Travelling with Kids (and Other People)

The main thing about family holidays is that you have to take your family.

I’m sure some see that as a bonus. This last holiday, I started to think of other people I could enjoyably travel with in the future: I even came up with a good few names.

My childhood holidays always began with my mother’s migraine – for whom the holiday, at least the stressful preparation for, had already started. Our first day on the road she would sleep against a pillow wedged against the door in the front. Sitting in the back seat, I’d see the pillow, her hair uncharacteristically messy, and I’d know. We’d all know. Then, when the migraine went the way migraines do, she would bang her feet on the floor, and my dad would pull over so she could throw up.

This summer our holiday started with an evening flight, so that day  we were busy pulling it all together. My husband, though, had caught the tummy bug that my son had started his school holidays with, and every so often would double over with severe cramps. He was in a bad way, and it wasn’t looking good for flying. Thankfully, our usual remedy, whiskey, seemed to do the trick and he survived. However, after a late arrival in Italy, a two hour drive lengthened by a wrong turn on the motorway, roadworks and traffic jam (yes, at midnight), trouble with keys and finding the right door (don’t ask!) for our apartment, I succumbed to the same bug, despite a couple of preemptive shots of whiskey myself.

A day of rest (and more whiskey) did the trick, though the headaches lasted a few more days. At least I didn’t have to bang my feet on the car floor.

And so our perfect family vacation began. Beautiful weather, a lovely area to explore with lots to see and do, wonderful food and wine, gelato around every corner: we were set.

Except that it was us. Two kids, two adults, puberty, menopause, driving in a strange country, an unfamiliar GPS app, heat and humidity that had the Italians complaining: it all added up to, well, a family holiday. But yes, ultimately it was a wonderful holiday.

So what did we do? We cried. We had the worst fight in ages. We sweated. We argued and ignored. We rolled our eyes to heaven. We sighed, deeply and repeatedly. Fortunately, this was not all of us, nor all the time.

We also jumped and slid off a pedalo, tried paddle boarding, counted the steps in a clock tower (and also from the garage to our apartment: 64), played Spot It at a cafe, had huge fresh pizzas, went on roller coasters and log rides, skipped stones, found beach glass, drank wine, ate olives, walked past olive groves and vineyards in the cool of the evening, and saw our first opera (Aida, in a first century Roman arena). There was only a bit of this that I would have done on a non-family holiday and I know there are lots of things my family would have left out if it weren’t for their mother. But that’s the joy of sharing the journey – in spite of frustration, fatigue, headaches – we do what someone else wants to do. And guess what? Sometimes it’s not so bad.

Our kids have come along to museums, galleries, historical buildings and garden walks since they were young; none of these things are ever at the top of their lists (or even on their lists to be honest). We don’t expect them to love it all, but though they still sometimes groan, there is always something there to spark some interest for them. I also recognise that my time may be cut short because someone has just had way too much, so if it is very important for me, I go on my own. This trip a visit to Il Vittoriale was a wish of mine. A historic house, gardens, and naval warship (parked in the garden), it worked for all of us: the house was packed with weird and beautiful stuff, there was a military museum included, plus fountains, an amazing view, and a small cafe with iced coffee. A visit to the amusement park, Gardaland, was enjoyed more by some than others. That was okay too, and it ended with a laugh and a soaking (the 11 year old’s final hurrah on the Colorado Boats, with the rest of us cheering him on, as another onlooker sprayed him with a water jet – it was brilliant).

Tips for sharing a journey with people like us (two parents; one teen; one 11 year old):

  • be kind (okay, this one is so basic I almost didn’t include it, but if there is anyone out there remotely like me, it’s probably a good reminder)
  • fight the bad attitude and remember it can bring everybody, and the entire day, down with it (this advice especially for me)
  • if someone snaps at you, try not to take it personally (yes, again this one for me)
  • don’t snap back
  • do like the locals do: in this case, do nothing midday – this one didn’t take us long to catch on to, but wasn’t always so easy, especially when we were off on a day trip
  • don’t try to do it all; decide what you really can’t miss and take it from there. I really wanted to drive the road from Riva del Garda to Gardone Riviera, with its 75 tunnels and 50 bridges, but I wasn’t the designated driver (here’s a clip of what it’s like for some). We had a trip up to the lower Dolomites because the driver wanted to get into the mountains for a day. We saw upper Lake Garda by boat rather than by car through  those tunnels, which was much more relaxing for everyone.
  • do stuff the kids enjoy; do things the adults want to do. A swim, gelato or a coffee, somewhere cool to sit and read, and free wifi all helped ease the hassle of doing things other people wanted to do, especially when the humidity was making things feel about five degrees hotter.

To have a family vacation you need to have your family; to have a great family vacation, you still need to include those people who may bring tears of frustration or laughter. Sometimes it’s not so bad. In fact, sometimes it’s pretty wonderful.


4 thoughts on “Travelling with Kids (and Other People)

  1. Love this. ‘Easing the hassle of doing things other people want to do’, and if something is really important to you and you know you want the full savouring of it – arrange to do it by yourself. For many years the only way we went camping was with a small group of families, as we teamed up to provide just one blessed meal for the whole weekend and the kids all had each other for fun and fire and lake. The group broke up after a few years (teen schedules) and we were the only ones in the group still acquiring younger kids. We have not gone camping since. But we’ve discovered half-day trips to the beach! My teenagers refer to it as ‘forced family fun’ but both have admitted in tones of wonder that they enjoy both the beach and their younger siblings more. “Sometimes, it’s not so bad. In fact, sometimes it’s pretty wonderful.”

    Liked by 1 person

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