Rome if You Want To

I don’t have fond memories of early travels with our children. I recall long, stressful car trips from Chicago to Detroit, one of which included a detour to the emergency room, and a particularly grueling weeklong “getaway” to South Haven, Michigan. During the latter trip, which was peppered with temper tantrums — both ours and the kids’ — I learned that when babies and toddlers are involved, vacations can be more work than the regular life you intend to escape. No matter how long the trip, we returned exhausted rather than rejuvenated, and the piles of mail and laundry that awaited us quickly erased any small moments of pleasure we had enjoyed while we were away.

Back then, if someone had told me things would get easier, I would have given him or her an earful that included a string of profanities.

Based on the trauma of those early trips, my husband and I decided to wait to take a major (i.e., extensive and expensive) vacation that involved plane travel until the kids were 4 and 6. We figured these were reasonable ages because they would both be out of diapers and nap-free, and, we hoped, old enough to remember something of the vacation.

Do they recall anything from our first family trip to Disney World? Our daughter, then 4, remembers the teacup ride, which terrified her. The kind operator of the ride stopped it after the first go-round so my hysterical, non-spin-friendly child could escape. Our son, the 6-year-old, recalls the luau and fire dancers at the Polynesian Resort, the teacups (for obvious reasons) and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Oh, and he liked the pizza at Pizza Planet.

I guess it’s a good thing we took lots of pictures.

Epcot, which the kids and my husband hated. Good thing there was wine and ice cream.

Did my husband and I enjoy the trip? I, for one, could have done without pushing that rented double stroller, with a combined 80 pounds of kids, for five days and through four amusement parks, while listening to endless whining, fighting, and begging for overpriced snacks and souvenirs. But watching their sweet faces light up with first-time Disney joy at least partially compensated for their sometimes not-so-cute behavior.

Despite our early bumps in the road, our family became fairly well-seasoned travelers in the years that followed. We flew to visit family in Florida and Los Angeles — with a stop in Disneyland, of course — and we even ventured to my favorite U.S. city, San Francisco. We took a marathon road trip several spring breaks ago to Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and New York City. And one summer we caravanned with a family we barely knew on a two-week trip across the country to Yellowstone National Park. After surviving a week together in a shoebox-size cabin, we were travel buddies for life.

Yellowstone National Park: Our best road trip ever.

This summer our son turned 13, and we decided it was time for another family travel first: Europe. My ecstatic husband became obsessed with planning his dream trip to Italy. He learned Italian with Rosetta Stone — the kids halfheartedly joined him for the first couple of weeks — and labored over every detail of the vacation. We had 12 days, and he wanted to cram in as much as possible.

The beauty of this family trip, however, was its relaxed tone and spontaneity.

We each had a passport, a plane ticket and a piece of carry-on luggage. We arrived in Rome, traveled all over Tuscany and flew out of Venice. The kids trekked through airports, from hotel to hotel, and in and out of taxicabs, trains, water buses and gondolas. Together we learned to order food in Italian, to navigate the country’s maze of a highway system in a clown-size car, to respect cultural traditions, to appreciate ancient art and ruins, and to enjoy long, leisurely meals and relaxing afternoon siestas.

Tuscany, especially the tiny village of Semproniano, was the hardest to leave.

On our family trip to Italy, we guided and our kids followed. But in some cases the opposite was true, and they taught us something. In one situation, my son, who can read a map better than anyone in our family, got us back on track when a wrong turn took us three hours in the opposite direction of our destination.

Were there other snafus? Many. Every family vacation has them, and it was our first trip abroad together. But despite the things that went wrong in Italy, we discovered just how easy and enjoyable traveling with our kids had become.

My husband’s trip of a lifetime turned out to be the family’s as well — at least so far.

23 thoughts on “Rome if You Want To

  1. this is so fantastic and inspiring! we are travel-adverse with our young kids (3, 6 and 8) but are trying to do more as they get older. i love the idea of a cross country trip and europe, but for now we need to even get started with crossing state lines!

    • Those first few trips are challenging; there’s definitely a learning curve for everyone. But the more frequently you travel, the better you all become at it. Happy trails to you and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Such an inspiration! I was fortunate enough to travel with my grandmother when we were younger (around the age of your kids now) and I really hope to be able to do that with my children. I’m also inspired by how relaxed you were about the whole thing. Please tell me that can come with time? It sounds wonderful.

    • It really does. I swear. When we take trips with our kids now, they are more like fun, excited travel companions than little people we have to care for. I’m hoping that won’t change too much as they become immersed in teenage life. Right now, they seem to actually enjoy our company. Fingers crossed.

      It’s so wonderful that you were able to travel with your grandmother. You must have some great memories!

  3. I love this, Kathleen. I am a huge advocate for travel. The heck with school get your kids on a plane and take them places, let them experience other cultures. The world is their classroom. Ok, maybe not forget about school altogether. Travel can sometimes be difficult, but worth every minute, I think. I’ve travelled with my niece to England, Guatemala, and Costa Rica so far. I hope she and I have many more adventures. Learning to navigate through airports, hotels and reading maps will serve them well. And the history outside of the U.S. – immense. (Rome is amazing for that lesson, isn’t it? I love Rome.) Such a heartwarming post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • Thanks so much, Stephanie. Your niece is lucky to have such a cool, adventurous aunt. You’ve taken what must have been some truly amazing trips together. I love it!

      I agree about Rome. We spent two days there. We could have spent a week. There was so much to see and experience.

  4. This was an inspirational read. We’ve been too chicken to do much traveling with our daughter but we really need to make the effort once she’s a little older. I traveled a lot as a kid and it really opened up my worldview. I hope I can give that to my kid too.

  5. My husband and I both enjoy traveling. My husband is also obsessed with this idea that kids will not prevent us enjoying life, so we ended up on a cruise when the baby was less than a year old. It was supposed to be an “easy” way to take a trip with a baby. Not something I would repeat – I was still pumping, promised childcare turned out not to exist, and at one point I ended up dealing with a backed up toilet, a case of the runs, and I husband I couldn’t reach because he was downstairs playing in the casino. Ugh.

    Needless to say, when my husband talks about taking a big trip when he gets back from deployment I have a hard time hiding my lack of enthusiasm.

    I’m glad you found a rhythm in travelling. Those road trips sound awesome, not to mention the Europe trip. A trip to Italy is definitely on the top of my dream list. Maybe just not this year… 🙂

    • Thanks, Jane. I’m so sorry about the cruise. It sounds like you got a lot less — and a lot more — than you bargained for.

      I hope your family has some wonderful travels together — once the baby is a little older, of course.

  6. So nice to know that there is an ‘other side’ to all of this. My hope is that we will be teaching the boys to appreciate the world- respect the people in it- and grow close together on our advantures. Seems like you guys have that part nailed down. Lovely pics and great post!

    • Thanks, Far. The kids are already plotting out the next trip: Scotland and England. Not sure when, but I’m definitely on board.

      I am so excited for you guys. I can’t wait to follow your adventures and experience Dutch life vicariously. So cool!

  7. This is a delightful story. Once our kids were older, we had some wonderful trips. I’m with you on the Disney thing, though.

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      I think we have taken our last Disney trip — at least until we have grandkids. We dragged our kids to Disneyland a final time last summer and they were not into it at all. It made me a little sad, but my pocketbook was very happy.

  8. I think you’ve probably instilled a great sense of wanderlust in your kids!!

    By the way, I remember Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and It’s a Small World from when I was 5!

    • Wow! You have a terrific memory. I think the only thing I remember from being 5 is the trauma of being left alone with a bunch of strangers on the first day of kindergarten.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Sounds awesome!!! So I only have to wait 13 years for a trip like this? Ha! I love that your son is the map reader. How cool. It’s crazy to think that this little baby sleeping on my boob right now might one day be able to do something like read a map at all, let alone better than I can.

  10. Hahaha! Yep, some day he’ll actually be able to do something besides cry, poop, eat and sleep. I promise.

    Thanks for the comment, and I apologize for the delayed response. I’ve been out of commission blog-wise since I wrote this post. Trying to get back in the groove. We shall see…

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