We spent ten days vacationing in the south of France. It was stressful some of the time, exasperating on a few occasions, frequently exhausting, almost always exciting, and completely wonderful. This was our first big trip with three children, so we had to learn how to vacation all over again. (And yes, I think that successfully traveling around Europe is a skill.) Brad and I had traveling as a couple down to a science. When we added Annika, it only took some minor adjustments and a slight change of focus. Adding twin babies has required us to completely change the way we travel.
This picture Brad took really makes me smile; it is so real. I love that Annika is trying to cheer up Elise by feeding her a peanut butter sandwich.
For the benefit of any of you out there who are wanting to take a growing family on a long vacation, here are some of the things we learned (mostly through trial and error):
1. If you can con an unsuspecting couple without children to join you on your vacation, you will not regret it. They might, but the addition of four extra hands will make your life much, much easier and might just save your sanity. If your toddler is absolutely in love with these friends it makes having them around that much better. Thank you, thank you, thank you Paige and Andy.
2. You might plan really cool trips to see things like Roman arenas, gladiators, medieval castles, giant catapults, and rolling fields of lavender. That’s great, as long as these are things that you want to see and you are willing to deal with crying, hot, tired children along the way. Just know that your kids will be much more interested in playing with rocks at the beach, watching ants, climbing on (and through) rocks, jumping on the hotel bed, eating ice cream, and riding carousels. Most of these things can be done without driving all over France. Also, the lavender may not yet be in bloom. Lesson learned.
3. Eating dinner at a nice French restaurant might sound like a good idea. Your mouth might water at the thought of all that fresh seafood, local herbs, and summer vegetables roasted to perfection. Your husband might warn you repeatedly that eating out with all the kids is just going to be a hassle. But, eventually your husband will give in, because he is a great guy and wants to make you happy. As you sit at the restaurant with two crying babies and a toddler who keeps knocking over her glass and getting spaghetti sauce everywhere you will realize that you would have been better off getting a baguette, a quiche and a slew of pastries and eating at a park. It’s a good thing we only ate out once. It left us more money to spend on pastries with raspberries and pistachio cream, decadent chocolate eclairs, treats in various animal shapes that Annika was happy to devour, and plenty of fresh local produce from the markets. Eating has always been a prominent part of our traveling. That didn’t change this time, but we did learn to avoid restaurants.
4. If you are traveling with three children, only one of whom can walk (and not very far), ignore manufacturers’ safety recommendations and do whatever you have to do to get them around. Creativity is essential. One time we even tried to cram both babies into one seat in the stroller. They weren’t particularly happy about it, but it worked.
5. Spending time at the beach is the perfect vacation with kids. We could have stayed there forever. Annika was hesitant at first, but she warmed up quickly and never wanted to leave. We swam, splashed, built sandcastles, played catch, ate sandy food, and then did it all over again. No matter what the local pool says, water wings are amazing. Annika was so proud that she could swim by herself, and even though we always kept a close eye on her, those water wings gave us a couple of free hands and enough peace of mind so that we could give the babies more attention. It also helped Annika feel more confident and made playing in the water much more fun. The babies were content to lounge in the shade with an occasionally salty dip. There were a fair share of topless sunbathers, but it was more a curiosity than a scandal. I don’t think Annika even noticed. She sees me nursing so often that it probably didn’t even strike her as odd.
6. Besides the beach, we decided to go to Provence because it was supposed to be beautiful. Though it was different than we thought (more desert, fewer rolling hills of purple lavender) Annika loved pointing out flowers, castles, birds, trees, boats, mountains, and “peoples.”
7. She also loved her DVD player. We wouldn’t have survived without it.