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Travel

Is Rome Racist?

I honestly don’t know how to answer this question, but during our recent trip, the signs were there. A lot of my friends have visited Italy and had a great time, a few of my friends are Italian and I have been welcomed into their homes like a long lost family member at mealtimes. I am also an English speaker, the UK hasn’t left the EU and I’m a single mother travelling with young children. I therefore naively assumed that these few details afforded me some privileges.

The first sign something was amiss took place when our early morning train from Naples stopped momentarily before reaching Rome. In the grey of the morning, straight out of a WW2 film, armed police officers boarded the train. Their purpose? To carry out identity checks for every person of colour (POC) on board.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Italy is having a bit of an issue with migrants at the moment, and I had nothing to hide so complying to their ‘random’ checks should have been water off a duck’s back. But there’s something unsettling about being treated with suspicion because of the way that you look, rather than regarded with the possibility that you may actually be the tourist you know you are.

I attempted to shake it off as we walked to the Colosseum but the impression that I wasn’t welcome didn’t shift. From rude waiters in restaurants (and I’m not talking the famed Parisian level of rudeness), to being followed and shouted at by a police officer on a motorbike. It was clear by the end of the day that people that look like me, aren’t welcome in Rome.

I’m ashamed to admit that I was also forced to recognise my own bias while there, my attempts to use my privilege as a British, English-speaking tourist to offset the racism I encountered, made me realise that not everybody has a ‘Get Out Of Jail’ free card in their back pocket that they can pull out just by opening their mouths.

It has definitely knocked my confidence when it comes to travelling, but I can also recognise what I’ve learned from the experience:

  • We NEED to talk more about racism when travelling – to raise awareness, to protect ourselves, to make informed travelling decisions.
  • I need to be prepared in how to deal with any experiences I may have while simultaneously protecting my children.
  • I will personally never return to Rome. The people of Naples were extremely friendly, I would go back and will probably revisit Italy one day. But it won’t be anytime soon.
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Travel

Naples with kids

Italy had been on my wish list for years, so when I had the opportunity to spend a week in the country of my dreams on a limited budget (£500 total, excluding food) I couldn’t wait!

This blog covers our general costs and itinerary. Flights and accommodation took a large proportion of our budget, I didn’t include food as that’s a standard daily cost, when travelling or at home.

Flights (Skyscanner): £195.06

Accommodation (Air BnB): £217.34

Day One

We arrived late due to flight delays and bad weather so arrived to our Air BnB, ordered pizza and crashed.

Day Two

I booked last minute return tickets to Rome from Naples. We slept on the train and grabbed a quick breakfast in Rome while getting our bearings.

We spent the morning walking past the Coliseum and the Forum, the queues were far too long for us to go inside. The impressive architecture was enough to appreciate the legacy of the Roman Empire.

Stopping for lunch near Pantheon, which is free to enter. We then headed to the Spanish Steps for the photo op and the Trevi Fountain to toss a coin.

I find that traveling with kids requires a lot of patience and realistic expectations. We all needed a break from the sightseeing so spent our last few hours in Rome at Villa Borghese, a park with amazing views over the city and just a short walk from the river.

Train tickets: £33 return (1 adult, 1 child, under 5s go free).

Day Three

After an intense day of travelling to and from Rome, I decided that a hop on/hop off bus day was needed. We could see the sights from the comfort of our seats.

There are two main routes to choose from in Naples. Route A takes you around the city centre while Route B takes you along the coast. In between the information shared, some classic Italian songs are played which a few of our fellow (older) passengers would enjoy singing along to. Belting out classics from the top of the bus much to everyone’s enjoyment.

Towards the end of our journey, I was able to purchase discounted return tickets for a bus to Pompeii.

Hop on/hop off 24 hour tickets: £20 (adult) £10 (child 5+)

Day Four

We walked down to the port after a quick ‘street’ breakfast, to take the bus to Pompeii. It was no more than a 45 minute drive at most.

Once we got there, the queue was long but moving. If you want to skip the line then purchase your tickets online, there were official tour guides offering their services. I decided not to go with a tour guide as they asked me to pay €20 for each of us (€60 total) even though it was free entry for under 18s.

After visiting Pompeii I would highly recommend getting a guide. There’s only so much information one can retain from Latin lessons in school! It was difficult to tell what exactly we were looking at due to an absence of signs.

Bus tickets: €13.50 return

Pompeii tickets: €15 (adult, under 18s feee)

Day Five

We spent the day getting to know the neighbourhood around our Air BnB. I hadn’t anticipated the mess the boys would make of their clothes, so we visited a local laundromat where we could leave our clothes and the owner washed, dried and folded them for us to collect.

There was a local market we walked through and the stall holders would pinch the boys cheeks while stuffing their hands full with treats from their stalls.

Wash/dry laundromat: €9

Day Six

I bought a Naples city travel ticket so we could take a break from walking in the rain. We visited Cemetery Fontanelle (free entry) which was the perfectly eerie atmosphere, human remains stacked high against the walls from Plague victims, for the time of year (Halloween).

After a lunch we explored Quartier Spagnoli and stopped off for a spot of afternoon tea at one of many the Leopoldo locations.

Travel ticket: €4.50 (valid for multiple journeys in one day on all modes of transport around Naples)

Day Seven

I had hoped to take a trip to the Amalfi Coast & Capri/Procida, but the terrible weather had put a stop to any boats leaving the port.

We spent the morning (window) shopping along Via Chiaia, before meeting up with a fellow worldschooling parent who wanted to introduce us to the best of Naples and some of her friends.

We were introduced to the famous rum baba dessert, and shown amazing views of the bay of Naples twinkling below Mount Vesuvius at sunset. Ending our evening with gelato as we walked back to our Air BnB soaking up the bustling late night atmosphere.

Naples was amazing but unfortunately the weather put a dent in our plans as I wasn’t prepared for the heavy rain and extreme weather which affected all transport during the week. I would definitely visit the city again, but with another adult in tow and during better weather. I also found the locals to be extremely friendly and welcoming, happy to help with any of my queries. I would highly recommend a slow travel experience with children in this amazing city.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a paid for/sponsored blog.

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Travel

SEN Travel: Step Four

I want you to imagine the following scenario:

You followed all the steps in the SEN Travel blog series; you picked up the hidden disability lanyard from the assistance desk at the airport, you’d prepared the social story weeks in advance and had all the sensory/distraction activities and snacks packed into your rucksack.

You get onto your plane and find your seat, suddenly your child starts getting anxious. He doesn’t like the feeling of the seatbelt restricting his movements, the engine is too noisy, lights are being switched on and off, doors are being shut, people are talking loudly, there are too many smells and your child can’t communicate how he feels so he screams.

He tries to take his clothes off, he doesn’t understand what is happening or why it’s happening he just knows he doesn’t like it. You give him some snacks, you give him an activity but it doesn’t work. Your carefully laid plans go to waste. You want to give him a cuddle but you know it will make him ‘worse’. The best you can do is to let him know that you’re there and everything will be okay, hoping that once you’re in the air he will calm down as you do your best to comfort him.

Imagine that you are also breastfeeding your happily sleepy little baby at the same and because you’re a single parent you just have to suck it up and employ every strategy that you can think of to get through it because you know it will be over soon, you know your child and you know he just needs time to adjust to the situation, once the seatbelt sign is off he will curl up and fall asleep it’s just those initial moments before takeoff.

You feel embarrassed, you are on high alert conscious that people are staring and whispering, judging. You aren’t doing it on purpose, you hope they can recognise this is a situation involving a child with additional needs and you’re just doing your best.

Now imagine that a woman sitting in front of you turns around to look at you, her face a mixture of disgust and annoyance.

“You could try controlling your child, maybe actually be a parent. Or better yet don’t bring him out in public until he knows how to behave.”

Now you probably don’t actually need to imagine any of that, you’ve probably experienced it before. This is exactly what happened to me the first time I took my children on a plane. Other passengers mumbling in agreement that ‘kids like that shouldn’t be allowed out, it’s a nuisance.’. Those few mins of ‘nuisance’ for them is everyday for me. Am I not allowed to enjoy life or give my children experiences for the sake of a few others being inconvenienced by a child that doesn’t understand what is happening to them? Of course not!

What you need is a ‘prepared response’ and to feel confident in what you’re saying. Now that W is older and is able to communicate better, we can talk about how he’s feeling, he’s used to planes and he knows what’s happening. He will sometimes talk through everything that’s going on around him (like a commentator), and that’s still ‘annoying’ for some people! But it provides him with comfort and helps reduce his anxiety. I don’t need these responses anymore but I’ve chosen my top two, you may also decide that instead of responding to other passengers you will preemptively warn them of your situation and what could happen worst case scenario.

What to say to another passenger that tuts/sighs, makes comments to other passengers but doesn’t speak to you directly.

I’m so sorry, he has a neurodisability and autism. He finds the take off and landing extremely difficult to cope with but once we are in the air he will calm down and probably fall asleep.

What to say to another passenger that has confronted you in a rude and abrasive manner, making derogatory comments about your child and your parenting:

How about you mind your own business instead of making comments about a child that clearly has additional needs. It’s not an ideal situation but I’m trying my best and your attitude is extremely unhelpful.

These are statements I have genuinely made when travelling and I usually find by the end of the journey people commend my children on their behaviour once they realise that it really is only during take off and landing. Feel free to adapt these to suit your own situation or find your own method. But I have found that one of the biggest issues when it comes to travelling with an additional needs child tends to be the intolerance of others.

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Travel

SEN Travel: Step Three

Steps 1 and 2 covered international travel; identifying airport assistance schemes and creating you travel ‘toolkit’.

Not everybody is able to travel abroad so Step 3 will cover travelling within your country. Steps 1 and 2 still apply but you won’t be as restricted with your toolkit as you are when travelling by plane.

Here are my recommendations, for the three main modes of transport, to ensure a comfortable journey.

Whale travel not covered

Train

USE YOUR VOICE*. Be loud, be clear, let people know you are here. I am often told that those with additional needs are advised to avoid rush hour but this is not always possible.

In London, W (who hates trains and has a 2 train per journey limit before flipping out) had therapy sessions early in the morning and the only way to get there was public transport, through some of London’s busiest stations with intense rush hour experiences that I found suffocating.

ASD coupled with a neurodisability that affects balance and coordination is not an ideal combination on a moving train at the best of times, I often have to ask for other commuters to give up their seats for his safety and the safety of others around him.

Bus

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. If you’re a wheelchair user in the UK you do have priority over buggies and any suitcases that may be using the wheelchair designated space.

If you need a seat, don’t be afraid to ask and use your voice* (see above).

Car

This is probably the most difficult mode of transport for me personally. As a single parent I’m usually the only adult in the car and of course the one that’s driving.

I can’t employ distraction techniques as easily as I can on the bus or train. I can’t safely pick up a crayon or unstick stuck Lego pieces. My ‘toolkit’ needs to be simple and accessible with minimal involvement on my part. This is where tablets and snacks come in handy! You may need to stop off at service stations often. Whatever you need to do, make sure it’s a safe option.

Top Tip: Whenever using public transport check what facilities and accessibility services there are available.

*it can be daunting to use your voice. TfL have a ‘please offer me a seat’ badge available for those with hidden disabilities. Check if your local area has a similar scheme.

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Travel

SEN Travel: Step Two

This blog is all about creating your TRAVEL TOOLKIT.

You probably already have a toolkit you use on a daily basis, because W has both ASD and DCD (a neurodisability that affects coordination) my daily toolkit usually involves:

  • a motor skills activity
  • a play skills activity
  • a sensory activity
  • visual timetable
  • social story (for new places/activities)
  • love bombing/emotions activity for B (he is still young and struggles to understand his big brother’s behaviour and also needs some 1:1 time with me)
  • self-care (because it’s hard being a SEN parent, single or not)

As you can see these are not all physical tools and your daily toolkit that helps you support your child and manage their diagnosis may look different to mine, you know what works for your child.

Once you’ve identified your ‘tools’ you need to weed out the non essentials and make the essentials TRAVEL FRIENDLY.

For example:

  • It’s important for W to do some sort of motor skills related activity on a daily basis, we can’t pack his Gonge river stones everywhere we go due to the baggage allowance but I can research local playgrounds and pack fine motor skill activities that also serve a distraction purpose when travelling.
  • He is a sensory seeker, and will put anything into his mouth – luckily he has a small soft toy from birth that he can hold/chew or stick in his backpack. It also can’t cause the issues that a liquid based sensory item could cause on airport security.
  • Visual timetables and social stories can be easily stored in a A4 plastic wallet in my backpack.

In combination with STEP ONE: identifying disability schemes at airports, you are closer to that dream holiday abroad. However not everyone has the luxury to travel abroad and so the first steps for any ‘domestic’ travel will be addressed in STEP THREE next week.

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Travel

SEN Travel: Step One

After I received a large number of messages in response to my Instagram story. I realised that a lot of parents want to travel but feel that because they have one or more children with additional needs it’s not an option for them.

I’ve decided to dedicate a blog series to hopefully answer any questions surrounding SEN and single parent travel.

The first in the series is what I like to call ‘STEP ONE’, it doesn’t matter where you are going to when you’re travelling abroad because it usually all starts in one place: THE AIRPORT

The airport can be an overwhelming place for anybody let alone those with sensory issues or any other additional need. While assistance can be requested at most airports it is difficult to get recognition/assistance for hidden disabilities. This is where schemes like Gatwick’s lanyard scheme come in handy.

Step One: Find out what assistance/schemes/facilities there are for hidden disabilities at the airport you are flying from.

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Education Parenthood Travel

LL Shorts: One school, two school, home school, world school.

Many of you who have followed our unschooling/home education journey so far are properly wondering why I’m sending the boys to school here in Morocco.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight, I’m not anti-school, I’m anti bad school. I would only send my children to a school if I truly believed that school could do a better job than what I’m doing currently. Don’t get me wrong, schools are not the place (in my opinion) for developing emotional intelligence which is a huge part of parenting boys for me. However now that we are on our slow living worldschooling journey, the educational goalposts have changed.

I want to be raise global citizens, give them an exposure to the languages and cultures around us which brings me to school. I’m an English speaker, we all are. I have a smattering of French left over from GCSEs but that’s about it, just enough to get by but not nearly enough to ensure we all have the opportunities I’d like us to experience while we are here. It would be all too easy for me to find an English speaking community and stay within my comfort zone, but that would defeat the purpose of what we are doing. Which is why, I feel that for my boys at least, school will be able to provide them with the opportunities that I value as an integral part of our worldschooling journey.

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Education Parenthood Travel

LL Shorts: Worldschooling

I love London, I think it’s a great place to bring up children. Little Londoners was born out my desire to share all the amazing and affordable activities my hometown has to offer families.

However, I realised that something needed to change. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to change our education set up but our lifestyle was no longer sustainable in London. I always said that I would never live outside of London unless I was living outside of the UK, so being the travel lover that I am I started exploring my options and discovered the wonderful world of worldschooling.

Worldschooling is essentially a combination of education and travel, but it can look different for every family. I don’t know what it will look like for us yet as we are only starting out but my main objective is to bring my boys up to be global citizens, with an understanding and respect for our world and the people and animals that inhabit it.

Our first stop is Morocco, a country we have visited on many occasions. After Morocco? Well we’ll see where the wind takes us!

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Travel

Family Ski Trip – Bonkers or Brave?

As I tucked into a good book, a bowl of hot chocolate and a warm savoury crepe an hour before my first snowboarding lesson, I realised I had cracked the secret to a genuinely enjoyable family holiday – childcare!

As the family ski trip drew closer, I was suddenly filled with doubt. I hadn’t skied since I was 14 and I couldn’t remember what we needed. People were telling me how brave I was, when the reality was more of the bonkers variety. I googled to my hearts content “what to pack for family ski holiday” ‘thermals’ was the helpful reply, but how many?! There were a few essential items we could have done with but the answers weren’t always clear so I’ve compiled some of my tips and tricks after the learning curve that was our first family ski holiday.

3 sets of thermals really were enough for the children as they could wear them 2 days in a row, however B is quite a messy eater still so a spare set wouldn’t have gone amiss. I only brought 1 fleece each but they could have done with 2 as I didn’t realise how often they’d wear them. I bought their jackets and trousers in the sale because I’m not going to spend money on something they’ll wear once before growing out of it. Thanks to the Beast from the East we got a little of my money’s worth.

***MITTENS*** – stuffing a small person’s hand into ski gloves in the 5mins you have between breakfast and their ski lesson is not fun. You try to look calm and collected in the boot room while angrily whispering (behind a smile and sunglasses) to your child ‘YOU wanted gloves, I told you mittens would be easier. Stop crying and just get them on.’ is probably not the best way to start every morning. (By the end of the week we were pros). On that note – by 2 pairs, so 1 pair can dry after all the fun in the snow while the other pair is being worn. Snoods are great, would have been a better alternative to the balaclavas I’d bought as B screamed the entire time he had one on. Ski goggles also great idea, the boys screamed in the shop so they just wore sunglasses the entire time but have both agreed that they will LISTEN to me next time and let me buy them goggles (1. If there’s a next time, 2. If they remember their promise to listen).

W was able to buy hot chocolate during his ski lessons, so a few euros in his pocket cane in handy. Individual sunscreen is something I didn’t consider as I’m used to bringing one to share on our usual sunny holidays, but as they were in childcare and it would need to be reapplied during the day would have come in useful.

Speaking of childcare, I booked with Esprit Ski who pride themselves on quality family ski holidays and top notch childcare, which it was. From 8.30am (after breakfast) – 6pm the boys were in childcare being watered and fed, participating in ski lessons, singing activity camp style songs, doing arts & crafts or having outdoor play in snow club, they even took the children on a trip to a local farm one day! The boys absolutely loved it, it gave me enough time to practice falling on my arse and the recover after my beginner snowboarding lessons! From 7.30pm-10.30pm there was a free babysitting service while the adults enjoyed a four course meal (canapés and prosecco in the bar). This was the part that worried me the most, I was certain I would be some sort of outcast, stuck on the end of a table trying awkwardly to make conversation with seasoned couples, however that wasn’t to be the case. Every evening they rearranged the seating plans so that by the end of the week I was on first name basis with most of the parents in the hotel who I was able to regale with tales of my various mishaps on the slopes, namely falling off the chairlift each time and having to be dragged out from underneath it, much to the despair of my wonderfully patient instructor.

Saturdays were free days, I had planned to do an excursion but we ended up going dog sledding on the Thursday afternoon, so I took the boys for a scavenger hunt around the resort, rewarding ourselves with hot chocolate and crepes of course. We were actually sorry to go, B and W had earned some badges and certificates which they were proud to show off, so upon our return home I promptly booked our return trip for next season!

So, to summarise:

  • Euros for children to buy hot chocolate during ski lessons
  • Individual sunscreens
  • 2x ski MITTENS as moderation is not part of a child’s vocabulary/nobody wants to be sat in a ski room whisper shouting as they struggle to put gloves on a whinging small person
  • Make sure you’ve researched and booked a table for the night that catering have off
  • If you’ve got childcare and/or a messy eater – extra spare sets of clothing always come in handy
  • If you’re travelling as a single parent or you’re worried about socialising everybody is in a similar boat and quite happy to chat and make friends for the week!