“I think I forgot how to pack,” I told my husband, shrugging my shoulder. Sweaters, T-shirts, swimwear, sunscreen, plaster and insect repellent are spread across the bed in front of me. Baby items are on the floor in piles – shorts and sleeping bags, diapers, underwear, baby food jars, diving suits. “If necessary, we will look for a children’s market again,” my husband says affectionately and hugs me. “We always come up with something.”
Two years of the coronavirus pandemic, in which we have never traveled, are almost behind us today, and we have six weeks of a joint trip south. We are two adults on parental leave, a toddler of about four years old and an eight month old baby. Since our first parenting vacation together in Australia in 2019, we have dreamed of repeating such an experience.
We want to dare the wild trek adventure again, not too far, not too far from usual. Suitable for children and corona This is the motto. With the car to Italy – but the concerns also go along. What if it was broken, or someone drove us inside, or we couldn’t put everything in the trunk? I’ve never worked with packing lists before, but this time we need to use the storage space wisely. We have to condense our semi-detached house into the SUV area, our world in eight square metres. The youngest son needs a stroller, and the older son needs a motorbike. Little ones need diapers, and they don’t need the big ones anymore – but more pants than the rest of us need. The little one needs jars and a blender for the home-cooked food, and the little one needs a box with books and Lego pens. Are we adults? We don’t need anything – except for some clothes and headphones for our cell phones. After many trips around the world together, seven years of long distance relationships and nearly four years of parenthood, we have long learned to improvise.
And so we set off – with no fixed itinerary, no pre-booked accommodations and no fixed return date. Via Bolzano to Ancona, then cross to Corfu, this is the initial travel plan, but we are already concerned when booking the ferry. Being in Ancona on a specific date, having previously been invited to a big wedding? What if we were infected with corona and had to stay in isolation for two weeks? Twenty hours on the ferry – would that be cool or hell? It is better to start first and then see how it goes, we decide.
Munich-Busen-Wedding-Ski Day-Padova. We’ve only been on the road for a week and the four-year-old is already showing signs of exhaustion. He asks every day “When are we going home?” Kindergarten misses his friends. When he’s supposed to go to bed in the evening, he throws a tantrum like he hasn’t had one in a long time. I Google “What do I do against homesickness?”. Recommendation: Throw yourself in the holiday! We decided to separate the couple: my husband is going to Venice with our little son for a day, and Max and I are doing Mother and Son Day in Padua. We start with cakes at pasticceria around the corner, go to the playground and ride the bus. Kids program – everyone is happy.
But my husband and I know we need to slow down our travel and find a better routine. When are travel times good, when kids are good for activities, when do they need time to rest and settle down, and when do they just want to play? How should the bags be packed on the day of departure? What belongs in handbags? And what do we expect from each other?
A road trip is an existential experience, even if it is “only” Italy. Keep packing and unpacking. Where are the night lights, pills, sleeping bag? We always have to find new places to stay, and move kids into strange beds while they sleep. Who gets sick in switches? Who needs food and when? Everyday life is centered on the nuclear family. There are no distractions, obligations, preoccupations, or enough space to avoid each other. It’s a balancing act between preparing for at least some eventualities (we need winter jackets and boots plus swimming trunks and neoprene) and giving up. We improvise and dry laundry on hangers that we attach to cabinet knobs in the kitchen because there is no drying rack. Buy strong glue to fix a broken dinosaur leg and bandage it. Cover the baby on the trunk lid of our car in the underground supermarket garage and spend an afternoon building with Big Lego at the café. We scavenge for book and craft stores and buy new shoes when the big guy is older than his peers.
We carry, rest, dance, feed, stroll and marvel. We argue – and we shine.
We enjoy unforgettable hours on the beach, the little one hitting the soft sand, the little one screaming with joy in the ice-cold waves. We will have a picnic by the pool, jump on the trampoline and ride the cogwheel railway. We walk around the Cinque Terre and pick oranges from the tree. We feel how the landscape changes during our car trips, how spring breaks and fills the houses with a warm golden light. We test the love of the children of Italians, who burst out enthusiastically towards our children even in the smallest toilet block, combing their hair in the supermarket and giving them sweets. Love and tenderness strengthens our backs and moves to children. Naturally, we all go together to restaurants, cafes, markets, churches (“but it’s scary here”) and through children’s eyes we get to know a completely new view of the country that we thought we already knew so well.
How loving the Italian kids are who take our son to their games, even though they don’t understand each other. How diverse is the design of stadiums and how diverse is the nature that connects cities. How good it feels to be drifting off and letting the kids play. To discover something new in each accommodation and randomly end up in the most beautiful places, such as the hills of Florence overlooking the Duomo or the vineyards of Tuscany.
We ignore our Corfu plans and drive her out to sea. The weather is great, and a look at the weather app confirms that we are in exactly the right place. We buy mussels from the markets and cook them on the gas stove in the evening. We bake pizza in the wood-burning oven, which isn’t ready until sunset. We lie in the warm sand and turn in the sun while the little one crawls over us, following the big picture. We don’t read a page in our books, but we fill our heads with new things.
As our path slowly leads north again, we are sad. Our journey has become a case that we hope to continue. “We can still do it,” I told my husband over the last glass of red wine the evening before the final stage. Eight accommodations, six weeks and 3,126 kilometers behind us when we got back to the garage yard in early May. Summer in Germany is ahead. The next adventure is already waiting.