We described it as brave. That is, taking two toddlers under 2 for a big european adventure all the way from Australia! But our Travelshoot founder Sarah took on the challenge with her family recently, primarily for a good friends wedding in France, but intentionally made a whirlwind trip out of it and knew it could prove difficult at times, so we got the lowdown on how it went...
Where did you go and why!? (with 2 under 2!!!)
One of my closest friends was getting married, and he chose an incredible chateau in the south of France in the Pessac sur Dordogne region, so I knew we couldn't miss it. It was a huge commitment and logistically took a lot of planning with the kids, but the wedding was something out of a movie, it was incredible - so I'm really happy we made the effort.
Where else did you visit on the trip?
To be honest in reflection, we probably were a little too ambitious with how many places we went to. It was an incredible trip, and we saw a lot, but it definitely was a busy trip and perhaps a bit more time in some places would have been better. I think many Australian travellers do the same, it's just a long way to go so you try to cram it in. For us with a few weeks, we did Singapore, London, Paris, south of France, San Sebastian and on the way home we stopped in Tokyo.
Favourite place with the kids and why?
My daughter is 2 and my son is 1, so we spend a lot of time outdoors burning energy so a lot of research about parks and coffee was done pre travel! (haha - how travel planning has changed!) So Paris which was our favourite city from former travelling still remained up there - it surprisingly is a great city with little ones, there's lot of amazing outdoor spaces and we found restaurants were really welcoming for the earlier sitting. Another highlight was Tokyo, it was a sensory overload for the kids, and we found Japanese people to be by far the most kid-friendly, we found people constantly wanting to engage with them, opening doors or making room for us on the subway with our pram etc. Yoyogi park in Tokyo was fantastic for the kids, and we also visited some pet cafes and markets which they loved. We had a coffee at the iconic Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku and that was a pretty unique experience for the kids too. On our final day we did Tokyo Disneyland which i think by far was my daughters favourite day of the trip - the Japanese really get into Disney, so not only is the park an experience in itself but the energy of the people and the parades, it's paradise for little ones.
How did you survive 4 long haul flights with the two of them?
On purpose we made 3 of the 4 long haul flights an overnight flight so that we could try to maximise the sleeping time and this was definitely something that helped us. Hilariously as other parents of little ones will know, we're kind of used to broken or little sleep - so if we could get a few hours on an overnight flight it was enough to survive on. (I had also researched best coffee spots in most places - so that also helped!) For our son who is 1 he has very limited concentration time and isn't at the TV watching stage yet, so he was the one I was worried about the most. But we found by replicating his sleep routine from home helped. My husband and I had a gameplan to each take + focus on one at a time, and then intermittently swap - but it was definitely testing at times.
Why did you choose Paris for your own Travelshoot?
Paris has always been a favourite city of ours, so it holds a lot of memories, and being there with our 2 kids now seemed quite surreal. I see clients Paris Travelshoot albums and are always in awe, it's just a really beautiful place to capture some photos together. When my kids are older I'd love to wander the backstreets of Paris and get a shoot there as I love other albums Ive seen like this, but given their age we chose an hour shoot around the Eiffel which was close to where we were staying and ironically there is an incredible park (and ice cream store) in the same area which we went to afterwards.
For future trips, what would you do differently next time?
Lesson for us was perhaps breaking up the trip, we enjoyed the stop-over on the way over, but coming back we copped the 'jetlag' in Tokyo instead of at home, and this did impact the time we had in Tokyo. (we had a few fun nights where the kids would be awake from 2am - 6am!) So I'd plan to head straight home next time and manage the jetlag recovery at home.
What's your main advice for people planning a big trip with toddlers?
Not having any expectations I think is the key. To be honest I told some friends I was 'ready for hell' but it actually wasn't that bad, there were definitely some challenging moments, but overall it was incredible and we've done so many things with our children we are so grateful for. My daughter who is only 2 sometimes talks about the Merlion in Singapore, or the carousel near the Eiffel Tower, so even though they are still quite young, they understand a lot and have these beautiful travel memories of their own. So my advice to people considering it is just to be flexible and the worst is you have to cater around a bad day, but in the grand scheme of things you're creating memories with your children that will last a lifetime. Oh and course I would recommend a Travelshoot too! :)
Why is travelling with your kids important to you?
I was fortunate to do a lot of travelling with my parents from an early age, and I still have distinct memories from many trips, as early as when I was 3. So I would love to offer my children the same opportunity, I think travelling when your younger definitely helps instill a level of comfort and interest in learning about new places and trying new things.
Why do you think it's important for mothers to be in holiday photos?
We hear it so often from mothers who are usually behind the camera and not in the memories with their families themselves - so I think it is really important for mums to be in the frame too, if not for you, it's important for your kids when their older. I'm first to admit that sometimes I'm not super confident with the way I look or feel the best to be in front of the camera, but it's not really what matters - your kids want you in their memories because you're their mother not because you're a supermodel. It's a moment in time with them, a once in a lifetime holiday that you had together that will only happen once.
Do you have a favourite photo from your Paris Travelshoot?
I've definitely got a handfull of favourites, but the one of Hugo pulling his sisters hair (which happens all the time) is so hilarious for us! I know the photographer only sent it to us as a bonus for a laugh, but I'm happy she did.
Finally, a practical travel question - we know you love your coffee, so any must-do coffee recommendations?
Absolutely - in Paris I had always wanted to get to Cafe Kitsune (Palais Royal) and it was worth it. The parks and fountains in front of the cafe are incredible, so it's also a super pretty place to have a coffee with kids too. In Tokyo we were staying in Harajuku and I had read about 'Be a good neighbour coffee kiosk' (3 Chome-51-6 Sendagaya, Shibuya City) which was super discreet but without doubt the best coffee on the trip!