Surviving City Days Out With Kids

It's SUMMER! It's The OLYMPICS! We'll be heading to the city to take in some of that all-star exciting action, you can bet on it, and we'll be hitting the museums too!

I've become an expert at ensuring that as much fun is had as possible by all, whilst not breaking the bank. I share my wisdom with you my dear readers, for free.

Before Leaving Home (Or, the hotel. Or your generous cousin's London pad):

  • Ensure that everyone eats a solid, healthy breakfast. We're talking eggs, sausages AND pancakes. Lots of fluids. That means you, too, parents! It's going to be a long day and we don't want any mid-morning crashes just when things are getting exciting. 
  • Pack lunch. Healthy food is expensive in the big city, and when it comes time to buy lunch, the kids will clamour for a) candy floss or b) hand-rolled sushi. If you've got cheese sandwiches, fruit, nuts and hard-boiled eggs, you can make a deal with the little darlings: "Eat this, then you can buy ANYTHING for dessert with your allowance". They will choose something horribly unhealthy and cheap. 
  • Lay down the law. What are your expectations? Make sure the kids are all aware of the plan, their responsibilities and that they had better not be brats. 
  • Discuss safety. I once lost my youngest on Regent Street in London. The longest five minutes of my life! Luckily, we had all discussed beforehand, several times, what we would do if anyone got lost. I said to the older boys, "Stand here and do not move!" They froze to the spot and I ran back the way we had come. Max was standing in one spot, bawling his head off, and we clung to one another like we'd been apart for years. Losing a child is nervewracking. If Max had run off to search for me, instead of staying in one place like he'd been told to, it could have been much scarier for both of us. He told me that he wanted to run looking, but he remembered that I had said I would do the looking and he should stay put. 
  • Dress appropriately. No-one knows what the weather will do until they are standing in line and the rain starts to pour. In London, it's best to come prepared for any contingency. Pack a bag with outer layers, brollies AND sunblock and hats. You may need them all! 
  • Provide each child with a small allowance. Tell them they can buy anything they want but you have no more money if they run out of their own. This way, when they say "Please PLEASE PLEASE can I have this life-size cuddly stuffed Baby Beluga?? It's only 50p!" You can say, "Of course, if you can afford it." End of story. Yes, you will have to carry it eventually but you won't have to listen to any more begging. And kids can be surprisingly frugal if it's their own money! 

  • Once you're out and about:

    Museums that are popular with kids, such as the fabulously amazing Natural History Museum, are busiest from lunchtime onwards during the holidays. If you don't want to stand in line for an hour to see the T-Rex, get there by 10 a.m. when the doors open and see the most popular exhibits (i.e. the T-Rex) FIRST. Then you can wander round the rest of the museum while the hordes throng in.

    It's easy to get carried away by all the excitement. Remember that young kids need a break from all of the noise and walking. A park is the ideal place for the lunchtime picnic, since it lets them zone out and do their own thing for a bit. You'll be amazed at how a child who was so exhausted he couldn't even walk another step and had to be carried the last two blocks, suddenly perks up at the sight of the swings. London is full of parks, from the enormous Richmond park where my kids love to climb up into the hollow trees and see the deer, to action parks with ziplines and climbing structures.

    If everyone eats something, that's great. If they are too wound up to have more than two bites, that's okay too (Remember, they have had a huge breakfast, they won't die). Get some water or juice in to rehydrate. Your next step will be to buy everyone an ice cream cone or cake, which will keep them going for the rest of the afternoon. Any calories will do at this point, as long as they come with some protein and carbohydrates. You can praise each child as you hand over the ice cream, for following the rules, not getting lost and making wise purchases/saving their money.

    Once everyone has had a break and some calorific topups, you can hit the road again. The smallest will probably fall asleep in their stroller at this point, so it might be a good time to visit the quieter and more boring museums. Where the older kids will be stunned at naked art ("They have no arms or legs but they ALL have, you know, all the other stuff!" observed an astute son of mine at the Victoria and Albert one day), instruments of torture or whatever you choose.

    If you get home in time for a nice hot bath and an early bedtime, give yourself AND your kids a gold star!

    For some great ideas, including free London museums and other activities, check out 'Days Out With the Kids' here.

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    Islandgirl said…
    And what about your handy tips for travelling with manicou? :)
    Nan Sheppard said…
    HAHAHAA! Oh dear, DON'T remind me :) I have to say, it's similar!
    This is excellent! We're heading for Disney World with Kelly and the grands on Friday and I'm going to implement your suggestions.
    p.s. Since you moderate before publishing, PLEASE turn of the WV. It now has 2 squiggly,
    squished up words that are very hard to decipher. Last time it took me 4 tries!
    Nan Sheppard said…
    Done! I didn't realise word verification was on, as I don't have to be verified :)
    Islandgirl said…
    Tips for travelling with Manicou #1 - Don't put a manicou in your bra! HAHAHAHAHA
    Nan Sheppard said…
    But he needed a mother's warmth! Who'da thunk his poop would smell that bad? Anyway, we learned our lesson DIDN'T WE? And, orphaned baby manicous released back into the wild, healthy and strong, HUZZAH! It would have been SO much easier if we didn't have to have them travelling with us though. Best-travelled manicous in history!
    Anonymous said…
    SUCH good advice. Esp. about the FOOD.
    Unknown said…
    Such very good advice. So. Next time in the U.K - can I come by for breakfast? - Because it sounds marvelous.
    Anonymous said…
    Don't forget to use the loo before heading out anywhere!!!!

    Anonymous said…
    which reminds me...
    A must in Trinidad...carry some tissues with you wherever you go, there may not be any in the stall when you reach for it.

    Nan Sheppard said…
    Lou, Pop in ANY time :)

    Vicki, good points!