My husband and I traveled to Italy every year for 10 years before our kids were born. Although we missed our annual trips, the idea of strollers on cobblestones, having to return to hotels for nap time and running for trains with babies just wasn’t appealing.
One afternoon, 7 years after our first daughter was born, I looked at my husband and said, “I need to go back. I don’t care if they will remember the trip or not, we need to do this for us.” He grabbed the laptop and we immediately started to plan our trip. Our youngest had just turned 4, and we told her that we would not be bringing a stroller so she will have to walk. Because the girls were 4 and 7, we decided to use vacation rentals (although I do love my hotels!). It was a great idea as we had a small kitchenette and room to spread out so we could relax during down time. Every city has many vacation rentals to choose from. Trip Advisor and Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) have listings with ratings to make it easier to choose.
If the thought of spending hours on planes and trains with children frightens you (and it should) then I have a couple of tips. We used to give the girls airplane surprises – small toys that didn’t take up too much space. As soon as we could tell that they were getting antsy, we would give them surprise number one and because it was new and shiny they would stay occupied. Then surprise number 2 would come out at the point when they were just about to crack up, and so on. We also pack markers & paper (must haves) and dole out snacks as needed. Now that they are older, we have itouches, ipads, etc., and those keep them busy for hours. We also bring small Pillow Pets so they can sleep more easily and house socks (fluffy ones from Old Navy) so that they can go to the bathroom without having to put their shoes back on. Yes, it sounds a bit gross, but I am not going to put shoes on every time they need to get up!
Well, our 5th trip to Italy is in July and the kids are so excited. They each get one backpack for their toys, head phones, etc., and one rolling bag (make sure to get the ones with multi directional spinner wheels or your head will explode as their bags will continually flip over as they pull them!). You want the bags to be no larger than the largest carry on as they will not fit in the overhead compartments on the trains. You certainly don’t want to be “that American” with the giant suitcase that is blocking the narrow isle!
We love traveling by train and in Italy they stop in almost all of the places you will want to go. Renting a car is fine, but Italians drive like maniacs and finding a parking place is maddening. There are also tons of Senso Unico (one way) streets some of which are so narrow that you have to pull in your mirrors to pass! My husband was “that American” in Florence – he ended up going the wrong way on a Senso Unico and then our mirror got torn off as we tried to back our way out! I hid my head in shame when I got out to retrieve what was left of our mirror. Your best bet traveling with a family is to get a Eurail Family Pass. If you are just going to one country, then figure out how many days you need and choose accordingly. You can get on and off the trains as many times as you want in a 24 hour period. The first class pass is more expensive, but truly worth it. Also, there are now Uber cabs in Italy! New to Uber? Download the Uber app and enter the promo code uberhubbard in the payment section and your first ride (up to $20) is free !
Our rottenly spoiled children are so lucky to have parents that love to travel (and need to travel to find Italian pottery for the IPO!). They are also lucky that we actually like them enough to drag them along on our adventures! I believe they will benefit greatly from their experiences even if they don’t remember every minute.
Here is another tip: If they are tired, just give them a plate of pasta for a pillow and have them take a nap…