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The Unexpected Upsides of Travelling With Kids

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Yep, there were some.

My name is Sarah and I recently returned from 4.5 months overseas travelling with two kids under four — and I am here to tell the tale. In fact, I’m here to tell you the good bits, because before we left I was only regaled with the bad bits — the hellish plane rides, the jet lag for weeks, the impossibility of even one Aperol Spritz passing your lips.

Oh yeah, we got told plenty of those things. Most people looked at us like we were crazy, some flat out asked us “Why would you do that?” And, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you this just ignited my desire because a) I love a challenge and b) I hate unwarranted opinions, especially when they’re telling me what I can’t do (which happens a lot in parenthood!). Because, why not? We didn’t want to wait until they were “old enough” (how old is that anyway?). We wanted to share our love of these countries, have them try our favourite foods, and feel the magic of walking through ancient cities. So we did it: we got on a plane with an 18 month old and a three-year-old and we went to live in Europe for a third of a year.

Was it easy? LOL — no. Was it relaxing? Of course not! But neither is normal, everyday life, and there is decidedly less gelato in that version. But here’s the thing: it also wasn’t as bad as everyone had said. Yes, it was relentless at times and the days often went for 10 years and many were filled with anxiety because I wasn’t getting anything “done” (since this wasn’t a holiday I was also still working in my down time). But, would I change a thing? Absolutely not. It was one of the most challenging few months of my motherhood career, and also unequivocally one of my favourites, and I know we’ll reminisce about forever, long after the boys are grown and can’t remember they were real memories or just remembered from photographs.

Thanks to everyone’s helpful horror stories, my expectations before leaving were pretty low. Of course I expected them to fall in love with gelato and daily swims, but there were other, more unexpected things that really made this adventure worthwhile. And I’m about to share them with you.

It bonded the boys

This was hands-down my favourite gift from the time away. When we left I’d say their relationship was OK — mostly Yuki tolerated Miko. But in the months we had away, they only had each other and so they became a proper unit. From making up new games (“undie ninjas” was a fan favourite which involved essentially just wearing undies on their heads) to Yuki helping Miko escape his cot (nightmare), they were each other’s sidekick’s – and still continue to be. Of course they fight on the daily (because, brothers), but the bond now is the strongest it’s ever been.

Their imagination exploded

We packed conservatively so the boys got to bring two small toys and two books each. And you know what? I never heard “I’m bored” once. Instead, they played dress-ups with their own clothes, created shops from old food boxes, restaurants from Tupperware, and even made up a cute game where they ditched all their belongings off the balcony into a neighbours yard (fun!). But it did teach me that not only do they not need many “things”, but that not having them, allowed their own imaginations to run wild with possibilities.

It encouraged our language

Both my partner and I love foreign language, but I get a little shy actually using it in the wild. However, being there with the boys who were learning as we were took away the embarrassment of getting it wrong. We asked questions to strangers and spluttered through pronunciations and learned together. We lead with the same kind of curiosity and interest and willingness to give-it-a-go (without embarrassment) that children do – and it was liberating. We learned more on this trip than we did any other, and Yuki left with three new languages in his world.

Italy is the greatest place to travel with kids

We spent over half our time away in Italy (our spiritual home) and were reminded of why we love it so much. Italians love kids. They revere them, encourage their curiosity, and welcome them everywhere. Where in other countries it was clear children should abide the “seen not heard” rule, in Italy kids can be… kids. Everywhere we went the staff, the strangers the nonna’s on the street would all stop and chat, ply them with food and encourage their crazy with the warmth of a family. If you want to feel at-home somewhere, and not at-all stressed about your kids being kids, Italy is your place. And if you really want to see hearts melt, teach them to stick their index finger in their cheek and exclaim “molto-bueno” after they eat. Trust me.

You’re slower, but everything else is faster

When I told my partner, Phil, I was writing this article, this was the first thing he said: “tell them about the airport lines”. So, here I am. When you travel with kids you always get the express lanes through customs, through security, through boarding – everywhere. People are willing to help because they can see you have your hands full, so despite moving slower with two, we were able to cut out a lot of the wait times. Unexpected, but delightful bonus.

They will surprise you

Since I went on this trip I’ve had so many messages from anxious Mums wanting to know my secrets to travelling with kids. But my advice is always the same: they’ll surprise you. Most of it is our own anxiety and worry and actually they’re fine — even on the plane (most of the time!), even in restaurants, even when they attended a children’s play that started at 9pm(!!). Actually no, that was a disaster, but my point remains the same: they’re more resilient and amazing that we give them credit for and I was reminded constantly that my anxiety was misplaced — no situation or reality was ever as bad as it was in my head. And when things were really hard, there’s always Bluey.

Everything was new again

Taking the boys to all our favourite places was magic in so many ways, but my favourite thing was experiencing it all through their eyes — it was like discovering a whole new city. In Florence we rode the Piazza Della Repubblica carousel — twice — instead of roaming the shops. We wandered through the mazes at Giardano Di Boboli, and found playgrounds on the way to gelato, and discovered so many streets we had never found reason to go to before. We learned the history so we could answer their questions and the whole adventure was guided through food, and activities. It was a side of Italy we’d never seen before, it was something completely new. I think so much of the stress of travelling with kids is us parents projecting on them - us longing for the freedom that travel pre-kids brought. Of course it’s not the same – for one, there were far less raucous aperitivo hours – or rather we just had them at home with some deadly parenting-all-day free pours. But we didn’t feel like we were missing out because we weren’t comparing it to our other trips. This was new, a different adventure with different travel buddies and a different lens. And it allowed us to see a side of Europe we’ve never experienced before, which is precisely what travel is all about. That was our why, and that’s what made it worth it.

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