Germany & France with Teenagers and Kids
November 25, 2011 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Just starting to plan a trip to France (mainly Paris) and Germany (mainly Munich) with three kids ages 17, 14, and 11. We're from the US and do not speak German or French. We've done Europe before, but never these countries. We will go in June of 2012. I need resources so I can research the heck out of this thing.

I'm open to straight up suggestions and comments about what we should do, where we should stay, how we should navigate our way around these countries, etc, but what I'm really looking for at this point is a list of solid resources that I can use to research these questions in depth for myself. Specifically I want resources that address the issues of traveling with teens and kids (not babies or toddlers, which seems to be easier to find).

When I Google "france with teenagers" I come up with very little of value. Other searches are equally unproductive.

So, my question is this: If we want to spend the next month researching, reading, comparing, and planning, what are our best sources of information?

posted by crapples to Travel & Transportation around Buenos Aires, Argentina (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would start by searching Rick Steves' web site. Always lots of tips about travelling with offspring.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:38 AM on November 25, 2011

I grew up in Munich:

Start with Munich's official website in English

Use public transport - it's quick, safe and will take you anywhere you want to go including towns and lakes miles outside Munich MVV Journey planner in English

Whatever else you do go to Deutsche Museum, take in some beer gardens - you don't have to drink alcohol and you can take your own food as long as you buy the drinks if you sit in certain areas, they are normally perfectly family friendly places. Munich quite near the Alpes and as such there are plenty of pretty towns, churches, lakes, recreational areas and hiking to be had within the public transport network, if you fancy getting out of the city.

Finally, and this may not be suitable for your family, but if you are interested in history and if your children are mature enough, you may also be interested in the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp in Dachau which is very much worth a visit but clearly not suitable for everybody.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:42 AM on November 25, 2011

I don't have resources (sorry) but I went to France on a school trip when I was 15. Loved it. Versailles is pretty close, so I'd suggest a day trip there. Make sure you have money on hand because public restrooms cost money.

I highly recommend learning as much French between now and then as you can. People are so helpful when you make the effort to speak to them in french, even if you aren't that good. The whole "French are rude to Americans" thing I think is just when Americans don't even try.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:45 AM on November 25, 2011

I was going to chime in about Rick Steves. You could also try the trip advisor forums. If no one has asked your specific question, you could join and ask there.

I'd also spend a rainy afternoon with your kids at a local book store and leaf through travel guides to find ones that suit your needs.

You also have over six months between now and the trip. I'd get half the family to focus on learning basic French and the other half to focus on basic German. I'm sure you'll find people who can help you in English, but it helps to at least make an effort with the niceties (please, thank you, I'm sorry but I don't speak X, do you speak English?, etc.).
posted by kaybdc at 11:58 AM on November 25, 2011

When I Google "france with teenagers" I come up with very little of value. Other searches are equally unproductive.

What kinds of things to they like here at home? Art, sports, hanging out and looking at people, cooking, eating, hiking? Google for info specific to their interests, not their ages, at least as a place to start.

I lived in France for a while as a kid, and went back as a teen and a college student. I still liked all the same stuff I did when I was in the U.S., you know? So I found those things, or similar things, in France. When I traveled with my mom, too, not everything was about my interests - I got dragged along to stuff I wouldn't have picked for myself and discovered new things that I liked.

Also, rope the kids into the planning. Have them each pick a thing they really like and then they have to find out how to do or watch or [whatever] that thing in the places you're going. You want to raise kids who aren't afraid to figure out how to navigate a train schedule that's not in English (for instance) - it's a very handy skill!
posted by rtha at 12:46 PM on November 25, 2011

Rick Steves' Europe books were helpful for our trip. He's kind of uncool, but *very* thorough.

Versailles is well worth seeing, and your children should love it as well. It's a short trip from the center of Paris on the train-- about 30 minutes plus waiting around for the train.

For the journey in between, we got a private sleeper car on an evening/night train for Gare du Nord in Paris to Munich city center, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It was totally hassle-free, quiet, really decent, price-wise, and served as both hotel and transportation for the night. It had a private bathroom, also. When we got to Munich in the morning we were rested and happy.

You can rent a car in Munich and drive to the super-amazing Castle Neuschwanstein (Given the size of your family, the train there is the same price or just slightly cheaper, all told, and will take hours longer). Just make sure you buy your tickets over the phone before you go because they sell out very early almost every day.
posted by devymetal at 12:56 PM on November 25, 2011

Because I'm procrastinating, just for the heck of it, I googled "Munich with teens" and the first link was to a Munich with Teenagers question on the Trip Advisor forums. The question is from a few years ago, and the OP's children are slightly younger (11 and 13) but a lot of responses seem like they would be useful for you, particularly a side trip to Neuschwangstein (King Ludwig's) castle. But maybe I'm biased because I've always wanted to go there. The other suggestions seem like good possibilities as well.
posted by kaybdc at 1:09 PM on November 25, 2011

I like rtha's suggestion to get your kids involved in planning. I helped plan a trip to England with my family when I was 17, and I think I enjoyed the trip a lot more than I might have otherwise.

The Official Paris Website (English) has a lot of useful tips on visiting Paris. It's a good starting point for research.

This New York Times article from 2007 has a few suggestions for what to do with teens.

One useful tip is that the museums that belong to the City of Paris (listed on the website above) are free, except for special exhibits. That means not feeling obliged to stick around to get your money's worth--a good thing if any of your kids is easily bored.

There are a lot of Anglophone expats in Paris, and therefore a lot of English-language blogs. The Paris Blog provides a selection; it's eclectic but some of the posts are useful for visitors as well as longer-term residents.

Some printed guidebooks are good. The Eyewitness Guide for Paris is a good way to get a feel for the layout of the city (especially the more touristed areas). If you're into architectural history, monuments, and walking tours, the Blue Guide Paris is the place to go.

I would second the advice to learn some basic conversational French (and German) before going: even just hello, goodbye, please, thank you, sorry, numbers, and "Sorry, I don't speak French/German; do you speak English?" will get you a long way. You're more likely to encounter someone who doesn't speak English in Paris than in Munich, but odds are that there will be someone around who has enough English to communicate.

I've found the introductory Pimsleur language programs to be a good place to start, because they emphasize oral comprehension and usage. Since kids learn languages a lot faster than adults, maybe you could charge two of them with learning the basics--or challenge them to see who can do the best? (That is, if you trust them to speak on your behalf!) Langenscheit's phrase books are the best ones I've found (better than the ubiquitous Berlitz ones).

Finally, to make your dining experiences enjoyable, I'd recommend getting a good menu translator for each language. David Lebovitz has some recommendations. Ordinary pocket dictionaries often don't have the level of detail required to prevent dining blunders, such as the time I was in Aachen and ordered Putte (blood sausage) thinking it was Puten (turkey). (It was tasty sausage, so it wasn't a disaster--but it would have been for a picky eater.)

Once you get closer to your trip, you might take a look at L'Officiel des spectacles. It's in French, but it's a guide to museum exhibits, movies, theater, concerts, etc., and if you've gotten a little French by then, it is incredibly useful. The paper version comes out on Wednesdays and costs only 0.35 €.

Getting around Paris is easy. The city website (above) provides an overview of transport. One thing to watch for, though, is that most metro stations no longer have real, live ticket sellers. They have machines, but they only take coins or credit cards that have a smart chip and PIN. Your magnetic-stripe US credit cards won't work in them. Stations on the RER (suburban train) network, on the other hand, have ticket agents who can take US credit cards and banknotes. (On a related note: let your bank and credit card company know that you are traveling overseas. Otherwise your purchases might be declined for fear that they are fraudulent.)

I'm living in Paris this academic year and have probably spent about 3 years of my life living in France (one previous long stay and several stays of 3 weeks to 3 months. I don't have kids, but I have French friends with teenagers. If you have specific questions about your plans, feel free to MeFi mail me.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:50 AM on November 26, 2011

I went to Munich at 17 with my parents and younger brother and sister (13 and 15). Things I remember:

- Some castle in the middle of town.
- Side trips to Neuschwanstein and up the Zugspitze.
- The giant pretzels.
- Squirrels.

That's about it, honestly. We stayed in a youth hostel which was actually pretty cool... unless that was the one with the school trip staying in it which was a mad house (we stayed primarily in youth hostels throughout Germany). But I would highly, highly recommend both of the day trips. You can even get to Austria and back in a day, if there's something that looks interesting.

I also went to Paris at that age with some friends, though only for a day. Going up the Eiffel tower is necessary, and Sacre Coeur was awesome. I think we did a boat tour down the Seine which was pretty cool. The rest of the time we walked. A lot! I would suggest working out the Metro System - we were cowards and none of us spoke french. Madame Tussauds was cool, though I went to the London one. I remember food being difficult. The language barrier made cafes difficult, but there was little easy take away or street food. I heard stories of a family going to Paris and only eating McDonalds. When I went back to France at 19, we discovered the joys of picnics. Bread, sausage, tomato and cheese was the bulk of our meals.

So that probably doesn't answer your question directly. Um, the major difference between travelling as a teenager and travelling now is that my parents did all the planning:) I still think pretzels and squirrels are cool, though I'm probably much more cynical about tourist traps and souvenirs now. We probably had shorter attention spans; now I'm happy to take the excuse to sit in a cathedral and consider the space quietly, which I wouldn't have at that age. We also got tired faster, which would make us act like brats, or in the case of my brother, fall asleep just about anywhere. That much family togetherness and constant new surroundings can make anyone grumpy, so try to allow for some down time. My brother and sister discovered a channel in Germany that seemed to be constantly playing Friends, which they watched for hours. In German. When we were in France when I was 19 we watched massive amounts of some very strange game show without having any idea what was going on, but I specifically remember being so grateful just to switch off and stare at a screen.

Honestly, I would suggest getting the relevant lonely planets, running ideas past the rest of the family and going with what most of you think sounds good.
posted by kjs4 at 6:44 AM on November 26, 2011

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