By Jackie Toops
Since getting stationed in Germany with the US Army, my family of four has visited cities in eleven different countries – what an adventure.
Traveling with small children is both memorable and challenging. One of our favorite tricks is booking vacation rentals from HomeAway.com. The site provides us with plenty of space to play, sleep and relax. We love the prices, availability and centralized locations. Most of all, we enjoy the comforts of home such as breakfast in our pajamas, warm cooked meals in the kitchen, dinners around the table, and cozying up on the couch after a long day of exploring.
Our three favorite family vacations (so far) include:
When: January 2015
Kids’ ages: 2.5 and 4
Impression: Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia in Spain and contains several UNESCO World Heritage Sites to include Antonio Gaudi’s Park Güell, Casa Milà, and the Sagrada Familia. We found it to be sunny, friendly, beautiful and enjoyed hearing both Spanish and Catalan spoken.
Favorite memory: I was sipping on coffee while my boys played on the playground in front of the Sagrada Familia. My husband joined us, showed off the magnet he purchased from the souvenir shop across the street, and then jumped right in and played with our kids. When returning home to our rental, my husband and I snuggled on the couch while drinking sangria and watching Spanish Wheel of Fortune.
About our HomeAway: To date, this was the most spacious rental we’ve had. It included three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a kitchen, living room, dining room and terrace! We enjoyed our togetherness as well as our personal space. Nearby we found a lovely grocery store, and had easy access to the metro, train and hop-on/hop-off bus tour. The boys’ favorite spot was a playground just around the corner.
When: March 2015
Kids’ ages: 2.5 and 4.5
Impression: Visiting Bruges is like stepping into a fairytale. This historic center of this beautifully preserved medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is filled with charming canals and the sounds of clip-clopping horse hooves. Its streets are lined with shops for delectable Belgian waffles, chocolates and beer.
Favorite memory: After boating through a canal, we popped into a chocolate shop and grabbed a box of the world-famous confections. After our lunch we indulged in both Belgian waffles and the chocolates -- what a way to live!
About our HomeAway: It was charmingly described as a maisonette, which excited me from the get-go. It was only 3 miles from the city, easily accessible by bus route, and featured a spacious, picturesque yard for our children. The owners provided toys to keep our children content while my husband and I peacefully enjoyed delicious Belgian beer.
Cinque Terre, Italy
When: May 2013
Kids’ ages: 11 months and 2 years
Impression: This Mediterranean paradise includes five towns on the coast of the Italian Riviera. It is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily one of the most stunning places we have ever visited. We hiked through the mountains, collected sea glass on the beach, sampled seafood and pesto, practiced our Italian, and could always find espresso, wine and gelato when the mood struck. This is the sort of place you’ll visit once and never forget.
Favorite memory: We were finishing lunch at a restaurant in Corniglia before hiking along the mountainous coastline to Vernazza. As I was leaving, I noticed that restaurant guests were smiling and waving to me. My husband and I were both wearing our children in carriers, and apparently my two-year-old started it by grinning and waving at the restaurant patrons. He then said loudly in Italian, Ciao tutti (“goodbye all”), and left everyone in a cheerful roar of laughter.
About our HomeAway: When we met the owner’s brother at the train station he led us through a tunnel, up and down stairs and eventually, to the sea. We were nearly in disbelief when he pointed up to our apartment. A few moments later, we were inside and fully understood the name of the property Finestra Sul Mare (“Window to the Sea”). Each morning we woke up to the sun shining on the water and every night to waves crashing against the shore. We could easily walk to the beach, train station, mountains, shops, grocery store and take-away restaurants. It was a truly magical vacation.