Author: Erin Meyer

I’m Erin. Born and raised in Texas, I married D, a French-speaking Belgian after having fallen in love as an exchange student in Belgium. We live in Brussels and are raising our children, Olivia and Orlando bilingually. I speak English to them, D speaks French, and he and I speak French to each other. The children speak English to each other, although Orlando still mixes a lot of the two languages. D works for the European Union, so the children attend one of the European schools in Brussels. They are in the English section and are learning French as their second language. As they get older, they will have a third and fourth language in their curriculum. There are 5 language sections in their school, English, French, Dutch, German and Italian. I’m a cultural anthropologist by training and specialize in women’s issues and multicultural identity. I decided to stay home to raise our kids and volunteer as a La Leche League leader supporting mothers with breastfeeding and parenting issues. I also do contract work creating baby carriers, writing manuals and leading workshops from home.

tips for camping with kids

We just returned from our first camping trip with the kids. I have such fond memories of camping as a kid in Texas that I wanted my husband and kids to have the same experiences. But camping as a kid is not the same as camping in the parental role. This time I was in charge of all the daily tasks and making sure we took everything we needed without being loaded down with too much stuff either. Our car can only fit so much!

I recently found a book called Adventuring with Children: The Family Pack-Along Guide to the Outdoors and the World by Nan Jeffery, Foghorn Press, 1990. It’s an amazing book filled with so many practical tips and details on all sorts of adventure traveling whether it be camping, canoeing, hiking, cycling, etc. There are special sections on traveling with babies, medical care and even education for those who want to travel throughout the school year. The sections on how to prepare and pack are thorough and well thought out. I found I had everything I needed without over packing. Can you imagine – I got clothes for a family of four for two weeks into ONE suitcase! This is a miracle to me who always seems to pack too much! I’ll definitely be following this packing guide for the rest of my travels.

We chose our first camping destination – the Italian Dolomites – because I’m currently 7 months pregnant and didn’t want to go anywhere too hot this summer. We also have friends living in Bolzano that we haven’t seen for several years. The southern tyrol region is bilingual German and Italian. We get by in Italian pretty well since it is so close to French, but our German is very basic! Fortunately between Italian and English we managed quite well and the kids enjoyed picking up a few new phrases in Italian and German.

I researched the campsites online and made reservations in advance for two sites, one each week. We didn’t want to be packing and unpacking too often. Both campsites were well equipped with bathroom facilities, dish washing and laundry facilities, mini supermarket and restaurant. I also specifically chose sites that had swimming pools since I knew my kids would want to go swimming every day.

Our first week in Bolzano was wonderful and we combined hanging by the pool with day trips into the surrounding mountains and lakes. The kids loved riding the cable cars up into the mountains and the pony ride we did one day. We even spent over 5 hours at the botanical gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle in nearby Merano and hiked all over the mountainside. I couldn’t believe the kids’ stamina for this kind of thing, but they loved it! It was a cloudy but dry day which made all the difference too. If it had been sunny, I doubt we would have lasted so long! Orlando especially liked seeing the Koi fish that looked just like the one on his tea t-shirt!

Our second week we went higher up into the mountains to a small town called Sesto. D goes skiing here in the winter with his buddies and the kids were very excited to see all his favorite spots. We were a bit surprised by how much colder it was at night, but fortunately we just added layers to our clothes as Nan Jeffery advised in her book and we were warm enough! The mountains were stunning and I look forward to returning again when I’m not pregnant so that we can do more hiking and adventuring.

Overall it was a great holiday and I’m happy to have made the investment in our camping gear. We’ll be able to affordably explore much more of Europe this way. Being in a campsite allows the kids to roam around and make friends with kids from many different countries – something that staying in a hotel or rented apartment can’t provide. Efficient packing meant only a few toys. It felt great to entertain ourselves with just a few items and of course makes coming home like returning to wonderland!

So where will our next vacation take us? Olivia declared that the perfect vacation would combine swimming with bike riding each day. We’ll have baby #3 by then as well, so I’ll have to readjust the packing a bit and get the bike rack onto the car too. Hmmm….another adventure for sure!

dutch tulips

Our most recent family holiday was a long weekend in Holland to see the tulips in bloom.  We arrived a little too late in the season to see all the tulips in the fields, but we had a wonderful day at the Keukenhof gardens just southeast of Amsterdam. It’s a great place to visit with kids.  There are tulips from all over the world, as well as a wonderful petting zoo and fun playground for the kids.  Olivia loved taking photos of everything and both kids are pretty silly when we take photos of them!  Our favorite tulip was the ‘ice cream’ tulip.  We took our bikes along and went riding every day.  Holland is the perfect place to cycle, especially with young children.  It’s flat, easy riding and there are bike lanes and trails everywhere.  We stayed along the coast and were able to do some beautiful rides each day along with our daily ride into town to do our grocery shopping.  We even got to watch some gliders taking off and landing.  Olivia just received a new bike with gears for Easter and was really excited to be able to ride along next to us.  She declared she loved Holland because she got to ride her bike on the streets in town like an adult.  D and I ride our bikes through Brussels, but there are not as many bike lanes and it is too dangerous for us to let Olivia to the same.  When cycling in Brussels, I use my Dutch made “Bakfiets” which allows both kids to sit in a box in front of the bike.  It’s big and heavy, but very secure and I take the kids to school in it as long as it’s 10 degrees centigrade (about 50 degrees F) outside…and not raining!

We had a wonderful time in Holland and plan to return next year with all of D’s family.  We want to go at the time of the Tulip Parade which travels through the entire tulip producing region and is held when all the fields are in bloom.  And of course, we’ll take our bikes!

We’re off now for a two week camping trip to the Italian Dolomites.  It will be the first time we’ve taken the kids camping and they are so excited.  It’s already been an adventure getting all the gear and figuring out what to pack. But no more time to write about that now.  It will have to wait for our return!