The Truth About Extended Travel With Children

The Bitty Backpakers are watching a street artist in Rome on a hot evening

I have always loved to travel and see new places, as does my husband. Since we had our boys we have tried not to let the fact that our kids were young, even babies, hinder our ability or passion to travel (picture a mom dangling over her baby in a rear facing car seat nursing at 70 miles per hour on a 9 hour road trip). Let’s just say our kids haven’t stopped us from realizing our travel dreams. Our travel philosophy includes our children in every way. As such, we have done our fair share of road trips and travel within and outside of the United States. Our kids have had passports since before they could sit up alone for the pictures.

So when we decided to make our biggest travel dream a reality, I went in search of advice on the ever helpful interwebs. While I found tons of great blogs for travel with children, none of it really matched the adventure on which we were about to embark – 6 weeks in Europe backpacking with a 7 and 10 year old. They would focus on travel in a certain place or tips on packing, how to survive long plane rides with kids, how to get from place to place, great tours to take, but not on the hot topic of what to do when your ten year old just can’t take it anymore, or when you have a bad experience with a rental property and it’s already 8:30 pm on check-in day after 13 hours of travel. Or when you lose a kid…yep, it happened…more than once (yikes!). I am creating this blog to help you as parents know the light, dark and amazing truth about what to expect should you choose to do try out extended travel with young kids.

Taking a break in the shade with a gelato after touring the Vatican Museum on a one hundred degree day

The truth: My first vision when planning our European vacation was that of us frolicking through the beautiful windswept fields of the Alps (a la The Sound of Music) and swimming in the gorgeous Mediterranean sea while our children happily laughed and played, seeing tons of amazing “old stuff” which would surely capture the kids attention and teach them invaluable lessons about history and life in general. I pictured us reading travel magazines on trains and sleeping happily in our beautiful (yet less expensive than hotels) Airbnb, Flipkey or Homeaway apartments. I pictured myself cooking most meals in the kitchens provided, washing clothes in the laundry machines provided, while saving so much money and being a real part of the culture. Gratefully, I found some of this became a reality, especially the cooking and laundry parts…but the truth of the matter is most of our travel photos, where we are smiling and laughing and enjoying ourselves, were taken at best 3 times and at worst up to 10 to get that happy feel. The hard truth is we were dog tired and really hot a great deal of the time, and there may have been some yelling – by everyone. However, by the end of our 6 week adventure I feel like we kind of had it figured out…the sleeping, the trains, the meals, the heat, the exhaustion, and all the decision making…we did get better at it with experience. Honestly, there were a few days when we all just wanted to get on a plane and head back home, but I am so glad when the going got tough, we got tougher. It taught our kids an important lesson – Perseverance. A life long skill that will get them through even the toughest of times. And for your benefit I will share my secrets to Backpacking Europe with kids (and surviving).

Bitty Backpackers Tip: If you want to travel in Europe in the summer, prepare for it to be hot…seriously hot. Even Ireland was unusually hot. I thought I had done my research. I checked to see what the median temperature was everywhere we were going to be. It seemed reasonable to think we would be okay. Who knew an uncharacteristically hot mass of air would engulf the entire European continent for the entire time we were there? The apartment I rented in Rome, Italy (for the very reasonable price of $52 per night on www.homeaway.com) did NOT have air conditioning. It wasn’t advertised that they did, I just didn’t look closely enough. Lesson learned.

We called this “the air conditioner” (it’s a basket from the freezer)

I knew we would be out of the apartment sight seeing during the day, and it would be cool at night, right? Wrong.

Then we thought… we should eat at air conditioned restaurants, but that AC they advertise is NOT the icy cold AC I remembered from home. One day, we did find a mall that had air conditioning. Now, I am not a shopper, but that day I think I would have rivaled any shopoholic with the intensity that I scrutinized every item in that mall just for a few more minutes of that AC they offered. Oh, and the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican is also blissfully air conditioned, you know – to preserve that amazing ceiling, and our guide knew just where to stand to get the best effect (Thanks, Paulo!).

In the apartment I thought the fans would be enough, and sometimes they were. But seriously, it’s HOT in July in Rome. I mean I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for 4 years, and summer (when it can reach 120 degrees F) was my favorite time of year there. If you don’t mind the heat like me, go for it! But if you have Viking blood, like my husband, or say you brought children, make sure your hotel or apartment has AC. You will not regret it. Thankfully the place we rented in Venice, Italy was air conditioned, and we got a reprieve from the heat after leaving Rome. But everywhere else …it was windows and fans, and 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above all day, every day.

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