The One Word That Will Make Your Family Vacation Stress-free
Just say yes.
Patience is a virtue, or so I’m told.
To say my dream week in Tuscany, with its rolling hills, mountains of truffles, and wine — all the wine — started off on a bad foot would be putting it mildly. What should have taken three hours and 29 minutes to drive from the airport in Milan took about seven. Gridlock is never fun and when you put two people in the car with admittedly very little of that thing called patience, it only compounds the problem.
After hours of screaming and making threats to jump out of the car on the highway, the whole family was gathered around the living room in our rented villa and happily drinking wine, employing self-deprecating humor as if we hadn't been at each other’s throats just moments before.
And while we love and annoy each other in nearly equal measures sometimes, going on family vacations is just part of what we do. It is possible to go away with your entire family (and the baby) without wanting to pull your hair out — and to still eat all the pasta and gelato while you do it.
Here’s the simple truth: we all get caught up in ourselves at times and things don’t always go as planned. Beyond realizing that sometimes you have to just shut up and let your dad rant about the traffic, it’s also imperative when traveling with a big group to roll with the punches.
That was never more apparent than when we got caught in a hail storm in Rome, rain pelting us so hard it evoked images of a monsoon. Suddenly I had socks so soaked I was squishing with each step.
Wringing out my hat and wishing I could find a store that sold dry socks, I sloshed around the ancient city, squinting up at the towering columns of the Roman Forum and huddling under the imposing archways of the Colosseum.
But as the light faded and I stood at the foot of the Trevi Fountain, with golden lights and water so blue it felt like it glowed, I was suddenly less concerned with how cold and wet I was. Ready with my two coins — one with a wish to return to the romantic city and one my mom insisted I throw in to find someone to return with — I tossed them back, grateful that my family was there to tell me to stop complaining and actually focus on the moment.
An hour later, finally a bit drier but no closer to that elusive coin-promised romance, I stuffed my face with a slightly spicy Trapizzino sandwich, garlicky greens and chili tucked into a buttery pizza bianca, followed by a towering cup of stracciatella gelato and whipped cream, happily shivering as I ate.
This was not my first trip to Italy, and I’ve been lucky to have seen a lot of the magical, romantic country. So when told on Christmas Day to get in the car, we were going to the often tourist-choked Leaning Tower of Pisa, I have to admit I wasn't thrilled. But it wasn’t just me in Tuscany. I was with six other adults who wanted to go and I was outnumbered.
As the bells rang out over Florence and families likely gathered to unwrap their presents, we started out for Pisa. While they stared up at the tower and gulped down shots of espresso, I looked at the map. I’d never seen the romantic cliffside towns of Cinque Terre, with their terraced gardens and rainbow houses, humming with life. But after years of wanderlusting after each town and spending hours committing them to memory through Google as I sat at my desk at work, the town of Manarola was within reach.
I ran through town, chasing the last of the sun, marveling at the rocks jutting out into the deep, dark sea and the fairy-tale, multicolored homes dotting the hillside. Most things were closed on Christmas Day, and as darkness took over and holiday lights sparkled against the water, the whole town took on a fantastical, deserted quality.
Just say yes. When you don’t want to, just do it anyway. Your family will get what they want and you’ll likely end up with something unexpectedly special — just one nail-biting, winding drive away.
But while compromise is always important, when traveling with a large group it can also be absolutely necessary to do something just for you.
Sunglasses on, I walked along the Arno River on my last day in Italy, watching couples, kids, and families stroll along the glistening water separating the heart of Florence from our villa. I had said goodbye to my sister and the baby, on their way to meet the rest of the family for a walking tour. But I wanted to roam the Boboli Gardens, the 16th-century maze of towering cypress trees and intricately painted and carved stone grottos, set atop a hill overlooking the Tuscan city and surrounding countryside. On the way there, I popped into a vintage clothing store where Chanel and Ferragamo mingled with costume jewelry so bright and colorful it would put anyone in a good mood. My time was my own, a rare luxury when exploring with a large group.
I walked down the narrow street hugging the edge of the gardens and around to the back until the city melted away. Once inside, I turned off the main path and walked through a labyrinth of greenery. Silence took over. There was no one around and the only sound was the scraping of my boots against the gravel path. I wandered with only my thoughts, took photo after photo of the terracotta-colored skyline, and stopped for as long or little as I wanted. It felt powerful to experience it alone.
Getting to the bottom of the hill and back to the street, I waited just a little longer to call the rest of the family. I extended my solo time, slowly strolling along the Ponte Vecchio, allowing myself to stop at every shiny window with a rainbow of jewels playing their siren songs.
When I finally did find the group, standing in the middle of Piazza della Signoria, it was with a thick and rich hot chocolate in hand, the sun at my back and excited to tell them all about my morning. We then started the arduous climb to the top of Florence’s Duomo, holding onto the smooth stone walls for balance as we ascended, and carrying my 7-month-old nephew up to the lookout point. We capped off the week watching the sun set on Florence and on this vacation, together, as a family.