Have you ever chosen not to go on an international vacation because you didn’t think that travel with kids would be worth it, or figured it would be easier to just wait until they are in college and then you can let your wanderlust sore?
Cost aside, and I will tell you that not all international travel has to break the bank, but I will get to that in a future blog post; what is it that you are afraid of?
Will there be challenges along the way? Absolutely
Will the jet lag make your kids act like little drunkards for a day or two? Probably
Will the kids complain at times that they are tired and don’t want to go to that museum or on the wine tour you planned? Possibly
Will the kids get immersed into a different culture and talk about these trips for years to come and spark in them a love of different cultures and adventure? Very likely
And will you, despite any trials, feel satisfied that you took them on the trip and think to yourself that you would 100% do it again? Yes, Yes, Yes!
In 2019, right before the world shut down due to COVID, we took our 2 year old (almost 3) and 4 year old (who turned 5 in Italy!) on a three week adventure in Italy.
Our trip was 100% DIY and instead of staying in hotels and scheduling lots of tours, we booked VRBOs and planned our own adventures. That allowed us the freedom to make day by day calls on what we wanted to do or if we thought we needed a low-key play in the park type of day.
I am all about DIY travel and trying to live like the locals when I travel; BUT, I know not everyone is, and let’s face it, both ways are great options as long as they get you traveling!
I’ll cover DIY travel in a future blog as well…I have a lot of writing to do! LOL
Let me share with you first a few of the “bumps in the roads” that we faced traveling with small children:
Jet-lag is real and getting the kids on track took a couple days. Naps ended on that trip for my 2 year old, unless she was snuggled up on me in the Ergobaby Carrier (highly recommend!)
Kids did complain about being tired from walking and making it out to a late-night (typical hour for Italians) dinner proved extremely difficult.
My son could be a bit defiant and I recall losing it a bit on him right outside of a restaurant we were about to enter. We quickly scooted away and had to choose another restaurant.
We inevitably got lost here and there, which made my anxiety rise, and made it a bit harder to handle the whining of the kids as we retraced our steps to find the correct turn
Now onto the GREAT memories from traveling internationally with kids and what we got out of it.
My son bought a children’s book in Italian and would literally walk down the crowded streets of Lucca pretending to read the book with an on-point Italian accent. It was just gibberish, but the level of adorableness was high on that one
My daughter got all the “Ciao Bella”s as we walked down the street. Even the cute 20 year old guards at the museums adored her and just had to say Ciao.
We went to a soccer game in Lucca and my kids danced and cheered like the game was about them. The one embarrassing moment was when the man next to us cursed in Italian and my son looked at me and said, “hey mom, he just said the think you ALWAYS say!” Guilty…I often swear in Italian so other people don’t know what I’m saying LOL.
My kids are now 8 and 6 and we still talk about this trip like it was yesterday and they cannot wait to go back!
How did we make it work and not want to throw in the towel just days in? Well here are a few tips and tricks to use when taking the kids on an International vacation:
Airplane: all rules go out the window. You let them watch all the TV they want. Pack a bag of NEW toys from the dollar store and take one out every hour or so. Wrap pieces of candy in Aluminum Foil balls, so they have to slowly unravel it all to find out what special treat lies within. We also gave the kids some dramamine because both get motion sickness, and admittedly this did help them sleep a good portion of the flight (I know not everyone likes giving kids medicine and that’s a personal choice. I’ve personally cleaned up enough puke on an airplane that I decided it was worth it)
Expectations: throw these out the window as well. Instead of having a tight schedule each day, have some ideas of what you’d like to do and make game day decisions on which you will choose.
Have DOWN Days: Find a local park and have days where all you do is wander the city a bit, play in the park, play cards at a local caffe, and seek out a fun toy store for the kids to pick something out. We bought a soccer ball and bought some panini and spent hours in a park just playing and relaxing.
Bribery: Hey, sometimes we just have to do it. When we did want to hit up a museum or something they weren’t exactly pumped about, we told them if they went we could get gelato afterwards. Worked most of the time!
Let THEM Choose: We made sure that they got some say in something we did on a daily basis. Whether it was what to eat for lunch, or if we road bikes or did the park, we made sure they felt like this was their trip too. If we were deciding between heading to Siena or Pisa we’d ask which one they wanted to do tomorrow and which one they wanted to do in 4 days.
Cook: we loved the VRBO option because we had a kitchen and could then cook our own dinners instead of trying to make the kids stay up past 8pm to go out to dinner. Restaurants in Italy (and much of Europe) often aren’t open until later for dinner, so having the option to cook was key. And it was so fun going into the supermarkets, butcher shops, and outdoor markets to gather our next meal.
Games: Luckily on Lufthansa they gave our kids a deck of cards to play a game called “Donkey.” This deck of cards did us wonders on the train rides, while waiting for food at restaurants and while just taking some down time in our apartment. Any small games you can bring can be helpful. And make a game of walking around with games like “I spy” or finding something that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
Stroller & Carriers: we brought a cheap stroller and a carrier to help us get to more places and walk just a bit further. The carrier was KEY, as the stroller couldn’t climb the stairs to all the towers we explored, but both served their purpose.
Play in the Piazzas : In Italy there is a saying “Dolce far niente” which means the joy of doing nothing. One of my favorite things was sitting in a Piazza and letting the kids chase pigeons or kick the soccer ball around or watch the man with the giant bubble wand.
In case you are interested here was our general itinerary for our three week Italy adventure with kids:
April 24: Flew into Florence and took bus straight-away to Lucca and checked into VRBO April 25: Explored Lucca April 26: Took train to Pisa and back April 27: did Montecarlo Winery Tour (this was our only tour) April 29-May 1: Train and stay in Cinque Terre (we kept our luggage at our Lucca VRBO, so did pay double lodging, but felt it was worth it. May 4th: Rented a car and drove to Siena, Volterra & San Gimignano. May 6: Took bus to Viarreggio May 7-14th: Bussed to Florence (stayed in VRBO) May 10-11: Train to Bologna (stayed with a friend there, so kept our VRBO in Florence as well for luggage) May 14: departed and returned to the U.S.
The bottom line? If you are hesitant to take an international vacation with kids, let’s chat! There are so many ways to make it an unbelievable and amazing experience for everyone. In Italy there are a plethora of tours that cater towards children and make the museums and main attractions that YOU want to see more exciting and interesting for kids!
So, what are you waiting for? Book that trip and start showing your kids the world. Comment below if you’ve done international travel with kids, where you went and how it all panned out.