By Cristina Bedwell
Many people think my husband and I are crazy. Or brave. I’ll tell you: its an intoxicating mix of both. We travel pretty regularly with our kids when we can, and at least one major trip every year. We took the big plunge in September of 2013 with a trip to Rome with our just-shy-of-one-year-old son. We’d taken a few domestic trips with him and thought, Why not? We can do this!
I’m not really sure what drugs we were taking at the time. I wish I could remember because I could really use some of that shit right now. ROME. A 9 hour flight with a wiggly kid who is just on the verge of walking. Brilliant! The time to travel is when they are INFANTS, people. Little slugs that lay around and sleep. Pack ’em up and go go go. Use your maternity leave to work on that bucket list. It’s infinitely easier. Sure, you’re lugging diapers and wipes and maybe a breast pump around, but trust me when I tell you that all of those are easier to carry than a one year old that wants to go places. On his own. Without you holding him down.
Some folks told us to give our kid Benadryl. And we were all, “Drug our child? No! Why would we do THAT??” Idiots. (Us. Not them.)
But really, no big deal. We were going to Rome! Land of cobblestone streets and stairs! So. Many. Stairs. Should I add that neither of us had been to Rome before? Nah. It doesn’t really matter. Because even if you have been places pre-kids, you are never looking around going, “Yeah, this would be a really easy/hard place to come with a baby.” And if you are, then you have some special kind of superpower and I would like to meet you and read a comic book about your life.
So, we packed up the diapers and the kid and our sense of adventure and we went to Rome. If memory serves (and it’s crap these days) he slept for 2.5 hours on the way over. And the other 6.5? ALL ACTION. Squirmy wormy action. It was an overnight flight and we arrived at 6am utterly exhausted.
But let exhaustion stop us? Never! If I could pinpoint our biggest mistake (No, it was not our decision to go), it was doing too much in the first few days. With jet lag those first days were a blurry mess, and we tried to hit the town and see the sights. Did you know Rome is just FULL of SIGHTS? We should have been finding nearby playgrounds and taking lots of naps. But no! We had paid good money to cross an ocean and we were going to go SEE ALL THE THINGS. Our poor childless-at-the-time friend from London came during those first few days and stayed with us. Let’s just say they were not our finest moments. We were seriously afraid for a while that we had scared him off having kids forever.
We stayed in a lovely AirBNB in a central location. Mom Tip: In many instances renting a house or apartment is the way to go. It gives you the space and amenities that make things feel a little more like home. (Now, if you are going to a resort-type place with a swim-up bar and kids camp, I’m willing to make exceptions)
We eventually settled into a routine. Elliott would wake up super early (like 5/530). I would get up and pop him in the stroller and we would walk the mostly empty streets of Rome. I’m so very NOT a morning person, but having the streets all to ourselves, without hordes of tourists, was pretty amazing. We would walk by the Pantheon and choose a small cafe. I would get a coffee and Elliott would destroy a pastry. We enjoyed our lovely breakfast together and then continued our walk. About an hour later, my husband and I would swap, and I would take a nap. We would reconvene as a family of 3 and hit one major Rome must-see. Then, and probably the best part, a big delicious lunch and a bottle of wine, and back to the apartment for epic naps. We would hit another attraction in the late afternoon or just walk around exploring a particular part of town, and then dinner.
One of the best discoveries of our trip is that Italians love kids. Maybe it helped that Elliott was impossibly blonde with blue eyes, but whatever the reason, I felt people went out of their way to be nice to us. Waiters in particular were the best. They would bring us child sized versions of menu items, offer to play with Elliott, and one waiter at a pizza joint took off his own belt to fashion a strap on a broken high chair for us.
Of course, just as we felt like we had confidently found our groove, it was time to go home. I wish I could say the flight back was easier, but…9+ hours with a wiggly kid and this time he slept all of 30 minutes. Josh and I worked in 20 minute shifts. One of us would read or watch a movie for 20 minutes and then we would switch. It was all we could manage. Back and forth trade-offs across the Atlantic ocean. Are we there yet?
It was crazy. It was fun. It was crazy fun and it made us some great memories. Ok, well, Elliott won’t remember it, but we will. Out of this trip grew our motto “We would rather be traveling than not traveling.” We say this to each other occasionally when we travel and things get tough. But really–being in a new place, eating new foods and seeing new things will always be awesome, even with littles in tow. Sometimes that means standing in the Roman Forum with a sweaty crying toddler, and sometimes that means watching your kid excitedly devouring Roman-style pizza from a rickety wooden highchair with a makeshift seatbelt fashioned from an old man’s belt. And both of those things are fantastic.