I just returned from a 32-day trip all over Italy with my family. It’s been a dream of mine for years to take a one-month sabbatical from my business and travel with my husband and three kids to not only enjoy beautiful Italy, but for the kids to see and experience where their Nonno and Nonna (my husband’s parents), grew up.
Traveling with kids is not easy. We enjoyed our trip, but it wasn’t without challenges. I’m not complaining—being in Italy, and enjoying authentic wine, pizza, pasta, and gelato daily is not a bad way to spend a month. Yet I’m amazed that you can be in the most beautiful place in the world, and kids will still find something to complain about.
There were many great experiences and lessons from this trip that apply both personally and professionally. Here are three things I learned from my sabbatical:
It takes me more time than I expected to truly relax. This was the first time I took more than two weeks off at a time since I started my business 15 years ago. For the first four days, I checked my work email, and then I completely disconnected from work while I was away. No calls, no email, no slack, nothing. I am a big advocate of disconnecting from work on vacation, and I continue to see the positive benefits when I do. When I am checking work email, I have a constant feeling anxiety that there are things to do. I enjoyed the trip the first two weeks, but it was at about the two-week mark when I really started to relax and be present and noticed my work anxiety was gone. Even after I stopped checking email, my mind was still in work mode. It took time to release any thoughts about work to truly enjoy vacation. Most leaders I work with report that a one-week vacation isn’t relaxing; that they barely have time to disconnect and relax before they have to go back to work. If you haven’t taken more than a week off at a time, I encourage you to try a longer vacation and completely disconnect. You will truly be able to enjoy the experience (and maybe even relax if you don’t have kids with you). 😊
Kids care about simple things. Traveling with kids is challenging and interesting. My children are 12, 10, and 8, respectfully, and it amazed me that they would still complain, fight, or be cranky while on this incredible vacation. I eventually stopped preaching and lecturing about what an amazing experience they should be having, and how much they should appreciate it.
Really, kids love simple things. This was a typical day:
- “Look at this amazing architecture!”
- “Isn’t the history of this city so fascinating!”
- “Guys, look around you! You’re in Italy!”
- “You can’t see things like this at home. Do you see how amazing it is here?”
- “Do you know this building has existed before Jesus?”
- “Look at the details of the painting of the ceiling! (of the Sistine Chapel). Can you believe Michelangelo painted this in a little over three years!?”
- “Is there a pool here?”
- “Can we have Coke?”
- “I’m hungry!”
- “Do we get to keep these toiletries?”
- “Can we go to the stores?”
- “Can we get gummy bears?”
- “When are we eating?” (when we just had breakfast a half hour before)
We could have gone to a Hilton with a pool the next town over in Maryland and they would have been happy. I know that they had a great time, and that they will have wonderful memories. And although it’s frustrating at times that they don’t fully comprehend what they are experiencing, it’s also humbling and genuine.
Kids care about the simple things—the cool, refreshing pool after a long day of walking, the lizards running around outside of our house in Tuscany, the grown up feeling of finally being allowed to taste soda (with lectures on how bad it is for you from mom), and the sweet taste of Stracciatella gelato (almost every day). I found myself contemplating that amazing trips are certainly a great experience, but happiness comes from simple things. In our culture of more, more, more, true joy and peace come from slowing down, spending time together, and truly enjoying that delicious gelato. I am inspired to take more time off to rest and do nothing, even if it’s at home.
Rest is important to be at your best (no matter where you are). I love sleep. During normal life (i.e., not in Italy), I am pretty structured about everyone in the house getting to bed at a certain time. I personally aim for 8.5-9 hours a sleep each night, because that’s what I need to feel great and have the energy to be at my best. I see a negative impact on my energy and performance if I have even one hour less of sleep. I also know I’m crankier and more reactionary when I am tired, as are most people, including kids. Being out of our routine where the kids were going to bed late, we were eating more carbs and sugar, and moving cities frequently had its impact. The last week of our trip, everyone was cranky, tired, and lacked energy. You can be in the most beautiful city in the world on vacation, and if you are tired, it’s hard to fully enjoy yourself. This experience reinforced my dedication to prioritizing great sleep habits at home, and on vacation.
When I asked my kids what their top five favorite things about our trip were, one thing they all mentioned was the Lego store. 😂 The display of the Milan Cathedral in the window made out of Legos was really awesome, but besides, that, it was a regular Lego store. Proof once again, that kids like the simple things. Other things that made their top experiences list: meeting the Pope, the jacuzzi in the first hotel, the pool, meeting family in Puglia, the Parmesan Reggiano cheese tour, and the boat ride.
A fantastic trip has come to an end. I have learned some things for future trips (three weeks is probably our sweet spot for traveling internationally). Overall, it was a positive experience, and I plan to take more longer vacations. I think my next sabbatical will be at a lake for four weeks where we stay in the same place the whole time so I can hopefully relax (as much as you can relax on a vacation with young kids).
We have many memories to cherish, and some lessons learned, but there’s no place like home.