We took three little kids to a foreign country. Do we regret it?

Alex Rodgers//August 1, 2023

We took three little kids to a foreign country. Do we regret it?

Alex Rodgers//August 1, 2023

By the time we arrived at Heathrow for our flight home from vacation in Italy, the kids were entirely untethered from their schedules, sleep deprived, and throwing tantrums so epic that two Heathrow employees ‘invited’ us to take our daughter to a kids’ play area just downstairs.  

Two of our kids had ear infections and were on antibiotic drops which, it turns out, are difficult to administer in an airport when the child has to lie on his side for five minutes without moving. 

The shuttles in Heathrow weren’t in service, so we had to make a mad dash on foot from Concourse A to E with two kids in strollers and an exhausted 4-year-old courageously leading the charge.    

Sweating from our run, and with only minutes to spare, we took our seats on the flight, apologizing in advance to other passengers for whatever mayhem our children might cook up on the eight-hour flight.  

Once in the air, I found myself contorted in the tight confines of my seat attempting to catch as much of our 4-year-old’s vomit in an airline blanket after I’d run out of barf bags.  

That’s when I looked at my husband and I could see in his weary eyes that we were asking the question, the same one we had been asking all month: “What were we thinking?” With the vacation behind us, we were willing to finally concede that the month abroad had been difficult on all of us. 

Last year my husband and I toured Tuscany and it was relaxing and fulfilling in equal measures. We knew we wanted to travel abroad again, but we weren’t aligned on whether we should go solo or bring the kids and make it a family vacation.  

My husband believed that our kids, all under 5 years old, were too young to appreciate a foreign country, so we should find a tour group and leave the kids behind. 

My position was that the kids would internalize the trip subconsciously and would be better human beings for it. There is support for the idea that while travel with young kids may not instill them with fond memories, it does leave them with the implicit sense of travel being pleasurable and exciting. Maybe this was a bit of psycho-babble on my part, but by the time I’d said it often enough, both of us believed it and we booked a month in Italy for the five of us.  

The challenges started with packing. There are plenty of tips in blogs and videos to help parents pack for toddlers, listing what to bring and what not to forget and what to leave behind.  

We read none of the articles, watched none of the videos, and instead trusted our own judgment in attempting to “pack light.” 

When we were done packing a weeks’ worth of clothes and shoes, multiple bags of toiletries and our stash of children’s medications and pull-up diapers, we wound up with four checked pieces of luggage, two strollers, three kids’ backpacks, and four carry-ons.  

The flight to Rome was easy, believe it or not, as it was overnight. The stay in a foreign country posed its challenges but none of them couldn’t be overcome. 

By the time we were taking that final flight home, after our son’s stomach was settled and he was asleep in his seat, only then could we drift through our memories of the better days from our trip, and there were many.  

There is the family photo a stranger took for us across the street from the Colosseum, all of us sweating in the blazing sun just before we’d gotten lost on the way to the oldest bridge in Rome; the overworn map of Florence our 4-year-old insisted on unfolding and navigating at every lunch or dinner spot; the Italian box for the antibiotic ear drops we’d picked up at a pharmacy after two of our kids got ear infections from being knocked over in the Mediterranean waves so hard and consistently that they’d ended up with sand caked in their ears. 

We did find a sitter so we could get out for dinner a night or two a week to enjoy a bit of calm between the storms. 

One of those nights my husband and I wandered the back roads of north-central Italy in our VW van before stopping at an unadvertised restaurant atop a hill at the end of a gravel and then dirt road. 

This photo is how my husband left the table when he got up to pay.  

A wine glass emptied to a slim shadow of red beside the napkin perfectly folded by the waiter (this sort of order was never my husband’s first language), blooming flower bushes against the backdrop of the Tuscan hills, the sweet scent of star jasmine hanging in the humid evening air. 

We didn’t regret taking the children on our vacation, but we also didn’t regret the nights we managed to get a little time away. 

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