Italy “Well-eh Done-eh”: An Intro to our Summer Adventure
School started this week. Our youngest child starts full-day preschool next week. Then dance starts along with weekly music lessons for our oldest three. Before we complete our fall schedule ramp-up I wanted to reflect on our major summer travel endeavor–a trip to Italy.
Throughout our trip, tour guides, ticket takers, and restaurant hosts would count our party and say “You are, eh. Six? Quattro bambini? Well-eh done-eh!” As I look back on the heat, tours, food, fun and friends this definitely was a trip well-eh done-eh.
To start I wanted to write about how we decided to do it and how we planned it. Check out the bottom of the post for links to other more detailed posts about our trip. Pick and choose what you want to learn about!
Chad and Angie Killpack, good friends of ours who also have 4 kids, are currently serving in the Air Force. We met them in San Antonio when my wife was also serving in the Air Force and we all were in the same church congregation (and all had fewer than 4 kids each). Over the years we have watched as they posted amazing photos from Hawaii, then Alaska AND DID NOTHING! Then they moved to Italy. As we continued to see their great experiences we decided we could no longer sit idly by.
But were we really going to take our family of 6 on such a big trip?
As we considered the possibilities I was excited but also had a lot of stress and anxiety. How would our 4-year-old autistic son deal with such a long time away from the familiar? Were my kids going to enjoy the sites there were to see? Would my then tween (now 13) be too tweeny? My children like pasta, but would they actually eat pasta in Italy? My kids like pizza, but would they eat pizza in Italy?
We were also hesitant to do the trip because it was so outside the norm of what we did. Although my wife works very hard and earns a good living this trip felt like an extravagance–something we shouldn’t do even though we could given the proper planning. Even writing about it feels like bragging. There are many who could never go on a trip like this and we were very fortunate to have this experience. Most of our long trips in the past involved only traveling to see family. Even when my wife and I went to Hawaii after she finished med school and before she started residency we spent some time seeing family.
We checked our budget, checked our schedules, checked our friends’ schedules and decided to do it! We wanted to give a unique experience to our kids and see friends we loved but hadn’t seen in a long time.
As we traded messages with our friends we learned that although where they lived was beautiful and close to Venice it was not close to much else that was a typically Italian. Since we were going all that way we decided to split the time between Rome and Northern Italy.
We started planning in February for a trip in mid-August. Passports were the first step. Mine had a few years left on it but my wife needed a new one as did our oldest child. Our younger 3 never had one to begin with. Getting passports was not complicated. It just takes time and organization. We got an appointment at the main branch post office that served our area to make it easier. Keep in mind that if children are involved both parents need to be there or you need a signed power of attorney letter. We had pictures taken for the kids there and turned in all the paperwork along with copies and originals of birth certificates and were done in about an hour. If you want to travel internationally and need passports just budget. With fees and photos it was about $200 per passport. Make the investment if you have a plan, but as kid passports expire more frequently than adult ones I would wait to do it until you actually have a plan. Unless you like to hop a jet to far flung locale on the spur of the moment on the regular. Then go for it.
We also decided to use a travel agent to help us plan the trip because there are just so many options: flights, lodging, tours, excursions, car rentals, trains and more. We could spend a lot of time researching things and book nothing because of the sheer volume of choices. Our travel agent had trusted vendors and a network of agents he could ask if he had questions or needed advice. I actually found our travel agent through one of my stay-at-home-dad Facebook groups and the fact that he had kids of similar ages to mine was a great help in finding the right activities. We looked for family-friendly tours that helped us skip the line, pre-booked transfers to get us to our hotel or the train station efficiently, and points of interest we could get to easily.
We also tried to pack light. We use eBags packing cubes to help organize. Each member of the family has a different color and we use one for underwear/socks, shorts/pants and shirts, and so on. We also have a 7th color for shared things (like all swimsuits, or all rain jackets–we took neither on this trip). Because we were going to leave late at night we had packed a separate cube with pajamas for our first night in Italy so we could get to bed quickly on arrival.
My wife always makes a great packing list and we used the time between planning and travel to get the necessary travel chargers, some special toys and items for back packs and RFID blocking travel wallets. We fit everything in 2 large pieces of checked baggage, 2 4-wheeled carry-on suitcases and 3 backpacks. When traveling with kids I recommend 4-wheel luggage. They are easier for kids to push, and also if an adult has to take multiple bags it’s easier for an adult as well. We packed about 6 outfits and worked it out with our friends to do laundry when we arrived.
For telecommunications needs we added the AT&T international day pass to our accounts. Once added it charges you $10 per 24 hour period for unlimited talk, text and data. It turns itself on the first time you use data in a foreign destination. I added it on both adult phones, but my wife just kept her phone in airplane mode and connected to WiFi when she could. We mainly added it to both phones if we got separated and had to find each other, which never was an issue. It was helpful to have our own phones and not to worry about switching out SIM cards or finding SIM cards once we arrived. If it were a longer trip it would make sense to pay for a month but this worked out for us. We needed at least one working phone so we could connect with tour guides and bus companies.
We also decided, kind of as we were loading the car to the airport, that we would leave our Maclaren umbrella stroller at home. Between the uneven pavement and the bridges in Venice we thought it would be more of a hassle, and the Killpack clan didn’t take a stroller when they adventured. It was a good decision, and although I carried our youngest on my shoulders a lot it was still easier than managing the stroller.
Friends in our congregation here in Boston also took us to the airport and picked us up at the end of the trip–saving us several hundred dollars in airport parking fees.
There you have it. We planned it and the day finally arrived! You can read about: