Travel Diary: Europe, Here We Come!

Guten Tag! (That’s almost all the German I’ve got so far)… working on it.

The time has (almost!) come… final preparations for the big European Family Vaca have begun. Three countries,  27 Days, 2 grown-ups (most of the time), 1 kid (all of the time), and one 12 year-old going-on-twenty-eight will embark on a mission to have fun, seek out adventures, gobble up all the yummiest food we can find, meet some lovely (I hope!) new people, and try to remain a joy-filled bunch the whole while. (try… we are not yet sure if travelling brings out the best in all four of us… we’ll see ;))

Before we actually set out on said adventure, I wanted to pop on here and give you a few hints… I’ve had lots of questions about what we have done to prepare for our Epic Adventure (particularly for the two smallest members of the family), so that seemed like a great place to start as a guide for any of you planning similar adventures. So, here we go… what I have learned so far as we have planned this little expedition:

  1. Flights, Flights, Flights. Yes, it is cheaper to take the milk run. Yes, you can save money by altering your departure airport (driving a bit further from home). Yes, every penny counts when travelling on a budget with the family…. BUUUUT… NO, it’s not always worth it to save money on this step. We are flying directly from the city we live closest to into Frankfurt, Germany (about a 9 hour flight). There were other options requiring transfers in various places or flights from airports further from our city, with some cost saving advantage, but… this is our kiddos first Transatlantic flight, and we have no idea how it will go. They are older, so I am not concerned, but the mama in me still wants to make it as painless as possible (OK, more for me than them… I’m not totally selfless that way)… So, do your homework. Look around for alternate departure/arrival cities and you may be pleasantly surprised at the differences in cost available to you. BUUUT… you know yourself and your kids. Sometimes paying extra is worth a clear head and smiley faces… We booked our flights 7 months in advance of our trip.
  2. Accommodation, Accommodation, Accommodation. Thank you Airbnb, VRBO, and the many lovely German, French, and Belgian Hotel Clerks that have already made this trip possible ;). We have a few longer stays during our trip, and for those we chose Airbnb and VRBO accommodations (based on traveller reviews, location, and amenities), but for some of our shorter stays we chose local hotel chains. I would highly recommend calling the hotel directly as we found that they were able to offer us better prices, or accommodation more suitable to our exact needs than was clear on hotel booking sites (hubby and I woke up very early one Tuesday morning to account for the time change and pounded through MANY reservations on the phone… thank you Skype!!). In all cases, the hotel staff were extremely helpful, happy to have a caller from Canada, and mostly spoke English (or could find someone that did)! We had all of our accommodations booked 6 months prior to travel, and could have booked sooner at some locations… who knew that July and August were such popular travel months?!? (yeah… I did… but all of the sudden it was December… I have no excuse). Book early to avoid missing out on some great places… like we did. Oops.
  3. Transportation, Transportation, Transportation. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. We are using them all! International travel has become a much simpler endeavour thanks to The Google, TripAdvisor, and online shopping for almost anything. One of my favorite finds (tip from an acquaintance who is an experienced European traveller) is Rome2rio, which has been extremely helpful in organizing the legs of our journey. You’ll hear more about our particular transportation picks as our adventure unfolds, but if you are planning your own trip… starting there is a great choice! We have found that booking car-rentals for Europe online has been a very smooth process. In most cases, we have not booked our train tickets in advance, as we want to be somewhat flexible with travel times.
  4. WHAT TO BRING?? OK, this mama is a last minute packer… like VERY last minute. But in this case, I am breaking out of my personal mold and planning ahead (a bit)! I don’t have a list for you yet, but I do know two things – we will need to carry our bags A LOT, and we will need to be prepared for a WHOLE BUNCH of different adventures requiring everything from casual dinner-wear to beach clothes. AND, everyone is going to carry their own stuff. All. The. Time. Like Always. I’m done with carrying everyone’s everything. I mean it this time. Yeesh… So, that means I am currently on the hunt for a perfect wheeling/back-pack/light-weight/but big-enough-for-a-month bag for each of the littles. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Hubs and I already have good wheeling/backpack options by High Sierra that we like, but they are too big for the boys. Especially since they are carrying them On. Their. Own. Always. I mean it this time… I digress again… So, more to come on this one as the date approaches. I’ll leave you with this though – as we booked accommodation, I did check to be sure that there were laundry services available/near-by in most cases so that we could easily do laundry. We are packing light, family – we ARE!!! (they don’t believe me yet, but they will)

So there you have it, that’s where we’re at so far. Right now (this very day, in fact), I will be going through our itinerary place-by-place and determining which sites and activities have made the final cut (TripAdvisor has been extremely helpful on this front) for this adventure and if I need to purchase tickets in advance. Once that’s done, we just wait! And keep thinking about packing… oh packing, how I loathe thee…

Until next time… I hope you get to plan some great family adventures this summer too… whether in your own backyard or far away. Family times like these are NEVER wasted!