Today I am off on another adventure, although a slightly more modest one. I’m heading to Texas for my nephew’s wedding. He’s a wonderful kid who has overcome lots of hurdles and I’m excited about celebrating with him. This is turning out to be a family reunion in a way, so the kids are coming along for the ride.
I am the proud mother of two fantastic boys. They are my little buddies and I love taking them everywhere. Lucca is 11, a brand new middle schooler, and Nicola is 8. I am past the hairy years of traveling with a baby, or even more harrowing years of traveling with a preschooler. Even if those years were not exactly a breeze, I staunchly refused to stop traveling because I had kids. My first plane ride was at 11, just me and my sister alone on a plane to meet my parents in London…that’s a long story that I’ll tell you some other time. My kids started traveling, as you might expect of children of a professional traveler, a little earlier than I did.
Lucca’s first plane ride was at 1, to visit my sister in South Dakota. That trip was fine, even if I was a nervous mother with a squirmy baby who enjoyed kicking the chair in front of him. Never again will I give the hairy eyeball to a mother who has a kid doing that to my chair. Seriously, sometimes you can’t stop it without an even bigger problem arising. I have sympathy and respect for the sisters out there dragging trantrum-throwing tots through the airport. It’s not easy, so be kind when you see them.
Nico flew the first time, also to my sister’s in South Dakota, at about 2 months old. I kept him in a fleece sling almost the whole time and he was too little and incapacitated to debate me on that. I was flying solo, just me, my 3 year old and newborn, and on the way home they cancelled my flight even though we were on the runway already. They turned us back to the terminal. I had almost no battery left in my phone and sent my sister a text, hoping she’d get it but unsure since my phone then died. That was a tense couple of hours, but luckily there was someone waiting for me at the exit. I learned a few lessons that day, especially about having a charged phone. Always charge your phone! And bring a back-up battery!
Since then, the kids have gone all over the US, and 2 years ago I brought Lucca to Italy with me for two weeks. We went to Sicily, Rome and London, his favorite by far being Sicily. He is–hands down–the best travel partner I’ve ever had. He’s a naturally cheerful sort of person, easy going and always game for anything. Two weeks of mama-son time was a thrill for both of us. I tailored the itinerary to his interests, mostly studying volcanoes, and took lots of time out for play and gelato. We stayed in hotels that I know well and in apartment rentals. Sicily is pretty safe, so I let him have some independence and go out within a block or two of our apartment on his own to shop for groceries or get a gelato. I could never do that in Seattle. It was a thrill for him.
The story of why I like to travel with kids goes like this: Lucca and I were on our way to London on horrible but free frequent flier tickets. We were on Air Berlin, which I was to learn later has one of the worst reputations in the industry. We arrived in Dussledorf and were promptly detained by customs because our passports were not stamped. The Italian authorities in Rome just didn’t do it. Apparently, just so you know, they consider that the fault of the traveler. After much negotiation, we were eventually let go and ran to our flight, barely making it. The flight taxied….and stopped. We sat on the tarmac for an hour with nothing but Air Berlin’s signature free chocolate to eat. We went back to the terminal and waited two more hours with no food or water. Eventually, once back in the plane and headed for London, I was fuming and exhausted. Lu looked at me and said (free chocolate covering his face) “This was the best day ever!” He still talks about it. He played games with me for hours on his Kindle, ate unlimited chocolate and got a pilot badge and lanyard from the captain at the end. When you look at it his way, he was sort of right. This is why you should travel with your kids.
Lucca is perhaps unique, but I find that kids are a joy to travel with even if they aren’t mine. I’ve been working on the Family Europe itineraries for Rick Steves since the beginning of that program, about 7 years or so. It’s one of the best things I do at my job. Kids are hilarious. They listen. They follow directions. They eat and try everything if you present it right. They like museums and are interested in them. I don’t alter my museum and city tours one bit for the family tours, the kids like being talked to with intelligence and respect. A good guide should be a storyteller anyhow, something that everyone appreciates. Everything is amazing and fun to them, unless they are 13-15, then everything is boring and awkward for them. But even that age range can be fun if you pay attention to what they are into, particularly if you show interest in their music and give it some respect…no matter what it is.
If you’re planning a trip and are trying to decide if you should bring the kids or grandkids, there is no debate here. Do it. You won’t regret it. It will be a different trip than one without kids, but you may find that the kids in your life are your favorite travel partners.
In my next post I’ll share the wisdom learned from many child-related travel mishaps.