Guest post by: Jessica Hamman
“And…the kids are coming with you?” This was the response I’d get whenever I’d tell folks of our four-week trip to Italy. Indeed, the kids came with us. There were some parts of the trip I could have done without — temporarily losing sight of our 6 year-old at a busy Cinque Terra Train station, enduring large quantities whining from our 4 year-old while sight-seeing, and visiting the Italian ER with our 9 month-old. But others I’ll treasure – the icy sweetness of fior di latte gelato on a steamy-hot Tuscan summer day and watching my kids run in the piazza while enjoying a mezzo litro of vino bianco at the nearby café.
Are you thinking of attempting international travel with your brood but don’t know how to get started? Here are some tips that helped make our trip a success and will help you get started planning yours:
- Set realistic expectations. When we were first departing on this trip, my husband told me he pictured us walking through the Italian vineyards with a glass of Chianti in our hands while our kids played before us. Needless to say, this never happened. Ditch the daydreams and root yourself in reality: the chaos your children create at home will also accompany you when traveling (or perhaps a touch more…)– the only difference is the view out the window.
- Keep the trip itinerary as simple. Try and resist the all-American urge to visit every major city in a certain country in on vacation. Everyone will be more relaxed if you choose a home base and really settle into the area and make small day trips from there as needed.
- Skip the hotels and stay on your own terms through vacation rental sites or apartment sharing. We used AirBnB for the majority of our stay in Northern Italy and I credit this for one of the reasons the trip was so successful. We had our own house, villa, or apartment in each of the areas we stayed and it was so good for the kids to be able to be themselves. It also kept the lodging costs down so we could use the extra cash to bribe the kids with exorbitantly expensive Italian Pokémon trading cards.
- Stay near a body of water. Every kid loves a good pool. We had the most success when we stayed at a house with a pool or in a small apartment by the sea. Though this seems luxurious, with sites like AirBnB, it need not break the budget like hotels in the same area would.
- Pack light and organize well. No matter how light I pack, I always find I’ve brought too much. Upon a recommendation from a very wise friend who also travels frequently with kids, we invested in packing cubes (www.ebags.com/category/travel-accessories/packing-aids/packing-cubes/b/ebags) and assigned a cube color to each family member. We’ll never pack without them again. They made packing and repacking easy and helped keep our bags from looking like clothing soup by day three. Another space saving God-send when traveling with kids old enough for car seat boosters are the inflatable boosters from Bubble Bum. Deflate these and squeeze into carryon luggage when not being used (www.bubblebum.co/us/).
- Choose a culture that loves children. This can be sussed out easily from reactions to vacation rental queries. Are the owners aghast that you would ever suggest three small children stay in their palatial villa? Or do they email back with warm commentary on the children and suggest that they stay for free? It makes a huge different when kids can be themselves. Find a place where children are valued and you won’t regret it.
Jessica Hamman is a writer and English teacher who lives in the Bay Area with her husband, three children, and two surprisingly healthy goldfish. She loves traveling with kids and writing about it in her blog http://adventurefound.wordpress.com.