The To-Do List

“Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.” J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was younger I would spend hours in my room putting together jigsaw puzzles, I loved piling up the similarly colored pieces and picking out the edges as my ADD-riddled mind attempted to make sense of the goliath task. I believe this skill of breaking a goal down into smaller tasks was what made me a good engineer and travel planner. This trip was no different and I front loaded as much stress as I could in order to have peace of mind while on the other side of the Atlantic.

Constant exercise is a shared trait between both France and Italy, and it’s at the forefront of everything. In the year leading up to the trip, I had to prepare my out-of-shape body using the MyFitnessPal app and while it was a fantastic tool for keeping me disciplined, I couldn’t help but think that if I lived in Paris, I wouldn’t have needed to use it in the first place because exercise was so ingrained in daily life. 

While visiting I didn’t see anyone counting calories, nor was calorie information included on the menu. I found that the cities are designed around the movement of people, rather than vehicles, and everyone walks or rides a bicycle. Traveling by electric hover-board is also very popular and makes a walk in Paris seem very futuristic at times.
Due to the historical buildings and streets there were barely any elevators, and stairs were a daily part of the routine. Our AirBnB apartment in Paris was on the top floor with gorgeous views of the third arrondissement, but that meant six flights up a spiral staircase any time we wanted to go anywhere. After watching an elderly French woman deadlift her bicycle to the third floor, I realized that maybe we could use a few less escalators in America. 

In addition to the many stairs, the bike lanes were well organized, the food wasn't over-processed, the local parks encouraged kids to climb and run, the fridges were small requiring daily shopping trips, and public transportation was so cheap and easy to use that walking to the metro station was the best way to get around. 

There may have been a lot of exercising in Parisian culture, but after one day I could see the numerous benefits to that kind of lifestyle. Despite eating more pastries than ever before, I had more energy, was waking up earlier, was exposed to a variety of fresh produce, and was helping the environment, all while actually losing weight. An added benefit, that any parent could appreciate, was that we had zero bedtime arguments for three weeks. The kids were typically out before we could tell them goodnight.

Therefore, the first item on my to do list when I set off on this journey over a year ago was to lose 30 lbs so I’d be able to complete the 14 km Cinque Terre hike off the Western coast of Italy.  When I arrived in Paris, I realized that simply walking around the city was taking a toll on me as the cobblestone streets were beautiful, but walking on them all day was giving me blisters. My mistake was purchasing comfortable shoes before the trip, but not properly breaking them in beforehand. I even bought hiking shoes which were a size too small and didn't figure that out until our day walking around the Louvre, luckily I had my sneakers as a backup. 

Since we had a family of five it was impossible to hail a taxi, and walking everywhere became our preferred method of transportation for a majority of the trip. We brought antibiotic ointment and band aids with us which were very helpful on numerous occasions, but the best way to prepare for the required walking is to exercise during the planning phase. I wanted to combat as many American stereotypes as I could while in Europe, and being overweight was a personal obstacle that I wanted to overcome.

Another looming priority was to decide which activities to book in advance and which ones to book after our arrival. I’ve learned over my last several vacations that if you go on a trip without an outline for each day then you’ll be targeted by opportunists when you arrive, so it’s better to research your outings prior to deciding if it’s a good fit for your group. I’ve found that researching the exchange rate, reputation, or age recommendations from the comfort of your own couch makes for a better experience in the long run. 

Time is your most valuable asset when you plan a trip like this and I’ve learned that if you want to truly be frugal then you’ll need to spend slightly more up front to reserve activities. Personally, I feel like you receive more value when you pay in advance to avoid waiting in lines as you could wait in the line for 5 minutes or 5 hours depending on the crowd. Therefore, I always reserve activities to preempt Murphy’s Law and not take that chance. However, you don’t want to cram so much into the trip that you’re running around and not giving each experience the time it deserves so having a few free days to roam around and book things the locals recommend is a good idea too.

I’ve learned over many trips that a countdown to our departure begins to give me anxiety immediately after the plane lands. One of my biggest flaws is that I want to start “enjoying my vacation” as soon as possible, and there are always an abundance of shady locals waiting to prey on tourists with flashy sales pitches for overpriced experiences. This has lead to activities like Snuba diving and overcrowded boat rides hustling you towards their buddies buffet restaurant.  Don’t be an unprepared tourist, book your activities in advance and ask questions in online forums if you need advice. 

I would have never discovered the night time tour of the Colosseum if I wasn’t lurking in the Rome subreddit, but I can’t imagine experiencing it any other way now. The locals always have a secret to experiencing their wonders of the world, you just need to find it. I loved arriving to new places where people would look at our three loud-American-children and think to themselves “how the hell did they find us?!”

Finally, and most importantly, I needed to ensure that all the children would be able to actually come with us. This would entail some creative bargaining on our part to convince the co-parents that this journey was in their best interests. If you’ve ever dealt with a custody situation then you know that even the smallest requests can become big issues, so it’s important to breach the topic multiple times over the course of a year, then everyone is on the same page and can plan for it without any surprises. 

Being open to any kind of out-of-state travel requested by other households, as long as it was safe and planned in advance, also made it much easier. For instance, we were previously open to my daughter acquiring a passport two years prior when her Mom’s house was going on a cruise, they didn’t end up needing one after all, but it helped our case when we requested the sign-off from her mother for this trip. 

The hardest part was bartering my time in May and August to establish a schedule that would allow me to keep my daughter for five weeks straight in June. It was difficult to trade an entire month of seeing my daughter, but with some communication we decided to have regular video calls with the other parent whenever my daughter requested. She loved showing her mom around our house in Tuscany and I think that helped to heal any absence she was feeling, I found that my daughter was quite resilient and her wanderlust will be an advantage someday when she carves out her own path.

We are thrilled for our kids when they’re invited to go on a trip because we have dealt with them getting left behind while their half-siblings go on a vacation in the past. Although it can be hard, we go above and beyond to show them that we are excited for their experiences with their other families.  The last thing we want is to put a shadow over their enjoyment, or make them feel guilty for their other life.  This philosophy has rubbed off, and we are all working together to help them grow up well-adjusted and happy. One thing was for certain from the start, all of us were going, or none of us were.

We ran into another hurdle with my stepsons school, when they ironically scheduled his Art final exam for the day we’d be at the Louvre. After a few emails to the principal we were able to reschedule it, but his propensity to call my stepson by his student number, rather than his name, definitely solidified my resolve in taking him to experience an actual education at the museums of Paris and Italy. 

In addition to the three major items on my to do list of exercising, itinerary planning, and family scheduling there were also an abundance of smaller loose ends which needed tying up prior to our departure. Surprisingly, forgetting one of these minor tasks was keeping me up at night, so hopefully this list will help guide your preparations and combat your anxiety as well. 

Also, always remember to clean your entire house prior to going on a long trip so that when you return home you’re not greeted by an impending list of chores.

Europe to do list

  • Download maps to GPS
  • Set eBay store to vacation
  • Get International Drivers Permits from AAA office
  • Print out details of car rental/travel insurance
  • Set Ecobee to vacation mode
  • Purchase electric adapter for plugs
  • Complete Sixt online registration
  • Purchase travel locks for luggage
  • Have Mrs. wolmuth sign my daughter’s yearbook
  • Install outdoor webcams
  • Upload music to kids MP3 players
  • Look into foreign transaction fees on credit cards
  • Get new sneakers and bathings suits for the kids
  • Download all Lord of the Rings movies to laptop
  • Email work with follow up items while I’m out
  • Pack headphone splitter
  • Pack hand sanitizer
  • Look into Uber coupons 
  • Give dog a bath
  • Change ecobee batteries in room sensors
  • Get Disney t-shirts for everyone
  • Clean out iCloud storage space for both of us to take pictures
  • Mow lawns
  • Pack solar charger and cell batteries
  • Fill fish tank with water and clean
  • Schedule mortgage payment 
  • Schedule other bill payments 
  • Find DC long term parking
  • Print all tickets for attractions
  • Enable Find My Friends on both phones
  • Buy French and Italian kids books for flight
  • Setup my out of office reply
  • New socks and underwear for everyone
  • Order TSA Pre and add to plane tickets
  • Empty hot water heater and set to vacation mode
  • Find a dog sitter/fish feeder
  • Find someone to check mail
  • Call credit cards and tell them we’re leaving so they don’t lock them
  • Purchase tickets to Disneyland
  • Print shipping labels for sold items and ship them
  • Pack tie pin
  • Purchase tickets to enter the void, Aiguille du midi lift
  • Purchase tickets to Mer de Glace 
  • Purchase tickets to the River Seine boat cruise
  • Organize optional activities by location
  • Check on family access for United lounge passes
  • Look into purchasing a Paris museum pass
  • Call about the passport for Jake
  • Haircuts for everyone
  • Pack all medical supplies, allergy medicine, tylenol, band-aids, etc
  • Look into a Firenze card for museums in Florence
  • Book the train tickets to/from Rome
  • Book the skip the line passes for Vatican City-Sistine Chapel
  • Look into booking passes in advance for Versailles
  • Research tickets to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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