Because I hope that you, too, will one day have the pleasure of exploring a far-off land that you wish to adventure to, I thought you might like to know a few of our “what we wish we knew, and what we are happy we did” ideas from this trip!
So, as this journey comes to an end (the loads of laundry currently spinning in my HUGE North American laundry machine can attest to that!)… here are a few lessons learned by the travelling family this time around:
- First and foremost, if travelling with kids, it might go without saying, but flexibility, flexibility, flexibility! Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned, sometimes you’re just really tired, sometimes you need a break, and sometimes you just forgot to have an extra croissant and the hangries have taken over… either way, be willing to throw the plans out the window and just relax! It’s a holiday after all! If there is a lake, swim in it! A park, climb on it! A stroll through a forest, play pretend in it (in our family, every forest becomes Endor, the Shire, or the Forbidden Forest in two minutes or less)! No sight-seeing or landmark is worth ruining the closeness, fun, and relationship-building-memory-making that family trips are supposed to be!
- Expedia is not your friend when booking hotels in Europe – we had much better service when booking on our own, and were able to get upgraded rooms on arrival in many cases, while rooms booked on Expedia were as is, and often resulted in grumpy hotel staff! Getting the hotel membership is also worth it (free wifi and upgrades when possible).
- Hotel choice… staying close to the city center is well worth the extra coinage for the savings in travel time and cost for uber/transit when getting around the city. Hotels with only a half a star better rating were often much more roomy, newer, and in a better location. Ask for a family suite (make sure you are clear about the beds you are getting!). Always check on parking (free, close-by, accessible). Hotel breakfast is worth the extra money as kids up to 15 years old are free – the breakfasts included hot food, meat, cheese, fresh breads, museli, coffee/tea/espresso, fresh fruit, so are very filling for the day allowing us to eat only a small snack part way through the day and then a good supper.
- Air B’n’B or VRBO type accommodation are good options for families, but be cautious. Ask lots of questions of the home owner and know what you are getting (close to restaurants/shopping/central areas/laundry?). Do not book with a no-cancellation policy (we have found this to be a red-flag in terms of the experience we will have with property owners). Trust your gut!
- We found the car rental to be a more economical, and convenient choice, as 4 train/bus/public transport tickets becomes costly compared with one car, BUT, in the larger cities (Paris, Munich, Berlin) driving is stressful and better to avoid unless you are experienced with European driving. Hubby did a lot of research regarding rules of the road and driving tips for each of the countries we visited, and he is an excellent driver. Without his comfort and ability in this regard, we would still have been far better off using the public transportation system. We chose to use Uber within the city, as this was generally the same price or a bit cheaper than 4 train/bus tickets even for short trips (and far cheaper than taxi). If using the transportation system, book your hotel close to a major train hub or pack light and be ready to do some hiking with your bags!
- Trip Advisor!!!! We LOVE Trip Advisor and rely on comments from other travellers for everything from where to eat dinner, to landmarks worth the visit, to which bus company is most reliable, best hotels, and everything in between! I have taken to adding as many reviews as I can on Trip Advisor for the places we visit as a family – I hope that our experiences will benefit other travellers as theirs have made our trip amazing!
- Great luggage is worth the money. We chose High Sierra duffel/backpack/wheeling bags for ourselves and our kids The backpack straps are particularly useful in Europe.
- Carry cash. Even some of the very large restaurants we visited in Germany did not accept cards. It’s a good idea to have enough cash to cover a full meal for your family and transportation to and from your accommodation at all times.
- Bring water bottles (we brought camelback-style water bladders as well as regular water bottles), particularly in Germany, where you will be charged for water at restaurants… and it is costlier than Beer or other drinks!
OK… that’s a wrap on this Travel Diary this time around. Until our next adventure… happy travels to you and your family wherever the road takes you!!