Embracing a Memorable Family Life in Italy


Vicenza, Italy has long been considered one of the Army’s most coveted duty stations. As soon as I realized I would be married to a U.S. service member, I started dreaming about getting stationed in Italy. Many people have a similar dream about being stationed somewhere in Europe, with one of the top reasons being the opportunity to travel. Flights all over Europe are significantly cheaper than in the U.S., most major cities are connected by train, and the open borders of the Schengen Zone make it easy to road trip across several countries. Many garrisons and units schedule a four day weekend every month, and some families jet set around the European continent every chance they get. It is inspiring to see the beautiful pictures on social media as friends add to their long checklist of countries visited. My husband and I were pretty ambitious ourselves, the first time we were stationed in Europe. Despite adding to our family during that time, we visited eleven different countries together during our three year tour, as well as several trips within Italy. 

When we found out we were moving back to Italy two years ago, I started dreaming again about all the places we would visit with our three kids. But the reality has looked different than I imagined. We have traveled some, but remained much closer to home. Because I know people in our community who travel extensively, I sometimes find myself trying to explain and make excuses for why we aren’t traveling so much (my husband’s stressful and unpredictable job, anxiety due to health issues, the amount of sheer energy required to travel and sight-see as a family of five, etc.). But a friend recently brought up the fact that there is value in spending time in one place, too. She reminded me of something I know and care about, but sometimes lose sight of. One of the reasons that we sought out the opportunity to live abroad is that we value getting to know and understand another culture. We wanted to dive in, get to know our neighborhood, become regulars at the cafe, and learn the language. These are the little things that you never really have the chance to do as a tourist. The truth is, every time we say “yes” to something, it means saying “no” in some way to something else. So what has that looked like for us during our current European assignment with school age kids? Here are a few things that we have said “yes” to for our family (in other words, our values and priorities).

  • A sense of stability at home. We want our kids to experience some regular rhythms at home on weekends. We want them to feel that this is a safe place to find peace and have space and time to explore their creative passions. 
  • Community and hospitality. Since we are all far from friends and family, opening our home for shared meals and holidays is important to us. 
  • Chores! we try to foster a spirit of household contribution for our whole family. Weekends are a time when everyone can help with yard and household management in age-appropriate ways. 
  • Rest. We aren’t as young as we once were, but life is not slowing down! Sometimes we need our extra days off or long weekends to just catch up on some R&R. 
  • Embracing new cultural norms. We love the fact that we can walk to the weekly outdoor market in our town each Saturday morning. This is something that has never been a possibility for us in the U.S. 

Traveling is exciting, but if we tried to visit a new country nearly every month, it would mean giving up some of the other things that are important to us. Finding the right balance is an ongoing journey. Maybe you are hesitant to seek out an overseas assignment because finances (or any number of other reasons) would make leisure travel difficult. Or maybe you simply don’t enjoy traveling much. You might even question if there is much value in moving overseas if you are more of a homebody. I would answer that specific question with a resounding YES. While moving to Italy is by no means easy, it is absolutely worth it. Within just a one hour radius, there is so much history, natural beauty, good food, and unique experiences. If frequent plane rides and hotel stays are not in the cards for your family, I encourage you to embrace the countless new experiences within your new “hometown.” When we have some free time, my family loves walking around some of the beautiful towns and city centers nearby, returning to our favorite spots over and over again. Memories are built through repetition. Memories from fast-paced trips can become a blur, but I know that my kids will remember what it feels like to hear the church bells while walking around our little village, or playing at a local park with a medieval Italian villa as a backdrop. They will remember the lilt of the Italian language, and the joy of seeing a favorite fruit dominate the produce stands when it comes into season.

Piazza dei Signori, the main square in Vicenza, Italy.

Wherever you live, there are little treasure to be found nearby. Here are a few of our favorite spots to return to over and over (take note if you have move to Aviano or Vicenza in your future!)  

  • Lake Garda: The largest lake in Italy. You will never run out of picturesque cafe-lined streets or beautiful lake views to explore. The cold, crystal clear water is refreshing to swim in during the heat of summer.
  • Bassano del Grappa: You will feel like you are walking through time in this town. From medieval architecture to remaining damage from WW1, you will be transported to another time. After crossing the historic covered bridge, with picture frame views of the Dolomites mountains, you can sunbathe beside the Brenta River, or take a hike along a well-maintained trail.
  • Verona: I call this nearby city “Little Rome”. Beautiful squares and year-round markets, along with a well-preserved Roman Arena, provide a similar experience to the Eternal City, without the large crowds. 
  • Venice: There will always be crowds in this popular destination, but Venice is truly a place unlike any other. There is a reason people dream their whole lives of visiting Venice, and it is very easy to reach by train. 
  • Vicenza: I am always amazed when I meet people who have been all over Europe, but are still unfamiliar with this beautiful local gem. The architecture here rivals that of any famous Italian city. It is a compact, walkable city, with more perfect cafes and gelaterias than I can count, as well as great shopping in the large open air market that pops up twice a week.
Bassano del Grappa — just 35 minutes from our home in Vicenza
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Julie Barnes
Julie is the mother of three kids, ages 10, 6, and 3. Although she knew little about military service when her marriage began, she promised to follow her husband wherever the Army would send him. To her continuous surprise and delight, the Army has brought her family to Italy for a second time. A former piano teacher and worship leader, Julie has recently shifted her creative energy to writing. She has contributed to Legacy Magazine and She Is Kindred – A Storytelling Collective. Julie believes that telling our stories can help us understand each other’s unique journey and perspective, ultimately bringing us closer to one another. In her free time, Julie enjoys reading, cooking, sight-seeing, and learning Italian. Julie shares snapshots of her family’s life overseas on Instagram at @juliecodabarnes.


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