Tuscany Day 3 – Travel tips for parents with large families

Hey!  Not much happened yesterday, much to my delight.  We went for a drive to find an antique shop to satisfy my needs and the only town near us that supposedly had one, Sovana, closed it’s antique shop down some time ago.  Bummer.  

Sovana was beautiful though.  It even sold some token souvenirs in some of it’s little stores.  They were only magnets though and my brood are collecting key rings and badges so these were of no use to us.  Roccalbenga doesn’t have ANY souvenirs – a testament to how un-touristic it is.  The only thing they sell that has their name printed on it is some pretzel shaped, aniseed-flavoured biscuits (which are really, really hard – like rocks).  Never fear, a select few of you have been bought a packet of these local biscuits to sample.  

After snapping a few photos of Sovana we went in search of a lake to swim in.  I snoozed in the car with my luxury travel neck pillow and missed all the sights.  Kylah took a few photos out of the window so I didn’t miss out (will add them at the end).  Kids ended up swimming in the magical, ice-cold waterhole back in Roccalbenga while I wandered around the town chatting with my newfound Italian family.  

An early night was had by me because I felt a bit sick and decided I was over parenting leaving Ben to parent by himself.  

This didn’t work out quite as planned as after dinner (which I missed) Luciano took Ben and Rohan to a neighbouring dairy farm (of goats milk) so they could sample the local cheeses.  So the three girls spent the night with no parenting (as I was asleep) and had a brilliant old time playing together till the wee hours.  

I can’t believe a trip to sample cheeses was wasted on Rohan – worlds greatest hater of cheese.  He did say that he liked them but that could have been out of politeness.  I have trained him well to be polite and he is adept at going “mmmm delicious!” then turning his head before making a gagging face.  

As yesterday was a sleepy Tuscan day I decided to use this time to impart some of my travel wisdom for big families that I’ve gained along the way:

 1.  Your comfort (as a parent) is of utmost importance.  Staying in various places with who knows what kind of pillows and sheets made of goodness knows what can only result in poor sleep and a grumpy parent.  When travelling, it is imperative to maintain a cheerful, relaxed demeanour even when confronted by obscene whinging and grumpy children.  So prior to leaving I researched travel pillows to death.  I finally settled on one called “Sea to Summit” it is a blow up pillow but extremely comfy.  You can get them from Anaconda stores and here is the link:  https://www.anacondastores.com/camping-hiking/sleeping/sleeping-essentials/sea-to-summit-aeros-premium-pillow/BP90078207 .   I put a pillow slip on mine and while I’m travelling from destination to destination it reduces down to the size of an apple.  I also am partial to a huggy pillow and managed to find one:   https://www.luggagedirect.com.au/high-density-memory-foam-travel-neck-pillow-black.html. This high density neck pillow rolls up into the size of a small rockmelon and can be used as 1 long huggy pillow.  As I didn’t want to carry around my own sheets, I just made sure that I had neck to ankle pj’s packed and incase I got too hot, a little portable USB fan.  As for the pillow I use in the car/plane/train – it is called a Cabeau evolution pillow and it has air vents and chin support.  You can literally sleep anywhere with it.  Kids comfort is not so important.  I tell them that it is extremely hard work being as dependant on pillows as I am and that I am toughening them up so that they don’t have to be reliant on things as I am.

2.   If there is any more than 4 of you travelling then airbnb’s are a MUST!!  They are much cheaper and usually a much nicer and authentic experience.  Before booking an airbnb check out the reviews.  If a user has a number (or even 1) of an automatic review that say’s “This host cancelled the reservation ____ day’s prior to the trip” then DONT book!!  We had this happen to us for our trip to the Cotswolds.  The host cancelled 4 days prior and we were in a pickle.  Luckily it all worked out as we were able to stay with family but from that point on, I made a point of checking out the rate of host cancellations before booking.  Airbnb’s that are super hosts, or places you want to spend a lot of time in, it’s good to book a few months prior to ensure you get to stay.  Last minute bookings of Airbnb’s can be done but you will find the popular ones book out in advance and quite often don’t take one night bookings.  

3.  Hiking mats are high density foam mattresses that condense down into the size of a rockmelon  and are an awesome idea to have in your bag in case you do have to stay a night in a hotel.  Rather thank book two rooms (because NO hotels in Europe cater for families of 6) we just book for 5 and sneak the 6th one in to sleep on his own mattress.  This can also come in handy if your airbnb accomodation is 3 double beds and two of your offspring on that particular night loathe each other.  Just roll out the hiking matt and your problem is solved.

4.  Moving destinations – getting from A to B is stressful.  Especially when confronted with stuffy train stations and kids moaning about the load of their backpack.  I don’t have any suggestions other than just brace yourself for it and memorise the word sorry in the country you happen to be in.  Ben thinks having a proper plan to get from A to B helps but sometimes even this is stressful.  In the UK, you can just swipe on and off at train stations with your credit card and you get your tickets half price (and only billed once a week). You will need to purchase and opal card for your kids over 12 and then have a train station attendant change the card to a concession one after your purchase so that they can swipe on and off and only be charged half the price of a children’s paper ticket.  Children under 12 travel free with a parent.  

In France, however, you need to buy paper tickets in bulk.  These tickets are valid for 1 trip only and it can get very confusing.  Some stations want you to use them to enter and exit the station, others only require you to use them when entering so keep the current ones you are using separate from the unused tickets in case you need them to get out.  They are only valid for travel within Paris and you need to purchase separate tickets when going outside of the Paris zone.  It took us forever to get tickets one day as some of the ticket machines don’t like international credit cards and only take coins.  Our tickets that particular day came to around 40 Euro and we did not have 40 Euro in coins.  It took us a good hour to find someone who was finally able to help us purchase tickets.  You also need to be careful of stalkers who will say something to you in French, then sneak through the turnstile with you when you go through so they can get through without paying.  This happened to Kylah, who was outraged that someone used her lack of knowledge of the French language to break a rule.    

5.  Sim cards.   The biggest pain in my butt.  Finding a sim card was easy.  It cost me 2 Euros.  Adding credit to the sim card was a nightmare as Vodafone wanted me to add a UK address and use a UK credit card number to top up.  I couldn’t download the Vodafone UK app as you need to have a Vodafone iTunes account to get it.  Simply switching your iTunes account from Australia to England does not do this as you then need to add a UK credit card.  After many frustrated internet chats with various Vodafone representatives who did not understand my questions as they must not have been on their list of common questions people ask, I finally found one who told me to go to a website called Ezetop to add credit to my phone.  Ezetop has a world wide app called Ding that you can download and it allows you to add credit to anyone’s phone number, wherever they are in the world.  This gets you around the whole ‘no UK address/credit card’ issue.  Once you’ve added your credit you can text the bundle you want to purchase to the Vodafone number and then it’s added to your phone.  I went with Vodafone as it seemed to be the only one that I could confirm would let you use the calls/texts/data all over Europe.  The only problem is that as my phone number is a UK number I have to remember that when I’m dialling a phone number in the country where I am in, I must treat it like an international number (you know putting the +39 for Italy) and when giving out my number in any country I have to remember to put the +44 in front of it.  

6.  Children and touristic places in peak seasons.  DON’T DO IT.  In my experience, especially at the Eiffel Tower https://nobeladventures.com/2018/07/11/paris-day-2/ and Versailles https://nobeladventures.com/2018/07/12/paris-day-3/  it was not an enjoyable experience.  This of course excludes Disneyland which is always fun no matter how busy!!!  Try to stay off the beaten track and live like a local.  It will be much cheaper and the kids will get a more authentic experience.  

7.  Meal ordering and grocery shopping in another language is stressful.  I don’t have any suggestions.  The only solution I found was to spend an hour translating the menu on uber eats or just hope for the best when grabbing stuff in the supermarkets.  Have I grabbed beefstock?

 Powdered soup? A recipe base for an extremely hot curry??  Who knows???  Speaking of grocery shopping, it seems that European countries have taken the whole “self service” thing one step further and you have to weigh and bag your own fruit and veggies.  This is not done at the register by the cashier and you will be confronted with a very frustrated cashier and grumpy line of shoppers queuing behind you if you have not weighed your fruit/veges in the fruit and vege section the applied the appropriate label.  

8.  Buy those plastic travel bags that vacuum seal your clothes without you having to use a vacuum seal.  They have been brilliant and allow more space for souvenirs.  

9.  Initially we had little wrist bands for Isabelle and Rohan with our phone numbers on thme and scared the bejeezus out of them with tales of child trafficking and staying close by.  Now we have given up on that because we are sick of them and are almost positive they would not be selected for child trafficking anyway.  

10.  In touristy places make sure you have your bags zipped, locked and carried in front of you as apparently pickpockets are running rife around Europe.  Our pockets weren’t picked but perhaps that’s because us Aussies are descendants of pickpockets and give off the “don’t mess with me” persona (or it could be that we are constantly surrounded by a gaggle of whinging children).  

11.  Advance booking of a hire care is imperative!!  I priced online and then went to a travel agent to get them to price one for me.  The travel agent was able to give me the best price on a 7 seater car for 16 days around Europe.  I think it was $900AU and that was with zero excess.  The online prices I had found for 7 seaters were more like $2000AU.  Our car hire in England was more expensive and I was able to find a better price online than at the travel agent.  It was something like $400AU for 4 days.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  I think I’ve gone WAAAAY over the 800 word count limit that was suggested to me.  In a future post I will detail how to guilt your children into good behaviour when they carry on whilst on such an amazing experience.  

For now I need to start getting ready to go to the Roccalbenga Festa in my ‘Stealing Beauty’-esque attire so that I can enjoy the markets and local foods.  

Thanks for reading!!

B xx

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