Questions about New Years family travel
July 7, 2019 7:06 AM   Subscribe

I have four questions about travel at New Years (12/27-1/1) this winter:
  • Will brexit screw up travel to London?
  • Any preference for Paris or London?
  • If my kids bicker a lot is it worth trying to pull off this trip?
  • Is getting to the airport on New Years Day possible?
Thanks for any experiences and perspectives.

I am thinking about trying to do a short family trip right after Christmas. Our four kids are age 11 to 20, and summers are busy, so winter is the only time that school & work schedules align. Christmas is a big deal to us, so it would have to be after that -- say, Dec. 27 to Jan. 1.

I have been to London a bunch of times (but not in 20 years) and Paris several times (and I love both). I have little French, though my wife and one son speak it; I have a good friend in Paris as a resource. I could come up with enough to do in each city, I think -- mostly traditional tourist sights is good for us.

When I was 13, we went to the UK after Christmas and the experience was life-changing. I don't think we'll get another chance to do a major family vacation again for a long time, and this feels like my last shot to show them something amazing that they'll always remember.
posted by wenestvedt to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
Travel from where?
posted by k8t at 7:09 AM on July 7, 2019

New England. Sorry about that!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:15 AM on July 7, 2019

It is absolutely possible to travel on those dates, many many people do it (thus the issue!). Just plan carefully, leave lots of time, and come armed with patience for delays and irritating fellow travelers.

Would you still want to take this trip if you were able to see the future and knew one or more of the kids wouldn’t fully appreciate the place in the way you appreciate it, or would otherwise not experience the trip the way you would like? Would bickering detract so much from the experience for you that it would make the trip not worth taking? I say that because teenagers can be unpredictable, they can sense what a parent wants them to say and feel and purposely push back against it, they can be caught up in high school drama and unable to gain perspective, they can have unpredictable interests and disinterests, they can go to a place like L’Orangerie and say “this sucks” for all kinds of mysterious reasons. And they might say that to a parent while secretly still loving the trip. Or they might fall in love with French jazz clubs while everyone else in the family wants to do something different, and then sulk about it endlessly. Etc.

OR they may all be so awed by the experience that they all get along, no one bickers, and it feels like heaven (this was how one family trip to Florence went with three teenagers, so it is possible).
posted by sallybrown at 7:21 AM on July 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

I went to London in the Nineties. I also took a day trip into Paris and returned that night. There's a train that can get you there in a couple hours. I would do both. London was great, but the day trip to Paris helped give me that magical experience you are talking about. It helped me realize there was a world out there very different from my own.

I think the trip is worth it even if your kids bicker. In fact, they will likely bicker and not appreciate it, but it may very well broaden their horizons anyway in a way they will come to appreciate later in life. Brexit will likely simply make everything cheaper while you're in London. It shouldn't impact your travel.

Also, take a little more time if possible. There's a big difference between a 4 day mad rush to see the basics, and a 7 day or longer trip where you can be a little more relaxed and feel free to do the unexpected. The best way to see London is to be very organized. The best way to see Paris is just to walk around without a plan. A walk from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower is quite nice.
posted by xammerboy at 7:24 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think, coming from New England, you're biggest issue will be whether a snowstorm will shut down or delay your flight. Have a plan for that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:12 AM on July 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Getting to the airport in London in New Years Day will be fine. All public transport will be running, just on a “bank holiday” schedule which means everything is a little less frequent (generally is the same as a Sunday schedule).

Get travel insurance when you book the trip so you don’t lose money if you have to cancel your trip due to weather.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 9:06 AM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Will brexit screw up travel to London?
I am currently on my fifth trip to London from the US in the last year. Brexit might still mess up travel plans in the future, I guess, but it hasn't been a problem as long as they keep pushing the deadline down the road. I would be more worried about weather-related disruption for holiday season travel.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:16 AM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

My gf and I went there last Christmas/New Years and had a blast! It only rained once during the week (though of course your weather may vary, but at least it's conceivable). We got there on 12/26 and had forgotten that that's also a holiday in the UK, but that shouldn't bother you. There are so many indoor things to do, and lots of great places to walk around in if the weather supports it. Our itinerary was perhaps a little museum-heavy for your youngest so I won't mention it here, but I definitely think your plan is feasible. Be sure to see lots of stage shows!
posted by ubiquity at 9:18 AM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

(I think the issue is that Christmas will be after October 31st, the next Brexit deadline, and OP is worried that the UK may truly go through with it this time. Which it might, given the new leadership. Not just whether travel to the UK during Christmas is fun.)

If Brexit happens before your trip, I think it is safe to assume that security lines will be longer as EU citizens will now be joining everyone else. The British pound will probably drop even further, so your money will go farther. Travel to Paris from the UK will probably be more onerous since the checkpoints will be more strict, so I wouldn't expect it to be as free and easy as it is now and I wouldn't necessarily plan on being able to pop down there for a day as is suggested above. But how bad all of those things will be, I think it's hard to say.

I imagine travel to Paris from New England will remain the same, though cost of flights might go up.

(caveat: not an expert, this is derived from reading and listening to financial and political news and that sort of thing)
posted by schroedinger at 9:36 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love London and I hope to visit Paris one day. You may know this, but Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower is currently under a years long renovation. Not sure how much of the tower will be visible in December. There are of course plenty of other things to see and do in London. It's just an iconic part of London that some people may be disappointed to visit London without being able to take a picture with it.

I'm extremely grateful for the travel I had the fortune to experience as a kid. I agree. Life-changing is definitely the impact it can have on a young person. Is it possible to find a reward you can bribe your kids with to motivate them to get along on your trip?
posted by mundo at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to find a reward you can bribe your kids with to motivate them to get along on your trip?

A reward better than a vacation in Europe, you mean? :7)

Seriously, though: I thought about that, and came to the conclusion that if I tried to plan the trip as a surprise, I would regret my choice long before we left while they fought like cats in a sack all autumn & winter. And if I offer the trip in advance as the carrot, where's the stick if they know I won't take it away for much short of a murder conviction?

(Maybe I should just go alone...)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2019

Hi! I'm a Brit. Let's not do the "Brexit will make everything cheaper for US tourists, so that'll be great" thing. Lots of us live here and our lives would be profoundly affected by a chaotic Brexit. We are humans, not collateral damage while things get cheaper for tourists from rich countries. Thanks!
posted by winterhill at 12:13 PM on July 7, 2019 [14 favorites]

Oh gosh, I am sorry, I didn't mean that at all. I in no way wanted to imply that Brexit was a good thing for anybody!
posted by schroedinger at 1:48 PM on July 7, 2019

Just a quick note about immigration lines being longer. US citizens (at Heathrow anyway) now go through the same line and automatic passport gates just like British and EU citizens do. So lines at immigration into the UK at Heathrow shouldn’t be any longer for US citizens after Brexit.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 1:50 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

As the poster, I am in agreement with Winterhill: I am only curious about travel-disrupting changes that may occur. I like England too much to gloat over this sad straight. Honestly, a stronger dollar never occurred to me.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:51 PM on July 7, 2019

Getting to and from the airport in London is probably no problem as long as you don't try to travel on Christmas Day. It's a little tricky on 26th but at least stuff runs.

To be honest, we're a bit of a basket case country just now: lots of people are angry, and I don't see things getting any better until 2020 even under the most optimistic scenarios I can think of. Given that NYE in the UK involves substantial public drunkenness it may be a little more febrile than usual.

However, London is really lovely between Christmas and New Year. The lights are usually pretty and the walk along the Thames has a Christmas fair.

I have never been to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland but a couple of people who have said it was fun.

However, I have been to Christmas at Kew, and it was magical. It's a spectacular light show with music. It's more eerie and beautiful than exciting.

I'd also recommend the panto at Hackney Empire. You won't see anything else like it anywhere else and it's brilliant for kids. If you don't want to take the trek out to Hackney, there's usually one in central London, but Hackney is brilliant.

It's tricky to see the fireworks in central London because it's very crowded and you need tickets to get to some of the good viewing places, but there are websites that can tell you where to go for a good view. There are loads of non-official fireworks too.

It might also be worth heading home on Jan 2 so you can see the New Year's Day Parade. I'm usually working on NYD so I can't vouch for how good it is.

If you decide to go to Paris, that also sounds lovely. I have a friend who goes almost every year and makes it sound magical.
posted by finisterre at 2:04 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

One thing that will make fractious children a little bit difficult is that it's a very busy time of year for domestic leisure and tourism, as most people with 9-5 jobs take off the period between Christmas and New Year, so people will be having once a year meetups of people they only ever see in group chats, etc, and every restaurant and pub is pretty loud and crowded and full of British people working out how to fit 10 people round a table and saying excited and loud hellos. Likewise with the winter wonderlands: they're very busy (although our economic prognosis for this winter might reduce domestic demand).

It's a nice time of year, but that kind of thing might make eating and drinking out quite hard. Museums are pretty quiet, I'm fairly sure, but there's a lot of evening to get through after dark - sunrise is about 8am and sunset about 4pm in midwinter in London.
posted by ambrosen at 2:56 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Maybe I should just go alone...)

You know, I'm in my mid-30s, get along great with my family, and have traveled with them as both a child, pre-teen, teen, and adult. I still have absolutely zero regrets about not going on a family trip with them when I was 19 or 20, and I was so glad that they a) asked me, and b) didn't make a big deal out of me deciding not to go. Because all I wanted at that age was to carve out as much independence as possible, even or perhaps especially when back home on holiday breaks, and traveling to Europe as a family would have made me miserable.

So assuming it's reasonable for your situation, I say ask some (or all) of your kids if they would like to go.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:13 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ok, probably not the 11 year old. But the 20 year old! Ask them!
posted by deludingmyself at 4:15 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I mostly hear good things from families that go to Europe. The times I've heard bad experiences were when kids really, really did not want to be away from friends and romantic partners for that period of time, or where the family itself had troubles getting along (or around) in normal circumstances and the travel just aggravated the existing problems. Rick Steves descibes travel as living life in fast forward, and I think that's apt. Especially for this trip, which is going to be really short. You lose a whole travel day, most of the arrival day to jet lag, and then most return flights leave fairly early in the morning so you lose that day, too. So I'd only count on three solid days of sightseeing, especially since you'll barely be over the jetlag when it's time to leave. I would not try to visit two cities unless you know that style of travel fits you. I wouldn't even leave the boundaries of Paris to see Versailles in the time you've got, as nice as it is.

Kids love to pick places to visit, so get them engaged early. The DK Eyewitness guides are not normally my favorite (too conventional, not opinionated enough), but they have lots of pictures to excite travelers who may not see "Paris" with the dreamy, rose-colored glasses of their parents. I would rest assured that you can let the kids each pick a site to see and be able to find one or two or ten other things to do/eat nearby, Paris is that dense with sightseeing opportunity. For instance, you could start the day with a trip to the mildly spooky Catacombs, right by the Denfert-Rochereau metro hub (get there early, the line can be a monster), walk down the pedstrian Rue Daguerre to the west to take in the chocolate shops, wine shops, bakery, and the toy store Les Cousins d'Alice at #36. Head north along Rue Gassendi to cross the atmospheric Cimitiere Montparnasse (free), and then it's two blocks to the crepe district, a place that I have yet to find in a guidebook. Travelers from Brittany (Bretagne) created a small ethnic enclave serving incredible buckwheat crepes/galettes that come in dazzling variety to suit any child's taste. Adults can sip the distinctive dry hard cider, served in traditional mugs. I like La Creperie Bretonne at 56 rue du Montparnasse but there are literally a dozen on the blocks surrounding the Edgar Quinet metro stop. Total distance is just about a mile. But the cool thing about Paris is that you can build an itinerary like this around practically any site.
posted by wnissen at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and despite the continuing, arguably senseless prospect of a "hard" Brexit, I have my own mother on a flight connecting through Heathrow. If things has gone pear-shaped earlier this year when least expected I think there could have been some disruption, e.g. apparently even the Chunnel / Eurostar service had no operating agreement in the absence of the UK's EU status. But there's enough money on the line that the interested parties are taking the prospect seriously and Heathrow airport is preparing for the possibility. I mean, it's winter, you could get delayed all day in Newark from a snowstorm anyway, so why worry about something that could be pushed off indefinitely and the timing of which is almost entirely unknowable.
posted by wnissen at 3:02 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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