, the Speedos? (Update: Crisis averted. Should be too cold in the Côte d’Azur.)
What if I get hit by a car and she’s left stranded?
What if I can’t get any work done?
What if we get separated?
What if one of us gets sick and we are stuck in the hotel for a few days?
What will I pack for her?
I sometimes walk 10 miles in one day, how will she handle that?
I have since come up with solutions to most of these issues. But, what else am I missing?
Voice of reason
My wife is never one to worry and did her best to calm me down. I am a professional traveler after all and have taken hundreds of people all across Europe.
Still, this person is very small and belongs to me.
A true adventure
Although I’ll be working, I didn’t want this trip to be an absolute bore for my daughter.
I made the trip into a bit of a scavenger hunt (h/t to an Australian family that traveled with me over Christmas for that idea). And the scavenger hunt became an all out quest.
I’ve dubbed the trip, The Quest for the Eiffel Tower.
In this quest, she will have to acquire and use basic travel and communication skills to find clues that will lead to the next clue. Starting in Rome and ending on the second level of the Eiffel Tower on the last day. (Can’t guarantee the top will be open.)
Hopefully throughout the quest she will learn some skills, some French and Italian language, and some history. Hopefully I will too!
And we’re off!
We are starting in Rome with an all out media blitz.
I’m shooting several videos (including a rap video, no, seriously) and doing a couple of photo shoots.
I’ll also be reviewing a few products and a few tours.
We are going to Mass with the Holy Father on Thursday and visit the Vatican Museums after-hours on Friday.
Of course we also plan to eat as much Italian food and gelato as we can in 48 hours.
Then it’s off to the French Riviera for a few nights of discovering new restaurants, finding churches, setting up Masses, timing trains, counting steps, talking to tourism officials, finding bars, meeting with guides, finding the best beaches, etc.
From there we travel north to Provence to smell the lavender and do our best van Gogh impressions. I also hope to make a stop in the region to visit something I’ve always wanted to see and never thought I would. Only if there’s enough time.
Finally we end in Paris for four nights in the city of lights.