Research has commenced for our upcoming trip to Italy, Sardinia, and Croatia. In a couple of months, we’ll pack up the kids and haul them across the Atlantic, along with my fifteen-year-old brother, for three long weeks of exploration, language immersion, great food, and visits with relatives and friends we haven’t seen in years. To say I’m excited is an understatement. Delirious with anticipation is more like it. I haven’t been back since 2004, when I spent a year there.
While I like to consider myself flexible and laidback in my approach to travel, I won’t deny I’m rather nervous about traveling with little kids. As a result, I’m trying to be highly organized. My parents never were, still aren’t, and have no hope of ever becoming a highly organized couple. That’s okay; I love them all the same. However, having lived and traveled in that way, there are a few things I absolutely do not wish to experience this time round.
Let me tell you a story.
It had been a long year apart from my family while on exchange in Sardinia. Finally the day I’d dreamed of arrived. I’d already been reunited with my mom, dad, and sister and we’d spent a few weeks traveling the mainland. Now we were going to meet up with my aunt, uncle, and three cousins on the island.
My family and I took the overnight ferry from Rome. My aunt, uncle, and cousins took the ferry from Genoa. We were all going to meet in Olbia. Our ship finally arrived, hours late, but I could see my cousins jumping up and down on the docks, waiting for us to come down the gangplank. It was a joyous reunion.
There was only one little snag in the plans. My aunt and uncle’s luggage had gotten lost on a flight along the way. It contained all the camping gear they were going to be using in the weeks following our week together in Sardinia. Apparently the luggage would arrive at the Olbia airport by late afternoon.
With no schedule except luggage pick-up, we embarked on a glorious day of aimless exploration. We sunbathed at the beach, drove up the Costa Smeralda, had a picnic lunch, admired the spectacular Isola Tavolara, relaxed in a café, and gradually made our way back to Olbia to inquire about the luggage.
It wasn’t there yet. In fact, it wouldn’t arrive until midnight. That was a problem, as it was getting on and we needed to find a place to stay. We drove around, looking for a hotel, but everything was full. We had no luck.
It was getting dark. The adults decided that heading to a campsite was the best bet, because at least we could all make do with their tents by midnight. As the only Italian speaker, it was my job to explain to the rather incredulous owner that, no, we didn’t have a tent or a trailer or anything, but it was coming and could we please have a site?
Now, if you’ve ever camped in Europe, you’ll know that the sites are a far cry from the verdant campsites in Canada. There, you’re assigned a square of packed dirt. Our square was hemmed in on all sides by German-owned RVs. There wasn’t so much as a tree to sit under.
My uncle headed to the airport around 11:30 p.m. He returned empty-handed. There was no luggage; it wouldn’t arrive till the next day. There we were, all nine of us, with no accommodations beyond two tiny cars and a big dirt square.
The owner of the campground came by and heard our predicament. He returned with a single-person pup tent as a kind offering. At that point, the situation became downright hilarious. We couldn’t stop laughing. Tired, giddy from happiness, and frustrated, our laughter soon drew the attention of our neighbours who must have wondered what on earth the crazy tent-less Canadians were laughing at. (We actually took a photo of all nine of us lining up to get into the pup tent, but only one copy of it exists – and it’s at my aunt’s house. Sorry, folks.)
Slowly, we worked out a plan. My aunt and uncle took their packs and slept on the beach under the stars. (We were lucky there was no risk of rain.) My sister and two youngest cousins crammed into the pup tent together. My older cousin and I slept in one car; I was squeezed under the steering wheel, a pile of T-shirts bunched under my head. My parents slept in the other car, until someone knocked on the window. It was the German couple from next door, offering a spare air mattress under the awning of their RV.
I’ll never forget waking up with the sun baking me through the windshield and my dad tapping on the glass. My muscles ached all over, but he had a big smile on his face and told me he’d had a great night – what was I complaining about? It was then I learned about his luxurious night on the German air mattress.
That night has become a legend in our extended family, one that never fails to make us laugh as we recall its details. At the same time, however, that is precisely the sort of experience that I dread having with my own kids, particularly when they’re small. It’s one thing to use makeshift accommodations with teenagers, but not so fun with babies. On the other hand, I need to temper my desire for organization with the flexibility that allows for spontaneous adventures to materialize.
In the meantime, you can bet I’ll be booking that first night well in advance!