To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

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To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby suming » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:20 pm

I’ve been thinking about a family trip to Europe in summer next year. We have three children, 21, 17, and 15 years old. My daughter will graduate from college next summer and my son will graduate from high school. When they are getting older, I figure we probably won’t have many opportunities to travel together – since my daughter moved to East coast for college, we have not had a family vacation. This trip also serves as a celebration for their graduation.
I’ve been Europe many times for business and my sister and I took our parents there the past spring. We had a comfortable and wonderful time. Now this trip is going to be different – it needs to be educational one with a lot of fun. I guess I just need to find out more about how to travel with much less budget this time. Five of us to take the trip means everything $$ times 5. The total budget is 2000 per person, including airline ticket (the less, the better). The countries I have in mind are Netherlands, France (Paris), and Spain (London is optional).
Here are my questions:
1) Taking public transportation? Or rent a car? Which one is cheaper?
2) Any suggestion as far as where to stay? Is camping a good choice?
3) Anybody knows those places that charge 10 or 20 per person? Or some college dorms are open in the summer for people to stay?
4) Any idea to spend less while traveling in Europe?
5) Your lowest record $$ per person traveling expense?

Thanks,
Phoebe
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby btenny » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:39 pm

I vote for you going and taking all your kids while you still have a chance. All of you will have wonderful trip of a lifetime. I took my kids and wife for a 14 day Globus bus trip all over Europe when the kids were 14 and 19. The bus made it very educational as we got a great tour guide who explained everything we were seeing all over europe. Plus with the bus we had our luggage picked up at our door every morning and delivered to the next hotel room every evening. No corralling kids stuff and no arguments on time to leave or sleeping arrangements and trying to figure out foreign road directions and so forth. It worked out great and they still talk about that trip a lot.

As far as cost I think you budget is too small for a good time trip with the teenage kids. If you or they want to do the backpack youth hostel thing on a cheap budget go seperately. Together there will be too many conflicts on lots of issue IMO for anyone to have good time. I suggest you maybe figure out how to spend more money for this once in lifetime trip and them take the kids while they are still young enough to go with you.

Good Luck
Bill
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby sscritic » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:49 pm

suming wrote: We had a comfortable and wonderful time. Now this trip is going to be different – it needs to be educational one with a lot of fun.

You had a wonderful time, but now you want to ruin the experience by making it educational? Make it comfortable and wonderful for your kids just as it was for you. Why would you want anything less for them? Just do what you want to do; the education will come along with it. Walk a street in Paris. That's educational, but educational shouldn't be your focus. If you don't like going to museums, why force yourself and your kids? They may like it even less than you do. Now I like going into old churches, and if I happen to learn something about Gothic and Renaissance architecture and flying buttresses at the same time, great. But don't make this a "let's do Goth week," although maybe your kids are into Goth, but I expect it would be of a different kind.

P.S. I feel the same way about toys. If I buy a toy for my grandchildren, I don't look for "educational." If anything, that would be a turn off as it implies it isn't any fun to play with. If I do buy an educational toy, it is in spite of the label.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby chaz » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:54 pm

Consider a cruise - my children love them.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby jebmke » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:56 pm

Avoid July and August. Especially in the south.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby SaveStrong » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:57 pm

Definitely vote for going. Will always remember the trips I took with my grandma, aunt, mom, & cousins! Those trips helped shape the traveler I am today (currently writing from Vienna, Austria).

Doesn't seem like you can postpone (due to school), so unfortunately you won't be able to avoid the high season.

1.) Public Transport. Most developed cities have great public transport networks which are tourist friendly. That is, you can usually buy some sort of unlimited pass anywhere from 24-hr to 1-week which will afford you travel on 99% of the system (specialty lines, airport Xfers, etc. likely to be extra).

**Speaking of public transport. If you are planning on a multi-city tour and want to save on airfare, could look for the cheapest flight to one of the nearest cities and then find the corresponding EuroRail which connects Arrival airport with other destinations.

2.) AirBnB.com - you can find very nice places, often in the city centers for less than local hotels. In addition, you can rent entire apts/flats for your entire family, so your temporary home away from home.

3.) Hostels?

4.) Skimp on meals/drinks. Splurge on entrance fees. "You're only in XYZ once" so to speak - don't miss out on the main events! If need to eat 3 square meals, can do something like this. If place includes breakfast - stock up. Pack a few granola bars for lunch and supplement with some cheap street food. Enjoy a decent dinner out. Total cost savings at least 50% over eating out 3x per day? Or eat simple breakfast/dinner and big lunch. Should also be a net savings.

4.) Went to Greece in early October with wife. About $1K total for 5 days / 4 nights including hotel (AirBnB), airfare (100 EUR RT PP), and all daily expenditures.

Enjoy the Experience! :)
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Levett » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:13 pm

Respectfully: you will take your family during the summer (high season and you don't say for how long) and you're going to budget $2K pp including airfare--with a weak dollar?

Like you, I have been to Europe many times over the past 40 years (going again the in the spring with the missus), and on several occasions we have brought our children. I can't see how $2K pp is gonna work. Maybe if you rented a central place, cooked your own meals, and did some nice day trips it would work. That can be both fun and educational.

Maybe I just have different expectations.

Lev
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby JupiterJones » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:32 pm

My thoughts:

I agree that you should just make it an interesting and fun trip. The "education" will take care of itself. Besides, the experience of being in a different culture, with a different language, is the most valuable and perspective-changing education they'll get on a trip like that.

Within major cities, I'd go with public transit just because it's much, much easier (probably cheaper too, once you figure in parking costs). But for getting from one city to another, a rental car might make economic sense, because it's the same price for five as it is for one, as opposed to buying five separate train/plane tickets. Do a bit of research on the internet and crunch the numbers to see. (If some of your destinations are off the beaten path, you might find a car a lot easier too.)

Go to the library (or, in a pinch, head to Amazon) and pick up some Rick Steves books for the areas you're going to. Good, practical advice for reducing family travel expenses. If you're willing to spend $10,000 on a vacation, dropping $50 or so to get solid, helpful information is a very wise investment.

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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby johnkidding » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:37 pm

How long do you plan to stay?

I just did a quick search and the cheapest roundtrip flights I found to any of those locations is around $1200 per person.

During the summer, travel to and in Europe is very expensive. It is also hot. If you go to anything remotely touristy, expect very long lines.

If you are on a budget, one thing to consider is doing it in the spring or fall, when everything will be half the summer prices. (My wife and I just did a 10-night med. cruise all over Italy and Spain for abut 800 per person (balcony) in the off season. During the summer this same cruise is 2-3 times the price, with about 700 kids. We had 20 kids aboard)
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby ddunca1944 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:47 pm

I'd look into renting an apartment instad of hotels/hostels. We rented apartments in Italy last May/June (our stays ranged from 3 days to a week) in Venice, Rome and Sorrento.

It was less expensive on a per night basis than a hotel oom; we ate breakfadt and lunch in and ocassionally cooked dinner for ourselves (shopping in the local markets was a lot of fun). We were able to do our laundry as well.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:18 pm

Here is my recommendation:
1. Go.
2. Visit a single city--for example, Paris.
3. Go in summer, even if it is a bit more expensive.

You want to introduce your children to Europe and have it as a family "bonding" event. There is no need to move from place to place, because:
a) staying in a single city would reduce the stress of packing and moving, and it would minimize opportunities for mishaps
b) staying in a single city would be much cheaper, and you won't need a car (and you won't need to worry about directions and parking)
c) Paris (or London, or Amsterdam) can provide a good initial sense of Europe
d) each of these cities has much more to offer than you could do in a week
e) if this is the first children's trip to Europe, their senses would be overwhelmed by moving from country to country.

Do it the European way. Last year, I spent two weeks in Paris, and I could have easily spent the entire summer there. I have met a lawyer from Warsaw, Poland, who spends two weeks in Paris every year. There is no need for accumulating countries; authentic experiences facilitated by a longer stay are more meaningful.

Bon voyage,

Victoria
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Puakinekine » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:34 pm

I would go and, perhaps try and budget a little more money, so you can relax and enjoy yourself. This is probably the last time for this sort of family event. Beyond jobs and school responsibilities, they tend to find significant others, who never seem to have a trust fund.

My subjective price feelings about Europe compared to North America. Scandinavia is unbelievably expensive, GB and Ireland very expensive, desirable places in France and Italy and the Netherlands on par with pricier places in the US, Belgium and Germany, pretty much on part with the US, Spain and Portugal, IMHO, the best bang for your buck. I have not spent much time in Eastern Europe, so won't comment.

We have always rented apartments. It takes a little time on the internet to get a good feel for the rental, but we have been doing this for over a decade and have NEVER had a problem. You have what are essentially five adults. They need their space for sanity. You can eat meals in an apartment and wash clothes. If someone wants to stay home for the day, they will be more comfortable in an apartment then a small hotel room. You are forced to go to the local grocery, baker or wine store, and that makes it more interesting. Our rule traveling with the kids (or without for the most part) has always been to have only one meal a day out (and maybe a coffee to watch to world walk by) preferably a large lunch, which is less expensive and does not leave you with a full stomach at 10 pm, as Europeans generally eat later in the evening then North Americans. Also, one is generally out and about during the day. Coming home after a long day of sightseeing and then cleaning up and going out again for dinner is wearisome. The older two may prefer to be out at night but not with their parents.

Also, no shopping, skip the expensive soft drinks/juices, enjoy the less expensive wine, definitely take public transport or walk. Do not skimp when it will cause you to lose time/a lot of energy/or group good will. It is not worth it to have someone miserable making everyone else miserable, or feeling like everyone is resenting you for being too controlling. The "kids" should add some of their own money as well. They are not babies after all.

Make sure everyone has a pair (or two) of really good shoes.

Again, do not make the mistake of going with a too small budget and worrying the entire time. It will be a waste of money, and then you will be kicking yourself for ever after for not going to Versailles on a Sunday when the fountains were on, when you had the chance
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby KyleAAA » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:40 pm

$2000 per person for 2 weeks is easy for a teenager with hostels and all but maybe not so easy for the adults if you insist on having a private room. Airbnb is worth a shot. You can often find some really good deals there. I would forget going to 3 different countries. Transportation costs are going to be by far your largest expense. I'd pick one place with a lot to do and stay in the area for the entire two weeks. Barcelona is nice in the late spring. If you shop around you can probably get a good deal on a cheap flight from say Paris to Amsterdam or Barcelona but that's by no means guaranteed. Save yourself the hassle and just use public transportation. Renting a car is a pain and parking can be difficult.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby stan1 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:44 pm

I think the best thing to do is to go to one place (moving between cities is time consuming and expensive) and look into renting a 2 bedroom flat for the week, which would give you a kitchen so you could eat some meals at "home" or prepare picnics.

London is certainly a place where you could spend a week and no one would get bored. The 21 and 17 year olds would be able to split off from the rest of the family in London if they wanted to do something different for a few hours. Buy some disposable cell phones when you get to London to keep in touch. Paris also would keep everyone busy for a week. Some family members might start to get bored with 7 days in Amsterdam.

Riding the Tube is incredibly easy and a 5 day or 7 day pass would be cost effective. If you would like to go to some attractions as well you can buy a London Pass that includes transit, however there are plenty of attractions in London that have no entry fees.

I don't know if you'd be able to keep it under $2K/person, but doing the above would keep it pretty close I think.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby gt4715b » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:55 pm

VictoriaF wrote:Here is my recommendation:
1. Go.
2. Visit a single city--for example, Paris.
3. Go in summer, even if it is a bit more expensive.

You want to introduce your children to Europe and have it as a family "bonding" event. There is no need to move from place to place, because:
a) staying in a single city would reduce the stress of packing and moving, and it would minimize opportunities for mishaps
b) staying in a single city would be much cheaper, and you won't need a car (and you won't need to worry about directions and parking)
c) Paris (or London, or Amsterdam) can provide a good initial sense of Europe
d) each of these cities has much more to offer than you could do in a week
e) if this is the first children's trip to Europe, their senses would be overwhelmed by moving from country to country.

Do it the European way. Last year, I spent two weeks in Paris, and I could have easily spent the entire summer there. I have met a lawyer from Warsaw, Poland, who spends two weeks in Paris every year. There is no need for accumulating countries; authentic experiences facilitated by a longer stay are more meaningful.

Bon voyage,

Victoria


This is excellent advice. You don't say how long the trip is going to be, but I'm guessing around 2 weeks from your desired budget. I would seriously consider picking one big city that everyone can agree on and use that as your home base. The advantages are immense and helps with a lot of your budget related questions:

1. Less money spent on going from one country to another.
2. Less travel means less stress for you.
3. An extended stay will allow you to get cheaper lodging by renting an apartment.
4. Having an apartment can cut your eating expenses by having breakfast in the apartment as well as SOME lunches/dinners.
5. Less time spent researching what to do.
6. More time spent in one area can yield a more in-depth cultural experience.
7. Less time constraints, less pressure to see all the popular attractions on a compressed timeline.
8. Most big cities have enough in-city and day-trip possibilities to easily keep you occupied for 2 weeks.

To directly answer your questions:
1.) Public transportation except for possibly some day trip or short overnight trips.
2.) Apartment rental
3.) Again a cheap apartment rental should come out to 80 dollars/day
4.) Cook some of your own meals, make lunch your large meal of the day, eat at restaurants that have menus of the day, don't visit attractions just because a guidebook says so if you have no particular interest in them; museums can be a very pricey way to bore your kids.
5.) Depends on the country and time. Would plan on at least $30-40/day excluding lodging.

I would consider Barcelona. Being on the coast is a huge advantage vs. Paris/London. An offbeat possibility would be Prague

Good luck
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby suming » Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:16 pm

I so appreciate everyone's post... Can't say enough to express my thankfulness. My thoughts have been cleared up - you should all see me nodding my head all the way while reading. (I should have used 'experencing' instead of 'educational' :) in my writing.) Sorry about my mistakes.

Now I only need to get some internet websites to search for the apartment rental. I have searched airbnb.com and the place in Amsterdam was very nice - by the canal. Does anyone know some other internet sites or places you have been staying around Paris?
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby ddunca1944 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:27 pm

suming wrote:I so appreciate everyone's post... Can't say enough to express my thankfulness. My thoughts have been cleared up - you should all see me nodding my head all the way while reading. (I should have used 'experencing' instead of 'educational' :) in my writing.) Sorry about my mistakes.

Now I only need to get some internet websites to search for the apartment rental. I have searched airbnb.com and the place in Amsterdam was very nice - by the canal. Does anyone know some other internet sites or places you have been staying around Paris?


I used vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) to find our apartments. Their search feature let me search by location, number of bedrooms/baths, smoking/non smoking/pets etc. Be sure to find out whether the building has elevators (the less expensive ones don't) and whether/how much the cleaning charge is.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby letsgobobby » Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:33 pm

we used VRBO in Rome and were ecstatic with what we got. 7 of us stayed right back of Campo di Fiori, in the heart of the city, in a 3 BR/1 BA for about $2500 for the 7 days, during prime Easter week. It was comfortable and quiet and warm, if not luxurious. That economical room freed up a lot of $$$ for tours of the Vatican, the Coliseum, etc. I second Victoria's recommendation to pick one or at most two cities to really get to know. The major cities of Europe are places to savor, explore, soak up - not to rush through in a 'greatest hits' 24 hour bus tour. Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, London - you really can't go wrong. The biggest faux pas would be squeezing too much in, and moving around so much that you miss the 'pace' which is so different from America. Plus, when you stay in 1 city, there is zero need for a car, saving a ton of money and aggravation. Public transportation is part of the experience, any way. How can you go to London and not ride the Tube?

Later trips, when the kids are older, lend themselves to explorations of Mont St Michel or Provence, or city-hopping Andalucia, or driving tours of Ireland. With 5 people including a teenager, staying in a city allows people freedom of movement, at times on their own, which avoids family burnout.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby bottlecap » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:07 pm

I would do this if I could afford it. From experience, use public transportation when you can. Driving overseas isn't too difficult, but it is a hassle. Narrow roads, crazy intersections at some places and, like most big cities, crazy drivers. If you are concerned about rental car damage, you are also going to have heartburn. Although the rental car places are relatively forgiving about it, your car will have several new dings every morning no matter where you park it (unless maybe you spring for expensive parking). The last time I was in Spain, I thought I was going to have to buy the rental car rather than return it. They ended up only charging an additional $37 and I thought that was a steal. I paid it and fled. The country.

I do question how you're going to keep things under $2,000 pp. I would imagine the airfare will be at least half that.

have fun,

JT
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby halfnine » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:12 pm

VictoriaF wrote:Here is my recommendation:
1. Go.
2. Visit a single city--for example, Paris.
3. Go in summer, even if it is a bit more expensive.

You want to introduce your children to Europe and have it as a family "bonding" event. There is no need to move from place to place, because:
a) staying in a single city would reduce the stress of packing and moving, and it would minimize opportunities for mishaps
b) staying in a single city would be much cheaper, and you won't need a car (and you won't need to worry about directions and parking)
c) Paris (or London, or Amsterdam) can provide a good initial sense of Europe
d) each of these cities has much more to offer than you could do in a week
e) if this is the first children's trip to Europe, their senses would be overwhelmed by moving from country to country.

Do it the European way. Last year, I spent two weeks in Paris, and I could have easily spent the entire summer there. I have met a lawyer from Warsaw, Poland, who spends two weeks in Paris every year. There is no need for accumulating countries; authentic experiences facilitated by a longer stay are more meaningful.

Bon voyage,

Victoria


Completely agree with the above if you do travel to Europe.

However, my recommendation is to take a cruise instead. My brothers, sisters, and I went to France with the parents to France when I was 17. Can't say we spent much time with them. Can't really say I would have wanted to spend much time with them either. My brothers, sisters and I have also been on a cruise with our parents on two occasions. Best of all worlds. No stress, can eat dinner together, go on excursions together, but otherwise free to do your own thing the rest of the time.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Grt2bOutdoors » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:13 pm

Go, but I don't see how you are going to swing airfare,rental,food,travel on $2K per person with teenagers (who eat voraciously) mind you, for 10-14 days. Buy a coke - will set you back $5USD. Doesn't sound realistic from someone who just came back from Europe and shelled out over $1K for coach seats and inconvienent times to save money. BTW, the flights were booked solid both ways.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby German Expat » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:17 pm

Go to 1 location and rent a larger apartment for the whole time. You can then do various day or weekend trips. I would also send your older 2 kids out on their own and they can stay cheap at youth hostels which will be a nice experience for them. A lot less stress having one fixed location and also way cheaper. Distances are not huge and you can get inexpensive flights or take trains around for various trips.
Try to stay in some area central in Europe. I personally would not pick London, just too far off the rest of Europe and also very expensive. I am biased towards Germany (and against France :D ) but this should not stop you from going to France or a different country.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby pteam » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:38 pm

Take a cruise on royal Caribbean and get to see 5 different countries without having to worry about traveling to each one and eat for free all you can eat on the ship and pretty affordable too. Interior rooms are fine if your on a budget. Because your only in the room to sleep and get ready for dinner because there is so much to do.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby backofbeyond » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:55 pm

As you have been to Europe many times, I'm pretty sure you know what to expect. But I'll put forth my 2 cents for what its worth.

I've lived overseas 15 years over the last 18 years. Majority of it in Europe. Love Europe. While my daughter, who is both American and British...hates it. I found that taking a teenager girl anywhere where there isn't a beach, swimming pool or God Forbid access to WIFI so she can contact her friends is looking for trouble. Obviously kids are different, but many of us old timers believe that after about age 11, kids lose the appeal to travel other than beach/cruises. They could care less about history, theater or art.

Also like others I think you probably won't stay on budget with $2000 per person. Public transportation (i.e. trains) are excellent throughout Europe, but taxis and rentals could be expensive. Also, European camping isn't like American camping in many instances. They have swimming pools, dance clubs and buffets...can you say pamper! Oh and campfires are a no no. And yes, this is MY experience, and may not resemble others.

Bottomline: Take them on a cruise. Then once tehy are out of the house, you and the spouse live it up.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby DiscoBunny1979 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:20 pm

I disagree with a lot of folks here . . . but if the OP wants a real learning experience for everyone - go in the Winter. It's cheaper in the Winter and you get to experience life as the real local folks do! It's extremely cold - especially in Amsterdam. But what does the cold weather force you to do? It forces you to go in doors and see museums, or go inside and go shopping, or go inside and sit down and eat with the locals or go inside and go dancing or go inside and go to the Casino (at least the adult option). It also forces one to walk a little faster through the streets so you do get from one side to the other faster, while in August, you have to struggle to pick up the pace because it might be too hot.

While I've enjoyed summer in Europe, the problem can be that it might be too hot (believe it or not) in August and therefore deciding what clothes NOT to bring, rather than what to bring might be the issue! I'm also biased for Germany, but what can't be replaced is a Winter experience in Germany - with seeing and going through the snow packed mountains of the North or experiencing the cool weather of Bavaria during Octoberfest (and the beer festivals as well) or Christmas in Germany - which is famous for their Christmas marts like in the heart of Nuremberg. You also can't get some local foods/drinks except in Winter - like Gluwine.

If you do go during winter try to avoid going during New Years because Hotels fill up fast - a year before - and therefore getting a room can be tough. It could cost more $$$ than you expect during such a holiday and the rooms might not meet your expectations (size and shower down the hall). New Years Eve is also a crazy time like in Berlin, whereas folks shoot live firecracker rounds off of balconies on busy streets and people everywhere. You have to look out not only for your safety, but your wallet.

In my opinion, a trip to Europe is a personal experience. It's not a one size fits all. Not everyone will be interested in seeing or doing the same things and therefore there should be flexibility in schedule and what the teens get to do in my opinion. If you make it fun for you, but boring for them, they might not want to see it on their own when they are adults.

There are two funny movies I'd recommend on taking a trip to Europe - one is "If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belguim" - an older film that describes what happens to a bunch of American tourists taking a tour of Europe. The other is National Lampoon's European Vacation - what happens to the average American family when they go to Europe. A very 80s movies - but still relevant in terms of the Parents expectations on what the children should do and see.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Thu Nov 29, 2012 8:14 pm

German Expat wrote:Try to stay in some area central in Europe. I personally would not pick London, just too far off the rest of Europe and also very expensive. I am biased towards Germany (and against France :D ) but this should not stop you from going to France or a different country.


Berlin is a fantastic place, one of the greenest cities in Europe, with excellent public transportation, and tremendous history. Last time I was there in 2002, and it was much cheaper than other Western European capitals.

Victoria
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby wholeinone04 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 8:26 pm

Like others have said, your only option with that budget is to stay in one large city. But if you did want to do a few cities you could do eastern europe. I studied abroad in Budapest and it was awesome. You can rent a car or use public transportation for cheap and get around or you can venture out to Croatia, Slovakia, Prague, Austria, etc. All are somewhat close if you're on a budget.

I've been to Paris, that would be awesome but London(and all over England) sucks the big one. Been 3 times and hate it more and more each time. Italy would be good too.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby fjsfjsfjs » Thu Nov 29, 2012 9:37 pm

You could spend part of your trip in cheaper parts of Europe, like Portugal or maybe Croatia or the Czech Republic. These are really nice places that are not super expensive. You can always spend a few days in London or Paris, but I personally would not want to spend all my time there if you are on a budget.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby stlutz » Thu Nov 29, 2012 10:25 pm

I think you should reconsider the entire idea.

Not having any kids myself, my memories are closer to what it was like to be 21 vs. the images of what the perfect family vacation would be. When I was 21 I would have had zero interest in going to Europe with my folks.

The most educational way for college or just-after-college aged people to go to Europe is on their own. And at that age, they can do it cheap. Doing that they not only learn the educational stuff you're supposed to learn by going to Paris, Rome etc., they also acquire all of those skills you get from showing up in a place where you don't speak that language well, you don't have a car, and and you don't have a detailed three-week trip itinerary. That's the kind of traveling that people in their early 20s excel at--they just figure stuff out that older people like us don't.

I'm sorry, but those are the experiences that last for a lifetime, not hanging out in a comfortable apartment and in restaurants with the folks in between going on guided tours.

Europe is a great place to explore on your own where it's actually safe to do so. Don't ruin it for them with an over-structured "parent" vacation.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby livesoft » Thu Nov 29, 2012 10:27 pm

suming wrote:1) Taking public transportation? Or rent a car? Which one is cheaper?
We have done both. It depends.
2) Any suggestion as far as where to stay? Is camping a good choice?
Anywhere. We have stayed with friends, in a rented house, in hotels. I would not suggest camping unless your family camps in the US routinely.

Kids will often gripe about everything while on the trip, but then you read their Facebook pages and they tell all their friends about the places and people they met and how much they would like to do it again, but without their parents.

I would not try to make this trip the "perfect trip" nor would I try to be overambitious. If on your own, many folks have suggested visiting just one or two cities and I agree. It won't really matter which place(s) you pick first because there should be plenty of opportunity for more trips.

I can also recommend the bus trip idea with the right outfit. One of our best vacations was travelling by bus from Munich to Istanbul and back with lectures on the bus from a German Professor of Balkan History.

To add after reading stlutz's post: We traveled alot in Europe when we lived there. We saw lots of stereotypical young adults on our travels. In those days, they spent a lot of time standing in line: to change money, to find places to stay, to get train reservations. In contrast, our European friends always had reservations and didn't need to wait in any lines. Both ways of doing this are an experience, but I prefer not to wait in line.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby stlutz » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:01 pm

To add after reading stlutz's post: We traveled alot in Europe when we lived there. We saw lots of stereotypical young adults on our travels. In those days, they spent a lot of time standing in line: to change money, to find places to stay, to get train reservations. In contrast, our European friends always had reservations and didn't need to wait in any lines. Both ways of doing this are an experience, but I prefer not to wait in line.


Nowadays a young adult with a smartphone would leave both of us in the dust when it comes to getting around efficiently. And if they can't, they need to go to Europe and fix that. :D
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby vveat » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:21 pm

Ask the kids where they would like to go (from a short list of choices). That way they won't resent your choice, and you may end up with a different sightseeing list from what you imagine but in the end more satisfactory for them.
Paris a safe choice, it will have something for everybody. I would budget more for food - you don't want to miss that side of the experience in Paris. Why not add Rome to the starting list, it's a wonderful city.
And I do think $2k is impossible if you plan to stay a week or more. We are from Europe, travel there every summer and the tickets are never under $1000 a person.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby livesoft » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:24 pm

stlutz wrote:
Nowadays a young adult with a smartphone would leave both of us in the dust when it comes to getting around efficiently. And if they can't, they need to go to Europe and fix that. :D

I accept the challenge, but I must say that I have a world smartphone, credit cards, foreign language skills, and decades of travel experience. :)

But perhaps a way out of making a decision is to have the kids plan everything with the adults along for the ride. I would trust my kids to do that for my family.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Watty » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:51 pm

I'm not a travel snob and I've done several semi-budget trips to Europe because with my budget I can go for three weeks and stay in modest accommodations compared to staying in more typical hotels and spending my entire budget in ten days. This usually involves staying at small hotels a bit outside the normal tourist areas, avoiding the large cities as much as possible, not going during the peak season, and even occasionally staying in hostels (which often have private rooms now)

The most important thing that I do though is to avoid going during the peak season. Being limited to going during the summer will drive the costs up a lot. For example I've stayed at a hotel on the Greek Islands(before the problems) in September when the weather was still wonderful for $60 a night, but the same room would have cost $200 a night in the summer, and I didn't have to fight the crowds.

Your $2,000 per person budget is probably doable but I think that you would have to skimp on so many things that you probably wouldn't get a real good trip for your money.

Instead of trying to shoehorn in a trip to Europe on that budget I think that you could have a fantastic trip for the same money to someplace like Costa Rica or the Yucatan where all the ruins like Chichen Itza and Coba are. You could also get in some beach time which the rest of the family might enjoy a lot and if you went in early June you would miss the worst of the heat and the hurricane season.


My daughter will graduate from college next summer .....


That could be a problem.

She could already have a job lined up that she needs to start then or she could be in the middle of a job interview process with a company and going on vacation could cost her the chance for a job which could be a big problem in this job market. Even during spring break the job hunting could be in high gear.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Caduceus » Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:03 am

Another possibility for accommodation is to book an entire hostel room with a sufficient number of beds in it for the whole family. On websites like hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com, some of the establishments will allow you to book a room of 6 beds (I've never seen a 5-bed room - it's usually an even number) for your entire family. These places are usually filled with college students backpacking through Europe and who need budget accommodation, and some places might be a tad noisy at night, but if you are going to be out most of the day exploring and don't require more than a clean bed and a shower from where you stay, these can be truly excellent and affordable options. They are not that expensive even during peak periods, although the available rooms do tend to get booked very quickly. When I backpacked across Europe alone, I stayed only in hostels in various countries and always had positive experiences. On other trips, I've also stayed in nice hotels as well as small little hostels tucked in the middle of nowhere in places like Istanbul, and I very much prefer the latter.

Whether the $2000 will be enough depends, I think, on how much comfort is expected. It is not at all difficult to get by on that budget (for slightly less than a month) and really enjoy oneself even in most places in Western Europe, but it might mean traveling like students do! My personal experience has been that transportation is generally the most difficult of the travel categories (the others being food, accommodation, and tickets to attractions or events) to control cost-wise, so if you explore one place more deeply and trim down your itinerary, your overall travel costs may drop by much more than you would expect. VictoriaF makes an excellent point, I think. Another option, if you have to take the train between two countries, is to explore the possibility of taking an overnight train and sleep on the train if such an option exists between your departure and destination points. There are different classes of cabins, with some very reasonably priced options, and your family will save on the cost of accommodation for the night you are on the train. I actually loved that experience, huddled in a small cabin with a copy of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express! You might also explore budget airlines that service locations within Europe, but sometimes these airlines will not land in the primary airport in the region, which means you will have to pay the tab for getting your family to somewhere central, so that is something to consider.

I hope this works out for you and your family. I know that my parents are really glad for the decisions they made to travel with all their kids at a point in our lives when we were still able to go together as a family. The experience was not so much a function of where we were, what we saw or how much we had to spend, and more a product of being able to go on an adventure together. Backpacking alone through Europe and going as a family are two very different sorts of experiences - both potentially really memorable. Good luck!
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby suming » Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:42 am

Thanks, everyone, for all kinds of suggetions. Every post helps to shape this trip. Caduceus, would you please offer more your experience about 'travel like a student'? And anyone has info about Barcelona, Spain?
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby livesoft » Fri Nov 30, 2012 12:50 pm

Barcelona: Every (I mean EVERY) friend or colleague that went to Barcelona had something stolen from them. Every.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:06 pm

suming wrote:Thanks, everyone, for all kinds of suggetions. Every post helps to shape this trip. Caduceus, would you please offer more your experience about 'travel like a student'? And anyone has info about Barcelona, Spain?

While we are waiting for Caduceus to respond, here is my recent experience of visiting Stockholm. I went there in mid-August, and I wanted to stay in Gamla stan (the Old City). Castanea Old Town Hostel was the perfect fit. I had a private room without toilet, shower or washbasin; but there were several bathrooms and showers spread around the floor, and I never had to wait beyond possibly a few minutes. I stayed in the hostel for over a week, and during that time I saw several families sharing larger rooms. One of these families were Americans from Wyoming, I think; I talked to a 10-year old boy while we were using hostel's computers (provided free).

Not only my hostel was more economical than most other options (I was attending a conference, and the conference discount in the conference hotel was several times higher than what I paid), but I also had little need for transportation -- most of what I wanted to see in Stockholm was within easy walking distance.

Back to traveling like a student, most backpacker hostels feature a full kitchen. In Castanea, we had a gas stove, a microwave and two refrigerators. Thus, meals could be very cheap, much cheaper than eating in restaurants three times daily. A quaint cafe around the corner provided Castanea residents with significant discounts.

I have arrived from the airport to the hostel and later back to the airport by using an express bus recommended by my conference organizers. I think the round trip was about $30 (200 Swedish Kronas). I traveled with a backpack and chose to walk between the bus drop-off and the hostel. I recall it was about a 30 minute walk, but it was a part of getting to know the city (and to say "good bye" at the end).

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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Watty » Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:31 pm

Caduceus, would you please offer more your experience about 'travel like a student'?


One of my experiences was that I stayed in Hostels in Ireland five years ago when I was traveling with my wife and teenage son. This was in early to mid-June before the local schools and colleges had let out so they were not crowed and we were always able to get reservations for a private room by calling in the morning or a day ahead. The Hostels vary greatly in quality so you need to read the reviews to find the good ones.

They dropped the word "youth" from most hostels years ago and since school had not let out we were often the younger people there and we met some people that were even up in their 80's. I would guess at that time of year maybe a third of the people were under 40, a third in their 40's and 50's and a third older.

The Hostels in the large cities seemed mostly marginal so we only stayed at them in small towns or rural areas and the ones we used were all good and clean but not fancy. A few were in ideal locations that were a lot better locations than most hotels and B&B's

They charge by the person and as I recall at that time of year they ran about $30 a night per person for the better ones for a private room (check on this). With three people they were not exactly inexpensive for a group. We also saved a lot by using the kitchen and refrigerators to save a lot on food. This was preferable to us since after a while eating out every day gets old and it eats up a lot of your time to have several sit down meals everday.

We had a rental car so it was easy to go to the better hostels which were often not right in town.

The public transportation in Europe is usually great but with five people you will likely find that a rental car is actually less expensive if you are traveling a lot and you are not in large cities where you have to pay for parking. We had a rental car all the time we were in Ireland and since we had booked a good price in advance it cost us a lot less since we travelled all over.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby MathWizard » Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:38 pm

I'd put in a plug for Italy. My wife and I were there and both Rome and
Florence were great, as was the Amalfi coast. Paris seemed much more crowded.

Just back from France this summer:

Regarding Paris:
Skip Versailles. It was terrible. Crowds and tour groups pushing you from room to room. Ugh!
The grounds however were nice, and you can get a pass just for the grounds.

Get a metro/museum pass. It's much easier when you don't have to get a ticket every time.
Buses are not air-conditioned, so they are bad news in hot weather.

Ban purses and wallets
---
Use moneybelts or a hanging document holder that goes inside a shirt. Keep phones, especially smartphones,
in your pockets or a daypack. My wife got lax and lost about $500. Much worse was that she then felt very
vulnerable and was unable to enjoy herself for the next couple of days. I'd have given $500 away if she would
have felt better.
(We were tired, and pulling bags to go a Paris hotel, so we took an elevator at a metro stop. The
elevator was full, but two young women without an encumbrances shoved in at the last second between
my wife and I, basically pinning my wife and I on other sides of the elevator. When we got on the metro
her purse was open and the money was gone.)

Phones:
Our phones only work for the US, so we actually just got two of the cheapest dumb phones and one month of
service with a few minutes on it for calling ahead to hotels and in case we got separated. (Maybe you need 4.)

For 4 people, driving would probably be cheaper, but the high speed rail is much more comfortable.
(We did both.) Get a GPS with the car if you drive. The first car we had did not have one, and I ended
up going around roundabouts several times because the road signs were so small. Don't speed:
I got a ticket mailed to me after I got back. If you go to the Normandy DDay area, you really need a
car, unless you book a tour. The A (autoroute) roads are just like our freeways/tollways, and are
easy to drive on. The N roads are not bad, mostly 2 lane roads like state highways and slower
than A routes. D routes are slower and take you to the different sites. Some are quite narrow and
winding, and I was lucky to run at the speed limit.

Budget:
---
We went from one side of France to the other and back, so we spent more than staying in one place. However,
we spent $7500 for two people for two weeks, and we are fairly frugal (includes $1600 each airfare but not
the $500 that was stolen.) If you all stay together in one room, and don't travel as much, you might get by on
$8K , but you have 2 more airfares, so I'd guess you would be closer to $10L to $11K.
Hotels were between 80-110 euro for a bed for two people. We booked rooms with showers and AC.

Food/drink is incredibly expensive, so we bought fruit from a market each morning for breakfast and granola bars fior
our lunch. We mostly ate salads at night, which were cheaper, and we sampled no wine.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby ResNullius » Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:48 pm

I'm not recommending you do this, but you asked about camping in Europe. I spent three months camping throughout Europe. Granted, it was many years ago, but the idea is better than it might sound to many people. In Europe, they have a very extensive network of camping areas throughout the countryside and around the large cities. These are not rough-it type campgrounds. They have mini-markets, showers and running water, and covered spaces. Europeans camp like crazy, so if you would like to rub elbows with real Europeans, this is the best way to go. You can bus, walk, bike, trolley, train your way into town, then use public transportation. It really isn't hard to do, but you still must be up for sleeping in a tent or something like it. You could rent a car and a camper, but that would cost a lot of money that you might prefer to spend another way. As for moving from city to city, that's easy as pie using the train system. Personally, at my age (62), I would stay in a hotel, but you are traveling with your grown kids, who likely would get a real kick out of the camping experience, because they would meet many more people their age in a safe environment. I'm sure you could go to any good bookstore here in the US and get a paperback on camping in Europe, which would give all the details for any place on your list, plus transportation to, from, and in between. Good luck.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby coalcracker » Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:14 pm

Went to Barcelona a few years ago, and recently some good friends went with their two children ages 14 and 7. My wife and I went there (without kids) and had a fantastic time. No issue with crime as noted above, of course there is never a problem until it happens to you.

We stayed in the Gothic quarter in a nice mid range hotel, around 100 USD a night. The art and architecture of Gaudi was fantastic, especially his church La Sagrada Familia. Simply incredible, and worth getting a guide or at least an audio guide to point out some of the details. We are foodies, and the food is also fantastic, including one of the best markets I have ever been to.

Our friends who went also had a great time with their kids, but there was a transit strike while they were they and they had to hoof it for miles around the city. That's another discussion though.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby reggiesimpson » Fri Nov 30, 2012 4:48 pm

Been there done that. Skip Europe with the kids and vacation in the U.S.A. There are multiple possibilities for camping, RVing, exploring new towns as well as all the historic sites and National Parks. Plus all the hassles of flights and language barriers are eliminated. IMHO
Last edited by reggiesimpson on Fri Nov 30, 2012 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby PaddyMac » Fri Nov 30, 2012 4:55 pm

I've lived in Ireland and England, have visited Holland, Paris, Spain, Italy.

I also recommend looking into an apartment rental for a week, and only doing two places (one week each). Why waste a day traveling to airports. Remember that there are many airlines that go between countries inside the EU, so you can save money by expanding beyond the big US airlines (try RyanAir, Easyjet etc).

If you have teenagers, London would be top of my list for them. So much to do, and they will be able to get around really easily on the Tube. Great museums, shopping, funky flea markets etc. (Not to mention that everything being in English really helps if they are getting around on their own.)

After that, I'd recommend Paris, then somewhere in Spain. The Netherlands (Amsterdam) is ok, but unless they are allowed to smoke pot, they probably won't find it as fun as Paris or Barcelona. Plus the signage is literally double dutch compared to French or Spanish...
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby ResNullius » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:06 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:Been there done that. Skip Europe with the kids and vacation in the U.S.A. There are multiple possibilities for camping, RVing, exploring new towns as well as all the historic sites and National Parks. Plus all the hassles of flights and language barriers are eliminated. IMHO


I totally agree. Excellent advice. Unfortunately, some folks just believe in their bones that going to Europe is better than anything in the US. What with all the risks and such for Americans traveling anywhere outside the US, I prefer to stay on friendly ground at this stage of my life.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby stan1 » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:12 pm

ResNullius wrote:
reggiesimpson wrote:Been there done that. Skip Europe with the kids and vacation in the U.S.A. There are multiple possibilities for camping, RVing, exploring new towns as well as all the historic sites and National Parks. Plus all the hassles of flights and language barriers are eliminated. IMHO


I totally agree. Excellent advice. Unfortunately, some folks just believe in their bones that going to Europe is better than anything in the US. What with all the risks and such for Americans traveling anywhere outside the US, I prefer to stay on friendly ground at this stage of my life.


Maybe so, but I would not want to communicate that message to my 15, 17, or 21 year old (who very well may find themselves working with people around the world throughout their careers).
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby dgdevil » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:12 pm

Don't torture your kids with a cruise! Wait until they are at least 65.

Agree with VictoriaF ... Paris would be a good base (well, adequate under the circumstances), and you can take the train to London for a few days, and/or somewhere like Amsterdam.

Yes, yes, walking around is "educational" but it would be a pity to ignore the traditional stops like the Louvre, Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, etc. Paris has a great tourist card. I think I got the 5-day one - excellent value, and you go to the head of the line.

PS I also agree with VictoriaF about Berlin - great town - though flight options might be more limited.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby ddunca1944 » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:18 pm

ResNullius wrote:
reggiesimpson wrote:Been there done that. Skip Europe with the kids and vacation in the U.S.A. There are multiple possibilities for camping, RVing, exploring new towns as well as all the historic sites and National Parks. Plus all the hassles of flights and language barriers are eliminated. IMHO


I totally agree. Excellent advice. Unfortunately, some folks just believe in their bones that going to Europe is better than anything in the US. What with all the risks and such for Americans traveling anywhere outside the US, I prefer to stay on friendly ground at this stage of my life.


While I'll agree that there are plenty of places to go and things to do here in the US, the truth is I feel safer in a large European city than in just about any large American city. I believe the "risks" for Americans traveling anywhere outside the US are overstated.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby coalcracker » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:26 pm

ddunca1944 wrote:
ResNullius wrote:
reggiesimpson wrote:Been there done that. Skip Europe with the kids and vacation in the U.S.A. There are multiple possibilities for camping, RVing, exploring new towns as well as all the historic sites and National Parks. Plus all the hassles of flights and language barriers are eliminated. IMHO


I totally agree. Excellent advice. Unfortunately, some folks just believe in their bones that going to Europe is better than anything in the US. What with all the risks and such for Americans traveling anywhere outside the US, I prefer to stay on friendly ground at this stage of my life.


While I'll agree that there are plenty of places to go and things to do here in the US, the truth is I feel safer in a large European city than in just about any large American city. I believe the "risks" for Americans traveling anywhere outside the US are overstated.


Was just about to post this same sentiment. I have traveled to many countries, some of which people may consider "dangerous", and about the worst interaction I have had is rudeness/indifference.

Unless you start doing the chicken dance with american flag pants in central Tehran, you should not have a problem.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Caduceus » Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:51 pm

suming wrote:Thanks, everyone, for all kinds of suggestions. Every post helps to shape this trip. Caduceus, would you please offer more your experience about 'travel like a student'? And anyone has info about Barcelona, Spain?


As a student, I was able to travel for relatively long periods of time on relatively little money by sacrificing some degree of comfort and convenience. In terms of the airfare, I was happy to take two (even three) connecting flights to get to my destination if that particular combination got me a significant discount. I used flight aggregators like Kayak.com to see what options I had. I don't think these deals are difficult to find. The question is if one wants to spend several hours more on a transit stop. Also, if you have any airline miles, such as those from the signup bonuses given by some credit cards or a cash rebate on flight bookings (e.g. from the Penfed Travel Amex Card), that would also help.

For accommodation, as I mentioned previously, staying in hostels meant I never spent very much on that category. I was usually out the entire day exploring anyway. Depending on your itinerary, choosing a centrally-located hostel at a higher price may sometimes make more sense. What you pay in extra costs you'll get back in terms of savings in time and transportation expenses.

I was also always happy with simple fare and "street food," although the extent to which this is available depends on where you go. Some hostel owners will let you use their kitchen or even cook for you for a small fee. In Venice, about a third of the travelers in the hostel would simply gather in the kitchen for a late dinner cooked by the owner on days they managed to get back in time (from not being lost in the labyrinth-like streets!) Otherwise, getting sandwiches or bread/pastries from local stores was usually more than enough for me. If possible, eating before you get to the really touristy areas usually helps. The happiest meal I've had in my life (although I can't really explain why), was eating some kind of meat sandwich sprinkled liberally with lots of spices from a backstreet store in Istanbul. It was $2 for a huge one and I was full the rest of the day.

There are other savings that accrue from prior planning too. Transactional costs from currency exchange/withdrawals can add up very quickly. To give one example applicable in the case of Paris, BNP Paribas is part of the Global ATM Alliance, which means if you have an account with Bank of America, you can withdraw money from BNP Paribas' ATMs without an international ATM fee. Even better, Fidelity's Cash Management Account doesn't charge foreign ATM fees. Apart from free/cheap ways to withdraw cash, having a credit card with no/low foreign transaction fees helps. The Penfed credit card offerings and Fidelity's American Express card are both useful in that regard, for instance.

Applying the principles of "value investing" works in travel too, I think, whether one is a student or not. My greatest flight deal was to Egypt a year after the revolution, when very few people wanted to go visit, even though Egypt (Cairo included) was actually very safe. This also works with tourist attractions; who's to say you won't get as much, if not more, from the Cluny Museum vs. the Louvre, or from Chartres Cathedral compared to the Palace of Versailles? May I make a pitch for the Blue Guides series of travel guidebooks if anyone in your family loves learning about the cultural/historical details of the places/monuments that you are seeing? What they don't have in pictures they make up for in detail.

I hope it all works out - maybe next year the Bogleheads will have a chance to hear all about your trip! Take care.
Caduceus
 
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