To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

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

Postby crowd79 » Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:54 pm

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.


100% True. I've traveled the world quite extensively and I've felt safer in Rome, Athens, Berlin, Istanbul and in Asian cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur than Chicago, Miami and St Louis, for example.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby killjoy2012 » Fri Nov 30, 2012 10:41 pm

Lots of good advice already given, so I won't write a novel here. But, when you figure that airfare alone will be ~$1200pp & 2 days spent flying, I wouldn't go for anything less than 10 days to try and get the "per day" value out of the airfare. And 10 days in Europe for $800 to cover everything else just isn't realistic. Hotel/lodging, food & drinks, alcohol, museum & entertainment fees, souvenirs, travel costs, cell/Internet. Sorry, it just doesn't add up, especially with a weak USD, unless you're going to tent camp and not actually do anything or see anything.... which kinda defeats the purpose.

There are more & less expensive places in Europe, but I would go where your family has the most personal interest. I wouldn't make that decision based solely on cost. The cost delta between cities is generally pretty trivial when compared to the overall cost magnitude. Especially with teenage kids... I would make sure it somewhere they want to go - not a burden/bore from the start.

suming wrote:1) Taking public transportation? Or rent a car? Which one is cheaper?

Depends on where you are. If you're in a major city, I would rely 100% on public transport - no car. Europe has an awesome system of subways & trains that will get you just about anywhere that there's major populations. But if you're going somewhere more remote (e.g. Scottish highlands, Tuscany, etc.), I would rent a car for those days of the trip.
suming wrote:2) Any suggestion as far as where to stay? Is camping a good choice?

TripAdvisor.com is a great travel website - I would start there. Camping? Unless your family camps routinely in the USA, I would say no. 1) Do you really want to rough it, esp when you're already in a foreign country and needing to adjust to time zones, language, food, etc.? Plus you're not going find a campground across from the Vatican. For what you're going to save in $, you're likely to lose in commuting time and commuting costs.
suming wrote:4) Any idea to spend less while traveling in Europe?

- Bring an unlocked, quad-band phone from the US over with you. Buy a local prepaid SIM when you get there. MUCH cheaper than paying for international roaming + data charges on your US phone.
- A cruise can be much cheaper than a traditional land-based trip. Most lodging and food costs could be covered by the cruise tour costs. (but there are downsides to cruises too!)
- Don't do any currency conversion in the US before the trip. Use your ATM card to withdraw local currency as needed, including once you land at your destination. Make sure you have at least 1, if not 2, No Foreign Transaction Fee credit cards. Charge as much as you can.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby HongKonger » Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:03 pm

I used to work for Globus in Italy bringing tour groups from Rome down to the south and I can tell you that whilst the 3 centre tours (Venice/Florence/Rome etc) are good if you get a good tour director, the majority of kids on tours are very young and the other people tend to be older couples. I'm not sure it would be fun for a teen.

I personally think any more than 2 big European cities in 2 weeks is a pain and you'll spend more time thiinking about your next move than enjoying wher you are.

On the financial front, do make good use of the fact that your kids are under 26 so in Europe they get lots of young person/student benefits if they get the right travel cards. See the European Youth Card: http://www.eyca.org/ I was thankful for mine when I ran away to Paris aged 16 :P
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby celia » Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:05 pm

We planned a family trip around the U.S. once and asked each person in the family to figure out what they most wanted to see. Then we had a family meeting where we put pins in a map with each person having a different color of pin. We tried to see where most things were grouped / lined up together and the outliers were automatically discarded. They understood. We tried to to be democratic by seeing the same number of places suggested for each person (eg, 5 from each person).

I figured that each person would do some kind of "research" (a 5-year-old can watch movies, can't she?) and bring his interests to the table. The planning seemed to go fine and everyone looked forward to this big vacation. Just going on a trip can be educational. YOU can be the one selecting educational sites if you choose.

Unfortunately, we were both laid off right before the trip was to start. :( But since we were already geared up, we went on the first hundred miles of the trip to a national park and still had a terrific time. Everyone understood. :happy

P.S. One kid was always interested in airplanes and on one of our trips to a single city, he said he wanted to visit the airport. I reminded him we were driving. He reminded me that was his choice. So we drove to the airport in that city to check out the planes!
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby rjbraun » Sat Dec 01, 2012 1:01 am

Trip Advisor is a good resource for trip planning and preparation. In addition to various forums, there are sections on "top things to do", "top-ranked hotels", etc that can help you evaluate different destinations.

http://www.tripadvisor.com

In terms of where to go, I think it is ultimately a personal decision. Also, as some have already noted, costs can vary widely. I find London extremely expensive: hotels, transport, food are all costly -- it's hard to get a break. I don't think anyone has mentioned Turkey, yet. We went last summer and really enjoyed it. It has a rich history and its position covering both Europe and Asia makes for an important role in current times. It's also cheaper to visit than places like France and Italy.

In terms of costs, we just returned from four weeks in France and Italy. We traveled to a number of cities (maybe 10 or so?). This increases costs, though I think we did pretty well at containing these. We managed to use frequent-flyer points for our flight, so we had no airfare, apart from $150 or so each for various airline taxes and other fees. For two of us (sharing one double room, private bath) the cost came to about $7300 for both (~$130 per day each). This amount included $300 for the various airline surcharges as well as souvenirs, which probably totaled a couple of hundred dollars each.

We didn't have an explicit budget when we went but we tend to be reasonably careful with our expenses. We don't rent cars as we don't like the idea of driving a car in a foreign place where we aren't familiar with local driving customs. We also don't want the hassle of parking, navigating, etc. We rely on public transport; we took no taxis on this trip (other than the one we took from the airport back home when we returned, as it was late and we were tired). We spend money on museum or other admission fees. After all, this is a key reason for the trip. We ate out occasionally, including a couple of small splurges here and there. Otherwise, we often picked up food and drink at local grocery chains. Personally, I really enjoy this aspect of trying local food products.

Note: A number of people have suggested renting an apartment. We rented one, as part of a larger group of six or so people, in Rome. We really enjoyed the experience. The place was pretty spacious and included a living room, kitchen and washer/dryer. It was also cheap; I think our portion only came to 75 euros (maybe even $75) a night. Based on this positive experience I looked into renting a place when we were considering a trip to Barcelona, but the more I read the more uncomfortable I got. While each situation likely differs, my general sense is that in apartment rentals you are expected to put down a deposit; the amount can vary but I would think at least 20% initially, and then more the closer you get to your arrival date. This makes sense and I can understand why the owner requires this. And I can understand why any cancellation may result in forfeiting some or perhaps all of the deposit. After all, the owner may not be able to rent the room out on short notice. But for me, as appealing as an apartment can be, I would be reluctant to commit, just in case my circumstances change and I need to cancel or postpone the trip. For the same reason, I'm also sure to read a hotel's cancellation policy beforehand, though these are almost always more accommodating. At most, you're probably going to forfeit the cost of a couple of nights' stay, plus the notice period is also probably much shorter than for an apartment.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Cash » Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:28 am

You can city hop around Europe fairly inexpensively on Ryanair, EasyJet, AirBerlin, and a couple of other discount carriers. Just don't expect any frills.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Bob's not my name » Sat Dec 01, 2012 9:16 am

I did not read the whole thread so I apologize if I'm repeating others' suggestions. I have taken my family to Europe many times for vacations, and they've all been great trips. I agree with Victoria that focusing on a single city is probably better, but it's also possible on a two-week trip to divide your time between a city and a rural area (e.g., Paris and Provence, or Rome and Cinqueterre). Here are my recommendations:
  • Go at Christmas. Yes, it's freezing, but it's also a great time to be in the Old World and there is far less tourist crowding. We've gone to Paris three times at Thanksgiving or New Year's, and Prague is also terrific for New Year's (if scary; the amateur pyrotechnics are pretty reckless). Substitute the trip for all Christmas gifts.
  • If you do move about, try a sleeper car. I've found a sleeper car in Europe to be competitive with the price of regular rail travel + hotel, and everyone enjoys the experience. From Prague to Frankfurt I think we had a six-bunk cabin with an American student in the sixth bunk, but on other trips we've paid for private cabins. We've also taken sleepers from Catania to Rome, Inverness to London, and Rome to Trieste.
  • We stay in respectable but shabby (by American standards) hotels that are optimally located so you can take frequent refuge there after walking for hours in the city. You do have to adjust your expectations from the American chain hotel standard (price, space, furnishings, bathrooms -- I like the cheap hotels in which the whole bathroom is the shower stall).
  • In most European countries you get the best food in the country and in the smaller trattorias and bistros, and even from the street vendors -- this is the opposite of the U.S., where the best food is at the expensive city restaurants, or at least it's very hard for a tourist to find the rare excellent rural restaurant.
  • Always remember that in Europe the restaurant and store staff are often in career jobs. Greet them when you enter. Treat every waiter like he's the owner, not a college student working for hourly wage on a summer gig. Ask the waiter for advice; ignore the menu.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby market timer » Sat Dec 01, 2012 11:16 am

I'm a huge fan of travel, but think these kinds of family trips might not be worth the cost--to the extent that the cost takes away from the fun of the trip. You said you've been to Europe many times on business trips. It seems that might have been a better opportunity to bring along the kids. I still remember fondly when my stepdad would take me on his sales trips to random cities in the US and Canada. Nowadays, I tag along with my wife when she has conferences in different parts of the world. We'll always throw in some excursions from the conference location, sometimes up to two weeks long. These business/pleasure hybrid trips have generally been more enjoyable than the pure pleasure trips.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Sidney » Sat Dec 01, 2012 11:45 am

Cash wrote:You can city hop around Europe fairly inexpensively on Ryanair, EasyJet, AirBerlin, and a couple of other discount carriers. Just don't expect any frills.

This is true but sometimes the airports are not convenient to public transit (which is often rail, subway or light rail). With a bit of planning and flexibility, they work well though. In some cases you just need to plan to wait for a shuttle bus or other transit into city centers.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby reggiesimpson » Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:24 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.

I didnt think about the risk component of travel when we took off with the kids to Europe but i must admit safety is a factor. Even though Europe is quite similar to the U.S. culturally its still possible to insult folks, drive on the "wrong" side of the road, screw up the currency and generally running afoul by acting your normal self. These and many other issues are markedly decreased by staying on familiar soil. A further point was brought home recently by a friend of mine who moved out of state. His kids found it alienating to consider moving there also as they thought it couldnt possibly be as nice as where they once lived (their eyes have been opened). He said its largely because he had never exposed them to the possibilities of living elsewhere in the U.S. when they were growing up. Trips in their our own "backyard" may have opened doors for the children? Again IMHO.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Peter Foley » Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:30 pm

We have vacationed in Europe a number of times, mostly in Spain and France. Our last trip was to Barcelona where we stayed in a VRBO rental for a week. I had been to Barcelona 30 years before and it was remarkable to me how much nicer and cleaner the city was this time. 5 days in Barcelona proper is enough to see the major sites.
We did day trips to Montserrat, Tarragona (Roman ruins), Gerona (Jewish quarter and part of the city wall), and Figueres (Salvador Dali museum). Gerona and Figueres can be done in one day. One advantage of Barcelona was that I did not have to rent a car - I've driven in Spain, France, Italy and Ireland and it was nice not to have the stress of driving in a foreign country. My only disappointment was the lack of opportunity to interact with locals. I speak Spanish and enjoy talking with the locals and getting their perspective; unlike 30 years ago, almost all I heard was Catalan and it is difficult/presumptive to enter into a conversation and expect others to change languages.

We had no problem with crime in Barcelona, but we travel carefully and stay very aware of our surroundings.

Barcelona has a good subway system so it is easy to get around.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby jodydavis » Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:38 pm

I agree with all of the others, suggesting that you pick one (or at most two) cities to stay in. Financially, it will save you money if you can rent a 2-BR apartment for a week, and also cook some meals yourself. Plus, you will live more like a local, by going to local markets (which are fun), discovering neighborhood restaurants, etc. And you spend more time together, assuming that's what your kids want (or at least don't mind).

Another advantage, if you pick the right city, is that there will be tons of different things to do. So if it turns out your kids aren't interested in museums, you can decide to go to churches, or shopping, or visiting restaurants, or sitting in cafes/parks, or visiting historic sights, or just taking long walks or bike rides. In other words, you can adapt to whatever your kids have an interest in, rather than imposing it from the outside. Plus, you can take inexpensive day trips to sights nearby, but outside the city. And public transportation is usually very easy/inexpensive.

As for educational value, what you give up in variety (from seeing a bunch of different countries), you make up in depth, getting a better feel for one place. The kids will learn how to get around the city on their own, to buy things, to speak a bit of the local language. You certainly won't run out of things to see, since could spend months in all of the cities mentioned above without making a dent in the number of things to do. And your kids will probably have future opportunities to visit other countries, so no need to do it all at once.

In terms of which city, that's a personal choice, and all of the cities mentioned above are great options, and would provide a wide range of experiences. In my view, you can't go wrong with Paris as a first experience for the kids. Unlike London, the language and culture are different, so it's not too similar to the U.S. At the same time, the tourist infrastructure is very well developed, so easy to get around. And there are tons of different things to do, sights to visit, neighborhoods to explore, etc. Plus, it's just a beautiful city.

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

Postby halfnine » Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:50 pm

I may have missed it but there is one more thing to keep in mind about hostels. While hostels are perfectly viable for families and to that end you will find many European families staying in them, the hostel you choose does matter as they each are designed to accommodate different travel styles. And while some are definitely designed for 20 year old partying backpackers there are plenty of others with more of a family atmosphere. So if you go the hostel route just make sure you crosscheck your choice.

As far as traveling to Europe with teenagers, I still don't think that is the most prudent way to enjoy a family trip. What you want is a trip with a sole focus, limited options, and common enjoyment. Trips that come to mind that fit that criteria would be trekking in Nepal, going on safari in Africa, or even visiting the National Parks in the USA.

Personally, when our kids reach that age and we are thinking of one last go before the kids head off on their own, I reckon we'll be taking them off to Africa for a safari. It's something that they will not likely be doing on their own for a long time, if ever. It'll be a bit more expensive, but I'll just work an extra month or two during my life. As far as Europe, well it can be backpacked as young adult easily and any time. They don't need me around for that and probably would rather not have me around anyway.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Valuethinker » Sun Dec 02, 2012 11:57 am

crowd79 wrote:
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.


100% True. I've traveled the world quite extensively and I've felt safer in Rome, Athens, Berlin, Istanbul and in Asian cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur than Chicago, Miami and St Louis, for example.


Let's distinguish.

On violent crime most European cities are much safer than most American cities, even now. However it appears much of the violent crime in American city is gang-on-gang, poor-on-poor. A tourist would have no reason to wander into the Projects.

In any bad neighbourhood your clothes and body language will stand out to the locals like a sore thumb.

There are exceptions: I could show you neighbourhoods of Glasgow you really should not go to. I think Russia is bad, also Ukraine and some other former Soviet bloc capitals? Athens is deteriorating frighteningly quickly-- that's what happens when a nation goes to the wall.

Now let's talk petty crime:

- your risk of being pickpocketed is high in many European cities-- London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Prague, Paris, Barcelona, Malaga, Seville-- to name a few.

London for example any coffee shop or Oxford and Regent Street (incredibly crowded) especially around Xmas is a real danger zone. Keep a careful eye on wallets and bags, anything that can be slipped open, never put them out of site or in a separate pocket say in a coat over your chair. The classic one is they lift only the cards, put the wallet back, hours before you realize you've been done. (this is all personal experience, including having the wallet lifted in front of my eyes from the person I was sharing a coffee with (and not noticing)). Another is to take your wallet off the table in the train, whilst you are fishing out your train ticket.

These people are really good-- they do it in front of your eyes, and you don't see it. Like magicians.

We also have a problem (Holborn and Bloomsbury, Islington ie very central) with bicyclists grabbing your mobile phone. Police advise you NOT to pull out your (smart) phone coming out of the Tube.

Crowd gatherings eg in Covent Garden around street performers, or around 'auction shops' on Oxford Street (they are usually running a scam, UK law allows someone to break into a closed shop, open up, and it can take weeks to evict them) where a crowd gathers.

I probably should let you google 'Clip Joint Soho' than explain-- but basically if the nice lady orders champagne for your table, then it will cost you £300, and they are quite capable of strong arming you to the nearest ATM.

Never pick up a cab on the street that is NOT a licensed black cab (if for hire, light on top is on)-- most are the traditional 'London Cab' make (there are also some 7 seater Mercedes). Being ripped off could be the least of your problems. Minicabs can be called from a hotel or restaurant, but cannot pick up on the street (Addison Lee's drivers are frightening at times the way they drive, but generally the cabs are clean and the service good). Black cabs are expensive but very professional.

Paris theft from hotel rooms (and an insouicant attitude by hotel staff) seems very common.

Use the safe. In hotel rooms, use the safe.

Rome I have been shortchanged, also additional items added to restaurant menu (Venice something similar-- it's much better when you are not in San Marco sestiere).

Barcelona did have a real problem with bag snatching off motorbikes.

Prague has had real problems with pick pockets and ripping tourists off in various ways.

Amsterdam is tricky. Generally I have not had a problem in Germany or Scandinavia.

Lisbon we were warned about snatches in the old town.

Basically any place that attracts tourists attracts pan-European troublemakers. Often in Southern Europe, they are not locals.

- car theft - again breaking into cars is a recurrent problem (stealing cars has declined sharply with the prevalence of new security systems ie immobilizers).
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Valuethinker » Sun Dec 02, 2012 12:10 pm

HongKonger wrote:I used to work for Globus in Italy bringing tour groups from Rome down to the south and I can tell you that whilst the 3 centre tours (Venice/Florence/Rome etc) are good if you get a good tour director, the majority of kids on tours are very young and the other people tend to be older couples. I'm not sure it would be fun for a teen.

I personally think any more than 2 big European cities in 2 weeks is a pain and you'll spend more time thiinking about your next move than enjoying wher you are.

On the financial front, do make good use of the fact that your kids are under 26 so in Europe they get lots of young person/student benefits if they get the right travel cards. See the European Youth Card: http://www.eyca.org/ I was thankful for mine when I ran away to Paris aged 16 :P


Yes you don't want to do more than 2 cities.

Rome and Florence. Or Paris and one other. Paris and a week in rural France, perhaps.

The best times I have had in Europe are doing things like flying to Toulouse, hiring a car, driving around. Or hiring a cottage somewhere (with a car). Languedoc (around Toulouse), Tuscany (Florence and Siena) are probably my top 2, Spain would be my third (Granada and Cordoba) but the driving is more challenging, and the crime from things like breaking into cars seems worse, also English is less prevalent.

Anywhere in Europe the driving is challenging-- they drive fast, aggressively and in southern Europe (and Belgium!) without much regard for life and limb. The UK and Ireland also have the driving on the opposite side of the road to get used to (don't drive in London if you do not have to, and almost any UK city or highway is bad from say 5-7pm).

With 20%+ VAT etc eating out in Europe is expensive. Self catering works better. We've done that in Venice with good success.

Teenagers and the boredom factor complicates all this. I would say, generally, teens probably would get the most out of Rome, Paris, London-- maybe Berlin. Barcelona (haven't been there, not sure). They might like Amsterdam more than their parents would ;-).

Young American women may find the attentions of (to the extent of harassment) southern European men (and also immigrant men from countries where women just do not wander the streets the way they do in America or northern Europe) annoying and evening threatening-- the infamous hand on the bottom on public transport in Italy. Hollywood gives foreigners a distorted image of American women, especially *blonde* American women.

If you are willing to let your kids go clubbing on their own (I am not sure what German age rules are, in the UK most clubs are 18+ only) then they'd probably love Berlin-- clubbing in Berlin (probably the alternative culture capital of Europe now) starts around midnight, so they'll live parallel lives.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby dickenjb » Sun Dec 02, 2012 12:53 pm

Your budget is not realistic. Airfare alone in peak summer time will be $1000 to $1500.

I took my wife and two teenage boys to Europe for 3 weeks this past summer. We had a great trip. Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bruge, Normandy, Paris, Lyon, Venice, Florence, Rome. Got 4 business class tickets for miles (would have been $6K for coach tickets, $24K for business class). Spent about $15K for the rest (hotels, meals, museum, rental car from AMS to FCO with 750 euro one way drop fee). It was a great trip and my boys were good ages to appreciate it (18 and 15). I say forget the $2K budget and look at it as the trip of a lifetime with your kids. As you say, they won't be available later.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby MrWinky » Sun Dec 02, 2012 12:55 pm

Random thoughts on getting around (based on a few medium-low-budget trips to western Europe):

Public transit in western Europe is wonderful, but every city has a different system. Actually I'm a wimp and spend a lot of pre-travel research time studying how the public transit in the exact place I'm going works. I really don't want to get lost somewhere new, anywhere where it's difficult to ask for help or directions. That isn't much of an issue in places like Paris, where every third person on the street speaks english, but in smaller cities you don't get that. Many train and tram systems are really set up for chip-and-pin credit cards, so if you don't have one you either need cash or to wait in line to see a human. In Amsterdam you must see a human to get a train ticket for cash (though I think this is changing soon).

The high-speed trains are a great way to manage a day trip on the cheap; lots of web sites let you order the tickets and charge a hefty fee for mailing them, but you can also pick up the tickets at any train station. Again, if you don't have a chip-and-pin card you have to see a human to print them out, and I've actually met station agents that told me they couldn't do that except at the larger stations or the airport. This is a bad argument to be having when your train is leaving in 20 minutes...

I've mostly traveled in early spring or late fall, everything is much cheaper and airfare is less expensive too. One thing I haven't seen mentioned in this thread is round trip airfare that returns to the US on a Sunday is hugely cheaper than airfare returning on Saturday. As in half the price; apparently all the US travelers want a rest day after they get back. So the exact days you book your airfare makes a huge difference in price.

Another option for getting around in places like Paris is a bike rental; this is something that is just starting out in some American cities, but you can rent a bike hourly and drop it off at another rack elsewhere. I'm told that in Paris the first 30 minutes of your rental is free. The downside is that if you haven't ridden a bike since you were a kid, the streets of Paris are perhaps not the best place to re-learn :)
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby backofbeyond » Sun Dec 02, 2012 4:39 pm

halfnine wrote:I may have missed it but there is one more thing to keep in mind about hostels. While hostels are perfectly viable for families and to that end you will find many European families staying in them, the hostel you choose does matter as they each are designed to accommodate different travel styles. And while some are definitely designed for 20 year old partying backpackers there are plenty of others with more of a family atmosphere. So if you go the hostel route just make sure you crosscheck your choice.

As far as traveling to Europe with teenagers, I still don't think that is the most prudent way to enjoy a family trip. What you want is a trip with a sole focus, limited options, and common enjoyment. Trips that come to mind that fit that criteria would be trekking in Nepal, going on safari in Africa, or even visiting the National Parks in the USA.

Personally, when our kids reach that age and we are thinking of one last go before the kids head off on their own, I reckon we'll be taking them off to Africa for a safari. It's something that they will not likely be doing on their own for a long time, if ever. It'll be a bit more expensive, but I'll just work an extra month or two during my life. As far as Europe, well it can be backpacked as young adult easily and any time. They don't need me around for that and probably would rather not have me around anyway.


Completely agree. Our daughter has been all over Asia, US, Europe and Central America. Including Hawaii and the Caribbean. When asked which was her favorite trip, it was our Belize trip, where we went propelling down waterfalls, zip lining, snorkeling (feeding sharks and rays), visiting Mayan Temples and floating on tubes into caves. Caribbean cruises and Hawaii rounded out the top 3.

German trips to castles, Paris art galleries and London theaters didn't make the list.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby nedsaid » Sun Dec 02, 2012 8:34 pm

Go!!!

I went to Europe last year on a Trafalgar Tour. Had a great time. Saw a whole lot of stuff in eight days though not in too much depth. Sad that I had to wait until my early 50's to go to Europe.

This year, I did a trip that I planned mostly myself. My fears about pickpockets, rude waiters in Paris, language barriers, etc. were overblown. Use a moneybelt. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of the scams. Obey your gut if something makes you feel uncomfortable. Other than that, relax and have a good time.

Prepare for the worst and expect the best. Keep a list of credit cards and phone numbers in case you have to cancel them. Give family members an itinerary of your trip before you go. Know where the nearest US Consulate is. Make a copy of your passport and take passport photos with you just in case. Do preplanning before you go. Arrange for transfers from the airport to the hotel ahead of time. If you shop around, you can get these inexpensively. Have currency on hand before you go. I always get trip insurance before I go, though some disagree with this.

I keep a half-sized notebook with my itinerary, vouchers, emergency information, subway maps, and other information. It fits easily in my backback. I keep two other copies of my travel vouchers in different parts of my luggage. The more preparation you do ahead of time, the easier the trip will go.

English gets you around most places. Many service people in the travel industry and hospitality industry speak at least some English. I found that in Rome, the taxi drivers speak limited English. In the United States, the taxi drivers speak limited English. Not much difference. (A bit of a joke but a big grain of truth to it).

Europe is more expensive than the United States because of the weak U.S. Dollar and the Value Added Tax (around 20 percent) that is embedded in prices. Meals can be pretty expensive. If you look around, you can save money on food.

European countries are much like the U.S. It is a great experience to experience language, culture, and new sights.

Go!!! You will not regret it.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby JupiterJones » Tue Dec 04, 2012 3:31 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:Even though Europe is quite similar to the U.S. culturally its still possible to insult folks, drive on the "wrong" side of the road, screw up the currency and generally running afoul by acting your normal self. These and many other issues are markedly decreased by staying on familiar soil.


Which, to me, is all the more reason to go to Europe instead of the U.S.

These kids could visit somewhere unchallenging and comfortable here in the states. Or they could go somewhere unfamiliar, where they might make mistakes, feel stupid sometimes, misunderstand (and be misunderstood), and be forced to navigate a myriad of cultural differences.

Which do you think would be the most helpful to them on their journey into independent adulthood?

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

Postby reggiesimpson » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:10 pm

JupiterJones wrote:
reggiesimpson wrote:Even though Europe is quite similar to the U.S. culturally its still possible to insult folks, drive on the "wrong" side of the road, screw up the currency and generally running afoul by acting your normal self. These and many other issues are markedly decreased by staying on familiar soil.


Which, to me, is all the more reason to go to Europe instead of the U.S.

These kids could visit somewhere unchallenging and comfortable here in the states. Or they could go somewhere unfamiliar, where they might make mistakes, feel stupid sometimes, misunderstand (and be misunderstood), and be forced to navigate a myriad of cultural differences.

Which do you think would be the most helpful to them on their journey into independent adulthood?

JJ

I was simply stating facts. What you want to do with them is a totally different subject. I have travelled around the world several times and taken the children to Europe on several occasions and you can enjoy (or not) anywhere you go for a variety of reasons. As they are probably going to live work and raise a family in this country i further recommended that the OP may be serving his childrens "growth" more appropriately by exploring their own backyard. Actually Europe is way overrated as any kind of experience for anyone. Now India is a different story!
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby Calm Man » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:41 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:
JupiterJones wrote:
reggiesimpson wrote:Even though Europe is quite similar to the U.S. culturally its still possible to insult folks, drive on the "wrong" side of the road, screw up the currency and generally running afoul by acting your normal self. These and many other issues are markedly decreased by staying on familiar soil.


Which, to me, is all the more reason to go to Europe instead of the U.S.

These kids could visit somewhere unchallenging and comfortable here in the states. Or they could go somewhere unfamiliar, where they might make mistakes, feel stupid sometimes, misunderstand (and be misunderstood), and be forced to navigate a myriad of cultural differences.

Which do you think would be the most helpful to them on their journey into independent adulthood?

JJ

I was simply stating facts. What you want to do with them is a totally different subject. I have travelled around the world several times and taken the children to Europe on several occasions and you can enjoy (or not) anywhere you go for a variety of reasons. As they are probably going to live work and raise a family in this country i further recommended that the OP may be serving his childrens "growth" more appropriately by exploring their own backyard. Actually Europe is way overrated as any kind of experience for anyone. Now India is a different story!


I tend to agree with Reggie. I have been to Europe too many times, mostly on business trips and I extended them. After awhile the outdoor cafes, the museums and hotels got old for me. But I know some like the experiences. I also have an uneasiness about being out of the country now where I am less familiar and just don't feel as safe. Maybe its just me getting older. So I won't go anymore but plenty of people still do and seem to enjoy it. Although in all fairness I am the only person I know who when he/she comes back from Europe and people ask how great it was, I don't say it was great.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby JupiterJones » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:21 pm

reggiesimpson wrote:I was simply stating facts. What you want to do with them is a totally different subject. I have travelled around the world several times and taken the children to Europe on several occasions and you can enjoy (or not) anywhere you go for a variety of reasons. As they are probably going to live work and raise a family in this country i further recommended that the OP may be serving his childrens "growth" more appropriately by exploring their own backyard. Actually Europe is way overrated as any kind of experience for anyone. Now India is a different story!


Fair enough.

Which tangentially reminds me a good tip I heard from a Rick Steves lecture: When planning a multi-city trip in Europe, shoot for going from "least culture shock" to "most culture shock". Say, start with Britain, move to France or Germany, then Eastern Europe, maybe winding up in Turkey.

Not only does this ease you into the cultural waters, but when you buy all your souvenirs at the end of your trip*, you're in the cheapest place to get them.

JJ


* Which, incidentally, is the preferred strategy. Keeps you from lugging them around the whole trip.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:25 pm

JupiterJones wrote:Which tangentially reminds me a good tip I heard from a Rick Steves lecture: When planning a multi-city trip in Europe, shoot for going from "least culture shock" to "most culture shock". Say, start with Britain, move to France or Germany, then Eastern Europe, maybe winding up in Turkey.

Not only does this ease you into the cultural waters, but when you buy all your souvenirs at the end of your trip*, you're in the cheapest place to get them.

JJ


* Which, incidentally, is the preferred strategy. Keeps you from lugging them around the whole trip.


On the other hand, your strategy may spoil the memories of the trip. People have the propensity to remember the final parts of an experience the best. If someone had great time in London and then was robbed in Kiev, the latter would place the shadow on the entire trip. As for the souvenirs, I stopped getting them years ago. Traveling with a backpack is a great excuse.

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

Postby backofbeyond » Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:24 pm

Reggie makes a valid point.

My family "grew" a lot more when we lived in non-English speaking parts of the world.

And believe me, more usual, fun and adventurous things happen in those types of places as well.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby animule » Wed Dec 05, 2012 8:27 am

You should pull the trigger on this.

We did almost the same type of vacation you are talking about this past summer. Five of us including kids ages 13, 16 and 19 went to Iceland and Amsterdam. We stayed three nights in Iceland and eight nights in Amsterdam. We flew over on Icelandair and if you do that, you can stay as long as you want in Iceland and then pick up the rest of the trip when you want to, at no extra charge. Airfare was around $1,100 per person, leaving from Toronto. And Icelandair is far superior to the US airlines for flying to Europe. They don't let you sample Skyr on any US airline that I am aware of.

If you like the Western US, you will love Iceland. We stayed at a hotel outside of Reykjavik and rented a car (a must if you really want to see something). The hotel was a little tricky because you need a place that can house five people, but we were able to find one. Checked out Geysir, Blue Lagoon, and "Pthynvelleir" or something like that. Awesome.

In Amsterdam, we rented an apartment just outside of the canal ring for something like $250 a night or so, for 8 nights. Everyone had their own bed, there was plenty of room, and we made our own dinners about half the time to cut the cost. We were also able to do our laundry. And we felt like locals. There's a reason everyone in Amsterdam parks their bikes on the street; you wouldn't believe how steep the stairs are (we stayed on the 2nd and 3rd floors).

In Amsterdam, we had plenty of time to do things. To cut costs, we bought museum passes and hit a lot of museums; our favorites were the Dutch Resistance Museum and the Van Gogh museum. We also had two great excursions. We trekked to Central Station and took a train to Antwerp, Belgium for a day trip. I'd highly recommend that. You would not believe how different Belgium felt (the Dutch speaking part, no less), than Amsterdam. Plus the chocolate is out of this world as are the waffles. Around Amsterdam, we went to a castle called Mudenslot as well as the waterland area including Edam and Volendam. Of the two, Volendam was far superior, in my opinion. Edam was postcard pretty, but was deserted.

And on the way home we flew over Greenland in daylight and that just added to the fun. If you take a vacation like this, trust me, you're not going to regret it.
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 05, 2012 9:40 am

Since i last posted on this subject i had a long chat with a guy from New Delhi. He informed me that its becoming more and more westernized (certainly since my own trip in the late 70s) and i would be shocked to see the advancement. Hmmmm? maybe a few weeks in Afghanistan?
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby VictoriaF » Wed Dec 05, 2012 9:48 am

reggiesimpson wrote:Since i last posted on this subject i had a long chat with a guy from New Delhi. He informed me that its becoming more and more westernized (certainly since my own trip in the late 70s) and i would be shocked to see the advancement. Hmmmm? maybe a few weeks in Afghanistan?


Afghanistan is too quaint; Syria is where all the action is.

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

Postby reggiesimpson » Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:25 pm

VictoriaF wrote:
reggiesimpson wrote:Since i last posted on this subject i had a long chat with a guy from New Delhi. He informed me that its becoming more and more westernized (certainly since my own trip in the late 70s) and i would be shocked to see the advancement. Hmmmm? maybe a few weeks in Afghanistan?


Afghanistan is too quaint; Syria is where all the action is.

Victoria

Syria sounds perfect! Maybe i should leave the kids home?
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby JupiterJones » Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:45 pm

VictoriaF wrote:As for the souvenirs, I stopped getting them years ago.


Good point. The "souvenirs at the end" strategy hinges on one actually getting souvenirs, which I don't really do much either these days. Maybe a small magnet for the fridge.

Part of it is that I'm a one-bag traveler too, and I try to pack with a NASA-moon-launch-like attention to weight and space.

But the larger reason is that I feel that souvenirs make less and less sense in today's small world. Few things are restricted to a "place" anymore, and fewer things are "exotic".

Back in ye olden tymes, you'd bring yourself or friends/family something back from a faraway place because that was they only way it could be reasonably acquired. Nowadays, there's not much you could haul back with you that you couldn't just order off the internet with a few mouse clicks. And that's assuming that you couldn't already buy it at your local mall or gourmet shop. Which sometimes makes it seem a bit silly to buy the thing and drag it through our increasingly hassleful air travel system.

JJ


P.S. Yes, I just made up the word "hassleful". Feel free to use it yourself! :beer
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Re: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe

Postby jtelwood » Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:50 pm

I might have missed it but did not see how long you were planning to visit.

I have been living in England for the past 2 years, about 70 mile north of London. I'll be moving to Kaiserslautern next week and will probably be there for about 3 years. Prior to moving to England, I lived on the Germany - Netherlands border, just west of Dueseldorf, for 5 years. Before that, I lived in Wiesbaden for 3 years and Berlin for 17 years. One of my favorite places was Africa but that's out for most countries (safety) and too expensive if you are on a budget.

If you select London, you will not be disappointed. I would suggest that you consider Berlin - there is no place in Europe that we have seen or lived that can compare.

I'll be happy to throw out some ideas when I know how long your visit will be. I'll be without internet for a while during the move back to Germany but I will respond when I get back on line.

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

Postby VictoriaF » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:06 pm

JupiterJones wrote:P.S. Yes, I just made up the word "hassleful". Feel free to use it yourself! :beer


I might, but my travel is usually fairly hassleless. And when bad things happen they are a fodder for good stories.

Victoria
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