One our last morning in Sicily back in October 2012, my friend Sue turned to me and asked, “at any point during the trip did you just think- I will never do this again?”
I could honestly say no. Our 5-week journey around Europe visiting friends was a dream come true. I never got to backpack through Europe as a college kid. This was my, albeit altered, version of that journey. In fact it was even better. I wasn’t wandering around from hostel to hostel. I was staying with locals who lived in the country and were happy to let me into their lives.
That said, I think I would break the trip up differently if we did it again, and if I had known what I know now. Of course there are things I would do exactly the same too.
Things I would do different
- Fewer stops along the way. We were in 6 countries in 5 weeks, 2 of which were over a 3-day period. There were lots of trains, planes and automobiles. Dek craved a little stability. I might limit the number of planes and trains so we are only based in 2 countries or 2 home bases and then we will travel out from there.
- Less time in cars. This is a tough one. A lot of what we wanted to see was easier to access via car. Our friends had cars we could all climb into and explore. It was hard to say no to this. I would give the kids a few more days of downtime between excursions. If we did head into the hills we would stay in the hill town longer instead of in the car for the day exploring the surrounding towns.
- I will accept that my kids need a playground. I have finally hit the age where Dek NEEDS a playground. This doesn’t mean I have to settle for a boring one with no view. As we found in San Gimignano we could find a playground built into ruins with an amazing view of the sun setting in the hills of Tuscany, but that kid needed a slide no matter where I decided to set up camp.
- Give the toddler his own camera. Dek is an amazing traveler, but like any toddler he gets bored. I dragged that kid through churches, back streets, and more parks than he probably thought possible. The parks were great and gave him room to run, but when we were indoors he needed a distraction after a few minutes. A camera was my best option. Unfortunately this usually meant I had to hand over one of MY cameras, which I cherish and needed. It also meant my iPhone had 30 pictures of his forehead as he hit the button over and over again, loving the way the image disappeared. I quickly learned that I needed to give Dek some directions on what he should be shooting, and I needed to change it up… often.
Things I would do the same
- Get the most out of the time you have. We pushed the kids hard. We pushed ourselves hard. Maybe too hard. We saw a lot though. I don’t regret the skipped naps. Ty was so used to sleeping on me as we roamed that he would hardly sleep in his own bed by the end of the trip. An inconvenience to be sure, but nothing that we couldn’t fix when we got home. I definitely don’t regret having gelato for lunch because we didn’t want to stop somewhere to eat.
- Push bedtime! Europeans are on a very different schedule than we are at home. Some times we wouldn’t eat until 8 or 9pm. This was a bit rough on a kid who was used to eating at 6pm and being in bed by 7pm. We had some cranky moments, but overall Dek held it together. He was having fun, and if we had to slow down one day for a nap, then we did. Well, we tried to most of the time at least.
- Stay with friends. When I first entered into this trip I chatted with every friend we were going to stay with several times. They were opening their homes to us, most for a week or more. This can put a very large strain on your friendship. I let them know up front that if we just didn’t feel like staying together was working, I had the funds to grab a hotel room for the boys and I. Our friendship was worth more than a few nights of free lodging. This “out” for all of us helped us relax and just enjoy the insanity that comes with throwing many kids into the mix with their parents and a but of culture shock. I got an inside look at how my friend’s lives have changed since we first met. These were friends that I knew from my childhood all the way up to grad school. I got their local perspective, skipped the tourist stuff not worth it, and saw more in a short amount of time than I ever would have on my own.
- Travel solo with my boys. Yes, I still think to myself that I must have been crazy to travel with a 3 year old and a 5 month old by myself to Europe. It was exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. I mean, I’m with them all day, every day at home; now we were just in a different location. The jet lag was brutal, but by staying with friends I had a little backup support. This was priceless and really the key to maintaining my sanity when traveling with boys that young.
I’m sure there are more things I would do again and stuff I would skip, but overall it was an incredible trip. So amazing in fact that I am thinking of doing it again before Dek heads off to school and our travel schedule becomes more limited. Why waste these precious few years when the boys and I have nothing but time and the world at our finger tips? There is more to see and we have a whole lot of friends spread across the globe. Time to get moving!