Shortly after arriving in Deutschland, we heard about an airline company that offers inexpensive hops from Germany to countries all over Europe. It didn’t take us long to get the itch to travel once we started settling in, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity when we found round trip tickets from Frankfurt to Rome for $22 a person.
As the weeks drew closer to our vacation, and I started working to put all of the logistics and little details of our trip together, I seriously began to question our sanity for actually wanting to take a pair of toddlers to Rome. In my head, I pictured us trying to sit down to have dinner at a cute little outdoor cafe somewhere while our boys ran circles around tables of honeymooners sharing plates of spaghetti Lady-and-the-Tramp-style. Instead of canceling the trip out of fear and anxiety, though — honestly, I considered it more than once! — we decided to shift our perspective and change our expectations. I’m so glad we did!
While there is definitely some truth to the saying that parents often need a vacation after vacationing with little ones, looking back, there were a few pieces of advice we took and choices we made that helped our travels go a little more smoothly, and I’d like to pass them on to anyone who might find them helpful.
Even though our trip was pretty exhausting and stressful at times, it is important to us to explore other places, learn about other cultures, make memories, and go on adventures together as a family, and just being in Rome with my husband and our boys was worth every bit of it. It truly was unforgettable!
Now, on with those tips I promised …
1. Instead of booking a hotel room, consider renting a small apartment on AirBnB …
… Away from the city center, but near a metro station.
Even though our tiny, but cute and budget-friendly apartment rental was located on the outskirts of Rome, it was only steps away from a metro station, with just a few take-out restaurants and a gelato shop in between. To be honest, I was pretty intimidated and anxious about having to rely solely on the public transportation system to get around with our boys, but they did very well (so many sights and sounds to capture their attention!), and riding all of the buses and trains may have been their absolute favorite part of the whole trip. For us, it was definitely the most efficient and cost-effective way to get around the city; we were able to make it everywhere we wanted to go within 20 minutes (walking included).
… In a safe neighborhood with a market.
Every afternoon, while the boys were resting up from the morning’s excursions, my husband and I would take turns walking to the Italian supermarket down the street to shop for our evening meal, as well as breakfast and snacks for the next day. Looking back, these trips were wonderful cultural experiences all by themselves that we wouldn’t have had if we’d chosen to stay in a hotel — not to mention the amount of money we ended up saving from not eating at restaurants for every single meal! It was also comforting to know we could just run down the street to grab diapers, medicine or extra toiletries if we needed to.
… With a stocked kitchen.
We made simple breakfasts (cold cereal or pastries with fruit and cheese) every morning before we headed out for the day, and sat down around the small table for a home cooked meal (fresh pasta, a meat dish, vegetables, a dessert of some kind and a bottle of wine) every night.
2. Leave the stroller at home.
The narrow, uneven cobble stone streets, busy tourist attractions, and crowded metro stations are just not conducive to the kind of large strollers that are my comfort zone for traveling with little ones. Friends of ours suggested we borrow their Boba for the trip, and, looking back, it was definitely one of the best pieces of advice we got (thank you, Jesse & Tricia!). Our two-year-old hung out on Dad’s back, eating snacks, enjoying the view, and napping at his leisure, while the rest of us did the leg work. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about chasing him around or trying to maneuver our bulky jogging stroller throughout the chaotic streets of Rome. Win-win.
3. Purchase a Roma Pass.
This is another piece of advice I got from a friend (thank you, Melissa!) that I must pass (no pun intended – ha!) along. The Roma Pass offers great deals for the public transportation system (we purchased the 3-day card for 72 hours worth of unlimited rides on the buses and metro system, not including airport transfers), museum entry fees (we got into the Coliseum, Roman Forum, and Palatinate Hill for free), events and services. However, be sure to read all of the fine print!
4. Plan ahead to avoid having to wait in long lines.
First, we made a short list of all of the places we definitely wanted to see, then another list for all of the sights we’d like to see if we had time. Next, we printed out a map of Rome and plotted out a couple of different realistic routes and plans of attacks. Then, we checked out books from a library, perused websites and blogs and read, read, read.
We learned that, unless you pre-purchase your tickets to many of the sights, you just might find yourself standing in line for hours, and that is not an exaggeration. Also, while some places offer free tickets to children (the Coliseum, for example), you must print off a complimentary ticket for them before you arrive or you will have to head to the back of the line (even with a Roma Pass!). Thankfully, we were aware of this policy ahead of time, and it saved us from wasting a lot of time.
5. Take the kids to Villa Borghese to burn off steam.
After long mornings spent encouraging (and, often resorting to bribing) our boys to be on their best behavior, it was great to just let them run wild and free at Villa Borghese. The wide-open expanses of green grass, trees, and playgrounds are welcome sights for travel-weary little ones with pent up energy (and their parents, too!).
6. Split meals at restaurants and bring plenty of snacks.
To save a little extra money, when we did eat at restaurants, I shared my entree with the boys, and there was always plenty to go around. It also helped that I packed a backpack full of snacks and drinks to have with us throughout the day to help ward off any hunger-induced melt-downs (for both me and the boys – “hangry”, anyone?).
7. Eat gelato every single day.
Need I say more? It’s an inexpensive and tasty treat. Try as many flavors as you can!
8. Keep your itinerary light and flexible, and your expectations low.
This tip kind of speaks for itself, and I plan on going into more itinerary details in a separate post. However, it was helpful to know our boys’ routine and stick to it as closely as we could. Instead of planning full days of activities, we left plenty of time for rest and flexibility in our schedule, and hit up only one major attraction a day while leaving plenty of room for an added excursion if we felt up to it.
As for expectations, I knew that dreaming up images of a romantic get-away in Rome with two young children in tow would be setting us up for disappointment right off the bat. So, I tried to be a little more realistic by anticipating the boys getting cranky after having to sit still for too long on the airplane and in restaurants (they ended up doing much better than I thought), predicting we would all have trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar apartment (we ended up being so worn out at the end of the day, it probably wouldn’t have mattered where we were) and preparing myself for tears of boredom and exhaustion after wandering around Rome all morning (there were a few, but we did our best to keep things fun and interesting for the boys).
At the end of our trip — thanks to a few good pieces of advice from friends and the things we learned along the way — we could confidently say…
“We came. We saw. We conquered.”