“You should not bring kids to Europe.”
This is the statement I heard over and over again, back in 2014, from my travel agent, hotel concierges and countless internet travel sites. I was planning a trip to Spain and Portugal to compete in the USAT World Championship Duathlon, and there was no question my 5 year-old twin boys would be coming.
I heard it all over again this year, the boys now seven, as we planned a two week family trip to Italy. However, this time I knew better.
The usual reasons mentioned to leave the offspring behind boiled down to boredom, food options and if they would “remember it” since they are so young.
I can tell you this, I’m incredibly happy with the decisions I made to bring them overseas, and they learned so much more than I ever anticipated.
If you have the opportunity to travel with your children you should absolutely do it. Here is why:
Experience In the Moment
Perhaps the boys will not recall the details of why and how the Roman Coliseum was built or in what year Mount Vesuvius’ sudden eruption changed history forever. I’m sure they do not remember the significance of the lemon trees on the Island of Capri or what the most abundant local fish on the Amalfi coast is (Turbot) but, in the moments of each stop on our Italian tour, their little lives changed forever.
With the understanding and comprehension of the seven years they have amassed, they took in the streets of Rome, recalled that Scooby Doo and the gang visited the Trevi Fountain and, threw in three coins so they could have a return trip to Italy, something they want desperately, and something they learned from watching cartoons.
They participated in a cooking class in a rented apartment in Lucca, Tuscany and declared the tomatoes to be “the very best I have ever had! I will never forget these tomatoes!”
They thought the mountain caves leading to the Mediterranean Sea on the Amalfi Coast were “the coolest ever” and couldn’t wait to report back to their first grade classes the funny accents of the two boys they met at the pool from London, England.
They made “friends” with pigeons.
Ate more gelato than I could count.
Giggled and asked a lot of anatomy questions about Italian art and statues.
Traveled by plane, train, taxi and boat.
Had pasta for lunch and dinner every single day and even tried squid. Well, one of them did.
Walked thousands of steps per day with minimal complaining.
Will they remember the trip with the detail and awareness of an adult? Probably not but, they do not have to. The experience of it all, the adventure, the sights and sounds and smells and tastes are something within them now, something they can call upon as they grow, even if they don’t know where it came from.
Everything from traveling by airplane for eight hours, to riding in taxis to hearing the eloquent Italian language and tasting foreign ingredients, has changed and expanded their perceptions, regardless of if they have a concrete understanding of why and how.
We live in a very small town in Connecticut where diversity of language and culture are severely lacking. Traveling outside the United States produced something I had not even thought of – tolerance.
Right now, the boys have less than zero judgement about wealth, status, race, or sex. It’s a beautiful thing that was only encouraged and enhanced during our European trips. Not only did these vacations offer them the opportunity to meet people from all over the world but, to play with them, to learn their language and to find immediate common ground discussing Minecraft and Kung Fu Panda the way only seven year old boys can magically do. And, when they asked to have a “play date” with the kids from Wales, we Googled a map to show them the improbability of their request. Of course they then immediately responded with “we can do Facetime instead!”
On the streets, the boys both openly asked me about the homeless people we saw or why strangers were asking us for money and how it was possible for a waiter to know seven languages. We had the opportunity to explain to them why some Italian men wear scarves and why so many people were smoking – a concept completely foreign to them and prompted them to ask “why is that man holding fire?”
Every interaction and observation was an opportunity for them to learn about other cultures and the world in general. Their world steadily grew with each passing day.
Adventures in Eating
Spain and Portugal were especially challenging when it came to meal time. The boys mostly subsisted on bread and churros. Italy, of course, was like a dream come true for their carb craving little bellies and they enjoyed some of the best pasta and gelato their mouths ever had the pleasure of devouring.
They also discovered open-air markets in Tuscany and how to navigate a crowded bakery for fresh focaccia bread. One of my sons tried octopus in Vigo, Spain and actually liked it! We explained how prosciutto in Italy is vastly different from American ham, which is why mommy was eating it daily and sometimes at breakfast. They saw and touched and tried to climb olive trees in Sorrento which lead to a discussion about oils and even how importing and exporting works.
The mere fact that we were all experiencing a different culture and experimenting with different food opened up new and different dialogue. If you have kids, you know a discussion can end up 3,000 light years from where it started, and it’s a wonderful thing. You can almost see the wheels turning in their minds as they try to comprehend everything you are telling them.
Without the mundane routine of our everyday lives and the glow of an iPad screen, we talked endlessly. We all learned something. We grew as a family.
There was a fair share of whining, fighting and adjusting to the time change. Not everything went as planned, harsh words were spoken and occasionally emotions boiled over. So basically, it was a typical family vacation.
My advice? Take your kids and travel the world! You will never regret it.