The Journey Begins Again
I’d like to think that Jenn and I are fairly experienced and efficient travelers. We breeze through airport security, know how to pick the right seats on the plane, take advantage of points and perks offered on travel credit cards. We find a good balance, leaving parts of trips open to spontaneity while being sure to plan ahead to get the most out of our visits. It’s a skill we have been honing ever since our first trip together to Patagonia as college kids in 2010. Since then, we have been blessed to travel to more than 20 countries together, and God willing, we will continue to expand that list as the years go by… it’s not an impressive feat in the world of travel bloggers and Instagrammers, but I’d say not bad for a Midwest boy from Ohio.
Then came the kids. We knew this would slow down the pace of our journey, but we also knew that this passion of ours to see the world, more than anything, was one we were thrilled to one day share with our kids. So we did, gradually. They’ve been on more flights by the age of six and two than I had been on by the time I was a teenager. But this was all within the confines of the cozy and manageable USA. This trip, all that changed.
Our first foray into the world that doesn’t immediately border the Netherlands as an expat family was to come in the form of Italy. And so, we got to it as we usually do. Planning out excursions, picking restaurants, researching the culture and things to do. Of course, this was all with the added challenge of toting along with us two kids, but there was a reality that would set in that could only be learned through doing it.
In my incredible foresight, I thought a hop-on-hop-off bus tour in Rome would be a great option with kids to both limit walking and get us around town, to save money on Ubers. What I didn’t see coming was the unlimited tickets peddled by street vendors to these things causing huge lines at pickup points, limited availability on the buses, and unclear rules as to which could be boarded. What was expected to be a leisurely ride atop a double-decker bus viewing the Colosseum, the Forum, and Vatican City became a stressful affair on the lower floor, with hungry and unsatisfied children being yelled at by their parents to quiet down or we’d get off at the next stop (Spoiler: we got off, had a mediocre Italian lunch, and Ubered home).
Time after time, I was reminded that while I did consider what would be ‘best for kids’, it was essentially an itinerary planned for Jenn and me, for which the kids were going to tag along. Our visit to Pompeii was disastrous to the point of being comical. In the cold and rain, we pulled a stroller behind us over boulder-sized cobblestone streets, navigated the maze of streets with a soaked map, and threw snacks at the kids here and there to prevent a total meltdown. The only redeeming factor was that they found it entertaining to splash in all of the puddles and run amok into the ancient houses as if they were circus animals.
Re-Evaluating the Dream
At some point during the trip, I remember turning to Jenn and swearing that I would never do this again. Was this romantic dream of showing our kids the world just too much at this age? They’ll see it eventually, like I did. Was it selfish? They’d have had just as much fun, I presume, running around a playground in Littleton, Colorado. Were we just projecting a dream that we had onto unwilling and unappreciative participants at high emotional and financial cost to our family?
Well, in a way, yes. Part of being a parent is sharing your worldview with your kids, showing them the world through your eyes while at the same time letting them see it for themselves. At some point they’ll chose for themselves. Maybe they will turn out to be a total homebodies, taking in the world through the Discovery Channel but never venturing out far past their home town. And that’s totally fine. I know plenty of wise and fantastic people who feel ill at ease outside of their home state, let alone the USA.
But for every terrible moment we had, every tantrum and insolent comment, there were ten moments that made it all worth it. The fascination Jacob had with the trap doors built into the floor of the Colosseum which released tigers from the far eastern throes of the Roman Empire on unsuspecting gladiators. The fresh gelato on the beach in Positano as the sun went down on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The pizza-making class in Naples at a local’s home where we got our hands dirty and our bellies full.
You won’t see the terrible moments on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, but boy they were there. And there were many. Through all the tears from both the kids and the parents though, there was something deep down that made me know it was all worth it. One night, having dinner on the sand at an incredibly below average restaurant in Positano, which by the way is an incredibly kid-friendly way to have dinner if you can keep sand out of your food, we were seated by a vacationing couple from Florida. They were amazed that we had brought our kids. They missed theirs, they said, but would not have wanted to bring them all that way and suffer through all that hassle and spoil their trip. Granted, we had only come two hours by air to their ten. I shared the ill-timed rainy experience in Pompeii and joked that we were insane to have tried that with kids, but they said: “No way should you regret that, that’s ‘badass’ that your kids got to see that at such a young age, keep doing those things!” It was an affirmation that for some reason, I needed to keep me going on this trip.
As we sipped the limoncello and watched the kids play on the beach as the sun went down, sand in their clothes and wet shorts that were acceptable on the wicker furniture, I thought: 1) I haven’t been called a ‘badass’ in quite some time, and 2) you know what… it kinda was.