How to get your overseas shop on with kids in tow

I am a big fan of bringing home a special keepsake from each of my travels. Something that will be kept; handed down & have memories attached to it. All those little pieces we picked up in Rome remind us of our engagement…woodcuts from Myanmar remind us of the days when we carried large objets d’art on our backs instead of our kids.

During our recent travels of Europe however, I had an epic fail in the momento collecting department. Alsace, home to amazing Christmas markets, was the obvious place to add to my collection of precious festive treasures.  My Christmas decoration box is full of special memories and keepsakes – from wishbones my Grandma painted silver when my mum was a baby, to birth years ornaments for our kids.   Each ornament has a story.

But we came home empty handed. Totally my fault. Some places are simply ‘no-go zones’ for even the best trained little China Shop bulls. Especially when your two little people are jacked up on gingerbread in 37 degree heat and want to swim in the fountain. We couldn’t risk our girls going rogue on glass figurines at 30 euros a pop. So there I was, looking longingly through windows but not allowed to go in. I didn’t have my ‘shopping with kids’ GAME on.

Fairytale enamel decorations at Pfeiffer Olivier, Colmar, Alsace
Longingly wanting to browse at Pfeiffer Olivier, Colmar, Alsace.

If your aim is to get some fairytale photos & something special for your little ones to remind them of this trip for a lifetime you need to plan short, sharp half day trips to these adorable little towns with military precision. Here’s my learnings with a skew for Alsace:

  1. Plan your top purchases

Wherever you’re traveling there’s likely to be some obvious local keepsakes to look out for. These days I tend to be gathering bits for my kids rather than myself. Alsace is ripe territory for this: real deal cuckoo clocks; Christmas decorations; cute Alsatian pottery hangings… and gingerbread.

If you want to come home with any of these then start with the Gingerbread. It couples with the first step of the necessary drill: feed ‘em, water ‘em & ideally strap ‘em to you. In Alsace, Gingerbread shops are two a penny & my girls went mad for the soft toys placed right at toddler eye level. The lure of gingerbread will wear off faster if you let them taste some up front. Hubby & I finished up several packets of the stuff when the novelty wore off.

This frees you up to try and make one sensible purchase before everyone gets overheated and overtired. 

If I could go back today I would buy: a small cuckoo clock for Goldie from Kaysersberg. I’d ask about the duty free option; up my budget a smidge to get figurines with nicely painted faces & a quiet mechanism. 55 euro would have done the trick at Schangala, 80 Rue du Général de Gaulle, Kayserberg.

Kayserberg Coukoo Clock shopping
Entranced by Cuckoo Clocks in Kayserberg

A bigger outlay would have been one of the exquisite fairytale enamel window decorations. They started at 70 euro for a small one at Pfeiffer Olivier, Colmar, but in hindsight it would have become a family heirloom. Sold in an antique shop (but not antique), I just couldn’t run the gauntlet at the end of our day by taking two tired, sticky fingered babes into the shop. Next time I’ll make a quick executive decision and pop in while Hubby doles out brezels.  

Not exactly a cheap purchase but one that will become an heirloom.

If I wanted to get them something each for less cost I would have chosen some glass Alsatian doll figurine. They started at about 28 euros so look at it as a real keepsake.

2. Keep feeding the troops

We visited in a heat wave & getting to a cafe for copious amount of water & shade trumped anything else. Watch for the ‘hangries’. Eyeball somewhere sensible in advance – ideally looking out for the few tea rooms with seating. Our kids weren’t as huge on pork knuckle & flammkuchen as we were & managed to negotiate frites on several occasions despite our travelling with our trusty bento boxes. If in doubt pick up a Bretzle or baguette for them to chew en route.

3. Get some cute pics & scarper 

Once you’ve eaten; wandered & had your 15 mins of shopping its probably time to bomb burst back to your digs. Get those cute pics in those fairytale streets & get the hell outta dodge. Generally by the time we got back to the car it was time to dole out more hunks of baguette & crank those nursery rhymes on my downloaded playlist. Humpty Dumpty your way back to your digs for nap time or a swim.

‘Til next time, my momentos are the photos of my ‘Belles’ running wildly though Alsatian towns, oblivious to the surroundings straight out of their favourite fairytales.

‘Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love.’

Nate Berkis

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