7 Quick Takes: The Do’s and Don’ts of Family Travel

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

~Charles Dickens~


I just returned from a two week family pilgrimage to Italy, and on the morning of my return, I woke up thinking, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”  — though Dickens was actually writing about the French Revolution, his words perfectly encapsulate our family trip– it was truly the best and worst of times.  But it was worth it!

If you find yourself traveling with one child, or multiple children, I guarantee you will find yourself thinking and saying things that definitely aren’t your best thoughts and words — but you will also see the beauty of family life in a brilliance that is rarely realized amidst the daily grind of life.  In other words, go big or go home because family vacations are not for the faint of heart.  The payoff is big, though, so don’t be afraid to brush all those “what if’s” aside and make time for a family trip a priority.

I’ll be writing about our trip over the next few weeks on my blog, but today I’m linking up with Kelly and offering my 7 Do’s and Don’ts of Family Travel.

1.Don’t let your research on pinterest be the only deciding factor. If you have been perusing pinterest boards with perfect pictures of perfect places, then you might end up very disappointed with what actually occurs on your trip.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it.  Family trips are hard, they can push you to the edge of sanity — there will definitely be screaming, probably throwing up, exhaustion, dehydration, lost bags — you name it, it most likely will happen!

I recommend keeping very low expectations of the behavior of yourself and your kids — that way, when you find those moments of perfect peace and beauty on your trip, you will really relish them.  In other words, don’t expect a pinterest vacation and you’ll be just fine.

You might actually be going to this exact place, but before you book that trip, insert screaming noises to this scene, children fighting over seats on the boat, and perhaps a sea-sick soul or two.
Before you book this trip, insert into the scene the sounds of children fighting over seats, crying, and perhaps a sea-sick soul or two. Still wanna go? Great!

2.  Do have a plan.  The more children you have, the more important it is to have a plan.  My recommendation is to stick to beach vacations when you have all little ones — hiking kids around to museums and historical places of interest often leads to frustration for everybody when you only have children below the age of reason.  Don’t worry, those types of trips will happen, but some of our favorite trips have been the relaxed beach vacations — they are perfect for kids of all ages.  As your kids get older, that’s the time to choose places of more historical and religious significance.

We chose to go to Italy because we now have teenagers and older children who have studied Rome and ancient history.  We were ready for this type of a trip, and it was amazing!  Yes, we also had those little ones, all the way down to a nursing baby, but there were many more helping hands to make it all work.

I had an itinerary that was 7 pages long with all the details of our 2 week stay. It wasn’t a simple trip.  There were 8 of us traveling.  We took planes, trains, ferries, cars, metros, and stayed in 4 places.  We booked tours, tickets to museums, and attended the canonization of Mother Teresa.  All of these details had to be accessible so we could make it all work. I also e-mailed this itinerary to my husband and myself and anytime I needed a confirmation number or meeting point, I had it available on my phone.  I spent a number of months arranging all the details, but that planning was both fun and it ensured each person on the trip got a few of their “must-sees” checked off.

3. Do Expect that your plans may all go to hell in a hand basket, but then try to get back on track or be ready to adopt a new plan.  It only took our first leg of the trip to derail everything we had planned.  Chicago grounded all the planes because of weather and so we missed our connection to Italy.  What was supposed to take 10 hours ended up being a 24 hour ordeal, which included being re-routed through Finland, having to run with 6 kids through O’hare to make our re-routed connection, and lots of exhaustion and questions of what to do now.  When things went wrong, we attempted to get back on track because we had a plan.

Fortunately, I had a contact number on my phone for the apartment rental company in Rome that happened to also book tours.  Knowing we would miss our train to Assisi, I sent an e-mail asking for a late night pick up in Rome so we could get to Assisi and continue our trip as planned.  It was a $500 ride –and I am a skin-flint, so that was a big pill to swallow — but for us, it was the best $500 we have ever spent!  Our 15 year old had chosen St. Clare for her confirmation name and our 10 month old was born on the feast of St. Francis, and the entire family was sorely saddened at the prospect of missing Assisi and having to stay at an airport hotel for our first night.  So, though it was a big chunk out of our travel budget, it was worth every penny to spend that half day in Assisi and get back on track!

4.  Do bring at least 2 outfits in your carry on for everybody traveling.

We chose to have all the older kids carry most of their clothes in their carry-on backpacks.  My husband and I, however, checked 2 bags with all of our clothes and the clothes of our 2 youngest.  Well, as already mentioned, we were re-routed through Finland and because of our run to the plane, our luggage didn’t make it.  I really wish I had thought to pack more than one outfit, because our bags didn’t actually get to us for almost 6 days!  Every night, my husband washed my shirt and our babys clothes so we could wear it the next day. Extra clothes would have been nice — very nice!

5.  Do bring duct tape and leave the antibacterial wipes at home.

Who knew that duct tape would be so useful during our trip?  One hour into our trip, one of our bags broke and so for the rest of the trip, that bag was kept tightly shut by the duct tape my husband decided to bring.  Way to go honey!  And on the last night of our trip, when I was so happy that we had all made it to the end of our journey, but I realized that our bathroom window wouldn’t lock? — Duct tape to the rescue!  There was no way, after all we had been through, that I was going to let my baby be kidnapped by the guy who knew my window opened up onto the rooftop veranda — yes, I do actually think that way –sad, but true.

I slept much better knowing I wouldn't lose my baby on my watch! Yay Duct tape!
I slept much better knowing I wouldn’t lose my baby on my watch! Yay Duct tape! Well, at least it would make a lot of noise while being opened. 🙁 

Let’s talk about antibacterial wipes? Oh, we Americans love our antibacterial wipes!  We can’t live without it.  It somehow makes us feel good to eat organic and then slather chemicals all over our hands and eating surfaces before we eat.  Well, I generally am not a big antibacterial user, but on trips, I go a little crazy thinking of all the germs!

So, I started off on our first flight by antibacterial wiping down all the trays, seatbelt, and anywhere else my kids would touch.  By the time we had to run from one end of O’hare to the other to catch our flight to Finland, I was exhausted and sweaty.  I handed my baby off to my husband for a minute of regrouping and wouldn’t you know it, my baby grabbed the remote control attached to the seat in front of him and stuck it straight in his mouth! –Before I could antibacterial wipe that thing, it was in his mouth!  It was in this moment, that I.Gave.Up.  No more antibacterial wiping anything!  And we all shared water bottles for 2 weeks (another no-no in my mind) and we all survived!  Amazing.  Just become friends with the germs, people, because you’re not going to survive if you don’t put your kids health in God’s hands and let it go.

6.  Do consider making your family vacation a pilgrimage.  Let’s be honest, any trip that involves bringing a bunch of children anywhere is chocked full of suffering and mortification.  Why not make it official and get some grace for all that suffering?  All of a sudden, whatever goes wrong is part of the pilgrim experience and the burden becomes a little lighter.  You can more easily see the value of all those trying moments and you might even be grateful for them.

Listen, you don’t need to call it a pilgrimage to get the grace of all those trying moments –but knowing you’re on pilgrimage helps everybody to bear those moments with more grace.  The fact that I had no clothes for almost 6 days, and perhaps those cute little outfits I bought specifically for the trip were lost forever? — I knew that we were on pilgrimage, and this was very much a valuable pilgrim experience.  You know that verse you hear in Mass a few times a year,  “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.”?  Yeah, I now get the challenges of such a command from Jesus, and I was living that –admittedly unwillingly–as part of our pilgrimage.

Choosing a church or shrine to visit can turn your vacation into a pilgrimage.  Don’t underestimate the grace and positive perspective that can come from this simple mind shift.  When things go wrong — which they most likely will at some point in the trip — you can see the value of it all much more easily.

7.  Do make sure you and your spouse are on board for this type of vacation, or you won’t make it!  My husband and I travelled a lot before we were married, and we decided early on that having kids wasn’t going to mean the end of our adventures!  We love to travel with our kids and, though it’s hard at times, the laughter of all of the calamity that comes our way makes us come back again and again for more adventures.

Life is not about being in control of everything, and when you travel, you have to let go of most of the control you so desperately want to have.  It is so good to have to truly rely on God’s providence to get to the next place — safely, and with all your children in tow.

Before I went on this trip, I was afraid because so many people were warning us of all the bad people we might encounter on our trip — terrorists, thieves, kidnappers — you name it. I had to pray about it and wrestle with the idea of staying in the safe little cocoon of my home rather than go to Italy.

In the end, my husband and I had to make an act of faith in God because we felt like He wanted us to go on this trip.  And you know what?  We encountered so many good people on this trip – kind people – people who were looking out for us -people who handed us cameras that we dropped –people who offered water or cookies to my kids in the Italian heat — I have come back home convinced that good people far outweigh the bad.

Our trip has brought us closer together as a family, and we feel like as long as we have each other, we can overcome just about any adversity.  It was everything that I hoped it would be and more.

I will be sharing more in the next few weeks, so I’d love if you come back to read more.  During our pilgrimage, I prayed for everybody who would ever read my posts, so I prayed for you!  Thanks for reading and thanks for hosting Kelly!

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3 thoughts on “7 Quick Takes: The Do’s and Don’ts of Family Travel

    1. Alicia,
      Yes, duct tape….everybody’s takeaway seems to be the duct tape. That’s my brilliant husband for you…worth it’s weight in gold. Thanks for visiting!

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