A trip of a lifetime... with a four-year-old

Regina Titelius

Regina Titelius’ trip with four-year-old daughter Lily is priceless.

When I told my husband I was taking our four-year-old daughter on a month-long holiday to see the sights of Greece and Paris with a smidge of London, I think he thought I’d lost all sense of reality.

I can see his point. My darling daughter Lily is headstrong, independent and prone to chucking tantrums and wandering off without a care in the world. So I suppose hubby was thinking there would be a fair chance I’d lose Lily in some tiny alley in Mykonos or a sprawling Parisian park. Or worse still, I’d be sternly judged by a stiff-upper-lip Londoner when Lily wants to take a nap on a carefully guarded ornate armchair in Buckingham Palace (that actually happened). He truly expected I’d be Skyping every day with a report on our misadventures.

Acquaintances also questioned whether it was even worth “spending all that money” on a trip for a kid who had next to Buckley’s chance of remembering anything mere months later.

My winning argument was this:

On the plus side of having a strong-willed child: they’re resilient and not scared about unfamiliar places. From an early age, Lily showed a zest for trying new things, meeting new people and wanting to learn about different cultures and languages.

I started travelling with my mother when I was five, including backpacking through Java in the 1970s when I was just nine. I loved the adventures we had and I wanted to pass on the baton.

While I had no expectations of Lily remembering every detail of the trip, I did expect it would make an impression on her and help develop her worldly approach to life.

Lily and mum watch the sunset at Oia, on Santorini.

Yes, I would have to change the way I had previously travelled in Europe to adjust to a younger person’s interests but I figured it would be rewarding to experience Europe from my daughter’s perspective.

So before Lily had even turned four, I’d booked our holiday for the tail end of the European summer, which would put Lily over the four-year-old milestone by the time we left. I focused on making sure our itinerary had plenty of downtime and was not too strenuous. Our itinerary also had variety — an initial “discovery” tour of Greece followed by a leisurely French sojourn with one of my dearest friends, who lives in Paris with her two gorgeous daughters, broken up by a three-day London visit.

First up was an island hop through Greece with a loosely structured 10-day Trafalgar tour. As Greece was unknown territory for me, I figured the support of a tour would take away some of the logistical hassle — which it did — although we still spent a lot of time “doing our own thing”.

To find our travel groove, we arrived in Athens ahead of the tour’s commencement. While we unpacked luggage in our Athens hotel, Lily declared: “Let’s go meet some Greek people, Mummy.” And so the tone was set and we never looked back.

We had vanilla ice-cream in the quaint little streets of Plaka, we gobbled Greek salad at the top of Lykavittos Hill and wandered through the Acropolis Museum and its bookshop, where Lily chose Perseus and the Gorgon for her night-time reading. We climbed Acropolis Hill, where Lily saw “the biggest Greek flag ever”, and we learnt the Greek words for “hello”, “bye” and “thanks” so Lily could break the ice with some local kids.

By the time we had island- hopped to Mykonos and Santorini, Lily had become a connoisseur of fetta and olives, befriended our fellow tour members and had charmed her way through almost any situation. The girl was born to travel.

Lily at her favourite Parisian landmark. Picture: Regina Titelius

When we reached Paris, we were ready to switch gears from explorers to guests. While Annick went to work and her pre-teen/teen daughters toddled off to school, we’d laze around their 11th arrondissement apartment eating Nutella sandwiches and planning our activities for the day.

Lily’s all-time favourite pastime in Paris was anything that involved the Eiffel Tower. I will never forget the look on her face when she saw the tower for the first time while we were having a picnic in the gardens by the Louvre.

But that was actually topped by her reaction to seeing the tower up close: “Oh wow, I didn’t know it was so big!” And then we saw it from the top, and we saw it twinkling at night, and we saw it while riding on a carousel near the tower’s base. Yes, we became very well acquainted with the tower.

Apart from getting a wave from Prince William as he alighted from his helicopter at Kensington Palace, a highlight of our London side trip was walking over to Trafalgar Square after seeing The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden. Some tourists helped me hoist Lily up to sit beside one of the lion statues and she sat up there as proud as punch with her newly acquired Lion King toy.

Lily in Trafalgar Square, London, with her toy Simba, after seeing The Lion King. Picture: Regina Titelius

When we toured Buckingham Palace, Lily was most disappointed the guards wouldn’t take delivery of a drawing she did for the Queen. I posted her drawing with a card to Her Majesty when we got back to Paris. Soon after we returned to Perth, we received a letter from the Queen thanking Lily for her lovely drawing. A pretty special item to take to class.

During our final days in Paris, we visited Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny where we walked on “that bridge” over the lily pond and wandered through the artist’s home, and saw where he slept and where he painted. The next day at Musee d’Orsay, Lily ran up to a wall-sized Monet and almost shouted in excitement: “Look Mummy, it’s Monet’s lilies from his garden.” Yes, we got stares, but does that really matter? It was great to see this budding artist so excited.

Months after our holiday, Lily still recalls so much, and without prompting. She even remembers completely random moments I had forgotten. “Remember when we were in London and we gave our yummy tomatoes to that man sitting on the street?” I truly believe the experience has given her an early worldly perspective on life, something her schoolteacher noticed when she returned to her kindy class after the holiday.

This year, Lily’s pre-primary class is covering France for its country theme. Lily draws the Eiffel Tower with familiarity. She is keen to learn more French and she practises words with the Frenchman at our local market’s patisserie stall.

So when sceptics say it’s a waste to take a young kid on an overseas holiday, they are so wrong. Yes, it can be hard work, but the reward of exposing a young mind to limitless discoveries is priceless.