Before I get to my countdown, let’s talk about this picture for a minute. This candid shot taken by flytographer.com photographer, Guido (more on this great resource for travel destination photos in another post), gives you a down-to-earth glimpse into what’s really happening 2/3 of the time while traveling with four young kids. Here, we are stopped on some dingy side street in Rome in the middle of a professional photo shoot because the kids needed a drink. The youngest is being carried because she is tired of walking. One of the boys is uncomfortable in his shoes and was also being carried a moment before this photo was taken. At least two of the four are agitating for their turn at the fountain. And one does not want her photo taken. At. All. What I mean to point out is, whatever challenges you experience at home, you most certainly will encounter on a vacation. Especially on an expensive vacation overseas. You can actually guarantee that your travelers will be more temperamental after a bit of jet lag and heaps of non-routine. Additionally, right before you leave or just into the start of your trip, someone will get sick. Kid Motrin will be your best friend. Then, when you get sick one day later, adult Motrin will be your best friend. So, why are we here? Why are we blowing the college fund?? Why did we take this sugar honey iced tea show on the ROAD?!?
With that out of the way (sometimes I wear my lawyer hat and put the disclaimer right out front), I’ll get to my objective, which is to actually encourage you to take your young ones traveling – to near and far-off places. No, it is not so I can commiserate with you after I trick you into an expensive disaster. It is because I truly believe your family will benefit in myriad beautiful ways…
5. Your kids will teach you it’s about the journey, not the destination
Wait…isn’t this blog about taking our children to various destinations? Can we skip the travel, then, and just pass out tablets with virtual reality and call it a journey? Ha! No. When we say “journey” in the case of this adage, we are talking about the little experiences that make up the whole trip; the moments that we need to soak up and appreciate for all they are, whether you would care to relive them or not. Any vacation with your kids will be a journey the whole time, from the minivan ride to the airport all the way to your weary return home. As far as my kiddos are concerned, the overnight plane ride to Europe – that was the pinnacle. A hot meal on a plane with little surprises like your very own miniature salad dressing? Precious (nevermind that we don’t actually eat the salad). Your own prepackaged pillow and blanket and ear buds? Luxurious. With little ones, you can marvel at their perspective and enjoyment of all things that adults find mundane. They will teach you to live in the moment and see the beauty in all the corners of your vacation that you didn’t realize had value. Pigeons in a piazza? Ew. But maybe not. Let’s run around and make them fly. Now we’re having fun!
4. Tours for kids are WAY cooler than tours for adults
I studied abroad in Italy. Twice. In Florence and Rome. I had the most wonderfully enthusiastic tour guides teaching me about art history, architecture, archaeology, and even wine. I paid attention and I got straight A’s. These were people who knew how to captivate their audience of 20 year-olds who had been out partying most of the night before. They were good. Or so I thought, until the tour guides I hired for my family trip to Italy had to engage an audience of 4 unpredictable kids ages 10 and under. Now, THOSE tour guides have to be on their toes. They have to cater to the eager but restless four year old at the same time as appealing to the iPhone-starved ten year old. They have to share the coolest and funniest anecdotes about art history, architecture and archaeology (not wine…but they wish). They have to use props, games, quizzes, prizes, virtual reality apps, and wild arm movements and facial expressions. This becomes entertaining for all involved, not just the kids.
For example, I had been to the Colosseum twice before. I majored in art history in college! I knew everything there was to know about the Colosseum, the ruin. Apparently, I knew nothing about gladiators, which, for kids, are the supreme draw of this site. Our family guide, Arianna, from Joy of Rome tours took my kids aside to learn about the various kinds of gladiators, their weapons, armor and strategies, and how to act out a fight to the death (the four of them also do something similar at home frequently). Here is my oldest daughter playing the role of the emperor giving the thumbs up to let her younger gladiator siblings live.
Similarly, I LIVED in Florence for three months. I knew about the symbol of Florence, the fleur de lis, but I never picked up on the fact that I was SURROUNDED by the symbol of Florence – on everything from the sewer grates to the taxis zooming by. No tour guide of mine ever bothered with this trifle, but lo and behold, they are everywhere. My family’s tour guide, Giovanna, with Florence Tours With Kids, created a game out of spotting these symbols. Allora – four unwitting learners are now skipping from one site to the next searching high and low for the fleur de lis. And earning PRIZES! And the oldest one is the keeper of the scorecard. Everyone is winning!
The 4 year old was very good at spotting fleur di lis closer to the ground…or on the ground.
Our prize loot! Everyone can get behind knick-knacks.
These wonderful tour companies and tour guides made our vacation so special, and I can’t wait to share all about them in more detail in subsequent posts so you can arrange to be dazzled with your kids in Italy. Follow the blog using the link to your right, or at the end of the post if you’re on your phone, and stay tuned!
3. Your kids will learn a thing or two (and so will you)
In between the games, prizes, props, skits, and various other stunts, something subtle and magical is happening. The kids are taking it all in. Those anecdotes are piquing their interest. The scavenger hunt is helping them stay focused. The hands-on fresco painting workshop after seeing the Sistine Chapel is helping them remember that guy (who is also a Ninja Turtle!) who painted all the naked people on the ceiling in that big church a long long time ago. Kidding aside, there is no better learning than through first-hand experiencing and exploring. If you aren’t with a tour guide, there is almost always a kid-friendly audio-guide in most museums available for purchase at the ticket window. If that isn’t your thing, we found a family travel book series that we love called Scavenger Hunt Adventures. We purchased 3 before our trip to the Mediterranean – Mission Rome, Mission Florence and Mission Barcelona. Each city Mission book is broken down into chapters detailing the most iconic sites and museums. At each site are clues to decipher, hands-on missions and photo ops to try, plus pictures, facts and anecdotes. The books are written for kids (my 7, 8 and 10 year old enjoyed reading them before our trip), and if they are so inspired, young ones can even lead the missions. We learned so many interesting tidbits from these books. Our favorite was the story about the artist, Nicola Salvi, who designed the Trevi Fountain in Rome…he was so annoyed by relentless pestering from a barber who owned a shop adjacent to the fountain, that he erected a HUGE vase-like structure at one end of the fountain to block the barber’s view. SPITE art! Ouch!
Here is our 8 year old leading our mission in Piazza della Spagna (at the Spanish Steps).
There is no appreciating the Trevi Fountain from this angle at all. Harsh, Nicola Salvi.
2. Forced family bonding
If your family is anything like mine, you are inundated with the schedule of life: work, school, sports, homework, play dates, birthday parties, dentist, doctor, groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning… AAAAHHH! Everyone is in a hurry ALL THE TIME! The routine is at such a frenetic pace that I am throwing food in my kids’ faces in our minivan in between school, soccer and music lessons to make sure their calorie intake isn’t dangerously low. And my minivan looks like it. They can’t even find their seats anymore underneath the pulverized snacks. We need to slow it down and force ourselves to be together as a family. Not only do our busy schedules derail the family bonding, but the screen time (even when tempered) is robbing us of basic human interaction. My boys communicate solely through Fortnite dance moves and my oldest daughter has taken enough Snapchat selfies to create a feature-film-length slide-show. Here is where I come into the picture.
“ENOUGH! We are taking a vacation,” I tell my roommates; I mean my family.
The togetherness has its own challenges and sometimes you will start to think maybe the routine wasn’t so bad. Can’t we send them to school while we’re on vacation?! Nope. But buckle up. It’s like getting on a roller coaster (only a real roller coaster somehow generates better group photos). It will be exhilarating. Leave the tablets and even some of the rules at home.
Here we are enjoying a meal at a beautiful slow-paced restaurant in Rome, having a lemon-eating contest and making a scene. And that is what family bonding on a vacation is: sour at times, but trying to keep a straight face through the worst of it because you know the laughter and smiles are around the corner.
1. Making Memories
We have arrived at the most important reason to take your kids traveling…whether you have babies, young kids, older kids; whether you have one, two, three, four, more kids. It’s the memories you are building with them! It’s like a continually evolving, living scrapbook (because who has time for actual scrapbooking). We took our first major family vacation when our first daughter was 11 months old. We went on a Disney Cruise and to Disney World. She doesn’t remember, but I have the pictures to prove it (and I think a partially-completed actual scrapbook).
I grew up in a home where family trips were of high priority. We went to Disney World, on ski vacations, cruises…we went on adventurous excursions like flying over Niagara Falls in a helicopter and parasailing in the Caribbean (we survived). My parents scrimped and saved to take us places with our free time. Their mantra was “always have something to look forward to.” A vacation was always on the horizon, and I can still picture the countdown calendar on the refrigerator. I treasure every memory from every trip. My brother and I are so grateful our parents inoculated us with the travel bug. It is chronic and expensive to treat, but its symptoms do not include regret.
Traveling with our kids has made our lives more enriched. We are a more complicated lot than my parents had to deal with when planning a trip. We don’t fit into a normal-sized hotel room. My daughter has severe nut allergies, and I have Celiac Disease (I will be posting about my favorite gluten free-friendly spots!). Also, our kids are committed to more year-round sports at a young age than my brother and I ever were. But, we do our research – which will hopefully become a part of your research – and we make it happen. If we can do it, you can do it! You only live once.