09/17/2014 - 10/17/2014
I've finally come to the end of this blog about our epic family journey around the Adriatic Sea. Not only was this the best trip I've ever taken with Mei Ling (and we've taken a lot), but I'm hard pressed to think of a better month that I've ever had in my life. We had great luck with the places we chose to visit, great health with no one having so much as a sniffle, and an amazing bonding experience as a family. I often find myself reminiscing about episodes of the journey, and trying to remember exactly what we were doing on a specific day of the month. Writing this detailed blog and choosing the photos to post helped me to anchor those memories and put everything in perspective. One thing I wanted to do for people who don't have time to read the whole blog and just want the highlights is to make a couple of "best of" lists.
10. Predjama Castle, Slovenia
9. Bologna town center and Quadrilatero, Italy
8. Kotor, Montenegro
7. Umbrian hill towns, Italy
6. Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy
5. Rocca Calascio and Apennine towns, Italy
4. Ljubljana old town, Slovenia
3. Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia
2. Strolling in Venice, Italy
1. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Of course, this list doesn't include many places that we enjoyed visiting such as Rome, Istria, Bosnia, and the Croatian islands. In all these places there just wasn't any one thing that stood out as particularly enjoyable or memorable, although there isn't anywhere I wouldn't have visited if I could do it all over again.
10. Na po ure, Zadar, Croatia
9. Teta Olga, Ploce, Croatia
8. Padua market self-catering, Italy
7. Pri Mari, Piran, Slovenia
6. Antica Osteria de la Stella, Urbino, Italy
5. Konoba Trs, Trogir, Croatia
4. Ljubljana market seafood trucks, Slovenia
3. Rooftop terrace breakfast at Il Marchese del Grillo, Sulmona, Italy
2. Il Molo, Parco Conero, Italy
1. Catalina Mlina, Kotor Bay, Montenegro
The food on the trip could have been much better, although we did have a few memorable meals over the course of the trip. I think only the top six would have stood out if we were home in Miami, and some of those only due to the setting. There were an enormous number of disappointments, even among restaurants that were recommended by the Lonely Planet and had the highest votes on TripAdvisor. Of course, real foodies will scoff at those resources but Michelin starred restaurants were not an option for us given the kids and our unwillingness to maintain a fixed itinerary. If anyone has found better methods for identifying good restaurants on the fly in Europe, I'd love to hear them. In general, I've found it to be a lot harder to find a great meal in southern Europe than in the USA or Asia despite the reputations of Mediterranean countries for fine cuisine. The best they have to offer is extremely good, but the majority of places offer mediocre quality.
Top ten tips for traveling as a family with toddlers
10. Getting lost, ruined plans, and bad meals are inevitable. Arguments about whose fault it was and bad moods will only make things worse. Much better to focus on all the things that go well and laugh about the stuff that doesn't.
9. As annoying as it is to find a wireless store in every country, an unlocked smart phone and a SIM card with a data plan make life much easier on the road. There are ways to make calls and texts in different countries without changing SIM cards, but not to use data without rapidly draining bandwidth allowance due to roaming. If anyone knows of a SIM card which allows data usage across different countries without roaming, please let me know.
8. Keep the kids occupied in the car. Simplest solution: iPads. And keep the trips short. There's no reason to be driving six hours between stops in Europe. If you can't find something interesting to see within two or three hours, you're doing something wrong.
7. Charge all the electronics to the max every night. Make sure you bring all the cords from home. If the plugs aren't compatible with the outlets where you travel, bring a power strip from home so you only need one adapter. Bring a compact recharger as well.
6. One parent is always more absent-minded than the other. The less absent-minded one should keep track of the indispensables (passports, documents, electronics) and make sure all the bags make it back to the car on every departure.
5. Travel requires both parents to make some sacrifices and compromises. This is not a time for trying to win arguments or take stands.
4. Diapers: Find the best quality at the best price as soon as you have your car and buy as many as you have room for in the trunk. Buy more well before running out.
3. Milk: Both parents should know how much milk is left at all times. Buy more before you're down to the last liter. Figure out if your kids will drink the UHT (room temperature) milk that is popular outside of the US because it will make life a lot easier if they do.
2. Ensuring the health and safety of your kids is vastly more important than anything else about your journey. Traveling isn't dangerous, but being out of your familiar environment means you might not recognize some risks. Keep a close eye on your kids and examine every place you stay for hidden hazards.
1. Already know that you enjoy the process of doing all day activities as a family before you leave, not just the idea of doing things as a family. If your spouse or kids drive you nuts at home, traveling will only make it worse.
There's probably more I could add here. We have always brought our own car seats because once they're latched in the rental car we don't have to worry about them again until we get back to the airport for the return trip. This also means we can take cabs to and from our home airport, don't have to pay outrageous car seat rental fees, and have our familiar comfortable car seats rather than roll the dice on what the rental company gives us. Of course, taking a trip where we only had the car for part of the journey would make bringing our own car seats impossible. With regards to strollers, we've tried two single strollers and one double stroller. The double stroller has the advantage that only one parent can handle all toddler transportation, but it can be very hard to manipulate through markets and crowded areas and hard to carry up stairs. Now that our daughter walks more, we've decided to take one single stroller and two carriers. Ian and Cleo can trade off riding in the stroller, and I can carry the other on my back if he/she isn't walking. For those occasions when we can't use a stroller at all, we'll have both carriers. It's important to experiment with different carriers before you travel and figure out how to set it up comfortably for you and your child. It also helps to know how long you can carry your child before your back starts to feel like it's breaking.
Of course, now that we've had this travel experience, the only thing left to do is to try and top it. Towards that end, we've booked all our flights for a 35 day round-the-world trip starting April 1 that will take us to the Bay Area and Napa, followed by Seoul, followed by Mudanjiang and Guangzhou in China, followed by Delhi and Agra in India, followed by a short road trip in the Loire Valley in France. I think if our luck is as good in terms of avoiding logistical problems and minor illnesses as it was in Europe, this trip has the potential to be even better. As long as I have time, I'll try and blog the trip as we go so that my memories will be fresher. Naturally, there's still a lot of planning to do but time-permitting I may make blogs for our other completed family trips including Mexico, Israel, Pacific Northwest, England, Iberia, and round-the-world 2012. Who knows, eventually I may keep going back in time until I get to our first trip together to Paris in summer of 2008, although that's about 25 trips ago. I think if I get to that point I can safely consider myself a travel writer.