By Andrea Gargotta
When I was seven years old, my parents sent me with a family friend to Ireland for a month. I still vividly remember the trip. The smell when I got off the plane, the air on my skin--it felt like I had landed on another planet. The farmhouse with the wartime cot I slept in, the long walk to the local bar with all the kids in town peering at the adults drinking pints of frothy beer, whole fish (including the eyes) for breakfast, feeding the chickens; these are some of the memories that comprised a magical summer I will never forget. The trip was perhaps the greatest gift my parents ever gave to me.
It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I left the United States for Southern Italy. I have spent the last 20 years exploring this seductive country. As a result I have planned countless detailed itineraries for people wanting to experience La Vera Italia.
When I had my fist child in my late thirties, I knew he would need to be an organized traveler -- and fast. My son's first trip was to New York City at four months old; his first overseas adventure was at six months old. My daughter turned eight weeks old on the beach in Belize.
When I share with my friends the amount of travel I have done with my kids they are always surprised. I have many friends who just refuse to travel. They claim the kids are too young, it's too much work, that the jet lag would kill them all. Even with young kids, it can be done easily and well. And they will be grateful to you forever for the gift of travel.
Simplify. When the kids were younger, travel was more complicated. They needed more items to help them travel successfully: strollers, car seats, toys, diapers. Now that they are getting older it is so much easier to travel with them. They have their backpacks and digital devices to occupy their minds on the long flights to Europe. As they've grown, I've learned to simplify. I pack less than I think they'll need, and more of the essential items I've learned they can't do without. Each child is different, but I'd encourage you to simplify your list. If you can think of items that will do double duty (such as windbreaker pants that disassemble into shorts), pack those.
Do your research. With younger kids do some research. Many hotels have all you need right there. Strollers, car seats, crib, bedding, toiletries -- just call and ask. If they don't have these items on hand, they can find a local rental facility. It may cost a bit more but in the end your experience will be much more enjoyable without lugging bulky items.
Anticipate jet lag. When we travel I like the first night or two to be spent in a nice, more luxurious, hotel, with air conditioning and helpful concierge. This way the kids can adjust to the time before embarking on an adventure. This last trip I tried "No Jet Lag" from Whole Foods. It really worked. We were all still sleepy but slept through the night every night. In two days we were on local time. I also make sure we get up every morning at 9:00 and stay up really late the first few days. Also walking in the sunshine is essential to acclimating to the local time zone.
Pack an organized bag. I have also found that an organized and well-stocked crossover bag is my most valuable item when traveling. I prefer a canvas bag. Then when something spills I can easily wash it. I have several nylon zipper bags that I label so I can find them easily. The medicine bag is chock full of antibiotic band-aids, antiseptic wipes, kids chewable Advil, and Claritin. (Yes! No sticky syrups!) I have another bag with ballpoint pens, colored Sharpies, tape, washable colored pens, and 4x6 index cards. This is great for games at the dinner table. We love to play restaurant review, ranking each place we eat and writing the results on the index cards. Custom-labeling individual, sealed bags will help you toss your favorites in your tote before you head out for the day.
Remember your secret spots. I also collect business cards from every place we visit. I have started to tape them on the index cards and jot down notes about the establishment. Then when friends ask me to plan or suggest places for their travels I can easily refresh my memory. My kids enjoy reviewing these when we get home and keeping their own notes in their travelogue.
Get charged up. Extra power is essential for all your digital items. Make sure to get extra converters and wall chargers for every device. I am a big fan of the Mophie external battery just in case you (or more importantly your children) run out of power somewhere. I-touches are amazing for all the kids. They can watch movies but the best feature is they can take their own photographs. Then when you return home the kids can create their own memory book online. They see and experience in a whole different way when they are able to scrapbook or create their own collectible photo albums of the trip.
A little organization and forward-thinking goes a long way to making the most your of your traveling time. Buon viaggio!
Professional chef and party planner Andrea Beth Gargotta has built a career on effortlessly dishing up a variety of healthy, exotic dishes. She is known for her art of detail in every aspect of the culinary experience -- from menu development to shopping to clean up. She opened and ran her highly acclaimed craft-services company, Andrea's Craft Service, with the goal of creating a healthier food experience on the film set, gaining admirers such as Tim Allen, Mary J. Blidge, Michael Bay, Joe Pytka, Adam Sandler, Jane Seymour, and countless other A-listers. She is at work on a book about her culinary experiences.