Our 2016 visit to Paris was a trial run of sorts. It was an amazing journey in and of itself – 10 days of sightseeing, exploration and photography – but the context of the visit was inescapable. We had already decided to spend the entirety of 2017 traveling in Europe, and we knew that Paris was going to be informative. Whatever worked well for us, and whatever didn’t, was going to make a big difference in how we approached our biggest family adventure.

A day trip to Versailles was scheduled before we even left the country. Our experience there wasn’t what we expected. Whenever things don’t go as planned, our first reaction is usually frustration. But on this trip, when we had to learn the ropes of family travel before we dove all the way in, the unexpected was exactly what we needed.

Walking by the gates of the palace of versailles near Paris, France.The beautiful golden gates of the palace of versailles.

Photography and Family: Setting Priorities

Right from the moment we decided to travel, we knew that we were going to have conflicting interests. One of the main reasons for our travel was to grow as photographers. We wanted to take photos that people would want to see. This meant hard work, and putting research, creativity and execution ahead of relaxation. But the other reason for traveling was the experience – creating an engaging and enjoyable experience that would make us want to go to work every day. That meant making sure that it never became so miserable that we didn’t want to go out.

Statues in the palace of versailles.

Versailles is an amazing place. The opulence, creativity and labor that went into building the enormous palace and garden complex, in an age without our modern technology defies belief. It is a gold mine for photography, a wealth of history, and most of it was designed to be a playground for wealthy nobles. But upon arrival we quickly learned that we weren’t going to have our cake and eat it too.

There were several obstacles we knew we were going to have to deal with. Versailles is a big place, covering over 800 hectares, and we had to get all the photos we wanted there in one day. And if we wanted to have smiles on our faces in those photos, we would have to do it all while keeping our one year old baby from going bonkers.

Walking by the windows in Versailles hall of mirrors.

Inside the opulent hall of mirrors in the palace of Versailles near Paris, France.

Eventually, we decided that since photography and family were our top goals, we were going to put them ahead of the history lessons (we can always come back when Lisa’s old enough to understand them too). This meant moving around a lot, even opting for a golf cart to carry us around the grounds more quickly.

A beautiful staircase in the palace of Versailles.

We knew Lisa wouldn’t last all day, which meant we weren’t going to see everything, so we decided to make the most of the things we were had time for. Even though we couldn’t spare much attention for reading about the nobles who once lived in the halls of the palace, we were more than happy to devote our attention to the little girl running up and down those halls right in front of us. The ropes that were hung were meant to protect the priceless artifacts on display, but pulling on them until we scooped her up wound up being Lisa’s favorite part of the trip!

A checkered floor outside the palace of versailles.

In the courtyard outside the palace of versailles, standing on a giant checkered floor.

As Lisa and I posed for Jake, I couldn’t help but imagine how incredible this place must have seemed in the age before special effects and electric lights. Seeing this Versailles for the first time in its heyday must have been like stepping into a fantasy world! Actually, that was kind of how I felt in 2016!

Exploring the Versailles gardens in a golf cart.

Versailles didn’t disappoint on any level. It was bigger, more beautiful, and more magical than we had expected. Even with a few modern conveniences (see above), we felt like we were lost in a fantasy world. Especially when we literally got lost! The biggest challenge for photography was pacing ourselves. Sometimes we had to resist the urge to stay in one place for too long, snapping away as our time slipped away.

Rows of trees in the versailles gardens.

Despite the green grass, it was cold outside that day. I remember taking off our coats for photos a few times, and then running to get them after we got our photos. It’s one of those things that makes you laugh when you look back at it, even if you weren’t laughing at the time. Lisa never complained once. I think she was too busy taking it all in to realize how weird her parents were being!

A gigantic hedge and some conical trees in the Versailles gardens.

getting lost in the versailles gardens feels like Alice in wonderland.

playing in the versailles gardens.

walking by flowers hedges and statues in the versailles gardens.

Getting around the versailles gardens in a golf cart.

But the day did take its toll on her. By the time Jake and I started getting tired, she was sound asleep on my chest. As we rode in our golf carts toward Marie Antoinette’s Estate, we realized she had skipped her morning nap and cooperated the whole time anyway. I think she could tell that we were doing something that was important to us. Whenever we’re excited about a shoot, she always seems to play along.

Famous statues in a pool in the versailles gardens.

How Versailles Effected our Future Travels:

When we returned to our Paris apartment we were wiped out, and when we got back to the U.S. after 10 days we were even more so. The whole trip was amazing, but we knew that we couldn’t travel for a year like that. It wasn’t discouraging though, it was a mission accomplished. We’d set out to learn what we could do, and that’s what we did.

Enjoying the flowers in the versailles gardens.

Mary Antoinette's palace and garden in Versailles.

Paris and Versailles played a big role in our decision to take it slow. While we’re in Europe, we’re still putting photography first. Just not every day. We refer to our busiest days as “Versailles days” because of the experience we had there. But most of the time we spend the bulk of our day living our lives with Lisa, taking our photos early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and doing our writing and editing after she goes to sleep. We do most of our exploring without our camera (except on Versailles days) and we come back to the good stuff later so we can treat work as work and play as play.

Mary Antoinette's Palace in Versailles.

The pink marble columns of Mary Antoinette's palace.

Using this method has forced us to make a few sacrifices – reducing the number of cities and countries we make it to – but it’s paid big dividends for our health, our happiness and our family. I think our work is better than it would be if we went farther to one extreme or the other. In the end, it seems to work best for us if we treat our travel as a lifestyle rather than a job or a vacation.

Being a kid in Versailles.

Do you work and travel with your family? Tell us what you’ve learned in the comments!