My Christmas Surprise for My Kids: We’re Going to Europe

Last year I struggled to come up with Christmas gifts for my kids. They didn’t need anything, and we’re not a family who buys things just for the sake of buying them. I ended up buying a ukulele for Emma and a box full of art supplies for Oliver. Neither of them asked for those things–I just didn’t know what else to get them. The art supplies lost their luster after a month, and my daughter prefers the sound of her guitar, so the ukelele is rarely played.

I decided in January that we’d do Christmas different this year, and by February, I had our flights to Europe purchased. I originally planned to surprise them on Christmas morning. I wanted them to open their presents and find flights instead of Xbox games and make-up.

Can you imagine? Surprise, kids! Pack your bags. We leave for Europe tomorrow!

I couldn’t imagine a greater surprise, but my son is an apprehensive traveler (and that’s being gracious–he mostly hates it). He is someone who likes schedules and routines, and I knew giving him a day’s notice would–in his eyes–be a form of cruel punishment.

I told them about the trip in March, but I still plan to surprise them with the details at Christmas. I gave them passports a few years ago for Christmas, so the gifts this year will be in that same spirit–all things that relate to or are needed for our trip.

I planned several different routes through Europe before deciding on the final destinations. This will be Emma’s third trip to Europe, so I wanted to make sure she saw new places. I wanted to see a Christmas market and go back to Paris, my favorite European city and one I haven’t visited since 2011. But most importantly, I wanted to pick places that would interest Oliver without being too exotic. So I was after quintessential Europe. That classic European experience that might even convince Oliver that traveling isn’t so bad after all (fingers crossed).

And with that, this is the itinerary I came up with:

Amsterdam – This will be a new place for all of us and a city that’s been at the top of my to-see list for more years than I care to admit.

Belgium – Belgium is one of the few places with Christmas markets after the 25th, so we’ll stop for the day on our way to Paris. Emma and I have been before, so I’m not sure what city we’ll try to visit. Ghent would be new and looks amazing, but it’s hard to beat Bruges. It’ll probably be a decision that is made last minute.

Paris  – We’ll be spending New Years Eve in Paris–just saying that gets me excited. Before I told the kids where we were going, Oliver guessed that we’d be visiting Paris. “You wouldn’t take me to Europe without taking me to your favorite city,” he told me one morning. “You’re right, Oliver. We’re going to Paris.”

Emma playing in Paris in 2008.

Italy – I considered Switzerland, Germany, and Portugal before deciding on Italy. I knew Italy was a place Emma wanted to see, and I knew that there would be plenty of food options for Oliver, and it’s a place I’d like to spend more time. It seemed like the obvious choice. We fly into Florence from Paris and will eventually make our way to Venice for our flight back to Amsterdam. We may visit Pisa and Verona, but we’ll make those decisions once we’re there and get a better sense of what we want to do in each location.



Roundtrip flight: Chicago O’Hare to Amsterdam $543.63 on KLM

Flight from Paris to Florence: $68.30 on AirFrance

Flight from Venice to Amsterdam: $51.59 on Easy Jet

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