On Instagram, I asked a few weeks ago if anyone had any travel questions. I know there’s a million and one travel blogs out there with questions answered on the daily, but I think there’s something that can be added with everyone’s unique traveling experience. So here’s the Q+A I promised! Also, I did a post on this after our last longer trip, so there’s probably some overlap but check that one out here!
Is Orvieto a good home base? Is there a train station there so you can stay without a car?
I think Orvieto is a great home base. They do have a train station–you take a 5-minute funicular ride down to it (that runs every 10 minutes; though, somewhat problematic as it stops running at, I think, 8 pm so if you have a late train back from Rome, you’d need to figure out a taxi back to upper Orvieto)–where you can easily hop on a trains to and from Rome or Florence. We also did Cinque Terre from Orvieto a few years back, which did include a change in both Florence and La Spezia. Add to that, we got to Positano this way too (although that was a little like planes, trains, and automobiles. As I recall I think it was a train to Rome, then a train change to Naples, then a subway to a bus stop, then a bus ride to Positano.). As long as you can get to a major city, you can get pretty much anywhere. If taking fast trains (instead of the slower local trains) is your goal, than Orvieto is not as perfect a stop. Fast trains don’t stop there–they pretty much stop at the big cities. So, as long as you can get to one of them, you’re good. Now, Orvieto itself is so completely charming. You’ve seen a lot of it here, and in my Instagram stories. But there’s so much to see outside of Orvieto that you’re missing if you don’t have a car or rent a car (not entirely true; trains from Orvieto can still get you there, but sometimes these places are an hour by car and with train changes, it’ll end up taking quite a bit longer which can just be frustrating). There is a car rental place in Orvieto Scalo (meaning the lower part of the town; not the ancient walled city that we stay in; the funicular takes you to Orvieto Scalo, which is also where you’ll find the train station) so that’s not impossible. And the places you can go–Civita (accessible by bus from Orvieto), Siena, Assisi, Lake Bolsena, Todi, etc. So, in conclusion, yes I think Orvieto is an amazing home base, but I think it’s nice to sometimes be able to pack it up in a car, and go at your own pace, not subject to train schedules (or be at the risk of arriving back at Orvieto when the funicular has stopped running; we did that when we missed our train from Rome, but our friend Sylvia took pity on us and picked us up to drive us back to our apartment). I love arriving back to Orvieto after a busier, more bustling day in a nearby city though. It is slower paced, and easy to spend large chunks of time in between the more hectic ones, in my opinion.
What is renting a car like? Tolls? Etc.?
We have not done it since our trip in the fall of 2015, but as I recall it was not a lot different than in the States (although Italy is pretty expensive for car rentals, I think compared to some other European countries). Right by the funicular, there’s a Hertz rent-a-car. We were able to even get a 9-passenger van for when my parents were in town, along with a couple of car seats for the little ones. We also did it in Switzerland, and in England. Steve was always the primary driver and, I believe, cost a bit more if you list more than one driver (and more still if you list a younger driver). We always listed him only.
Someone asked for Switzerland tips. If they’re reading this, then give me more details. I’d love to talk about it but I’m not sure which direction to head. One giant Switzerland tip is this: GO THERE. (Seriously. I dream of Switzerland every day. One of the best places in the world. It pains me a bit to have been so close and not to have visited this time.)
What were the differences between going last time with a baby Anders and this time with toddler Anders?
Anders was 9 months through 11 months last time we went. This time he was 2 1/2! Very different. Hard to say which I prefer. 9 month Anders was much easier, in a lot of ways. He hardly made a peep and was a very contented baby. As a 2 1/2 year old used to having the run of the house (everything’s childproofed, you know what your child is capable of, etc. therefore they have so much more freedom at home), he was way tougher this trip in a lot of ways. That was actually the toughest part of the trip overall. Though, I liked that he could just run around and be a kid this time, as opposed to only being able to crawl and needing to be held the entire last trip. That was especially tough in our Orvieto apartment which I never felt was clean to my home standards. I hardly ever wanted him crawling around it, and that’s hard for months on end. Plus, the floors were so hard in Italy (we didn’t have rugs in most of the places we stayed), so a baby learning to sit up and inevitably falling is extra tough on such hard surfaces.
How do you find deals on flights?
I don’t have any really great tips here other than looking a lot, so you get used to what the average price is, and then know when you’re getting a deal. We do look at Google Flights and Kayak, but some airlines don’t participate in those companies so you need to look at those separately. And remember to look at other (close) airports for the deals going out of there too. (For instance, we flew out of JFK with Emirates last time, instead of Boston’s Logan).
How do you deal with kids and jet lag and time schedules?
Oh, this question. I’ve gotten this one a lot and I wish I had some magic formula (or pill–that’s healthy and without side effects, of course) that you could give your kids to get them on the proper time zone in the snap of a finger. I really didn’t feel like we struggled that much upon arrival in Italy. I will say, though, as sleepers go I think Parker and Anders are both really good. They’re pretty no nonsense, like their sleep, and don’t struggle sleeping in new environments (because they’re more used to it? because of their personalities? both?). When we got there, they were both pretty tired. As you know, I flew alone with both of them to meet Steve who was already there. We had a 10 PM flight out of Logan that arrived at 6 AM our time, 12 PM Italy’s time. They both had fallen asleep within an hour or so of take off, and slept most of it, but even so–that is way less sleep than they’re used to. Side note: Anders slept partially on me the whole flight, so I barely moved. As a result, my feet were more swollen on the flight than they’ve ever been before. I could literally almost not put them back in my Nisolos when we landed. #SausagesWhen we got in our friend’s car, at probably closer to 1 PM Italy’s time now (7 AM ours), Anders fell right to sleep and I believe Parker stayed awake if memory serves correctly (he, especially, slept like a champ on the flight. Just put his head down on the arm rest with one of the airline pillows and was out). Anders napped for a bit, and then was awake again once we got back to our Orvieto apartment, and–details are fuzzy! Mostly because it was pretty uneventful–had a fairly normal day. We tried to keep them up till a normal Italy time, and I remember the next day they slept till like 9 AM which is super unusual for them both. So what am I even saying here? Expect it’ll be a little challenging. Expect that the first few days will be funky and don’t plan much. Try to follow the patterns of where you are, and get on that schedule. Eat when they eat, sleep when they sleep. And a stroller is a God-send here, because if you are out and about, at least your little one can still sleep if they want. Bring some things that make them feel a bit like home. If you do a little foot massage with lavender lotion at home, bring it and do it on vacation too. If they’re used to a certain blanket, a certain song sung, a back scratch, do it on vacation too. But, above all, have low expectations. That’s honestly half the secret to travel. But, in my opinion, the stress of how the whole sleep thing will work almost always ends up being more difficult than the reality of it. And when you’re really tired, there’s always really delicious Italian coffee waiting for you at the nearest cafe.
What baby gear do you bring? What do you leave behind? How do you travel with them on planes, trains, etc.?
This is a major question I’ve gotten, particularly as it relates to car seats. We did not and have not ever brought car seats along. In part because our travel was not so car-heavy that it would be worth it to lug them around for three months (last trip) or three weeks (this trip). On our last trip, we did travel by car a few days off and on in Italy, off and on in Switzerland, and then primarily by car in the Peak District. Knowing how much travel we did do, trains, planes, etc. I cannot imagine lugging around the bags we did, the stroller, and then adding two giant car seats to the mix. So, over all, I am very much for NOT bringing them along. That said, if you fall into one of two categories: (1) primarily car travel instead of public transport (2) would find yourself really, really uncomfortable with a less-than incredible car seat (meaning one that cannot go backward facing, five point harness, etc.) than I would advise you to bring one. You will pay an extra fee to rent one. When we rented a car in Italy and also in England, there was no backward facing car seats available at the rental places. Like, they just didn’t have them. And in Italy it wasn’t even a five-point harness. On one hand I was a bit nervous, wishing badly that I had ours with us, and on the other I was like, “calm down, Bridget.” In Italy, I often saw children riding in car seats in the front seat as well. In Italy you don’t have to have a fence around your pool. Or railings all the way up your front steps. In Amsterdam, everyone bikes and bike helmets are nonexistent. Safety standards are just different. So, on one hand I think good for you, America! Keeping everyone safe! And on the other I think it has made us a safety-obsessed culture in a bad way. So, you decide. Now, what I will NOT travel without while my kids are little is our stroller. When abroad, we are on foot more than we’re ever in a car, so a stroller (and our good one) is an absolute necessity. We have this stroller and got the stroller bag for it before our last trip and I can’t imagine being without either. Really great storage underneath. This thing is a workhorse. I think I’m going to have it buried with me when I die. That’s how much I love it. Oh! One last thing. If you’re traveling with a small baby, I’d recommend a carrier too, if you’re the baby-carrying type. I brought one last time, and was glad I did. Naps in a carrier are so nice for baby.
Do you speak the language?
I wish our Italian was better but it is basic. Sylvia is probably reading this and laughing. Let me clarify: It is less than basic. I can order food, I can understand some of their words (in large part because of the Spanish I took in high school that I remember oddly well), but it’s not even conversational. It’s not such a problem in most places, because basic English is often spoken, and you’d be surprised at how much communication can be done without words at all. In Orvieto, there’s less English spoken, and it’s always so frustrating when these older Italians walk by, comment on Anders, or ask a question, and I so want to talk with them and hear more of what they have to say, but I can’t because I don’t know Italian. One of America’s serious weaknesses is how little we know of other languages. This isn’t true in Europe. They’re almost all bilingual (or more). I always feel dumb. It is what it is. One day I’ll be bilingual! And play piano! And get a tattoo!
If you had to spend a month in one Italian city, which would it be and why?
Ooh. Good question and a hard one too. This is tricky. Do you have kids? Is this just a romantic trip for two? Tell me! I want to answer this question! Let me try without knowing anything about you… I’ve often said if I had to spend a lot of time in Italy, I think Florence would be my preferred hub. I love that city alone, but it’s a pretty great location for going north to the Dolomites, to Lake Como, going West to Cinque Terre, and then it’s! in! Tuscany! so the surrounding area is just gorgeous. But Rome for two is also magical and is easier for getting to Positano or Sicily. Guh. I just can’t nail one down.
How many outfits did you pack?
Should I do a post on what I packed? How about I do that? It’ll be like a capsule post of sorts. I was actually patting myself on the back because I didn’t pack much. Ooh! A not-very-good picture to demonstrate.My Mom took this as we said goodbye. I’ve got myself and both boys in the two bags to the left of this picture. The one Parker’s holding and the one that’s just behind him. The giant bag hanging on the stroller handles is the stroller bag so that doesn’t count! Each of the boys had a carry-on (Anders’ is below the stroller) and then we had two checked bags. We gate check the stroller (it shouldn’t cost you anything to check baby equipment–any of it–and I always ask to gate check the stroller so that we can hopefully have it at the gate when we arrive). That said, we were 0 for 2 this trip because it no longer looks like a stroller when it’s packed in the bag, so it somehow got put with all the other checked luggage–in both Rome and in Amsterdam. I was a little nervous upon arrival in Italy without Steve and with a potentially long customs line to wait in with no stroller to put Anders in but luck was on our side that day and the customs line wasn’t long plus Anders was behaving!
What are the essentials and what do you leave behind?
I guess the essentials for me, as it relates to children, is the stroller. For me? I leave behind all hair equipment–blow dryer, curler, etc. I do nothing with my hair but air dry while I’m abroad (I use this right out of the shower), unless the apartment happens to have a dryer that’s got a European plug. Otherwise, you can bust your equipment (it just doesn’t end up working well with an adapter, and often breaks (for good) so I wouldn’t bother). I also leave behind a lot of shoe choices since they end up taking up a lot of space. Hm… if you have any other questions related to this, let me know and I can be more specific.
What shoes do you pack?
I did a post on that here! But specifically, on this trip, I packed Converse, Beek sandals (which pack almost completely flat and weigh nothing), my Birks, and my Nisolos. I ended up wearing my Birks nearly every day–no surprise there.
What are your tips for a smooth flight? How do you keep your kids entertained on the flight and also in a new place?
I think I’ll make this a post of its own as well.
What did you pack in that wellness/homeopathic bag that was in your IG stories?
I promise a post on this alone as well! Sorry I haven’t done it thus far.
How do you save up for long trips?
This is pretty relative to how much you make, and what your lifestyle is like, but for us (and particularly on the last trip), we used credit card points that we’d been accruing for years. We also cut certain things out for months before going (excess shopping, eating out, etc.). Steve wrote a lot more about this here. No doubt our trip is made much less expensive with a free apartment in Orvieto (Steve was working there and we lived at his college’s apartment that is there for working professors) and by Steve’s flight always being paid for. Also, staying in Airbnbs is a huge money saver. I considered–for about three seconds–staying in a hotel in Florence (this last trip) instead. Thought, “we’re only going to be there for two days, and will realistically be eating out a lot and therefore don’t need a kitchen, etc.” No. A hotel for two nights is so much more than an Airbnb. I’ll stick with Airbnbs, thank you.
That’s it! Leave any additional questions in the comments and I’ll answer them there!