Fitz and Tantrums put out a song recently called, “All The Feels.” The phrase has become used by, pretty much everyone the last couple of years, but especially my kids. I re-listened to the song today and realized why it was an instant hit. It comes at a time when everyone, our kids included, attempt to deal with trying to figure out “all the feels” they have each and every day.
As a parent, trying to navigate “all the feels” can be tiring, exhausting but so important. In fact, dealing with “the feels” is something I navigate daily especially as a parent of three or more children, sometimes those feels come at me all at once, and I forget what kid is feeling what. Thank goodness that two out of three have no issue telling me their feelings.
Our family just got back from our annual summer trip. (More to be written about this later.) There were lots of feels revealed on that trip. After working tirelessly to provide a balanced journey of exploration, rest and fun – as always when we travel with kids – it doesn’t quite work out that way.
This year our family traveled to Italy followed by a cruise on the Mediterranean. Planning a trip this way is the first time we have experienced combining two types of trips – one exploring a new part of the world combined with a place where (we hoped) everyone could relax.
In preparation for our trip, I asked our 8-year-old, 11-year-old and 13-year-old for input. I tried this tactic and am a firm believer that they should have a say on at least one activity. I got standard answers of, “I don’t know,” or the best response, “I just want gelato.” So most of the details were left mainly to me. (Not to say Mr. L didn’t pitch in – he did on so many logistical levels to flights, hotels, and navigation.) My kids, like so many other kids, even when I emailed the older one’s articles or left out Italy travel books hoping to spark any ideas – had almost zero interest in helping plan a family trip. That is fine, I could do it myself. But I also know how it will go – or should have known.
The feels started the second day. Italy was under an intense heatwave – unfortunate timing, but in reality, nothing to be done. We also rented a house that did not have air conditioning. Now most accommodations in Italy do not have a/c, and I prepped all the family members for when we talked about heading to Italy about this fact, but it was promptly forgotten as the house turned into a sauna during the day.
So, keeping the heatwave in mind, time differences and the ages of my kids – I tried to be patient. I did not, as past experience has taught me, expected full-on enthusiasm for all the details on the trip. After all, traveling with 7 people (my parents came along for the ride) leads to “all the feels.” But the days when the whining would not stop, one kid was crying, or I was lecturing in a rental car on behavioral issues, the thought once again crossed my mind, “Why do I keep doing this? Is it worth it?”
I hope so. I wish on some level the kids take away some good memories, some unique experiences, and eventually, an appreciation for the amount of money and effort parents put in to pull off traveling as a family. This kind of travel isn’t for the faint of heart and not for everyone. I’m not sure it will be for me every year. Patience is an ever-elusive trait I am constantly trying to reach for and thank goodness I had some yoga breathwork in my toolbox to take me through the tough moments.
I also am cognizant that if anyone follows any other social media, I am on – the pictures show only part of the story. They tell the happy moments – the beauty that I cannot capture in words – the full heart I carry home, thankful that travel is a priority in our lives. I have to cling to the belief that for them, the experiences they have had, the parts of the world they have seen and the privilege they have to travel with us nestles itself somewhere in their beings.
But in mulling over “all my feels,” and to sit in reality for a moment – here is a cheat sheet of a few lessons that I learned while on this trip. I take these lessons very seriously and apply as many as make sense for future trips. I have to – if I ever want to book another family trip again. They keep me going when I think, “what’s the point.”
- For each leg of a trip – have each person in the family make at least one decision either on an activity or restaurant to eat at – or not. Sidenote – 11-year-old Audrey wanted to try all the pizza in as many different areas of Umbria as she could. She also asked for a pizza making lesson. This “goal” saved us a few times from her “feels” as we hunted down a pizzeria in medieval villages. She even kept a diary of all the pizza she tried. This particular child does not do well in humidity/heat and felt the almost forty degrees celsius temperatures the most out of the five of us, leading to more than one breakdown. The pizza-making lesson set up by the owner of the Airbnb and was one of the most pleasant nights during our time in Umbria.
- Plan relaxation time – this seems obvious, but sometimes parents forget that everyone needs downtime, especially kids. Less can be more sometimes. I tried my best to do this – we were never out late or all day and I still got complaints. If they wanted it, they had oodles of time to lounge at the house with a book, in a hammock or in the pool.
- If traveling with kids – a pool is a useful distraction. It limited our choices in accommodations in Italy, but being a family of five, hotels are not always set up for our needs. I did a lot of research to find a house that had a pool. It helped a lot with Jacob – the busy 8-year-old boy as he always had the pool to jump into. I would say either hotel or rental home – if you can – get a pool.
- Let go of any restrictions, (unless of course an allergen). It was hot and humid. They ate as much gelato and drank cold pop – even (gasp!) coke. My mantra became – will it make you happy and cool? Then eat or drink it. All you want is gelato – fine. I was drinking cold white wine at lunch and sweating it right away – who was I to judge, and it was a trip. Regular monitoring of junk food started again upon our return home.
- Book the Skip The Line tickets with whatever provider you choose – do it early. I had handpicked a few things to see in certain places, but this is most important when traveling with kids. For some reason, during the planning of this trip, I didn’t even think of booking things ahead of time. I had a brain wave at the airport at the start of our journey and I am very, very glad we did it that way. None of us were prepared to wait in a 3-hour line-up, in a heatwave, to see the statue of David in Florence. It wasn’t that expensive and worth the splurge. The tour guides kept the kids entertained, provided some historical context, and we did not wait in any line ups in Florence or Rome. If you have marked something as a must-see – get the tickets and put it in the budget.
These are the top five that I think are the most important when traveling abroad with three or more little people. The tips from the cruise we jumped on with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines can be put into a few points:
- Get two rooms. It’s worth it for the bathrooms alone, and if you have a kid that craves a little alone time (Audrey), then they can get it. Our introvert was a much happier camper when I told her she had an entire room to herself for an hour. I realized on this trip that sometimes it’s hard to travel with five other people, even for kids.
- Kids clubs are places of refuge after coming off a heatwave with three kids and spending a week together. Don’t feel guilty.
- Get the drink package – you’ll use it.
- If your kid is too old for the kids club and too young for the teen club – they actually can be fun to hang out with. We took Elizabeth with us to a sushi-making class, Chef’s Table dinner, and she spent time with her grandparents playing bingo and hanging out with us by the main pool. It was nice to have one on one time with her, and the other two were happy in the kids club.
- Book excursions – but not any that require a considerable amount of walking. They had walked enough the week before through Umbrian medieval villages. Air-conditioned coach buses or tours with boats are always good with kids.
No matter where you travel, be prepared for “all the feels” that comes with traveling with kids. Someone will be sad, happy, excited, angry, and frustrated, including you. Look for those particular special nuggets where everyone smiled for a picture or you think, “well that was a nice hour,” it may be how you get through some of the days. My hope – for anyone who travels and for my family – is the realization that it is worth it. Capture the best moments – learn from the not great ones and plan the next trip.
Where are you traveling to with your family?
Any tips for our next trip? Choices are: Universal Studios, Florida, Vancouver, Hawaii, Israel/Greece – or maybe we’ll be crazy and do all of them next year as different trips. Funnier things have happened.