Self-care and Loneliness on the Road

When I set out on this adventure I was mostly concerned about the children’s ability to make friends and feel included in this process. I did not, even once, think about my need for social interaction. I know, how incredibly silly of me. As mothers, we tend to put our needs on the back burner. In reality, our needs aren’t even on the stove anymore. My worry about the children and their social needs was justified, but I should have worried more about myself. I didn’t foresee the issues I would face emotionally at all.

Combating Loneliness on the Road

The most pronounced thing missing from our adventure has been friendship. A deafening absence to put it gently at best. We are very close to our old neighbors. At the time of our living proximity to them, I didn’t realize how close we really were because I have not experienced life off base with kids in a long time. We spent most afternoons together until dinner time. To say that we simply miss that would be a disservice to the friendship. We desperately, tears rolling, jotting down on paper things I want to say, things the kids want to tell their friends, the conversations about this deployment that I wish I could share, the new baby snuggles that I’m missing, miss them all.

I’ve always considered myself, what I call, an introverted extrovert. I am ridiculously social until I’m done and then I need about 48 hours to myself. Because of my deep appreciation for silence, I didn’t realize I would miss the daily conversations of motherhood so badly, but I do. If the children miss their friends even a morsel of what I’m missing mine then we are all in sore emotional shape. After only a month of no friendship and adult conversation, I was desperate to remedy this issue the best I could.

Seeking Solutions to Friendship

One of my favorite things about travel are the connections you make. Some of these people will reappear throughout the rest of my life and for that, I am so very grateful. The language barriers and the children were huge factors in not being able to build much in the way of adult relationships along the way so I put myself way out there on a forum new to me. Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing is a very simple and fabulous concept. If you have extra space you create a “host profile” declaring what kind of sleeping surface you have available and then people request to stay. Some pay for food and some pay for a tour together. Most pay with good conversation and a beer. It is perfection. I was a bit skeptical for safety reasons. Being a single female with small children in the apartment I didn’t want to take unnecessary risks, but I was miserable too so I went for it.

Our very first guests were a Columbian and Polish couple for just one night. They immediately confirmed my hope in the process. Anyone open to this concept must share similar qualities and we became great friends. Friends to the point that the kids and I are returning the couch sleeping in Poland later this year. Our second couch surfer was a wonderful lady from the UK. We hit it off. Four solid days of pure friendship and conversation did me and the boys a world of good. Anna from London was followed by a young man from Croatia. I had my profile set to only accept females and couples until someone was telling me that  “as a lone traveling male I can’t find any accommodations. Everyone is too afraid to let me in, which sucks because I feel like I have a lot to offer.”

I changed my profile settings that day. Within two hours I had a booking for one night with a 30 something couch surfer from Croatia. Tom (Tomislav) gave me hope in the single men in the world. Being married, I’ve always been so grateful to be out of the dating game because everyone seems so clueless. Ladies, I can hook you up. What a doll. Tom was just what our household needed for 48 hours. A man.

The boys were so thrilled with his company and though I didn’t see him much without the kids in tow his friendship continues to give long after he has left. Visiting Tom one of these years will take The Wild Bradburys to Croatia. When Lux was in the hospital for an infection weeks after Tom’s visit, he was the one messaging me from Turkey trying to see if there was some sort of support he could offer. I needed these people during this trip and I cannot recommend couch surfers enough.

Self-care with 24/7 Parenting

This is an area where my expertise fails me most of the time, but it is possible. Some of the things that brought me great relaxation and ‘me’ time were accomplished with all three kids present. I discovered that a cheap massage on the beach did my brain and body a world of good. The masseuse, Essa, helped me watch kids. As well as every Grandmother available so that I could enjoy it. When I had the space available I also did Beach Body on Demand workout videos. Though they didn’t fix much, they did allow for some sweat therapy, which is always needed. When my mother came to visit, I asked her to bring something for me to do with my hands. She brought me a small embroidery kit, which has proven very effective for my typically very crafty self.

The old faithful things that keep me sane are also very present in my daily rituals. Coffee, Netflix, Chocolate, and Nature. The important things really. Video chatting with family has helped a great deal too. We continue to feel like a part of the lives going on without us in this way. Reading has always been a nice escape for me when I have time to do it, but the real winner this time around has been writing.

Friendship for the Kids

I am still trying to find a solution for this issue, but the kids have learned to enjoy adult company more than normal. Adults have been, essentially, their only option. I tried to arrange a Greek play date, which backfired. The language barrier, though not important for soccer, was vast and scary for the kids. The beach has proven to be the best place to meet other kids. It has also proven to be the best place to meet English speaking holiday goers. Our lack of child interaction will lead me to come at these adventures from a completely different angle in the future. We are gradually being exposed to more kids. In Tuscany we have encountered a few families for short periods of time and in Germany we are hopeful to make some more friends being so close to a military base.

Missing my Best Friends

Luckily, most of my closest friends make a regular effort to check on me. I treasure those late night (time difference) messages like you wouldn’t believe. The one person that I tell my every single shadowy thing to has been virtually unreachable most of this adventure. My husband is deployed. Sometimes he has regular communication with me via email. Sometimes I get to see his face briefly when he is in port, but mostly 10 pm finds me wanting my couch conversations with him. I cannot hardly wait for those conversations.

They aren’t always wonderful topics, but they are so necessary. He is my sounding board, though he rarely disagrees with my shenanigans, he listens to me rattle on and on for hours about everything under the sun. I tried to replace those conversations, but nothing compares. We are only a few weeks from getting to see him for a little while, but we are a long way from having regular nightly chats. I’m hoping to catch up with most of you in the coming months as our time abroad is on it’s next to the last phase for this year.

 

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Frenzy in Firenze

Firenze Italia

I strongly believe, that outside of Florence, there is no other city in the world where every great “father of” has lived, studied, created and thrived. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, modern science, and where the moons of Jupiter were found and calculated. This is the Florence of our textbooks and the Florence of today. Though I had seen many pictures and studied much of the art, I half expected to walk a few well-preserved streets and then pop out into a modern poorly kept city. I was very wrong and so overjoyed to be so.

So much of today’s tourism is a farce. Specific points of interest kept well, appeasing tourists and then the residents live in subpar environments. This did not appear to be the case in Florence. Each and every street was as stunning as the next. Around every corner, it seemed, was this year’s award-winning “best neighborhood in the world.” The world’s best gelato and granite are claimed but only achieved by few. Luckily, all the gelato is superb with a view of this fabulous city.

Hidden Treasures of a Touristic City

Anytime you travel to a high tourism city, you risk getting lost in the crowds of people, overpaying for water and feeling like a sheep being led to slaughter. The tourist traps are real, very real unless you know where to go. Having the knowledge a good friend who lives and works in Florence, I was able to see a part of the city that I otherwise would not have discovered. Therefore, my top three things to see are so different than what any trip advisor or travel sight would mention.

  • Ospedale degli Innocenti: This beautiful orphanage was home to Florence’s abandoned children for over 400 years. Though the idea of putting an orphanage on your must-see list may seem strange, the building is beautiful and sits in the middle of a picturesque piazza in the heart of Florence. You can spend an entire day there if you try. The museum de Innocenti offers more insight into the orphanage’s history. There is also a rooftop terrace with the most spectacular view of the Duomo.
  • Occasionally, you will stumble upon musician playing for pocket change near the main attractions. These are not just people trying to make a buck, most of them are music students and their work is gorgeous. Grab a snack or pack a lunch like we did and sit and enjoy. The ambiance they create amongst the buildings is worth sitting and enjoying.
  • Michelangelo’s Graffiti: Tucked behind a statue on a corner of a building in Piazza della Signoria is a small carving that myth claims was done by Michel Angelo. When Michel Angelo returned to Florence in 1499 to begin work on ‘David,’ it is said that he witnessed a man being led through the streets to be publically executed and was so taken by the man’s face that he carved it into the stone wall where he stood. No proof that the piece is in fact done by Michel Angelo has ever been found, but it is a very unique thing to see in the city. You can, easily, visualize what Michel Angelo may have seen that day from his hiding place among the buildings.

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  • The Galileo Galilei Museum of Science. Significantly less frequented, but just as enchanting as the Uffizi and Accademia. The Galileo Museum is a combination of collections from the beginning of Florencian scientific discovery. If you are a fan of Galileo or the Medici family then this museum is a must see. The Medici family funded and commissioned constant scientific research during their rule. Also on display are Galileo’s instruments used to discover the moons of Jupiter and the planet Venus. To be in the presence of such simple, world-changing objects is an honor you shouldn’t ignore.

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Hidden Food Treasures

The food treasures in Florence are quite endless, but two places really blew my mind. The first place was Ara, a beautiful, tucked away Sicilian bakery that makes their fresh strawberry granade (slushies) every morning. Devine. They are a local favorite and typically get passed over by tourists as they are not loud and in your face like the other vendors. When you leave the Accademia museum take an immediate left and there is Ara.

The second place, Ristorante Accademia. A full menu of all things wonderful. Personally, I ordered the truffle pasta, but I imagine that the entire menu is perfection. Sitting right in the heart of San Marco Piazza, you really can’t miss it. I paired my pasta with exceptional company and lots of white wine. The experience was enhanced tenfold.

The Value of a Local Friend

it’s immeasurable. There really aren’t words, but I’ll try. We stopped in Florence to see an old friend. His knowledge of the city, the back streets, the history was immense and I am so grateful for that. He was able to turn an otherwise stressful, big city stop into something magical. We got to see the Florence of the people. The open spaces. The best there was to be had. Our visit to Florence also coincided with my birthday and our oldest’s birthday. My dear friend had a cake ordered for Lux, legos wrapped and a restaurant experience of a lifetime for me. He made it special. Truly unforgettable and now he will have to deal with us again because our first visit was so fantastic!

I would never discourage anyone from traveling to cities where you have no connections. There is too much to be seen to wait to have friends to visit in each and every one. BUT, having someone who lives there showing you around will give you the best views and knowledge of a city. If you are just getting started on your traveling adventures, going to a city where you know someone is a good idea. They don’t have to be your best friend, but a nice lunch or even just an emergency contact is always comforting. Sometimes, you visit a city and it leaves you thinking “ok, I’ve been there and seen that and I don’t ever need to do it again.” Florence is not that city. You will want to go back time and time again. I know I do.

 

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Visions of Venice

Venice in View


We arrived in Venice midmorning, having absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew that Venice used water taxis because the city is essentially flooded. What I did not realize was that they ONLY use water taxis or water buses. I also did not know that the city of Venice is made up of one hundred different islands. I had no idea. Despite years of wanting to go there, I was completely lost. I pre-bought water bus tickets to take us from the airport to the island where our hotel was located (Lido), but only because I heard that taking a car taxi as far as you could and then a water taxi was over $120. YIKES. So we booked water bus tickets, which were $15. Somehow, I managed to book a hotel room right across the street from the water bus stop. Lucky me! This seems to never happen. Typically, we find ourselves wandering for over a mile pushing luggage to locate our accommodations.

That first night in Venice yielded a sunset that must have surely caused world peace. I’m certain that everyone has experienced those majestic moments when nothing can possibly be wrong in the world. Talk about a welcoming. The sunset felt like a wonderful omen for the busy day to come. The children and I like to slow travel. It is so much easier on us all to have at least a week in a location so we do not feel rushed everywhere. This was not that destination, as I could not afford to stay very long. We had a very fast, tourism filled 48 hours and it was wonderful.

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Views from a Time Capsule


We set out early in the hopes of seeing as much of the city as possible before we couldn’t go anymore. Wandering the eerie alleys and canals could be a full week of fun, but we opted for a Gondola ride for my oldest’s birthday. It was the only thing he asked for so we made it happen. I will say that the days leading up to the Gondola ride I was very skeptical. You take a waterbus everywhere. Therefore, why would I want to pay a small fortune for a short boat ride on a boat of a different color. The answer is quite simple, that’s what my child desperately wanted for his birthday. Therefore, mommy made it happen. I was skeptical up until we took off on the gondola. It was awe inspiring. For the first time in days, we were alone. We found ourselves gliding along a quiet canal and we could have been the only people in the city at that moment.

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Things to do


If you are a tourist that does better with an agenda then Venice is loaded with things to do and see. Of course, there is the Basilica of San Marco. A very busy place and buying tickets in advance is a good idea. There is the Guggenheim collection and endless churches and tours. We really enjoyed the Da Vinci Exhibition on San Croce island, which is a chain exhibition. Therefore, there is a Da Vinci exhibition in Venice, Florence, and Milan. All the Italian locations that Leonardo once called home. It is a hands-on science exhibition of models of all of Leonardo Da Vinci’s machine sketches. The models were made from the plans Da Vinci drew in his notebook.

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If we had had more time we would have gone to the islands of Murano and Burano to watch the glassmakers and the Venetian lace makers. We will be back at some point and we will focus our attention far away from San Marcos and make a point to see the cultural history of glass and lace that is quickly dying. The lace makers will be gone within our lifetime. Go.

Venice as a whole is quickly sinking, but the government has stepped up and has designed a series of gates to help prevent excess flooding during the rainy winters. They are working on building these huge creations and hopefully will be able to prolong the inevitable for another millennium.

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Variables in a Venetian Life


Today, Venice is 90% tourists. Only about 11,000 Venetians (born, raised and living) are still located in Venice. The other 230 thousand people that claim Venice as home are foreign transplants. The city is stunning, but the daily life for an average person must be quite difficult. The cost of living is astronomical. Access to supermarkets and stores of sustenance are hard to come by. The livelihood of Venice is entirely dependent upon tourism and therefore, so are most of the jobs for locals.

I typically steer people away from the heavy tourism activities, but Venice is definitely an exception. You need to see it, you need to walk the alleys and ride the boats. Search high and low for a local and ask them questions, the Venetians are an incredibly hospitable people. Go see the lace makers and glassmakers so that someday, all too soon when they are gone and the art is dead you can say you saw Venice in its original glory.

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An Athenian Attitude

The boys and I spent the month of June living in a Southern suburb of Athens, Aghios Dimitrios. Prior to our arrival, I was very concerned about being so far from the heart of the city and about leaving Crete as a whole. Luckily, our apartment near Athens was a wonderful apartment. Very spacious, enough room for everyone to have some space. There was a fully stocked kitchen, terrace garden, and Netflix. We were able to settle into a routine fairly quickly and found ourselves not wanting to go into the heart of the city at all.

Though the locals see me as a tourist, I do not feel like a tourist most of the time. We have what we call “Vacation Days.” Days where we play the tourist part hard and buy the tacky keychain. Those days were rare in Athens and I found myself feeling very much like a local and getting heavily annoyed with the tourist crowd. I know that sounds strange, but when you just want to get to the store and the bus is full of tourists it gets old very quickly. Athens was a beautiful, slow month for us. We focused on Greg’s visit, house hunting, school work, sunshine, beach days, a few key sites and getting our fill of Netflix watching before leaving those amenities again. 

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Slow Travel

The concept of staying for weeks and sometimes months on end is called Slow Travel. What I have discovered about slow travel is that we all look forward to ‘UNPACKING’ at a new location. Fully stocking a refrigerator for the first time in months. Getting to know your local baker, check out clerk and pharmacist by name. These are the things you miss when you travel full time. Slow travel is a lovely happy medium for traveling. At every new location, I worry that it will be awful. We will not find those places that make life easier, but we do. There is something very wonderful about having ample time in a place to see the things you want to see without ever having to rush anyone. I put off going to Zeus’ temple in Athens for weeks because I just didn’t feel like dealing with the tourists and crowds. Because I had ample time to see it there was no rush. We went when we were ready and when we could best appreciate a day in the city.

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Fast Travel: The Tourism Race Track

We occasionally have weeks of very fast travel. Fast travel in the larger tourism cities is almost unavoidable. I cannot afford to hang out in places like Copenhagen, Venice, Florence, and Rome for very long. The cost to stay there is just too high for the slower pace of travel that we enjoy. Those weeks are typically very difficult. My children and I enjoy lazy mornings. No one likes rushing out of the apartment to get to a packed, hot and expensive destination. The whining, crying, begging for things and food ALL INCREASES DRASTICALLY during busy tourist weeks. I have also learned that it is very stressful for all of us to not unpack. We don’t have access to the things we enjoy using easily and then there’s the pressure to save money and not eat out constantly. Fast tourist weeks make us appreciate slow travel even more. It makes unpacking that much sweeter and a good movie while mom makes dinner guilt-free. There is no pressure to be out of the apartment in a hurry. Adults and children alike cannot sustain fast travel for very long. At one time or another most of you have taken a trip to a city and felt like there wasn’t enough time to see it all and then you end up needing a vacation from your vacation because you were so busy. This is what slow travel is all about. Take in the view, eat and savor because everything else can wait until tomorrow.

 

 

 

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Packing for the Unexpected

Basic pointers for packing for the unexpected


When traveling, there is a very good chance that something will go array. This is just how traveling works sometimes. It is not always spa treatments and postcard perfect destinations. Sometimes, your child gets sick and you weren’t planning on doing laundry. Sometimes, there’s no coffee pot and if you are me then this is catastrophic. The planes get delayed, the apartment you rented is nasty, there’s a heat wave and they do not use washcloths in Europe. The things that could put a damper, on an otherwise perfectly enjoyable trip, are many. So let’s delve into a few tips that I use in regards to packing so that I am less ambushed by the unexpected.

Packing for the Unexpected


I have six things that I ALWAYS pack to help off set some of the unexpected things that happen during travel:

  1. I am an avid coffee drinker, but I am also on a budget. Therefore, I cannot buy coffee everyday. I typically pack a small glass french press. I always have access to a pot for boiling water and this way mom gets at least one cup of good coffee. Also, I pack a small amount of ground coffee either in a zip lock bag or a quarter pound from a company.
  2. A fold away clothes line. I cannot count how many times I have been in a hotel or a hostel without access to a washing machine. Of course a child has peed their pants, smeared strawberries from collar to socks, or pooped in that reusable swim diaper that I thought was a good idea. With the clothes line I can hand wash the clothing and stretch the clothes line out across the room to dry the items on. This is obviously not a perfect solution as most things I will re-wash once I get to adequate facilities, but it prevents our luggage from smelling like pee. Also, the clothes line works really well for hanging wet bathing suits if you are spending a lot of time by the water. 
  3. Following the clothesline is of course, detergent. I typically have one checked bag with me. Therefore, I pack a few liquid detergent pods in a zip lock bag. By doing this I can poke a hole in the pod and use as little or as much as I need. If you are only taking a carry on bag BRAVO FOR YOU! You can take a small amount of powder detergent.
  4. When traveling internationally, you will find that most supermarkets charge for plastic bags. I brought with me four reusable market bags. I have used these bags for everything. From a beach bag to a make shift purse.
  5. A deflated beach ball! While you are unpacking, or trying to get dinner made, a beach ball can be a lifesaver. It acts as amazing entertainment to children that have been cooped up in a plane all day.
  6. A pair of zip off convertible pants for each person can be a life saver when unexpected weather hits. They are quick dry, can be used as shorts or pants and are very durable. 

The Unexpected Happened


When traveling with children there is a good chance that some form of backup will be needed to save your sanity. If you can foresee a few of these problems before they happen then you are two steps ahead. Obviously, a clothes line is not going to fix EVERY problem that arises. It can make you feel like you have a little bit of control over some problems when they do arise. There is so much fun and exploring to do. I would hate for you to spend your time worrying about washing out dirty underwear. Motherhood does this to us though. As mothers, we have been rewired to fret about the daily tasks. When we cannot see the end of the visible work we tend to internally (sometimes externally) panic. I hope that this modest list brings you some comfort and tools to pull from when the unexpected happens.

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