Mayan Cooking Class Belize

Belize With Kids: A Family Itinerary

The history, the landscape and outdoor adventure, the people and food: all of these came together to make Belize one of our favorite family travel destinations. For families in the US that are new to international travel, Belize is an easy place to start . . . English is spoken, the American dollar is accepted, and it’s conveniently accessible from the States. 

We took a nine day trip, spending half the time inland at San Ignacio and the other half on Caye Caulker. Our seventeen year old niece joined us on this trip, making us a family of four. 

One thing that made this trip ease-filled for our family: 

  • We did not rent a car. Kai and I were so much more relaxed not having to navigate roads (and on Caye Caulker, there are no cars, only golf carts)! We arranged pick up and drop off through Cayo Inland Expeditions, the tour company with whom we booked the ATM and Tikal tours. The owners of the company were the property managers at our Airbnb; everyone was local, super friendly and awesome!

Day 1:

Fly to Belize City. Airport pickup and drive to San Ignacio. Check in at this Airbnb. A delicious dinner at the The Running W restaurant across the street.

Where to eat in San Ignacio Belize

Day 2:

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave tour 

We’d been a bit nervous about signing up for the ATM cave, fearing claustrophobia, and we are SO GLAD we ended up doing it! This is an A-MAZ-ING experience where you hike and cross rivers in the rainforest, then trek through the cave, where you’ll be led to ancient artifacts and human remains. Our tour guides were wonderful and provided lunch afterward. (There are a few tight spaces in the cave, but they don’t last long and always open up to a larger space)

Alternative option: Choose from a plethora of canoe, tubing or zip lining tours. 

Day 3: 

Tikal, Mayan Ruins tour

Our tour guides drive us and help us cross the border into Guatemala. The wildlife and the architectural remains are beyond impressive! This is a very special place, with a sacred kind of energy. Truly incredible. 

Alternative option: Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Smaller than Tikal, but very close to San Ignacio, if you don’t want to make the drive to Guatemala. 

Tikal with kids

Day 4: 

Open morning to walk San Ignacio town. Afternoon cooking with Eden Valley Mayan Kitchen.  

I cannot say enough about this experience! Our authentic Mayan cooking experience began in Yesnia’s garden where she taught us about her medicinal plants, then we cut banana leaves from her trees to use in making tamales. The whole time, Yesnia shares her knowledge as we all cook together in her outdoor kitchen. If you want to feel a connection to the ancient Mayan ways, this is something you must do!

Mayan cooking class with kids

Day 5: 

Community Baboon Sanctuary. Ferry to Caye Caulker. Check in to this Airbnb. 

The picture says it all! 

Community Baboon Sanctuary Belize

Day 6:

Ride bikes, swim and relax in the waters of Caye Caulker. 

Caye Caulker with kids

Day 7:

Snorkel Tour: Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark and Ray Alley

The beauty of the reef and abundance of sea life made this the most incredible snorkeling I’ve ever done! 

Alternative option: Scuba Diving the Blue Hole (kids must be 15 or older)

Family Travel Belize snorkel

Day 8:

Ride bikes, swim and relax! 

Day 9:

Ferry to Belize City. Fly home, grateful.

family summer travel nature

What should families do this summer? Let literature take you on a trip!

The school year is coming to an end. Travel plans are on hold. Summer camps are still in question. What should families do this summer? 

While international travel may not be an option just yet, what about a road trip? What about good ‘ole fashioned playing outside? In the ocean, in the woods, on the mountain trail. Whatever nature you are near, it calls. 

You can get the kids excited with a book about a great wilderness adventure! Read it out loud as a family or listen to the audio version together. You could choose a classic wilderness adventure book, such as:

Your kids will be inspired to play outdoors; maybe you’ll visit a local nature preserve. State and national parks are in the phasing-in process of reopening. Check out the the National Park Service’s website. They have many great resources, such as:

National Parks Family Travel

For my local Florida friends, or anyone planning to visit, check out these books to inspire your next road trip:

  • Scat by Carl Hiaasen. Set in the Everglades, perhaps you’ll be ready to visit Everglades National Park after reading. 
  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. Another story set in Florida, this one in Coconut Grove.
  • The Last Wild Place by Rosa Jordan. A story about the Florida panthers being driven out of their Everglades home.
Florida family travel

What other books do you love that inspire travel? 

I’m putting together a list, and would love to add your favorites! Please leave a comment with your favorite books that have inspired trips!

In addition to the above, I also suggest:

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Visit Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Little Women was written. They offer guided tours and innovative educational programs, including summer camps and special events.
  • Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. Visit the town of Chincoteague, Virginia, including Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island where you’ll see the wild ponies, just like in the book. Enjoy the beaches, lighthouse and museum.
Travel inspired by children's book Misty of Chincoteague

The majority of the books listed here are appropriate for ages 8 and up (check individual titles; The Hobbit recommends age 12+)

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Raising Global Citizens

Alexandra Tyson is a traveler, an elementary school teacher and the founder of the website TGC: Travel for the Global Citizen. Her husband, Chris, is the in the Navy and they have three grown children. In 2008, when their children were school age, the family was transferred to Atsugi, Japan. Alexandra and Chris thought about what skills their kids would need to be successful while living overseas. The five years spent in Japan and the decisions that came along with this experience led Alexandra down the road of global literacy.

Alexandra and I met through the Wanderful community, which is a network of women helping women travel. I was curious about global literacy and what it’s like to raise children abroad. Here is Alexandra’s perspective on travel, raising global citizens and the inevitable question of home.

photo: Tammy Ward

Tell us about your personal high points and low points of living abroad. What are your memorable family travel moments? 

We had delayed going to Japan until the kids were older. We’d been regional travelers, not necessarily intentional travelers. We were living in Florida and I had a second, third and fourth grader when we decided to take the orders for Japan. Our kids, who have four sets of grandparents, were raised seeing these four different views of the world; each view being important. They had many experiences learning things with their grandparents. One night, we were in a restaurant—one that does not host children often—and the waiter said to me, “Your kids know how to order off a menu!” That waiter gave me confidence. Living abroad was something we could do. This was the moment we chose to parent through experience; it became intentional to live overseas. 

The military affiliation was the springboard for everything we did. The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office on base brought in local tour guides and we were able to do anything from spending three days in China to overnights in Korea visiting the night markets. There were day trips to the strawberry farm. It was a lifestyle. I don’t remember many weekends without sports or travel. One of our favorite trips was to see the snow monkeys in Nagano. Our guide told us, “Now remember, don’t look the monkey in the eye!” My son asked, “What will happen if we do?” And she’d answered, “They’ll scratch your eye out!” Still to this day, our family will say, “They’ll scratch your eye out,” anytime ‘what will happen?’ comes into question. Travel also taught us to roll with the punches, like the time we were supposed to celebrate Thanksgiving on the ship and it was unexpectedly cancelled. Things happen that are out of your control. The kids kept travel journals, keeping track of their memories, which persist now. As adults, I see them using skills from that time. The best decision I made as a parent was taking them overseas and living like that.

Why was it important to you that your kids were raised with a global outlook? 

I find that it is so important that kids understand the past and the other point of view before they can develop their own opinion. Those are the things that go into forming an opinion: understanding the past and another point of view. That’s what my motivation was. I was raised that way. I was in a military family. We moved around and I knew I had resiliency. I wanted that for my kids.

Your website is titled TGC: Travel for the Global Citizen. Can you describe global citizenship? And can you share your top tips on how parents can nurture this in their children? 

A global citizen is a person who realizes learning about others helps them learn about themselves. Exploring other places helps them define where they put their own boots (in the military, we say: home is where you put your combat boots). My biggest suggestion for parents is to read. Read like you’re traveling. Read with a globe or a map in front of you. Second, we have to be intentional with kids when explaining why something is important. We can’t expect them to think it’s important just because we say it is (I wrote about this in an article that tells the story of how my first graders were not impressed with some of the wonders of the world). And third, be authentic. It’s great to see the Eiffel  Tower type attractions, but you also need to show them poverty. Know the greatnesses but also know the reality. TGC is offering a private group called Learn Global, where you can get all kinds of great information for this era of distance learning. You get access to live teacher help, storytime, access to resources and more. 

What does global literacy mean to you? 

Global literacy means that you have a true idea and understanding of the destinations you visit . . . what their triumphs and failures are, so you have an authentic read of what your going into. We see the surface, but we can dig deeper. We can be well read on a place and be informed, remembering that we are active participants. So if you want to learn about the water system in the Netherlands, do so while paddling in a canal. If you want to taste a pierogi in Poland, take the cooking lesson and make it. With kids, they want to know what’s going on, they don’t like surprises. They might’ve seen a picture in a book, and when they see it in real life they get excited! Let them see it before they go, so that it’s not an overwhelming thing that they weren’t emotionally prepared for. 

How do you think family travel will evolve post-COVID? 

I think travelers who are confident and well versed will probably be the first to jump out into that world again. I agree that the age of the road trip has come back. The great American road trip exists and it’s going to take on a whole new meaning. My hope is that everyone understands now is the time to give your money to anyone named mom and pop. We just have to think in those terms. Now’s the time for every small town in the U.S. to attract more tourism. That has to be the thing we spread the most.

Travel puts home into perspective. As you said, it helps us define “where we put our boots.” What does home mean to you?

That’s a powerful question and I have a powerful story. It was 2011 and we were due to leave Japan. Fourteen days prior to leaving, the great tsunami and earthquake hit. We’d just packed up all our things. We had no idea if our things were at the bottom of the bay or on the way to America. We spent the following days in a hangar. Fourteen days of taking care of people and pets. We slept together in one bed. We worried, we communicated. We took care of a search dog at night so the handler could sleep. Our base was like ground zero for first responders. We were helping with water, food, diapers, whatever people needed. And then we got on a plane. We landed in Washington, D.C. It was my first time home; we’d been in Japan five years and had loved every minute. As the plane was landing, we passed the Washington monument, Jefferson Memorial, the White House. I saw the Potamic River and an American Flag. Waiting outside, were my parents. Just crying. Home is not where I put my feet but where I feel most grateful. The Japanese had named our efforts in the aftermath “operation tomodachi.” It means operation friendship. 

“Home is not where I put my feet but where I feel most grateful.”

And are your kids still traveling?

They are all wondering gypsies, I’m proud to say. 

Want to keep up with the happenings at TGC? Follow them on FaceBook and/or subscribe to their blog

You can also join our mailing list to hear more in this series where moms talk home and world connections. When you join, you receive the free guide: Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience.

Family RVing: living well while traveling the country

Have you ever had the urge to sell the house and go explore the world? Chances are, you know a family doing just that. We often think of these families as being extraordinarily brave, but my friend Rachel, who spent two years traveling the U.S. in an RV with her family, says, “You can totally do it. It’s not like we’re special . . . we just sold our stuff!” That was how it began for this nature-loving family: they listed their stuff for sale. 

Rachel is a coach and meditation teacher. She is married to Adam and they have two children, Caelan (eight) and Ellie (four). The kids were five and two when they purchased the RV and set out. Now, they have been settled in Salt Lake City for just over a year, but their travel days are not over. With the sale of the RV they spent two years in, they purchased a smaller one, and plan on doing more off-grid travel, visiting national parks without worrying about hook-ups . . . “a closer-to-nature experience,” says Rachel.

Rachel and I talked recently about family, travel and balancing it all: 

Tell us how you came to the decision to sell your house, buy an RV and hit the road with your family. 

A friend of mine said she was going to travel and I thought, ‘Gosh, I wish we could do something like that!’ I had just sold my acupuncture business, our pets had recently passed. It was a culmination of things. Before, there was never a reason to leave. We had businesses, girls in school. But then we had this thought: We can figure out where we want to live by city-shopping our way around the country. We were very intentional about where we wanted to go based on criteria for living there. 

So what were you looking for in a town? 

We had four criteria. We were looking for a small town; it had to be under 100,000 people. We wanted progressive education options and accessibility to nature. We wanted to be on a trail within thirty minutes of home and be within driving distance to a national park. And the fourth thing . . . it must have been mountains! We wanted to be in the mountains. We soon realized that no place had all four things. I thought we’d have that knowing, like . . . this is the place. But it didn’t happen like that. 

What else surprised you? 

Right away, we understood that the trip was going to take longer than expected. We thought we’d RV for a year. But it was going to take at least one and a half to two years to see what we wanted. We needed to stay in places a little bit longer. We realized we needed, on average, two weeks per place. Another surprise came after just a few months, when I went to the grocery store by myself. I came back and looked into my husband’s eyes and said, ‘Honey, we have to get away by ourselves!’ We needed time to connect as a couple. I wondered how we’d let that go for months at a time. And I had forgotten what it was like to have a minute to myself, to have my own thoughts. We have to have that time. When my door is closed, the girls know. I’m meditating; I need twenty minutes.  We also now have one-on-one time with each kid, giving them even just ten minutes that is completely theirs. They love it. 

What did you learn about yourself and your family? 

The first six months, I put so much stress on myself as far as homeschooling. I compared myself to the Waldorf schools we were touring, and I almost quit. It got easier after I let go of the “compare-itinitous” and focused on what’s really important. Friends encouraged me to “just live well.” This permission to just live well changed things. We were going on hikes, and doing all these things. There is only a certain amount of bandwidth for a six year old. Actually, my favorite moments were always in the mundane. Out of two years of travel, the things that stick out the most are simple moments in nature. Just being. We had a picnic lunch one day and Caelan was walking across this log. There was this big mountain behind her and she’s just walking across the log. It happened in a flash, but it’s one of those memories forever ingrained—the colors, the grass, the warmness of afternoon sun.  

Can you talk about balance? Your need to be in your family, and out in the world? 

When we were traveling, I felt like I was buzzing. That was because I wasn’t meditating. As the conscious creator of your reality, you have to take responsibility for being solid. It’s a choice and responsibility. It’s not like it’s easy. It’s a matter of showing up. The world isn’t going to invite you—you have to take initiative to show up how you want to show up. I work to slow down my inner metronome. The rate at which the world is moving is always faster. When we were RVing, I was working in a different career path and it wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. I have seen a shift now because I’m doing what my soul is here to do. Now I’m finding it’s much easier to balance family life with my work. Because it doesn’t feel like work and I can weave it in and out in different pockets of life. It’s not work, it’s just me. There is no separation. 

I love that! It can now weave into the whole of your life. It’s not a push and pull! 

Yes. It all comes through who we are as people. How do I do everything? I don’t. I’m focusing on living well. As a family unit, being happy and healthy. I do my stuff while the kids are having their rest time or I’ll wake up early. You have to do what works for you and your family and your values.

What does home mean to you?

The first thing that comes to mind is the sacredness of the family. You have this relationship with yourself, your surroundings, a heartfelt space you can hold. And you can create a physical space . . . it has to come from inside. I want to be intentional about my thoughts, words, actions. If things aren’t aligned with my values, then it’s easy to get outta whack. That sacred solid ground comes from within; it has to radiate out from us. At the end of the day, it’s really all about love.  

To keep up with this family’s adventures, follow Rachel on Instagram. If you’d like a community of support through meditation, breathwork and journaling, check out Rachel’s FaceBook meditation group

This is the second article in a series where we hear from moms regarding family, travel and home. You can keep up by following the the blog (and receive your freebies, including how to create your own unique family travel experience).

Why this family was social distancing before social distancing was a thing

For me, the conversation around family travel inevitably collides with the conversation of home. 

  • How do we create the home we want in the world? 
  • How does travel inform our home processes and can home influence our travel style?
  • What does it mean to be a home-maker in the 21st century? 
  • What has been gained and what has been lost in regards to our most basic element of society: the family, the home? 

I thought I’d ask around. What follows is the first in a series of articles in which I speak with moms about these connections between home and world. 

My friend Michelle runs a birth business in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Jim and they have three children: Jimi (15) Raina (12) and Luna (9). Five years ago, the family found what they were looking for in the Georgia woods: acres of land in the middle of nowhere that included a half-built home for a bargain price. They finished building the house and now they visit on the weekends and holidays. They were social-distancing before social-distancing was a thing. 

Here’s what Michelle has to say about their unique travel style and home life. 

What inspired your family to purchase a vacation home in the Georgia woods? 

Michelle: “Jim and I were longing for land. We wanted our kids to have the freedom to roam. We love our beach town, but we wanted to be able to get away from cars and fences. We both grew up with land. I was raised in an orange grove where I biked and played. I spent summers in Virginia with my family. My cousins and I would spend all day in the creek. We’d come home and make a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and not return until dinner. No one knew where we were, except that we were somewhere in the holler. That’s where I learned to love the outdoors.”

(Jim, who also grew up on a dirt road and rode dirt bikes, later told me: “I wanted the kids to experience freedom . . . fewer rules. And for Jimi to know what it’s like to pee off a front porch. No one cares.”) 

How did you find the perfect place? 

Michelle: “Originally the idea was to find a camper or shed and maybe purchase around five acres. Through LandWatch, we ended up finding an already half-built home on thirty acres. It was a great deal and I fell in love with the wrap-around porch. It’s in White Oak, Georgia, outside of Woodbine, only an hour from Jacksonville. We can be door-to-door in an hour and fifteen minutes—it’s a perfect amount of time. It makes day-trips doable and weekends easy. We go about twice a month.”

What are some of the best parts of having time away in the woods? And hardest?

Michelle: “It’s a place to escape with our family. There are less distractions there. We have no TV, no Wifi. We play board games and ride four-wheelers. We have campfires. One of our favorite family games is hide-and-seek in the dark! We spend holidays there. The only fears we have are of snakes and wild boar, so we wear snake boots and the noise of the four-wheelers scares off boars. It’s also seasonal—in the summer, it’s too buggy to spend time there.” 

What do you hope your kids will gain through these getaways? 

Michelle: “I want them to have fond family memories. I want them to enjoy quality, simple family time. At home, there are always distractions, whether it’s the phone, the dishes or the laundry. We can shut these things out and focus on enjoying family. And secondary to that, I want them to learn an appreciation for the outdoors. We live in a concrete world, and to get away from that is like a breath of fresh air, literally. It truly feels like a breakaway from our normal lives, like a re-set. I feel refreshed, and I see that in the kids.” 

And when parents say their kids wouldn’t know what to do (without their tech) . . . 

Michelle: “You put them in it and they’re ok. You sit on the front porch and rock in rocking chairs together. You can see them soften a little bit, because there’s no distractions there . . . they’re immersed in all those distractions too usually. We have to be intentional about disconnecting so that we can re-connect.” 

“We have to be intentional about disconnecting so that we can re-connect.”

What does home mean to you? 

Michelle: “Home is where my family is. That’s the main thing. When the housing market crashed in 2008, we thought we were going to lose everything. We were at a music festival camping—five days in a tent—when I had an epiphany. I looked around and thought, this is the most important thing . . . if I have my family with me, I’m grateful. Nothing else matters. We have a limited time with our kids. Five years ago, Jimi was just ten, and we thought, ‘if we don’t do it now, we’ll miss a lot of opportunity,’ so we sold a rental property in order to purchase the Georgia house and land.”

This is the first article in a series where we hear from moms regarding family, travel and home. You can keep up by following the the blog (and receive freebies!). 

What not to pack (the night before a family trip)

This is the story about a man who had an impulsive idea the night before he and his family took off on an extended overseas trip. 

First of all, you must understand this is a smart man. He’s an entrepreneur who started his own business from a home-office that paired as a guest room, and which was sandwiched between his young daughter’s bedroom and the master. The cacophony of shouts, singing, crying, stomping, et cetera, could have thwarted his enterprise, but he prevailed. Soon his business grew, and his home-office moved to a new part of the home, separate from the bulk of noise and activity. He got himself a nice workstation, including a moveable desk and an oversized monitor.

This man who can take his business wherever there is Wifi, is doing final packing for the family’s big trip. He will be bringing his work with him, of course. With this in mind, he is suddenly prompted to pack his 24 inch monitor—he can be much more productive this way, he reasons. He lugs the big green suitcase down from the attic. The monitor fits in easily. He shoves in a couple of pillows for protection. “It’s worth the risk of it breaking,” he says. 

The monitor cracks on the first leg of the trip. It may have been due to an overzealous Uber driver swinging and slamming the suitcase into the trunk of his car, but who’s to say? On the next portion of the trip, the suitcase loses it’s handles. The only way to pick it up is for two people to lift each end. Twice, at two different airports, the family waits over an hour for the hideous green bag to appear on the baggage carousel. 

Well, obviously, we are not going to make this mistake! There will be no checked bags on our upcoming trip to Central America. My daughter will use a rolling backpack, and my husband and I both have wheeled carry-ons with detachable backpacks. We can fit seven days worth of clothes and toiletries in our carry-ons. Backpacks, while unable to contain 24 inch monitors, can easily accommodate laptops. 

Sometimes you’ve just got to learn things the hard way, but if you are planning a family trip, there are tons of tips that can help prevent common mistakes! You can find packing tips (with links to luggage options) and much more in Practical Tips for Planning a Family Trip. This is a FREE guide when you purchase a Learning Resource product. I’m very excited to make Learning Resources for a Central American Trip available on the website this Spring! 

In the home, in the world

I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Back in 2006 when I was pregnant, I resigned from my teaching job, lucky that I had the choice. I didn’t know, really, what I was choosing. I didn’t know that my baby wouldn’t sleep anywhere other than in my arms or attached to my side. I knew that I’d be breastfeeding, but I didn’t know that it’d feel like that was all I’d be doing. I had never discerned the extremities of love and loneliness—not like this. Not until I sat, trapped, on my couch, holding the whole world in my arms. 

I loved being with my daughter and I felt confined by my circumstances. It was like the name stay-at-home mom became a life sentence: Stay at home! Mom

Now, here I am thirteen years later, home-schooling. My young-mother self never would have guessed it! She needed space and time. She needed to be held in the arms of time, rocked and soothed . . . loved. She would need to be placed, over and over again, into the space she’d made. 

Reconciling my need to be at home and in the world began by creating a nurturing space—a physical place in my home. This led to a spaciousness in my heart. I wasn’t being given a house-arrest sentence, I was being invited to be at home. To build a strong inner place of love. To connect to the whole world that is inside of me. To make a home for my family to live and be fully, wholly. 

I didn’t “wait” until the time was right to travel. Not in the normal sense of waiting as an inactive state. I was practicing an active form of patience—moving toward an unknown destination. My desire to learn and be in the world is now intertwined with my family life. Side by side with Elle, I want to learn about the world we live in, how humans have inhabited it in the past, and how this relates to how we live in the twenty-first century. 

We are strengthened by the years of active “waiting.” Our travel experiences are informed by the time spent taking a real look at home. I’m a be-at-home mom, even when I’m traveling! 

Are you, like me, drawn to being in the world in new ways? Do you want to connect with others and allow travel to transform you? Do you say yes to this, but feel overwhelmed by this? Maybe my free guide—Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience— can help. I’ve put together some resources along with questions for you to consider when thinking about an authentic family trip. Leave your email address here and I’ll send it to you. Meanwhile Mom, be at home, be wherever you are in the world (and the world will be in you). 

Our European Family Trip: A 5 Week Itinerary

We get this question a lot: How did we choose where to go? 

It’s kind of like asking, where do you start? That’s why I created travel products to support other families who might be wondering, how do I even begin to plan a meaningful family trip? 

Here’s how it went for us: 

A few years prior, I was dreaming up a world/homeschool experience where our family would explore, learn and discover together. I knew Ancient Rome and the Renaissance would be topics of study with our seventh grader. From the physical power of the Romans, to the flourishing of new thought during the Renaissance, these historical time periods reflect the inner changes of the pubescent child. 

Actually, it felt like the whole family was on the brink of more expansive thinking and expression, not just our preteen. So instead of asking: where do we want to go?, it was more like: why not go to Italy? Why not go to the very place where the Romans built their great roads, aqueducts and arches? Why not go to Florence and see where the Renaissance was birthed? Why not view learning as a constant, always available opportunity that does not have to be contained in a classroom? 

So . . . first up on the itinerary: Rome. We found a direct flight with Norwegian from New York. I love direct flights! Because we have family in Brooklyn and we’d been wanting to visit, we decided to begin the trip with five days in New York. After that, one red-eye would land us in Rome. 

Elle and I in front of the Colosseum

Through mutual friends, we knew a couple that had a B & B in Tuscany, not far from Florence. This made our next decision easy! Second stop: small Tuscan village.

Village in Tuscany

I convinced Kai that because it’s so easy to move around in Europe, we should stay longer and explore more places. I had my eyes set on the south of France, while he searched out some of the top places for surfing. Once he pinpointed Ericeira, Portugal as his surfing destination, it looked like a natural ending point for our trip—with France and Spain in between. I chose Aix-en-Provence because it was near a site I’d long wanted to visit—the cave of Mary Magdalene. Then, looking at its placement on the map, and hearing so many great things about this city, Barcelona was an obvious choice. 

Swimming at the coast of France

We booked Airbnb’s for our next three stops: Aix, Barcelona, Ericeira. We did this thinking that we’d drive from Italy to France, then to Barcelona, and lastly, fly to Lisbon, Portugal. When we went to book the car, we realized our rookie mistake. Renting a car in one country and returning it in another cost an extra $1200. I researched our transportation options and found that flying with Vueling in between cities would be the easiest and most affordable alternative. (If you want to avoid our other mistakes, check out Practical Tips on the Travel Resources page!

View from our Airbnb in Ericeira

Here are the highlights of our trip (More on each destination in separate blogs): 

Rome: 5 days

Private car pick-up from the airport arranged by our Airbnb host. Lots of walking and some taxi-taking. Eating lots of pizza and pasta. Gelato every day. Visiting the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Taxi back to the airport. Rent a car and drive 3 hours to village just outside Lucca. 

Tuscany: 12 days

Bike riding along an ancient aqueduct, walking the walled city of Lucca, learning about olive oil production and dinner on a Tuscan farm. Day trips to Pisa, Cinque Terre and  Florence. Pasta and pizza, oh my! 

Drive back to Rome, return rental car and fly to Marseille, France. Rent a car in Marseille, drive 30 minutes to Aix-en-Provence.

Aix-en-Provence: 5 days

Walking the small city of Aix, crepe making experience with a local. Day trips to the cave of Mary Magdalene and the coastal town of Cassis. 

Drive back to Marseille, return rental car and fly to Barcelona. Taxi to Airbnb. 

Barcelona: 3 days

Walking Barcelona and using public transport. Flamenco show, and visiting La Sagrada Familia. 

Taxi to airport, fly to Lisbon. Rent a car in Lisbon and drive 45 minutes to Ericeira. 

Ericeira: 9 days

Surfing every day (Kai), walking the small town and beaches, down time and day trips to Sintra. 

Fly Tap Air Portugal home to Florida. 

Are you planning a family trip and wondering where to go and how to begin? Get the free guide, Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience, when you subscribe to this blog. You’ll also receive Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

Rome: Twenty Years Later— With Family

In 1999, while the media spoke the word Y2K approximately 2K times a day, I was all, carpe diem—I’d just resigned from my first full-time job and was headed to Europe for two months. I was based in the Czech Republic and took trains to nearby countries, including Italy, where Rome was a highlight of my travels. When I walked the Roman Forum, I couldn’t believe that my feet were walking a path more than two-thousand years old. The magnitude of time revealed itself in a way that was completely new to me. Then I discovered gelato. Even ice-cream revealed itself in a completely new way to me. Obviously I was mind-blown. But Rome kept coming at me, with more. I stood inside St. Peter’s Basilica and nearly wept for the beauty. I was twenty-three and my world busted open. I was connected to a deep, deep history of humankind. 

Fast forward twenty years. When I started to plan our five-week family trip to Europe, I knew Rome would be on our itinerary. The fact that Roman History would be part of our middle-school homeschool curriculum, MAJOR BONUS! 

But how would I create a meaningful trip without feeling overwhelmed? 

First, I’d been thinking about my intentions around travel for a good amount of time. I knew that I wanted to travel to Europe because of our homeschool studies; I knew I wanted to experience again that feeling of deep connection. And I hoped that our trip would provide that same experience for my family. 

I spent months researching, scheduling and planning. In September 2019, we flew to Rome and stayed at an Airbnb in the Trastevere neighborhood. We ate considerable amounts of pizza and pasta and gelato. We walked the Forum and the Colosseum. We visited the Vatican Museums and the Pantheon. Our twelve-year-old, not easily impressed, was visibly inspired inside St. Peter’s Basilica. 

But what did Rome do? It kept coming at me, with more. The windows, wide open at our guesthouse, displayed a full moon hanging over Trastevere apartments. There I was, exactly twenty years later in the age-old city, staring at the most ancient time-keeper. And it was full. I was struck, once again, by the scale of time. Something stirred in me . . . this feeling of being exactly there . . . how we each hold together the ancient with what is to become. Rome

All of this, and it wasn’t a perfect trip. There were things that went wrong, things we learned as travelers. I stepped off our red-eye with an intense migraine. Our visit to the Vatican Museum was not as enjoyable as we’d hoped, mostly because of the crowds, although we did love the Raphael Rooms. The Trevi Fountain was so saturated with people we could barely toss our coin.

There are always things that happen in travel that help us learn to be flexible. Some things we can plan for, others are out of our control. Are you planning a trip to Rome with your kids? Click here to subscribe to the blog and receive, Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, for FREE.

Don’t forget to check out Travel Resources, where I’ve compiled suggestions based on hours of research in preparation for European travel, and guidance on creating meaningful trips wherever you go!