Today we will be getting to know Stephanie. Some of you might remember the Capsuled Style Series that she shared with us here a few months back. Today she is here to talk about her family’s recent three-month stay in Italy.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Stephanie O’Keefe. I live out in a rural little no-stoplight town in Wisconsin with my husband of 4 years and our daughter and son who are 3.5 years and 19 months respectively. My passions, when grubby little hands aren’t begging me to pick them up, include baking, fitness, planning trips with our family, and listening to audio books.
When did you first become interested in traveling?
I would have to credit my initial interest in traveling to my Aunt Cindy. As a high school graduation gift, she took me to visit our extended family in Italy. Those two weeks in Italy had a profound impact on my life, especially as a teenager who was still incredibly self-conscious about herself. I was introduced to a new way of eating, socializing, and going about one’s daily life. After that trip I was already planning to go back once I finished college.
Why did you want to go live abroad when your kids were little instead of waiting till they were older?
There were many reasons for us wanting to bring our kids with us. My husband and I had talked about traveling as a family many times before we finally took the leap. We felt it would be disingenuous for us not to bring our kids. We wanted to know what it would be like to live in Italy not what it would be like to be tourists. That meant bringing our kids and risking the chance of not seeing as many museums or great sights as we might have. But the beauty of that decision was that our kids enabled us to have so many unique and funny interactions with people that probably would not have occurred if we had left them behind. Italians love to ooh and aww over children. I suppose we also wanted to take our kids to see how hard it would actually be to travel with them and if it is the kind of thing we could do more regularly.
How did you make the logistics work (with your husband’s job, traveling with little ones, etc)? My husband is the business manager for a website, so all of his work is done remotely. All his meetings are in Google hangouts and he could use WhatsApp for phone calls. The biggest difficulties were when he had meetings that were in the afternoon (in American time) or if our internet started acting up. Luckily, there was a cafe down the street with excellent internet. Overall he managed it very well and never had major difficulties. I should also mention that we had a home base in Lucca (a little city near Pisa). From there we did side trips on the weekends. That made it cheaper to do more traveling and easier for my husband to do work during the week.
As for traveling with children, that part was much easier than I thought it would be. Sure, we had a couple temper tantrums during our long plane flights and one of my kids gets car sick, but children are more capable of learning to adapt to situations than we tend to think.
What were any fears or concerns that held you back for a time?
Ordering things at the local market always made me nervous. Not many people spoke English fluently in the city we were in, especially at the market where all the locals shopped. Although I had done two courses of Italian using Pimsleur, I was always afraid of embarrassing myself and making a mistake. I almost always mixed up the word for peach and fish. I got some funny looks, but for the most part, everyone was kind and oftentimes didn’t even know I was American. I was also afraid of using public transportation with the kids. It was a new experience for them and for me using something other than a car to travel, and I wasn’t sure how well the kids would do being on a train or a bus (or a boat) for an hour or more. Despite a memorable messy episode in which my daughter got sick on my husband during a bus ride, they behaved incredibly well.
What was the best part of your experience?
This is such a hard thing to pin down into a few typed-up words. My husband and I agreed that the most memorable and meaningful part of our trip was the week we spent on the Amalfi Coast. We rented a beach house through AirBnB. The house had an incredible view of the coastline. We would wake up in the morning, make our coffee, and sit on the patio to watch the sunrise, cars snake up and down the steep cliffs, and boats make foamy paths through the water. It was that week in Amalfi when we determined that it was important for us to live somewhere beautiful and that we wanted to ultimately live in my husband’s parents’ house out in the country. Previously we had told them we wanted to live somewhere else so we could have a bigger home. But that is much less important to us now.
What have you found the most difficult parts of traveling/living abroad?
At one point during our Italy trip, my husband asked me to plan a side trip to Venice I think or maybe it was one of the Cinque Terre towns. Anyways, I became very flustered because I felt like he was so much better at planning and coordinating trips than me. After much discussion, I realized that I lacked the confidence to lead our family on trips and felt anxious about making mistakes, figuring things our the hard way, and sometimes ending up in unpredictable situations. Being willing to make those mistakes not only gave us some of our most memorable days but was a huge growth experience for me.
Would you do it again?
Yup! We are already planning our trip to Ireland next year.
What advice do you have for people who are considering making some change to pursue their dreams/ goals?
Pray. Talk to your spouse. And then pray some more. Also, know that if it’s not worth doing now then it’s probably not worth doing in 20 years.
Thanks so much Stephanie! Man, now I really want to pack the kids up and head over to Italy.
Be sure to check out Stephanie and her husband’s blog where they chronicled their travels abroad at kidscoffeeandwhiskey.com
Do any of you have a dream of world travel? Where are you itching to go? Any awesome places that you have already been? Tell me all about it!