Well, with Michelle and her crew gearing up to travel to Italy this fall, all things Italy are dancing through her head! So we decided to round up some of our favorite books for kids that are set in Italy. We own a couple of […]
Looking for delicious Italian food in Pensacola? Look no further than Franco’s Italian Restaurant near downtown. This Pensacola institution is celebrating their twentieth anniversary this month, and Melissa and I enjoyed revisiting it recently with our moms.
One of the awesome things about growing up with my husband’s family is the shared childhood memories. I can remember when “the grownups” would head out for dinner at Franco’s. (Being a teen though, I much preferred a movie and hanging out with the other kids!) Yet time marches on.. and now it’s fun now to be one of those grownups leaving the kids behind with a saintly aunt or uncle for a meal out. 😉
Eggplant Parmesan, Spaghetti, & Shrimp Primavera (L to R)
Traditional Italian favorites that we order every time are their Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan. (I’m getting hungry now, just writing this!) Of course, you’re in Florida, so don’t miss out on ordering something with seafood! Melissa’s mom loves their Amberjack, and this time Melissa ordered the Shrimp Primavera. The rest of us found ourselves thankful for our tradition of family-style dining when we go out to eat because the primavera was so light and flavorful! It will definitely be a repeat next time we visit.
The lunch specials come with a salad and garlic bread. We thought their house salad dressing (pictured below) was delicious, even though I found myself wishing those were English cucumbers and the iceberg lettuce was spring mix instead.
I haven’t tried their desserts, but their tiramisu sounds an excellent excuse for another visit. (As if we needed one! Because we’re pretty much always in the mood for some tasty Italian food in Pensacola.)
Franco’s Italian Restaurant
523 E Gregory St, Pensacola, FL 32502
Open Sunday and Tuesday-Friday at 11
Open Saturday at 5
Let me clarify up front that I have nothing against hotels. Not at all. They can provide a delightful experience, often a luxurious one. We use them ourselves on many occasions. It’s just that one of those occasions is not a family trip, particularly a family trip that lasts more than a couple of days! Now, I won’t lie, hotels do tend to be a little less hassle (walk up to a 24 hour desk, walk out the next day), but when all six of us are on the go together, I have found it so much more comfortable and enjoyable to rent an apartment or a whole house. Here are six reasons why:
Ah, follow the money; I have found that even with just two of us traveling it’s often cheaper to rent a little place than get a hotel, but this has definitely held true when traveling with kids! We have always been able to pay less than the cost of a hotel when renting other sorts of rooms, and we get more space (see below). It’s a massive price difference now that we would probably have to rent two rooms to hold us all (or some large suite sort of room!). I know that hotels often offer free breakfasts, but that’s such a cheap meal to eat anyway I personally don’t consider it a big perk. And visiting local bakeries is half the fun!
My top complaint about staying in a hotel with small children is that there’s nowhere to put to them to bed where they can’t see you. Tired babies need to go to bed early, and all of mine sleep so much better in a separate room from those of us who are still awake. It’s not like you can turn off the lights and leave your hotel room. . . enter lodgings with multiple bedrooms! I LOVE (love!) when we can stay in rooms where the kids have their own bedroom(s) and we can tuck them in at their usual bedtime, then relax for a while until it’s our bedtime. Or come back to take a break from sightseeing, and baby gets a really solid nap in. Everyone is so much better rested, and if you have children I don’t need to tell you how that impacts every other moment of the trip! Honestly, this is my number one reason why I don’t use hotels on long trips; I’d pay extra to have rested kids!!
Getting to sample local restaurants is, no doubt, one of my favorite ways to splurge when traveling. But not being forced to eat out every meal is also one of my favorite ways to keep travel costs down! If you have a real kitchen you can heat up food or cook an easy dinner and save yourself that cost (and let’s be honest: sometimes taking a tired two-year-old out to dinner sounds about as appealing as getting a root canal). Even if you didn’t pack meals or want to cook anything, it’s even easier to eat takeout in a real kitchen! Plus: I like drinking my first cup of coffee in my pajamas. . .
Tip: we’ve often whipped the kids up something super easy and fun (cheese quesadillas, mac n cheese, takeout pizza, grilled cheese, etc.) and gotten takeout for us parents. We save money, we feel like we’ve splurged, and everybody is still happy!
So this really ties back into my second point about space, but I love having a couch or a comfy chair to relax in at the end of the day. Or rather, enough comfy chairs and couch space for all of us! But it’s also helpful to have another room for the kids to wander off to play in and entertain themselves, or put on a movie that I don’t have to listen to. Or sometimes there’s even a yard for them to blow off steam in! For me, that space provides a level of mental relaxation that keeps me going for the long haul! Everyone needs a little space to recharge, no matter how much you’re loving that family togetherness.
5. Washing Machine
If you have little kids, someone will make a mess. It’s inevitable. And you probably packed for that. But who wants to schlep back clothes caked in three-day old filth? Plus, traveling lightly with kids is tricky enough as it is without needing to plan for extra clothes. I never pack more than a week’s worth of clothes for my children, and always plan on doing laundry. It keeps the size of our suitcases down, and gives us less to keep track of. Obviously, having a washing machine handy is what makes that feasible! Most apartments or houses that are big enough for a family usually have them; it’s not hard to find a place to rent with a washing machine. If we’re somewhere longer than 3 days, I definitely make sure the house we’re renting has a machine.
6. Local Vibe
So this is just lagniappe (as we say in New Orleans), but staying in a house or apartment means you’re usually in a more residential area. Or at least in a residential building in a city. Typically hotels tend to be in busier, more commercial areas with lots of shops and restaurants around. Which could be local, but often feels much the same as every other city. Staying in a neighborhood usually gives a more unique perspective of the place you’re visiting. There are local grocery stores to visit, the neighborhood bakery, and places to walk and play with people who actually live there! The best is when our host is an actual local who is there to greet us and give us tips about the area. (Fair warning: sometimes it’s just a lockbox and that’s not nearly as fun.) We get to visit a little with a (almost always) delightful person and get to know them a little. More than once, the sweet host has come back with beach toys for the kids, or something else they thought we’d enjoy. We love it.
So there you have it: the six reasons we don’t use hotels when taking a family trip! As I said, I certainly have nothing against hotels inherently, and I’m sure it’s a luxury we will enjoy again in the future. But for now, you’ll find us visiting local places in local houses. Stay curious, my friends!
If you really want a hotel, or can’t find a house, or are just curious about an alternative viewpoint, here’s a guy with six kids who stays in hotels.
There are few things more quintessentially New Orleans than riding the St Charles streetcar and admiring the gorgeous scenery rolling by. We got the chance to ride it recently as part of our homeschool co-op transportation unit. We had no fewer than eleven (yes, 11!) […]
Oh boy, you guys, stuff has gotten real and a lot has happened! We’ve booked a trip to France for our whole family! (I still can’t believe it’s happening!) A few months ago I was daydreaming about a European trip, and I promised to bring you along for the planning ride in real time. So here we go!
Through a series of circumstances, we have been able to plan a month in France with all four of our children. I have dreams of worldschooling galore (not to mention delicious food), but that’s a whole ‘nother post. . . today I’ll walk you through what we’ve planned and spent so far. I have never taken this long of a trip before (!), or with this many children (!!), which adds a whole new twist to everything. When our trip is said and done I’ll let you know what I will do differently next time, but for now, here’s what’s happening. . .
Why and how??
So it started with having the travel bug. We knew we’d take a trip soon for our anniversary next year, and thought about taking the kids. And then. . . our train of thought ran like this: “fall sounds like a lovely time to go; we homeschool; if we’re buying tickets for 6, wouldn’t it make sense to go for as long as possible?” The catalyst was Christie getting a remote software job. She can work from anywhere (and split room costs and be our traveling fun aunt). So suddenly a two-week anniversary trip morphed into a month abroad for us girls and the kids, with Michael joining us halfway through. I’ve been saving for this for almost 2 years, so we had the funds. That is, assuming we got cheap tickets, but more on that below.
Does going for this long with four children, ages eight and under, scare me? Um, yes!! To be honest, it totally intimated me (still kinda does), to the point that I almost scrapped the entire idea. But exploring history and food and art with my children has been a dream of mine for years, and the opportunity for travel is one of the reasons why we homeschool; a family trip to France checks all of those boxes. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed I was inspired by the analogy of just running as seemingly impermeable walls. So I took a deep breath, jumped on tickets, and took the first step into the unknown.
We’re headed to France the whole month! A few days in Paris, a lot of time in Avignon, and then some time in Toulouse and Bordeaux, and finishing with day trips to Chartres and Château Fontainebleu from Paris again. Why France the whole time? I’m trying to embrace slow travel with my children, savor local life, and practice our French. As much fun as a road trip is, we decided to save that experience with our kids for when they’re older (aannd we’re not lugging 4 carseats. . . ); we’ll travel entirely by train this particular family trip to France.
I’ve tried to be realistic and transparent about trip expenses before. But heads up, I am currently totally spitballing this, and I’m sure I will need to do some serious post-trip analysis for an accurate budget for future family trips. I’ve never taken a trip this long! Or with this many people! Right now, I am hoping that I won’t spend more than $6,000 past normal expenses, which will likely be closer to $7000 total. What do I mean by “past normal expenses”? Our normal monthly budget has room for gas, food, entertainment, kids’ educational expenses, etc., which gets spent regardless, because, well, we gotta eat. So I’m not counting that regular budget as a travel budget because they are fixed expenses. The travel budget is for non-monthly expenses. In the interest of fiscal responsibility, I will have more than this in my travel fund before we leave, but I’m sure hoping that I can save it for future trips! Realistic? I’m honestly not sure. Currently I’m prioritizing spending on rooms, since with little kids we’ll be eating in more than in restaurants, they’ll need chill time, and the whole trip will be much more enjoyable if we’re not spending too much time commuting and can remain well-rested. Christie needs (alone) space to work, which pushes the room budget up a little too.
Just as I said I would, when I knew a probable trip was on the horizon, I subscribed to the premium version of Scott’s Cheap Flights for $50. The whole trip hinged on finding affordable tickets, because we have to buy six of them. (Christie makes the 7th, if you want to get technical! But I’m not buying hers, snicker.) We picked our approximate dates, and waited. And waited. I passed up on a deal to Paris out of NYC, because I was concerned that the logistics of buying 6 more tickets to get us to NYC and then the possible fallout of a travel delay wouldn’t be pretty. If it was just my hubby and me traveling, I would have done it, but possibly paying more to leave from a more convenient airport was a call we made traveling with little kids. But lo and behold, an amazing deal out of Atlanta came up! We have friends in the area who can drop us off and store our van for us, plus Atlanta is driving distance, so it worked for us. Our flexible dates helped us pick the cheapest day of the week to fly, and our flexible departure airport gave us a steal of a deal. How much of a steal? A whopping $1882 for six tickets– $313.66 each!! It does not include a checked bag, but we pack lightly anyway; we just won’t be able to bring back Nutella and jellies. (All the more reason to eat our fill of that there, ha!) Takeaway: currently thrilled with how this played out. Hopefully travel to and from Atlanta will be smooth and we’ll remain thrilled. Having a basic plan and flexibility in place helped us snag a good deal. [EDIT: We’re flying into Paris. From my research Paris is not only the cheapest French airport to fly into, it’s also easiest to get to anywhere else in France from Paris. It’s such a massive city that the infrastructure to and from it is the best.]
This is a new category for us — we’ve never bought travel insurance before, but with this big and this expensive of a trip, I thought it might be worth it. Obviously, I would like to NOT test the necessity of it, but through our regular insurance company we paid $125 for coverage for all our non-reimbursable expenses, plus help for flight delays and theft, etc. In retrospect, we would have benefited from travel insurance on a previous trip (missed a connecting flight due to a flight delay, and had to pay more money to get where we were going), so we’re learning from past mistakes. You should learn from our mistakes too. 😉
Planning our exact itinerary and booking rooms is next! (My previous thoughts on the process can be found here.) I’m in the middle of that process now. To be honest, it’s probably my least favorite part of trip planning. . . I find sifting through options stressful, but maybe that’s just me. (Being honest. There’s always stress involved with trips, I just remind myself what awaits us. 😉 ) I’ll update you soon on what I look for in a room and how this trip pacing is different! Till then. . . stay curious, my friends. 😉 (Update: You can now read all about how I chose rooms and how much I spent here!)
Beach safety is the hidden side of our love of the beach time. Since our mother is a born and raised Florida beach native and lover, through the years she has passed on many tidbits of beach safety wisdom that make our beach days much […]