Shauna McMahon leads an enviable life. As an account director at Jane Gill PR, she works on fashion brands like COS, Coach and Hunter and gets to be up close and personal with celebrities (including a recent brush with Drake) and hip locales (Miami, New York). This past summer, however, her Instagram account was jam packed with an equally enviable family adventure: A 4-month trip to Europe with her 11-year old twins and her husband.
“Life is so frenetic so creating this moment in time was so important to us. I can’t even believe I did this; it was so hard for me to get my head around leaving,” she says. “And then finally we just made the decision to go and we just made it happen. I had my to-do list that I broke down into pieces I could sort through.” And the payback came back in spades. “I was quite afraid to go away and of course wondered what would happen when we came back and then I realized it’s all going to be okay. We got back into our day-to-day lives pretty quickly and I came back invigorated and stimulated about life, work and family. I loved introducing our kids to so much travel, exploration and adventure and want to continue this journey for us in the future.”
After watching her hop, skip and jump with her smiling brood in tow, we had to find out how she pulled-off this dream trip. In today’s post, she runs down how and why to prep for such an amazing getaway and wait for part 2 later this week, when she shares the nitty gritty: Where to stay, what to see and how to keep the kids happy along the way.
Plan really far ahead.
“I have to give most of the credit for this trip to my husband. He’s been talking about it since the kids were 6 years old and has been saving for it for years. He works in the film industry so the idea of taking a few months off is possible with his work schedule. It took me longer to come around to the idea because my industry is very different. Then 2 years ago we got serious about it and I broached the subject with the two principals of the agency who were very supportive.”
Wait for your kids to be old enough.
“We have taken shorter and faraway trips over the years but I feel like any time between the ages of 8- and 12-years old is a bullseye time for this kind of trip. They’re not quite in junior high or high school when their education starts getting really serious and their workloads get bigger so missing out on school doesn’t have as much of an impact yet. Plus they can hold their own knapsacks and manage long walks and excursions. I couldn’t have done this when I still had to worry about scheduling naps or carry all their stuff for them.”
Plan it for the right time of year.
“We were gone from the beginning of May to end of August. I know that’s when Europe is the busiest and most expensive, but it really made the most sense. By the spring, the kid’s teachers already had a rough idea of their grades and all the major projects have been done. We advised their teachers in the beginning of the school year about this trip so it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and they were great about it. They asked us to focus on reading and math so we brought math exercises and lots of books to read. Through May and June, we did our best to commit to regular reading, writing and math practice. Then in July and August we eased up from it all just like the kids at home.”
Before you go…
“We ended up renting our house out to a family—they moved in during June, July and August. That was a really great thing for us do and helped us with financing the trip. But it also meant taking all our personal possessions, boxing them up and storing them in the basement. This was admittedly a huge task and we started getting organized a month before our trip. We also have a cat, turtles and a hamster who all needed homes while we were away. My mom took the cat, my sister-in-law and niece took the hamster and we found a pet store that specializes in reptiles to take care of the turtles for a monthly fee. To book the trip — that’s deciding on each destination and accommodations — we relied on Tripadvisor, Airbnb and our friends. I’m fortunate to be in a business that has introduced me to well-seasoned travelers who connected me with what to see and where to stay. I asked each of them for their valuable advice.”
Remember that you’re packing feelings.
“The kids were very concerned about missing school, their friends and their end-of-year activities. We live a pretty close-knit community in downtown Toronto and the neighbours threw us a send-off party and made all of this change easier on the kids and me. They put in a team effort by texting me all summer and we facetimed our friends and family regularly to stay connected to home. The kids were a bit homesick through May and June when they knew their friends were together at school but once school wrapped they relaxed and were able to embrace the trip more. We also didn’t feel guilty about any days we stayed in and didn’t go on any excursions. Sometimes the kids just wanted to chill out and play wherever we were staying. Our kids also love animals and our villa in Amalfi was attached to the owner’s home where there was a puppy named Cash. Cash visited us literally every day which was great. Also Greece was full of cats so the kids were so happy to hang out with them. For us, booking longer term rentals with dogs or cats running around definitely took the edge off when it did come up.”
And don’t pack too much stuff.
“We rented cars in every country we went too. We started with an SUV in France and progressively our car got smaller and smaller from one country to the next. Of course, I packed too much and had to ship a couple of boxes home. It was so hot that we were in t-shirts and tank tops for most of the trip. I quickly learned one suitcase per person is all you really need.”
Shauna’s Travel Must-Haves
- Hand-crafted beach bats from heritage Brazilian brand Frescobol Carioca, along with a pack of cards and a travel-sized backgammon set.
- Sun care courtesy of Beautycounter which uses a natural mineral to help protect against UV rays.
- Essential swimsuits in solids and stripes from J.Crew and Kit & Ace.
- Ray Bans. Whatever style will protect your eyes from the Mediterranean sun.
- A caftan from Toronto textile designer and artist Virginia Johnson. It’s no longer available but see her limited edition print shawls here.
- A boyfriend-style shirt from French label Equipment.
- Utility shorts from Club Monaco. Wait until Spring to order your own.
- An all-day tote from COS that’s still sleek for site-seeing.
- Footwear that will make your feet happy without letting down your personal style: Think Birks and a pair of Havaianas.
- Everything by author Elena Ferrante (even if you’ve read them already).