What are the four most dreaded words of any parent with children in tow on the trip of a lifetime to Italy? Well, I can think of plenty of combinations:
“Are we there yet?”
“Can we go now?”
“This is so boring. “
“I need to go to the bathroom!”
And without a doubt, the last one there will happen when you’ve spent the last 45 minutes waiting patiently in line for your turn to admire Michelangelo’s David in Florence or the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
Traveling with children is somewhat of a contradiction in itself because it can be both the most rewarding and at the same time, the most challenging experience you’ve ever undertaken.
More specifically, it can prove to be particularly challenging when your destination is somewhere like Italy, as opposed to a holiday literally created with children in mind and completed catered to them like Disneyworld.
This is why my very first recommendation for how to enjoy a tour of Italy with children is to invest in a private one. Not all children are alike, nor are families. There’s no better bet you can make than putting the power of your trip in your own hands and let a private tour cater to each and every whim (read: to each and every whim your little ones may have!)
Private tours are perfect for traveling with children in Italy because they give you the one-of-a-kind flexibility that you need when you have small humans with big personalities with you.
Once you’ve decided on a private tour, here are my top four tips to make the most out of it:
Tip #1: Know Your Children
This first one might come across as obvious and something that parents needn’t worry about, yet I’m talking about knowing your children in circumstances and situations that are out of day-to-day context.
You may have a very relaxed and seemingly easy-going child in familiar environments, but a completely different child may pop up when you find yourselves in a foreign country at the height of summer and their gelato is melting at an exponential rate all over their favorite stuffed animal.
Since traveling can often require moments of patience, moments of boredom, and moments of improvisation and flexibility, why not try to create little “test” situations leading up to your trip where both you and your children can become more accustomed to what works and what doesn’t? Some websites might tell you to bring specific things like books to occupy children during downtime or waiting in lines but if your child reads the first two pages and gets bored immediately, the only thing that book did was help tone your biceps lugging it around Italy.
This is what I mean by “know your children”. Take some preparation time before departing and actively observe what they prefer to do to pass the time that could be portable, as well as how they handle stress and think of practicing techniques together at home such as deep breathing. Trust me, you’ll both be thankful in the long run!
Tip #2: Take Advantage of Technology
This is an important one. Many parents rely on technology to occupy children for traveling, but don’t forget to look at apps that can actually enhance the Italian experience versus detract from it. Depending on the ages of your little ones (or not-so-little if you’re bringing teens with you), app stores now have a wide range of options to explore.
Kids will get a kick out of language-learning apps like DuoLingo so they can practice their Italian before arrival or for puzzle-lovers, there’s the Italy Jigsaw Puzzle app featuring stunning landscapes that they can put together and then prepare to see in real-life!
Instead of carrying loads of books around, download the Kindle app (many people don’t actually know that all you need is a smartphone, there’s no need to actually physically own a Kindle to read e-books on the app) and you’ll be able to download and bring your entire library with you!
Download books that take place in Italy or Ancient Rome, for kids that love history and reading. Non-readers can still get all the benefits plus all the voices of characters through audiobooks and podcasts, another two tech ideas that are often overlooked.
Finally, if you’re high on trust, let the kids take the lead using Google Maps and following them while they follow the GPS instructions, don’t you remember how fun it was to be the one reading the map?
Tip #3: Familiarize Yourself with Italy
I know this is hard to do if you’re a first-timer to Italy, along with your children, but certainly do your best to read up on this fascinating and sometimes frustrating country before your trip.
Don’t just read the guidebooks but talk to friends who have been there (and keep reading this blog)! Expat blogs are also great options as well because the problem with just reading the tourist-type content on Italy is that you frequently get the cherry-picked version of Italy and what you really want to familiarize yourself with is the “no holds barred” version.
What I’m referring to are things like knowing some of the best restaurants don’t take phone reservations and you often have to pass by earlier in the day in person to book a table, or knowing that some don’t take reservations at all! Another “chicca” (pearl of wisdom) is to always have extra Kleenex in your bag (for the entire family) as it’s not unusual to be using a bathroom and to reach over and find that the toilet paper is non-existent.
Tip #4: Plan for the Unplanned
Insomnia, fevers, anxiety attacks, allergies…there are a million and one things that can rear their ugly heads on any trip and when children are involved, being prepared can make all the difference between having to go back to the hotel for the day or continuing a jam-packed, amazing itinerary. An awesome idea I’ve come across for children who have never traveled before and/or are known to have some anxiety while traveling is a “calm down kit”.
Although the items in this kit were included with the sole purpose of helping kids calm down from stress or anxiety, I think they also work perfectly as a general travel “emergency” kit for unexpected situations, as well as a go-to for children who might anger easily or fight with siblings (especially those noise-canceling headphones, they could make a great addition to an “adult calm down kit”!).
Everything is rather compact and could easily fit in a small backpack if necessary!
Emergency Travel Kit for Kids:
- Medications (allergy, fever)
- Favorite snacks from home
- Gum to chew during the plane ride
- Bottle of bubbles
- Small puzzles
- Fidget toys
- Stretchy resistance bands
- Hearing protection ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones
- Calming essential oil spray (lavender for sleep issues)
- MP3 player with music and/or audiobooks
- Blank notebook and a writing utensil
- Skipping rope
- Books to read
- Activity books: dot to dots, mazes, word searches, I Spy, etc.
- Stress balls
- Playdough or silly putty
- Small blanket and blow-up pillow
- Bubble wrap
- Rubik’s cube
- Small chalkboard and chalk, Magna-Doodle, Etch-a-Sketch, or Boogie Board for doodling and drawing
- Eye mask
(Adapted from “What to Include in a Calm Down Kit for Kids” https://www.andnextcomesl.com/2016/04/what-to-put-in-a-calm-down-kit-for-kids.html)
If you employ these four tips and tricks on a private tour of Italy, I can almost guarantee you and your children the trip of a lifetime. Make sure to read my previous posts on traveling with children and check back every so often for new posts on Italy and our tours!