Someone recently asked me for my thoughts on traveling with kids. Any tips, tricks, ideas, etc.
My first thought was to demur. I don’t really have any special insight. You just sort of do it, right?
But then I realized I do have thoughts. Or at least things that have worked for us. So here are my travel things that have worked for us. Some are Italy specific. Some work for anywhere.
No Shower Saturdays
We don’t do this much anymore, but especially when Mac was small, we did a lot of “No Shower Saturdays.” See, we did more day trips then. We still do plenty of day trips, but not to the exclusion of overnights. At that point though the thought of packing an overnight bag with ALL the baby stuff and either finding a place with cribs or packing ours was just too much. So we’d just go somewhere for the day. Even a day trip around Rome.
Once we fed the kids breakfast, I always felt like we were on the clock until meltdown for the next meal. If we waited until everyone had breakfasted, showered, dressed, etc. we might not be out of the house until 10:00 AM. Maybe 11. This didn’t give us much time before everyone started whining for the next meal.
If we had an adventure in mind, James and I would just throw on clothes and get ready quickly. We would sometimes just give the kids breakfast in the car if we were driving. That way we could generally arrive at our destination and see something before it was time to sit down for lunch, another thing that was not my favorite to do with tiny kids. We also found that most small towns (and many other places in Italy) generally close up shop between 1:00 and 4:00 PM. This meant we’d finish lunch and everything would be closed. It was nice to have a little more time in the morning.
This also worked well because we could see things in the morning, have lunch, and then the kids could nap on the way back.
We don’t do this as much now. This kids aren’t as crazy on food. I’m not having to stop and park to nurse a baby. Restaurants don’t scare me as much. I’m not worried about nap time. But it’s still a good tool for days when we really want to hit the ground running. I usually hit a tipping point where I flip out because it feels like it has taken us forever to leave the house. I’d rather just be out and adventuring already.
You guys know my love of these restaurant farmhouses runs deep. (More on everything agriturismo here.)
To sum it up, you can easily get accommodations with multiple bedrooms. They have super tasty food that someone else cooks for you. They have plenty of room for kids to run around with possibly farm animals and playgrounds to entertain them. They aren’t great for trips where you don’t want to drive, but I definitely recommend otherwise.
You don’t even need to think about them just for overnight. They can also be a fun lunch destination. La Cerra and Pacifico are two of my favorites close to Rome. (Definitely get weekend reservations for these.) Super tasty food and lots of fun for the kids. It’s just a more relaxed atmosphere for lunch because lots of families with kids are also around.
Don’t Worry About Recreating Home
I’m kind of an under-buyer and under-packer, but I think this has served us well. We take what we need, but I don’t worry about fully recreating a full home environment for the kids.
For example, when I had a baby eating baby food, I’d bring a spoon. Now, Mac still uses kid spoons at home. Do I pack them for trips? Nope.
Same for special cups, washcloths, or anything really.
We do travel with books and some toys. But not a ton.
You don’t need to skimp for the sake of skimping. Cherished sleep animals make the cut.
I do think this has helped us in the long run though. The kids don’t get upset if things aren’t a certain way. They aren’t expecting things to be exactly the same. Which is great. The point of travel is to try new stuff, right?
It makes it much easier for us to get out the door as well.
Blacken those windows
One area I have come around on “over packing” though is thinking about how we can get better sleep on trips. For our last week-long trip, we threw some Frog Tape in our bag and then picked up some black trashbags at our destination. Instant black out windows. You could also use aluminum foil.
I wouldn’t worry about this on just a night away or so, but getting better sleep makes both us and the kids feel loads better.
Change your attitude
Travel with kids will be different. It just will.
You can’t pack in 50 sights a day. Your carefully planned itinerary might fall apart in the first hour. It happens.
It helps to let go of the image of wearing the perfect outfit while eating a four star meal on a wisteria covered terrace overlooking the twinkling city below.
I’m not saying it won’t happen. But travel with kids is not always Instagram worthy.
I like it though. And it just keeps getting better and better.
We don’t see everything. We go slower. We spend more time than I ever thought possible chasing down stray cats and staring at construction sites.
I’m glad that we’re not putting off travel. If I waited until I felt like I could do the trips of my travel dreams, we’d never go anywhere. We have kids. They are a part of our lives. We all travel together.
I wouldn’t say it is about lowering your expectations, but changing them. And just accepting that your life is different.
If I can see something new, and get a great meal, and there wasn’t too much punching, that’s a pretty great day. Or maybe it was a bad day, but I can focus on that amazing coffee I had sitting in the sun or how much I smiled seeing my kids careen around the piazza. There is usually something great about every trip.
It gets Easier
And I promise it gets easier! I think some of it is you getting better at it the more you do it. Some of it is the kids getting better at it the more they do it.
Some of it is just the kids getting older. For our last few trips, I realized we didn’t make any crib inquiries. For one, Mac slept in the middle of a double bed. For the other, we took a single bed off the frame so it was just a mattress on the floor. This is SO much easier than the days when we were trying to find TWO cribs for overnight trips.
The kids can walk more. Encountering a broken metro elevator isn’t the end of the world. Restaurants are no longer the worst ever. It’s just gotten easier.
As I write this, my kids are 4.5 and almost 3. This may seem light years away from someone who has a baby and 18 month old and in some ways it is, but in other ways it is so fast. It will be easier before you know it. Promise.
Do what is fun for you
You don’t have to travel just for the sake of travel. I think particularly in my expat community, it is easy to compare yourself to others. Other people are doing all these trips. I should be doing more.
See, travel is fun for me. Adventuring with my family is my favorite. No, doing a restaurant with a 16 month old is not necessarily fun, but I adore trying new things.
It was like this even before the kids. I keep lists of new places and restaurants I want to try. I seek out local festivals. Part of me just wants to be a regular somewhere and have a regular routine, but that part keeps getting squelched by the I WANT TO SEE AND DO EVERYTHING part of me.
Especially when travel is a little harder, I think it is perfectly OK to focus on the things you really like. Maybe it’s wine. Maybe it’s architecture. Maybe it’s sustainable farming. Maybe it’s hikes. Maybe it’s gardens. Maybe it’s impressionist paintings. Whatever your thing is, double down on that. You don’t need to travel just for the sake of travel. Go do the stuff YOU really want to do.