3 Countries, 6 Flights, and 8 Cities with 2 Children Under 5

Amy Fothergill contacted Ciao Bambino when she was planning her recent trip to Italy. She is a family-focused chef and I originally invited her to write a food post. When we spoke live after her trip, Amy’s travel tips were so good that I asked if she could do a post on them instead. I particularly like her Survival of the Fittest tip about identifying “vacation” rules instead of following exactly what you do at home … we do this too and it is definitely more relaxing for everyone.

Thanks for the great tips Amy!

Setting expectations when traveling proves to be the best parenting lesson yet

In my five years of parenting, I have finally learned something. When traveling with children, how much I enjoy a trip is completed predicated upon my expectations. The trips I think will be fun, fun, fun can turn out to be a bum, bum, bummer. On the other hand, the trips where I say to myself, “Let’s just relax,” seem to leave me with the best memories.

Such was the case on a 2 ½ week trip to Europe. We went to Spain to see friends, Italy to vacation, and England to see family, spending 5-6 days in each country. Before the trip, I was so nervous about what to bring and what we might need, even though on two of the legs we were staying in a house.

To make things more challenging, one of the flights we were booked on had weight limits for the baggage (a mere 33 lbs each and we only had 2 bags we planned to check). However, the ability to do laundry was a life-saver. Since we were staying on average of 6 days in each place, I counted about 6 days of clothes with a few extras. I also kept the color schemes the same (brown for my son, pink for my daughter, black and brown for me, and my husband was happy with khakis and a polo shirt). And then at some point I realized, well, if I forgot anything, we’d just have to buy it. As long as we have necessary medicine and underwear … we could survive. I was still worried I had forgotten something major.

So, there we were, on the day of departure. We were in NY, between flights, on our way to Madrid. We had our dinner at 7pm and my husband and I ordered beer. When our drinks arrived, he clinked my glass and said “Here’s to our vacation.” I clinked back, took a drink, and realized it was the start of vacation. There was not much to do but have fun and instantly, I relaxed. I realized we were going to three beautiful countries. We were visiting friends and family in places with great food and wine. Ok … ok … ahhh. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Surviving the first day of time change with the children

There are two things I will suggest to you to make your vacation a little more pleasant; don’t plan much for the first day and try to go with the flow of your children as far as their mood and energy level.

When we got to our destination, we were lucky that the children had slept enough on the plane to be able to function. I actually thought they would be more tired and might need a nap. But the children (5 and 3 ½ yrs old) were so excited to be in a new place with our friends, it was like they were on an adrenaline rush. My husband and I were the ones who needed a siesta. Our friends kept them occupied and everyone played happily. Since they seemed to be doing all right, I thought, let’s keep them up as late as possible so that they would sleep all night.

We planned to go out for a relatively early dinner at some tapas restaurants. We took the metro to go downtown. And then, I saw it. That glass-eyed, glazed-over look kids get when they are tired. All I could think was, if they sleep now, we are hosed. One of us will be up with them all night and the thought of legos at 3am was not appealing. My younger one started whining and insisted on being picked up. She fell asleep in my arms as we walked the streets of Madrid. Uh-oh. I started to see the same look on my 5 yr old’s face. By the time we got to the first cafe, he was sitting at the bar, eyes closed, eating potato chips. I yelled to my husband like the way a doctor would to a nurse in the ER “Honey, order him a Coke!”

Although my husband drinks it, our children don’t get a lot of soda, unless it’s on a trip or a special occasion. I watched my son, drinking soda through a straw out of the corner of his mouth, come alive like a dehydrated flower that has been watered for the first time in days. Within minutes, he was awake. My daughter woke up, didn’t want to be left out, had her portion, and also perked up immediately.

As we walked to our next stop, my friend was commending me on my parenting skills for coming up with the idea of giving them the soda to keep them awake. It all comes down to doing what you need to do. They both stayed awake through dinner and fell asleep around 10 or 10:30 pm. They slept until 10:30 the next day. It was very manageable. We did the same thing the next night and within two days, they had adjusted. This honestly made the rest of the trip so much easier. As my friend Christine would say “That was Genius!”

Packing light can be so freeing

One of the flights from Italy to England was on an airline with lower than normal weight restrictions for the checked bags. The cost of the flight is dependent upon the amount of luggage you bring. My husband had given me strict guidelines. Where at first, I thought this unfair and outright impossible, I soon realized once we landed, it was rather liberating. It became much easier to manage a small amount of “stuff” as opposed to trying to zip a suitcase only if someone sat on it.

We still laugh about the fact that the one flight defined what was in our suitcase. Instead of bringing back wine from Italy, I chose pottery. My souvenir from Spain was a bag of rice (that’s all I wanted!). I brought a mini make-up case instead of everything (again, genius).

It meant there was less of an impulse to bring knick knacks and gifts that sometimes are not appreciated. There was less to lose and less to just keep track of. We stayed in so many places but each time when it was check out day, I could be packed up in an hour.

When we got home and people asked whether we had a good time, I told them yes and told them about the luggage. As someone who normally feels like she has to be ready for anything, the weight restriction ended up being a blessing in disguise. And of course, the other benefit was that we could manage all of the luggage on our own, when necessary, because it wasn’t that heavy. I’m hoping this “A-ha” moment will be repeated on our next trip, even if we don’t fly with luggage restrictions.

Survival of the fittest

The last piece of advice I can give to you is to let loose a bit. When I travel, I just want to survive. I think it’s a good idea to have vacation rules. This I’ve learned through past trips. As I had said, a successful trip has much to do with the expectations. If I expect my children to behave as they do at home or eat vegetables with every meal … well, I might not have such a good time.

I let all of that go. As long as they had some fruit each day and ate a meal before gelato, I just didn’t care. They ate ham sandwiches, pizza, and pasta with an occasional salad and maybe shrimp. They ate lots of bread and drank juice and soda. Instead of negotiating, I just said “Ok”. The combination of letting my standards go a little and keeping my expectations below the norm led to a very satisfying vacation which will be carved in my memory as a pleasant experience.

Amy Fothergill is the owner of “The Family Chef” and the mother of two. She teaches cooking classes and provides consultations for families on how to get creative in the kitchen. She uses her culinary background to create meals that are quick, delicious and good for you.  For more information contact her at [email protected] or check out her blog for more ideas and recipes.

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