Succeed sightseeing with your youngsters

Bolzano - Main PlazaLast year we had the opportunity to take my 7-year-old son to Italy.  I was excited to show my son a piece of the world outside of the US, but nervous.  He can be a ball-of-energy and hard to reign in.  Travel with him is sometimes difficult because he wanders and is impatient  with waiting, delays or the unknown.  He is a picky eater and a complainer when he is tired (jet lag!!)  I was uncertain about so many things.  My husband and I don’t speak Italian and had never been to Italy so we weren’t sure what to expect ourselves, let alone with our son.

However, the trip went SO much better than anticipated and my son LOVED it. Our memories of this one-on-one trip with him are amazing.  I recommend taking a child with you whenever possible!   We still had plenty of couple time and relaxation without our littles around.  And my son passed on his love of Italy to his sisters and they are begging to go.

Here is how we prepared and what worked wonders with him.

Sleeping and Jet Lag

To help alleviate jet lag, and make sure your body will sleep when it is suppose to take Melatonin (Doctor approved for us!) Get up really early (5 am) the day you flying out, even it you don’t leave until the evening. On the plane take melatonin 30 mins before you want to sleep and try to lay down. Jackson Sleeping on way to VeniceMy son laid on the floor where there was white noise and darkness. Within an hour, he was asleep for the duration of the flight. When we touched down in Europe about 3 am our time, we woke him up and started going on our day. Stay up on the first day until it is night time where you are. Take melatonin every night (30 mins before you want to sleep) to help get to sleep quickly in unknown places and time zones.
They make Melatonin in gummys that taste delicious! My kids loved them, but BEWARE! My kids became monsters 30 mins after they took it because they got SO tired.



Venice - On the Water BusWe found our old point-and-shoot digital camera and gave it to him before the trip.  I wasn’t too worried about him losing it or breaking it since we hadn’t used it in several years.  The camera was essential in keeping my son engaged and looking.  I didn’t care how many pictures he took and what they were of.  It was very entertaining that he got pictures of several door knobs, garbage cans, flowers and every pet and seagull we saw.  While we were  looking up at the Roman Forum, he was taking a picture of the trap door we were standing on.  His perspective was blocked by tall adults so he noticed different things than we did and this

Pisa - Jackson & Jamie at the Leaning Tower
Funny pictures make site-seeing more enjoyable for kids

actually enhanced our site-seeing experience.  Every night as we talked about our day we would have Jackson show us his pictures and talk about his favorites.  His pictures were HIS and what he saw and focused on.  This helped us to relate to him better and for him to communicate to us what he liked better.


Side note:  We thought we would get better pictures of us as a couple since Jackson had a camera, but we mostly just got shots of us and sky in the background.  Or with Dads head cut off. so have a stranger take your picture if you want a good one!

Renting a car vs. public transportation

Bolzano - Overlook Drive (1)We debated this for quite a while because we were only doing a one way trip (expensive for a rental) and the train system in Italy is really good.  But I am so glad we opted for our own car.  Having a car gave Jackson the down time he needed and gave us the freedom to come and go at our leisure.  We probably paid more for the car/parking/tolls (and parking tickets!) and gas than a train pass would’ve been, but we also go to see and experience more of what we wanted when we wanted it.  I noticed that when we got in the car it was like a traveling home for us.  Jackson could be louder and get down time playing with his toys, books, souvenirs, etc.  It gave us time to re-group and plan our next step.  It was a perfect way to break up the site-seeing and being in public with some relaxation time without us feeling like we were wasting precious time in a foreign country.  My husband and I could continue to site-see from the car and my son could take a break.

“Treat” budget

Florence - Gelato ChoicesWe budgeted $50-$100 for gelato.  Typically, we try to save money on food and especially unhealthy foods, but in this case it was worth it!  We knew our son would look forward to ice cream!  We made a goal with him to try as many flavors as we could (and we wrote them all down in his travel book with a rating next to it).  This helped us to motivate him to hike faster, walk further, count a certain number of statues seen or steps cliRome - Gelato with the Covingtonsmbed, etc.  It kept him engaged and he didn’t even notice feeling weary when he was licking a gelato.  Whatever your vacation provides that your child will enjoy, plan on splurging a little to make a better experience for them.

Our friends who lived outside the main city of Rome, showed us that we were paying triple the price for gelatos than what they pay at their corner market.  But convenience is worth the cost, unless
we could bribe Jackson to wait until we got home.

51xUsnZz9WL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_Tourist guide book

I found a travel book for our trip just for kids.  It had bits of historical information, things to find at each site, some Italian phrases, and some games. Jackson loved looking at his travel book in the car before and after sites.  He especially loved trying out the Italian.


At the end of every day we would glue in our ticket stubs (yep I brought a glue stick for him), rate things we ate, and write a bit about our day.  We bought a journal to help guide our thinking about the events and give my son space to write, but I bet you could make a little journal yourself.  I liked helping my son go over each day and all the things we did and saw.  In one day of sight-seeing there is more to remember than a month of the mundane!


The people we were staying with in Rome lent us a scooter for our days there.  This was such a blessing for us.  It folded up and had a strap so we could carry it if needed.  There were a couple times we couldn’t take it in places and so we found a locker for it or had to stash it in a bush and hope it was there when we returned (it was both times!) Jackson absolutely loved it.  He lasted for 10 hours through the city of Rome.  I think we walked 8 miles or more and he just kept on scooting!  He was so entertained and we were able to see all the things we wanted without hearing a minute of complaint.  We actually wore out before he did!

Rome - Riding a Bike in the Villa Bourghese
See a site in a different mode of transportation to rest weary muscles or feet

Listening entertainment

My son doesn’t love movies and after several on the plane, I didn’t want him to overdose on screen time.  I filled an old ipod with audio books, kid-friendly comedians (Jim Gaffigan, Brian Reagan, Bill Cosby) and music he would enjoy.  Sometimes he listened with headphones on his own and sometimes we plugged it in to the car speaker and all got a laugh.  We had to set some rules for when he could listen because he kept wanting to listen as we saw sites (which meant he wasn’t looking and would wander off).  Once the newness of having his own ipod wore off it worked wonderfully!

Hotel fun Bolzano - Swimming Pool in the 4 Peak HotelOur first hotel had a pool on the roof top!  Unfortunately, we didn’t figure this out until after we checked out (but we went back to swim and enjoy the view of the alps for a bit).  Make sure you check your hotel amenities first!  We had to wait a couple of hours for dad to work and wish we could’ve gone swimming to pass the time.

Our next hotel was built on the cliffs ofCinque Terra - Hotel on the Cliff (2) the Mediterranean Sea which was amazing for us, but it also had a pingpong table, game room, outdoor playset, etc.  We didn’t schedule enough time to play on it so we had to take a stop after we were done with our site-seeing so Jackson could get enough play time.   Finding hotels that offered something for him was not on purpose, but it added fun and excitement for his trip.

Our next hotel had a queen bed and a single bed.  I don’t think American hotels offer this, but a triple room was so perfect for us!

Finally, we stayed with a friend that had a yard for soccer and a boy his age with a few toys to play with.


When we encountered our first souvenir stand, I realized that Jackson wanted to buy EVERYTHING!  My husband and I collect magnets so we usually don’t waste a ton of money on souvenirs.  We quickly set a standard for him.  He could get one postcard from each place we went.  He could buy something for under $10 for each sister and find something for himself he could buy at the end of our trip.  We helped him figure out the currency rate so he knew how much things cost(Mathematical application anyone?).  He also helped us pick which magnets.  This gave him something to look at without constantly begging for more things.  We also bought shirts for all the kids.

Humanitarian We gave Jackson a handful of coins to pass out to the homeless in the city.  This really helped Jackson to look around and see people and their situations.  He had the opportunity to interact as he gave a few coins to each person.

Venice - Dipping Feet in the Grand Canal
Dipping our toes in the Canals of Venice.  Say yes, if you can to kids requests.

Make it a game  We counted steps,skipped stones, threw pennies in fountains, named statues, found differences in churches and tried to turn everything into a game for Jackson.  My husband is great at coming up with ways to engage him in what we want to do. Rome - Exhausted Jackson

My son was exhausted after the Vatican museum.  In this photo we are waiting in line to hike up to the top of Peter’s Basilica.  I never thought he would make it, but dad made up a game and Jackson made it up to the top by counting each step to see if it was more than the last building we climbed (971 steps.)


Rome - Jackson Climbing the Basillica
Counting steps at the top of the Basilica
Rome - Jackson at the Colosseum (1)
We told stories of what might have happened at each of the ruins to help him to get a picture in his mind.  Here he is being a gladiator.

Photo Journal after the trip When we got home I compiled all of his photos (and mixed in some of ours) into a book.  You can make them on Shutterfly, Arts Cow, Snapfish.  He loved showing his book to anyone who would look and this made the trip last longer than a week.

Cinque Terra - 1st City - Winding down to the Train

Food Jackson is pretty picky eater, but I felt like Italy was a great introduction since we could find pasta and pizza anywhere.  Your vacation may be a bit more challenging.  I kept snacks (especially with protein) on hand.  Travel packets of peanut butter, granola bars, apples, raisins, beef jerky, trail mix, or crackers are perfect to fill a belly when a meal isn’t coming soon.

One of our first stops was a grocery store, which was fun to see the differences from America.  We let Jackson pick some snacks he’d like and picked up a flat of water so we’d never be thirsty the rest of the trip.


Club at PHL (2)
A LONG layover can be fun when you find a playplace and get ‘free’ food at the airport club.

Rome - Pringles Goooooaaaalllll


We had an amazing trip thanks to these tips and ideas.  What else do you do for your little ones on sight-seeing trips?

Venice - Jackson Eating Pasta
Finding food he likes!!

The Folly of Flying by the Seat of our Pants

MOST of the time, I love last minute planning and ‘on the fly’ adventure travel.  Usually, we find awesome places and things to do and see.  When we finish a trip, I frequently say that deciding on the spot made the trip better than pre-planning it.  However, our most recent trip showed us the disadvantages of not planning, preparing and researching carefully for a trip.IMG_1685

As we drove toward the ocean, swimsuits on and ready to rock the waves,  I looked up family-friendly beaches in Miami. I had heard that some beaches that were nude, gay, party  beaches, etc.  So I thought I would make sure it was family friendly.  Those 2 words should do the trick, right?

South Beach came up as the most popular IMG_1686beach; NOT to be missed.  I also read about a little park, Lummox park, on 12th street and Ocean, that is a great place for kids to play around.  Seemed like a no-brainer.  My husband dropped the kids and I off at the park.  I sun-screened everyone while they played and he parked the car.  Together, we went right behind the park to the ocean.

All the ingredients for a successful day on the beach were present.  Hot sun…check; rolling waves… check; warm water….check; gorgeous, clean sand…. check;

We were absorbed in keeping our family together and finding a quick place to plant our stuff so we didn’t have to roll the stroller through sand any longer than absolutely necessary.

IMG_1683We plopped down, spread out our stuff and the kids and I ran to the ocean as fast as we could.  Dave was occupied getting Whitney to stop crying and go to sleep despite the heat and sun.  It was a moment of chaos for our family.  And thus, we were completely oblivious to those around us.

When things finally calmed down and we looked around, we piece-by-piece discovered that we had unknowingly stumbled on to the gay-est beach in town.   To our left, there were hundreds and hundreds of male couples sunbathing in speedos and short-shorts.  To our right, lesbian couples tanned.  The four lesbians right next to us (like 5 feet away) were sunbathing topless facing up. There wasn’t a child to be seen for miles.  Men in skimpy swimwear showing tanned skin and feminine walk, chatted gayly (and I mean that in the happiest way).   Women in thong bikini bottoms (*and by bottoms, I mean they didn’t actually have a bottom) caressed their partners.

We slowly realized that we had just planted our family in the middle of people who were not wanting to see a big Mormon-family with tons of kids running around.  We felt so out-of-place with our 4 kids, a baby, our white un-toned bodies, my one-piece workout swimsuit and missionary hair-cuts.   While those around us were lathering their bronzed bodies with bathing oils and donning the latest fashion sunglasses, we were sun-screening around hand-me-down stretched-out kid’s suits in the shade of our just given-to-us-umbrella.  The closest I came to fitting in was when I breastfed– without my cover on!  While we were not exactly shunned,  several couples obviously picked up their stuff and moved 20 feet down the beach, away from our noisy children.  We realized we were in the minority (or rather the ONLY) and felt very uncomfortable.   But, because we only had an hour before we had to head out to the airport, we just stayed put and tried to enjoy the beach despite our obvious differences.

See the wide space we were given on a crowded beach?  How nice, right?

True to form, and much to our chagrin on every other part of our trip, our kids were oblivious to the people around them.  They didn’t seem to notice anyone or anything except the waves, water, sand and toys.  They didn’t miss having other kids to frolic in the waves with (but did miss the same-gender couples making out in the ocean because I started a seaweed war to distract them).   My 4-year-old did beg to take her swimsuit top off, but as far as I could tell, that’s all they noticed.

As we left the beach, we were still wondering if it was, in fact, a gay beach or a special event or WHY there were so many in that area.  We then noticed the rainbow flags flying loud and clear and soon learned via google that 12th street beach is the #1 Gay beach in Florida (and has been for 25 years).  So glad we didn’t miss it, LOL!

And someday we will tell our children the story of the day we took our family to the Gay Miami beach.

A day in Seattle

We arrived in Seattle late at night (2 am our time) and crashed in a slummy hotel just north of the airport.  No problem, it had 2 large king sized beds, a kitchenette (which we didn’t use) and free breakfast which is the only thing our kids need to be happy.  I crashed putting the girls to sleep and Dave fell asleep with Jackson.  We both spent the night uncomfortably being kicked in the back by our children.  We usually help them fall asleep separately and then move them… note to self.. ALWAYS move the kids together!

At 5 am I was up (it is 8 am our time)  I started using my phone and next thing I know my 3-year-old is next to me and in the most motherly voice said, “It’s not time to use your phone, Its TIME to be in bed!”  I promptly obeyed and headed back to bed with her.  She fell asleep for another hour until everyone started waking up around 6:30.  I am always proud if my kids sleep past 7 or 8 our time.  When I was a young and inexperienced traveler, I would stress and worry about the amount of sleep my kids got, now I know that tired and not well rested kids are just part of the first days of travel and I try not to stress about what I can’t change and try harder to be prepared to help them through those tired times.

You know your living in a high class motel when you can only shower from the belly button down!

1. Pike’s Market Place

We started the morning where everyone told us to go, Pikes Place Market.  I must not have done enough research, because I expected only a fish market with workers singing and moving all over the place (‘FISH‘ book anyone?) But really it is a multilevel giant mall, with portions of it being in open air on one side of it.  We entered from the parking garage on the water side We really struggled finding the center famous part of it.

TIP#1 : Use the downtown parking website or app:  This helps you know the cost of parking and where to find close parking anywhere downtown.  It saved us at least $10!


Mini Donuts for breakfast (because the toast and jam and muffins at the hotel weren’t enough carbs to start the day)


This picture is a great memory because the kids were all sorts of worried about these fish  here, they wouldn’t approach them and they kept asking if they were dead.  I assured them they were and told them to get in a picture with me.  They reluctantly joined me, but kept their eye on the fish.  Then right before the picture this fish in the background jumped up!  Scared the kids (and me) to death.  The kids went screaming and crying away as the stranger with the phone snapped this.  Turns out the fish is attached to a chain and can be pulled from the other side of this display.  We had all sorts of fun with it later on (after the tears were dried).  and other families got their laughs and giggles as we pulled it and scared their kids… so pay it forward!


I finally convinced one of the kids to touch a fish.
Rosie the Bronze piggy bank found around the area.

Once the day got going, the market was really crowded (and this was a Thursday morning.  We had trouble staying together with so much to look at and so many people.  The kids were begging for lots of things and my husband stopped to buy Brats and Salmon (packed with lots of ice so it could last until dinner time). We ended up walking on the outside of the market and looking at the sculptures and bridges from the market to the other side of the street.

2. Gum Wall

This really is just a part of the market place, since it is just down the stairs from the central fish market.  The gum wall was gross!  I thought I would really like it, but I was grossed out.  Luckily,.my kids are old enough to NOT TOUCH when I commanded it!
We all left our mark. The kids just liked that we got to chew gum!

TIP: Bring gum or buy it before going down.  We left ours in the car and bought more in a shop upstairs.  BRING SANITIZER!

We wandered down the hall of the market and Dave found some German Brats we bought by the link, so we tried every kind.  Jackson of course ordered the Italian one.  Our hotel had a grill so we planned on making it for dinner that night.  We also bought some king Salmon to complete the random meal.

Seattle was so interesting!  We found art pieces, waterfalls, sculptures etc all around the city.

3. Waterfront

Behind Pikes Place we wandered down to the waterfront.  It was beautiful and there was ping pong, the giant ferris wheel ($13/adults $9/kids), the Puget sound and the aquarium ($25/adults, $17/kids)  if interested.  There was also a really cool blue path that I thought would be fun to bike if the kids were bigger.  We only spent 30 minutes enjoying the sites and sounds of the area and didn’t spend a dime (except in our parking that went over by 2 minutes and we paid another $3.)




This was part of the waterfront and the building the the back is the aquarium.
Another interesting sculpture.  Always something fun to look at here!

TIP: Bring a Sack lunch and eat on the provided picnic table with a fantastic view and the kids can roam or play ping pong.

4. Hiram Chittenden locks

We parked at the “locks’ and realized the kids and I were really hungry.  The place to eat only had fish and chips and I wasn’t sure how that would go over with the kids, but they loved it!  It always makes me a little nervous to take my picky eaters to new towns so I pack a lot of snacks, but I love finding food they will eat!

We then headed through a nice little park to see the Hiram Chittenden locks (free) where the ships enter and it fills up or lets out water to move them from one lake/canal to another.  We were there just in time to see a few boats rise within minutes.  The kids thought it wasn’t real, so it was fun to try to explain it.

Unfortunately, we missed the salmon swimming upstream season by a week, but there are windows into the canal so you can see the fish trying to jump up the stream to get back to their nesting ground.  We saw a few fish swimming around. IMG_20160721_125450536_HDR

TIP: Research the weeks that Salmon are running and this would be more entertaining

5. Discovery Park

We headed across the canal to Discovery park (Free)  I didn’t realize that during the week you have to check out a parking pass to go down to the beach and lighthouse.  There are only 8 parking passes!  One was expected back within 45 minutes so we decided to wait.  There was a small, but fantastic kids play area with puppets, tunnels and a few other things to look at and do.  It was a perfect down time for us and the kids.  The parking pass came right as we were ready to go and we headed out to the Puget sound for some tide pools.

TIP: Research when the tide goes out and get a parking pass early if possible. IMG_20160721_133116045

The water was coming in.  I didn’t see much of anything in the tide pools, but the kids liked exploring.  We walked around the lighthouse and it was much colder and windier around the point.  There were some great views and the kids always love a beach. IMG_2337

6. Seattle Center: International Fountain

We headed back down town for Seattle Center.  Here you can find the children’s museum ($10/person), the space needle($22/adults, $14/kids), Chihuly glass garden($27/adult, $16/kids), the international fountain (free) and lots of art and gardens (free) to see and explore.

This international fountain was amazing.  Look at the little people next to it.  Even though I had researched it I thought it was a small splash pad.  It is HUGE.  The fountain is choreographed to music so it is unpredictable and exciting.  One song the fountain sent water spraying SO high I got wet sitting above it and a hundred yards away.  It was so entertaining and fun.  Despite the weather being mild (in our humble Texas opinion) the kids were delighted to get soaked and run and play.  Such a great time was had here.  (and yes, my daughter is picking her nose for the pic… reality of having kids)

TIP: Swimsuits and a towel on hand would’ve been great!  It worked out just fine since kids are amazing, but if you are more prepared, stash some suits in your pack.IMG_2347

The space needle was a bit underwhelming.  It wasn’t nearly as high as I thought it would be.  The cost was astronomical though, so we passed.

We went into a “Center of the center” Seattle armory to find a restroom and in the process saw a lunch area with a bunch of places to eat.  There were giant games set out to play for free.  Giant scrabble (complete with beanbags for participants, connect 4, chess, checkers and other games).  I wish we had time to stay and eat and play.  Looked like a blast (for free too!).  We met a balloon guy and left the center with happy kids, ready for a rest.

TIP: Eat lunch or dinner at the Armory while the kids can be free to roam and play games here. IMG_20160721_153907039_HDR

 7.  Ferry ride across the Puget Sound

An hour ferry ride getting across the Puget sound would take 1 1/2 hours (waiting time) and driving all the way around would take 1 1/2 hours.  I was so glad we opted for the more expensive ferry ride ($32), because it was a fantastic experience.  Mariah fell asleep on our drive to the ferry and was able to stay asleep in the car while we waited.  The kids and I explored around the ferry waiting area and looked at motorcycles and different cars (and changed into dry clothes).  IMG_2351IMG_2353The ferry views were indescribable.  Seeing the Seattle skyline and then the amazing homes along the Puget sound was so beautiful.   We even got to chat with a local about how his experience was moving from Cali to Seattle.  I loved getting an insider’s perspective.

Snacks to tide the kids over until dinner

8.  BBQ at the Hotel

You’ll have to  check with your hotel to see if they have a grill or eating area, we called while we were in line for Brats at the public Market.  Without any  intentional planning on our part, our hotel (we got free with Marriott hotel points) was only 3 minutes from the ferry port.  Once at our hotel, I  set up the hotel room and headed out to set up dinner near the grill, while Dave headed to the grocery store to get some extra fixings.  We couldn’t visit Seattle without a little rain, so with no warning and beautiful blue skies, the rain started falling moving our BBQ inside.

Our knight in shining armor tames the fire-breathing dragon for dinner.

Salmon, brats, chips, grapes, pickles and juice.  I LOVED having our own space to enjoy dinner together without having to get on the kids for perfect restaurant behavior.  This was the perfect end to our day.  We really wanted to swim, but it was late (and even later in TX) so we headed to bed with visions of Seattle city in our heads.  This time we split the kids up to fall asleep and then moved them together for the night.


In all of our travels, we’ve found that we don’t enjoy the city scene as much as others, so we tend to hit the main sites in a day or two and call it a success.  There were many family friendly venues we could’ve visited, but we felt like we got a great overview of this city in a full day of adventures (and only spent money on a bit of food, ferry ride and parking, maybe $65 total!!) and we were ready to take a road trip out to Olympic National park in the morning.