Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of We’ll Always Have Paris for the purposes of this review. I did not receive any other compensation. This post contains an affiliate link. All opinions are mine.
As a military brat, I grew up living and and traveling all around the United States. And, for three years in the early-80s, when I was in my early teen years, we lived in Germany which afforded us the opportunity to travel all over Europe.
Those experiences were some of the best of my life. I learned to speak a little German (and even dated a German boy who spoke no English! Ah, love IS the international language). I experienced customs quite different from my own, including hanging out in a crowded shopping mall with no air conditioning on a hot summer day while no one around wore deodorant. I rode streetcars through German towns with my girlfriends, plunking pfennigs into the coin machine as I climbed aboard. I saw musical theater in the West End of central London. I met monks in Italy. I sipped my first cappuccino in a gilded coffee shop in Budapest on Thanksgiving Day. And I walked the streets of East Berlin, marveling at the stark, blank, and ominous eastern side of The Wall before it came down. The world was vast and colorful and complicated. And I saw it all, firsthand, as an impressionable young woman.
But as a parent, I haven’t traveled with my kids much outside of Texas yet. I need to change that. I want to set aside my fears about the challenges of international travel with children. I want my kids to widen their understanding of the variety and diversity of people, cultures, and languages that make up this big, beautiful world in which we live. I want them to see that people are all the same and, at once, so very different. I want them to understand that that is the essence and the beauty of this life that we live. And I want to be with them to witness their jaws drop as we enjoy those worldly experiences together.
Author Jennifer Coburn did just that. When her daughter, Katie, was eight they took a trip together to Paris and London. It was the first of many international trips they would take together. The death of Jennifer’s father, when she was just 19, instilled a fear in her that she, too, would die young. She was determined to make as many wonderful memories as she could with her daughter and, in the process, she learned to let go of her worry about death and to embrace her truly lovely life.
We’ll Always Have Paris is Jennifer’s story of their travels across Europe. It’s part travelogue, part memoir, and part tip book told in the same conversational tone you use when chatting with your best friend. I normally buy books on Kindle but I’m glad to have a paperback copy of this one. It’s dog-eared, highlighted, and underlined, and it’ll be the first thing I toss in my suitcase when Delaney and I set off on our first European adventure together.
Today, Jennifer joins me for a Q&A to share some of her international traveling tips for families and to talk about what’s next for her as a writer.
How did you come up with a budget for your trips and what are some of your best money-saving travel tips when visiting Europe with kids?
Europe is very child-friendly and offers many discounts to museums and attractions. In fact, most places were free for Katie. I also bought arts passes in every city, which allowed me entry into several tourist sites for fixed price.
In Italy I saved a lot on food by having Katie and I load up on free breakfast, grabbing fruit for the road, and bringing snack bars from Costco. At night we ate at local delis, which were amazing. Many travelers were also picnicking on the piazzas every evening. Every once and a while we splurged on a restaurant meal. It was Italy, after all.
Did your trip planning and/or sightseeing differ greatly between trips as smart phones and apps became available? Do you have any favorite travel apps or did you use other methods to decide where to go and what to see?
I have to admit I’m pretty low-tech. In Madrid, Katie and I were having a tough time finding a convent we’d heard about where cloistered nuns baked cookies. Katie managed to track them down on her smart phone, but I think she found them through someone’s blog. I’m kind of an old lady with technology, or as my 90-year-old Aunt Bernice used to call it, “all that jazz with the computer.”
What was your biggest fear about traveling overseas with your daughter on your own (especially on your first trip)?
On our first trip to Paris, Katie was eight years old and I was very nervous about our getting separated. I had a French friend translate “My name is Katie and my mother is freaking out right now,” with my cell phone number and hotel address on it. I printed this on stickers and put one on the inside of Katie’s shirt every day. I told her if we got separated she should find a police officer or a mother and hand her the sticker.
Your daughter seems, even from a young age, to be a fun and easy-going travel companion. Were there times when you didn’t agree on what to see, where to go, what to do? If yes, how did you handle that?
Katie has a naturally easy-going personality, much like her father. Katie and I also just surrender to the other’s suggestions because we’ve found that we’re often pleasantly surprised by the other’s ideas. Last summer we visited the Czech Republic and Katie suggested a tour of Communism in Prague, which sounded incredibly boring to me. It turned out to be one of the most interesting afternoons we spent. We leaned about the Velvet Revolution, the 10-day peaceful uprising when the Czech people forced out the ruling Communist party and demanded their freedom. We even ventured down into a nuclear bunker, which was both terrifying and fascinating.
This was your first time writing a memoir. Do you plan to write others? What do you like about writing in this medium vs. writing fiction?
Writing a memoir is better than five years of psychotherapy because you have time and perspective to examine how events shaped you. I found it incredibly satisfying, though it wasn’t always easy to revisit childhood memories.
I’m not sure what I’ll be writing next. I promised myself I would not take on any more major projects until Katie leaves for college in 15 months (sniff, sniff). Maybe a book about my husband and my new phase of life as empty nesters.