Category: Traveling Internationally

Completely Broke in Italy, Best Time of Our Life

Birds fluttered to the ground by our feet. They could see us eating bread and the little crumbs that were falling in between the cobblestones below. Normally, I would have loved to throw a couple of pieces of bread at the birds. But as my feet dangled off the bench in the courtyard of the church, I clutched my bread in my hands and didn’t share a morsel. Because, if you can believe it, this piece of bread was my food ration for the day. We were so completely broke, that we couldn’t even share some of our bread with the birds.

We were in Padova, Italy, had just gone through a beautiful church and were eating before our next leg of the journey. I will never forget sitting next to my love, eating bread and denying the birds of any of our limited food.

Completely broke and traveling everywhere

 

How it Happened

Austin and I had been saving up money all year so that he could do an internship in Italy. That sounds amazing, right? We had it all planned out, to see as much as possible while we were there. After all, how often do you get to live in Italy?

He got an internship with the Monte dei Paschi bank in Siena. And with the $1000 they would be paying him, we had just enough money to fund the remainder of our trip. We were excited.

We flew across the world and landed in Torino, Italy. From there we went to a number of different cities in the North. The day before we went to Padova, we were in Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

completely broke and completely in love
Leaving our mark on the wall of Love by Juliet’s balcony.

Right before we left for an opera, Austin checked his email. During the week that we had been in Italy, the bank had gone bankrupt and was obviously not going to be having any interns whatsoever. His internship was gone and our $1000 was gone.

Fortunately, our school was able to find him a new one. But this one was an unpaid internship and suddenly we found ourselves completely broke in Italy.

 

Completely Broke in Italy

If there’s one place that you don’t want to be completely broke, it’s Italy. The food is incredible, the sites are amazing, the history is rich and everything is expensive. Suddenly we had no money in one of the places where you want to spend money.

completely broke but can still see the sunset
You don’t need money for sunsets!

 

Spending Habits

We did the math. The amount of available money we had for our meals for the rest of the trip was $5 (3 euro) per day for both of us. Meaning we had 1.5 euro per person for the ENTIRE day (breakfast and lunch were already covered in our living expenses during the school week, but on days when we were away from Siena, we were all on our own). Our habits changed drastically:

completely broke in Verona
In Verona; we had just become aware of our financial situation. It took some time to look this happy again.

Grocery Stores instead of Going Out

We went to grocery stores to buy all of our meals. These meals frequently were things like rolls, cans of tuna, tomatoes & mozzarella cheese. There, the cheese was much less expensive than it is in the United States, and much better.

Non-Glutinous Gelato

If we ever treated ourselves to gelato, we got the smallest size and we shared it.

Towel Tale

In Milano, it was 90 degrees at night. We were sweating in our room. Our clothes were sticking to us. It was 10 euro for air conditioning. Do you think we got it? Nope. Instead we got the towels wet and slept with them on top of us to cool us down. That was my husband’s ingenious idea and I couldn’t believe it worked as well as it did.

Halvsies

We shared every meal except two. One was an incredible panzerotti place in Milano (Luini’s by the duomo, in case you are ever there) – Austin said this was one time we could not share. And on my birthday, I got my own gelato, which was my only request.

eating my only gelato that was completely mine when we were completely broke
Happy Birthday to me!

Feeding Frenzy

If a hotel ever had a breakfast (which was rare because we were staying in hostels), we ate as much as we possibly could and took whatever we could with us. We didn’t care who looked at us sideways. It was take the food or starve.

No Rest for the Weary

We walked EVERYWHERE. In Rome, at the very end of our trip, we had been walking forever. My feet were so sore I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Suddenly, Austin pointed at the metro. “Want to take the metro?” I think I started crying.

feet in a fountain to help the blisters
The day when I wore the wrong shoes to walk around. Blisters for days!

Rare Remembrances

Our souvenirs were extremely limited and we only bought what we had planned on buying. Because on top of being broke, we were also carrying everything on our backs everywhere we went.

completely broke with our only possessions in Italy
This is all we had for 3 months and we carried it everywhere we went.

We were literally, the epitome of starving college students.

Yep, that’s us with all of our stuff as we began our adventure.

 

Miracles

When you are in dire straits, you tend to see more miracles. We, of course, said many prayers pleading for help and we saw so many miracles that helped us make it through. Even if they weren’t critical to our well-being, they were all a reminder that God was watching us and He cared about his completely broke children.

walking to the nearest town because we were completely broke
When I say we walked everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE. This was a 5 mile walk I believe.

Advance Payday

One of our photography clients offered to pay us early for an upcoming wedding. We graciously accepted. (Unfortunately, on our way to the wedding, our cameras were stolen in the airport right after we got home from Italy. Gratefully, we had emptied our memory cards onto our computer just a half an hour before.)

Blessed Bracelets

There are people everywhere who are trying to get you to buy their products or souvenirs. In one such situation, the men were trying to get us to buy their bracelets. In an act of desperation, they pleaded, “One euro. Just one euro.”

Little did they know that one euro was 1/3 of our combined meal rations for the day. We both declined again and again.

Finally they said, “You can just have them. For free.” I don’t know why they both changed their mind. Maybe they could sense that they may have met a couple of tourists who quite literally did not have one euro to spare.

 

Whatever the reason, we kept the bracelets on the rest of the trip as a reminder that God was looking out for us.

Extra Tickets

Someone had extra tickets for a tour and they singled us out of a group of tourists and asked if we would like them. The tickets were only 2.5 euros each, but we could not have gone inside without that blessing.

Hop on, Hop off

A couple was going home a day early and had one more day of a Hop on, Hop off bus ticket in Rome. Guess who they asked to take it? We rode that bus, seeing a lot more of Rome than we would have otherwise and saved our feet some serious damage. Which, really could have changed the outcome of the story above when I could barely make it to the metro.

Vatican Visual

There is only one Sunday every month when visiting the Vatican is completely free. It’s the last Sunday of the month and guess what Sunday we were there. Yep, after standing in the pouring rain, we made it in and saw everything. It was incredible!

Dripping wet by St. Peter’s Basilica right before standing in line.

Christmas Present

An already planned, but a miracle nevertheless was a Christmas present we had received. Austin’s parents had used their points to get us two nights at the Waldorf Astoria in Rome. It was, in a word, exquisite. Basically, it was a good thing we had already seen everything we wanted to see in Rome because once we went into that hotel, we did not leave until we were forced out.

Marriage Magic

Being completely broke was one of the most stressful things we had done together up until that point in our marriage. We hadn’t even had our one year anniversary. But because we were going through it together, we leaned on each other and became stronger together because of the trials we faced.

completely broke and in love in Venice

We survived.

Three months later, our trip to Italy was over. We were exhausted, hungry and excited about hamburgers, but also devastated that we would be leaving. We had had so much fun. There were so many adventures, so many stories and so many moments where I grew to love my husband even more.

Didn’t cost anything to act like touristy fools in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

We worked through being completely broke and came out on the other side, albeit a total of 35 lbs lighter for both of us. (I lost 15. Austin lost 20.) It was hard going back to America and finding jobs again and ending our adventure, but after that I knew that Austin and I could get through anything together. We had endured a lot and relied on each other.

Dealing with the struggle of being completely broke in Italy, enabled us to travel to China later with a 6 week old baby. I couldn’t have made it through without knowing what I learned when we were in Italy. We may have been completely broke, but it was the best time of my life. My husband and I are imperfect, but we can get through anything together.

My best friend for-literally-ever. He’s stuck with me.

Beijing Airport Security – Traveling in China

Traveling Abroad

Traveling abroad can make you feel a little out of your element. It’s stressful, different and exhausting. We learned that some places to fly to are easier than others. This can be due to a number of factors. The location, the airport, the security, the weather, the airline… so many things can affect how smoothly your travel is. One place that will stretch your stress meter to the max is the Beijing Airport. Prepare for the pat-down of your life!

planes

Here I’ve tried to include our story and some helpful hints to make it run as smoothly as possible.

Secure Security to Make You Feel Insecure

You have not seen airport security until you have been to Beijing. Well, it might be rivaled by North Korea. But I don’t know for sure, I’ve never been there. I am not entirely sure what they are expecting to find, but they seem to have one of the tightest securities there is.

Our Experience with the Beijing Airport

We were flying from Beijing to Shanghai. We had been staying for a quick visit to see the Great Wall and other such historic landmarks. I have SO many stories from Beijing, but for now we’ll just focus on the Beijing Airport.

Camera Conundrum

camera equipment. An idea of how much we had to take out at the beijing airport
To give you an idea of the amount of equipment in one bag. (Not including cords, batteries, chargers and memory cards.)

So, because it was a site seeing trip, we had brought our nice camera. We’re photographers, so naturally we have some equipment, but we brought our cheapest DSLR, (Canon EOS Rebel T5i  which is amazing and takes terrific traveling pictures by the way.)

Well, the camera was a bit of a problem for the Beijing Airport security officers. They made my husband take every, single item out of the camera bag and show them. Yep. Camera, lenses, batteries, cords, straps, lens hoods, EVERYTHING. Each item was inspected as if the cords were harboring a thumb drive that would expose government secrets.

After putting each item meticulously back in place, he finally crossed the threshold to me and encountered the problem I was facing.

Infant Imposition

beijing airport security example
We don’t have a picture of the Infant Imposition because Austin was busy taking apart every piece of the camera… 😉

While he was taking his time putting the cords, batteries, straps, lenses, camera and memory cards back into their proper places, I was asked multiple times to hand my three month old daughter to the security guard there. I said no.
They persisted in asking and I kept telling them no. I might have been a little paranoid, but in hindsight I am so glad I didn’t. Even if the security guard wouldn’t have intentionally harmed my child or taken her where I couldn’t see her, she could have dropped her.

One of the security guards looked extremely frustrated that I would not comply. He tried slowing down what little English he knew. I told him no again and pointed at my husband, indicating that I would wait for him.

I handed Siena to Austin after he had finished putting the camera equipment away.  Then after I had been properly frisked, Austin handed Siena back and I held her while Austin was frisked.

after getting through beijing airport security
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Your baby will go back to sleep and it will all be okay. Just take a deep breath and try to relax.

Helpful Hints

  • Arrive early to the Beijing Airport so that you aren’t worried about missing your flight.
  • Be firm in your boundaries and what you are comfortable with.
  • Expect to be treated as the most threatening person to pass under the metal detector. That way if you are not treated that way, it is a pleasant surprise.
  • If you get tripped up, just breathe, say a prayer. It’ll be okay.
  • Make sure you have your passport easily accessible and all other documentation. This could include where you stayed, what you did, or any other information. The more information you have, the better.
  • On that note: Keep track of your passport. As most people know, an American passport is extremely valuable.
  • Some places in the Beijing airport it is best to not even have your phone out. There are ‘no picture areas’. Make sure you respect those rules.
  • But when you’re allowed to take pictures, make sure to capture all of the great signs that have been “translated” to English for your benefit.

Flying with an Infant – It’ll be Okay!

Flying with an Infant

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on flying with an infant, but if there was an expert based solely on experience, that person would be me. This is not a brag list, but a comprehensive list so you can understand that when you are reading my advice, I have some life lessons backing me up.

Flights during the first 6 months of my First Baby’s Life

1. Raleigh, North Carolina --> Denver, Colorado – 1 week old
2. Denver, Colorado --> Salt Lake City, Utah – 1 month old
3. Salt Lake City, Utah --> San Francisco, California – 6 weeks old
4. San Francisco, California --> Shanghai, China – 6 weeks old
5. Shanghai, China --> Shenzhen, China – 2 months old
6. Guangzhou, China --> Shanghai, China – 2 ½ months old
7. Beijing, China --> Shanghai, China – 4 months old
8. Shanghai, China --> Xi’an, China – 4 months old
9. Xi’an, China --> Shanghai, China – 4 months old
10. Shanghai, China --> Hong Kong, China – 4 months old
11. Hong Kong China --> Taipei, Taiwan – 4 months old
12. Taipei, Taiwan --> Hong Kong, China – 4 months old
13. Hong Kong, China --> Shanghai, China – 4 months old
14. Shanghai, China --> Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – 5 months old
15. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia --> Singapore, Singapore – 5 months old
16. Singapore, Singapore --> Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – 5 months old
17. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia --> Shanghai, China – 5 months old
18. Shanghai, China --> Los Angeles, California – 5 months old
19. Los Angeles, California --> San Francisco, California – 5 months old
20. San Francisco, California --> Salt Lake City, Utah – 5 months old
21. Idaho Falls, Idaho --> Salt Lake City, Utah – 6 months old
22. Salt Lake City, Utah --> Denver, Colorado – 6 months old
23. Denver, Colorado --> Detroit, Michigan - 6 months old

Map of all of infant's first 23 flights for flying with an infant

If you were thinking that we must be insane then you are correct. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we have all survived and lived to tell the tale.

This also does not include the many train rides, bus rides, taxi rides, metro rides or road trips that were also a part of my daughter’s first 6 months of life. I am sure in her big baby brain, she probably thought that her family must be gypsies and she was doomed to a life of constant change.

The best part about this list is that on flight number 23, someone asked me if this was my baby’s first flight and I just laughed.

So, from someone who has REALLY been there, here are my juicy secrets:

Call Ahead

If you will be flying with an infant, call ahead. Especially on International flights, but even on Domestic flights, it’s possible that they have a baby bassinet and you’ll be able to lay your angel inside of it and just let him sleep. They can also put you in an emptier row, or closer to the bathroom with a changing table. Let the crew know about your situation so they can be a team player for you.

breastfeeding-on-the-plane-while-flying with an infant

Take a Bottle & Some Formula

I don’t care if you are exclusively breast feeding your baby or if you have so much milk you feel like you might explode. If you are a new Mama, you may not know how much milk you are producing and it might be awkward to bust out your boob for the general public.

Also, flying with an infant can be very stressful and stress affects milk production. Bringing a bottle also provides a way for your spouse to feel like they can be helpful too. You don’t have to use the bottle, but having it can be a lifesaver.

My experience: I didn’t think to bring one until the very end of our 6 month journey. All of the flights were hard. We were stressed out of our minds and so concerned about our little baby girl. On our flight out to China, I figured I would just breastfeed her in our row. We had the whole row to ourselves, and I breastfed, but she kept crying and crying. I spent 15 hours onboard an aircraft, with no escape and other passengers watching, trying to soothe a screaming baby.

Hindsight is 20/20 and if I could go back and tell myself, I would say to bring a bottle. I don’t think she was getting enough milk to fill her belly enough to fall asleep. My poor exhausted baby was hungry and her poor stressed mother couldn’t feed her.

Just swallow your pride and bring a bottle.

Also, if you're a new mama, not all bottles are created equally. The first ones we got leaked everywhere! We never had a problem with these ones:

Bring a Pacifier

Even if you don’t typically let your baby suck on a pacifier, this can be a lifesaver when taking off and landing. The elevation changes can hurt your babies ears and giving him something to suck on will naturally release the pressure in his ears.

Also, flying with an infant is just as stressful to the baby as it is to Mommy and Daddy. Providing the baby with some way to self soothe can help him feel safer and more secure.

If for some reason you forget a pacifier or lose it, I would let Siena suck on my finger. Sometimes you might not be able to reach it. After all, the flight attendants want those bags to stay in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing.


Pack Extra Diapers and a Change of Clothes

You never know when a blow out can strike! My son is an eating, sleeping, pooping machine. And when I say that, I mean he eats and eats and eats and then a couple of days later, he explodes. He has a blow out almost EVERY time he poops. I literally have to catch him in the act to prevent a desecration of his outfit.

There are also other bodily fluids to worry about. For example, vomit, spit up, urine, blood… Someone could spill a drink on your baby. It could be raining. It’s always good to be prepared.

Flying with an infant is not always predictable. On our way back from China, we missed our second flight, due to delays with the first one. We couldn’t make it to Salt Lake that night, had to fly to San Francisco instead to try and catch the last flight out there. Then we missed that one and had to spend the night in a hotel. We were very glad that we had packed extra diapers and a change of clothes for our daughter in the carry on but our own clothing situation was not as fortunate.

sitting-in-the-airport-waiting-to-be-flying with an infant

If you want to read about the most memorable time I forgot to bring an extra diaper, you can read about one of my many Mom Moments.

Ignore the Looks of Disapproval

MOST OF THE TIME people are SO NICE! Even flying as frequently as we do, I have found very few people who are shooting daggers at me. In fact, the only lady who I think legitimately hated us was someone who sat in front of me and my 18 month old daughter, who decided that kicking the chair in front of her was the best sensation her feet could experience.

But I had so many people offer to help, or the flight attendants would ask how they could help. One flight attendant gave me an entire liter water bottle so that I had enough water to mix bottles for Siena on the very long flight.

I’ve had nice passengers hold my kid while I grab something, make sure she didn’t fall, lifted my bag for me. You will not believe how amazing people are, so if someone is being a jerk, ignore them. Most people are NOT thinking the same thing. In fact most people have had to experience flying with an infant themselves. They get it.

flying with an infant-using-the-joey

Use the “Joey”

We call those backpack, baby carrier things, the “Joey”. The Joe saved our lives. A stroller is bulky. When you have a toddler or heavy baby, sure, bring a stroller. But when you have a little infant baby, bring a Joey. The closeness will make your sweetheart feel more secure and if you’re lucky, flying with an infant will be even easier because as you’re going through the airport your little one will fall asleep from the gentle rocking motion.

However, expect to take the Joey off at security. Apparently a Joey is a good place to hide drugs or something.

This is especially important when you are traveling out of the country. Americans have a lot more baby gear than most other countries. One day I will tell you all about some of our experiences with our “gear” in China. But suffice it to say, the Joey became our best friend.


I have heard rave reviews about the Ergo baby, but we had a just a cheap $40 one the whole time we were in China. My biggest complaint with the one we had was that it didn't support my brand new baby's head as well as I would have liked. So when she was super little, we had to put our hand under her head at all times to support it. So, maybe the extra money is worth it.

Trust Your Gut

Flying with an infant can be nerve-racking. The worst place I could imagine losing your child is an airport, so trust your gut.

When we were traveling from Beijing to Shanghai, a security personnel offered to hold my baby while they scanned me with their little hand scanner. I did not want any of them to hold my baby. I felt extremely uncomfortable with the situation.

A man kept retranslating as if I didn’t understand that I needed to hand my baby to the woman. I told him no. I was not going to do that. He looked exasperated so I pointed to my husband and told him that he was going to hold my baby.

Don’t be afraid to say no. If you don’t feel comfortable with something, especially when it comes to your kid, trust your gut! I suspect my baby would have been fine, but I was much happier waiting for Austin to come and join me and hand him my little baby. No one can force you to do something you don’t want to do.

This is ONLY a situation that we ran into in Beijing. No one else asked to hold my baby while going through security (in case this story scared you). Beijing, in general is a very high security place and the government has a high degree of control and power there.

Blankets: 1, 2 & 3

I recommend 3 blankets, maybe 2… depending on your situation.

1. Swaddle Blanket
2. Warm, Snuggle Blanket
3. Cover Blanket

Numbers 1 & 3 can be interchangeable if you don’t need to do both at the same time. We combined these when we traveled to China because any time our daughter was in the Joey, she couldn’t be swaddled so we would have her thinner blanket to cover her. Protecting her from the light (and nosy faces of potentially sick and contagious onlookers) was essential to having a happy, healthy baby while traveling.


walking-around-while-flying with an infant
waiting-in-the-airport-before-flying with an infant

You Can Do It!

Here’s the thing, you know your baby. You are her Mama or Dada. Don’t ever doubt the significance of that because that is your number one compass. If you think your baby needs that pack of teething crackers, bring them along. If your little one has a favorite blankie, bring that thing. My daughter had an owl blanket that she STILL takes everywhere with her. I think that because it was one of the only constant things in her life, it is now like a lifeline to her.

Every time someone shoots you a look or tries to offer unwanted advice, just remember that God gave you that baby, He trusts you to be her parent. Your opinion about your baby and how to travel with her is the one that matters the most.

You may be tired and worn out by the end of your trip, but the flight will end eventually. Flying with an infant is not an experience that will last forever and you'll usually have a memorable experience to look back on. Pretty soon you’ll be blogging about your own horror stories.

Check out how to entertain your toddler here!