Timing is everything.
The European calendar is more than just the seasons. So, choosing the right time to go is a bit more complex than it seems. For example, Summer is the high season, are you up for the heat and the crowds? April and October are considered the modern shoulder season. The nights may be a bit chilly but the lines will be almost non-existent. Do your interests lie in seeing the markets of the Christmas season? Are you prepared for the paring down of the 40 days of Lent? Will there be a festival season in your destination? and, if so, could you shift your stay to coincide or avoid it? Do you wan to participate in the high cultural season in winter? Knowing the calendar can truly make or break your trip.
In Edinburgh, for example, every August brings the world famous Royal Military Tattoo. Last time I was there, I didn’t pay attention to the dates and had to leave the day before it started! I should have paid attention better so that I could have seen it. My daughter, on the other hand, was relieved to have missed the influx of people. You see, timing is everything!
The next biggest chunk of money you will spend is on lodging and ground transportation. I use the word lodging because there are quite a few options out there.Options for lodging in Europe very widely. So many options can feel overwhelming but There are a few good bits of information that allow for good choices.
- City center hotels can be a bit more pricey however, they allow for convenience and in the right city centers, can negate the need for transportation. I’m a fan.
- Air B and B’s are a great value in Europe. The only downfall to these is not knowing exactly where they are. I use this option when I know the area just a bit better or on personal recommendation.
- Self contained resorts are not my cup of tea while in Europe. I leave those for lovely Caribbean island. Enough said.
- There are quite a few other choices to consider including hostels, hiking chalets, lodgings offered by abbeys and convents (check out this book for a guide to those.)
1. Shop around.
There are more than just hotels available for your stay. Bed and Breakfasts, airbandb’ s, pensions, boutique hotels, and major chains await your stay. Look around and have a firm hold on all of your choices before you commit. Look them up on websites and apps, hunt them down in guidebooks and blogs and see exactly where they are located on google maps. Are your choices in good neighborhoods and close to what you want to do and see? Do they have rooms and amenities that fit your needs and budget? One last tip on this: the best smaller places go fast and you’ll need to book these early (especially the best airbandb’ s).
2. Location, Location, Location.
Take a moment and think about your trip. Is it a one city stay or are you planning to town hop? If you are planning to explore just one area, it may be more reasonable to rent a place with a kitchen, close to a train, as a launching pad for all of your adventures. Conversely, if you plan on town hopping, perhaps a mix of city centers and sleepy hamlets will be a better choice.
Personally, I’m a city center kind of traveler. I am always looking for lodging that allows me to be car free. I like to be able to stay right in the city center and walk. Think about your fellow travelers. What’s the best mix for you? One last note, sometimes we like to travel sans kids and if you are looking for a hotel that has fewer kids (I’m a teacher and like to travel kid free every now and then) check out the business hotel options. They usually have less family friendly amenities and a quieter feel.
3. To rent a car or not to rent a car?
That is definitely an important question. Let me keep this simple, if you are staying in a city center and you don’t plan to leave it, skip the rental. If you are town hopping with more than two people or any sort of car seat, get a car. If you plan on going to the British Isles, the Black Forest, Northern Italy or Normandy, rent the car. Public transport in most of Europe is spot on and used more commonly than in the States. However, if you have a large group, it can be less economical. Keep this last thought in mind: standards are cheaper to rent than automatics. Practice before you go!
4. Book as directly as possible.
We are all fans of sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia but before you click the “check out” button, google the hotel and check their rates directly. If the website isn’t in English, just look around the screen for a flag, and click on it for language options, easy peasy. If the rate is the same or better, put the money directly into your service provider’s hands- no middle man needs to hold on to your private information without a reason! You can also simply click on your hotel of choice on google maps to access their site. If you can’t find the website, think twice! This may be an excellent time to use a booking service and buy the insurance for a small add-on fee.
5. Breakfast plans, anyone?
There are a few things you need while you travel and one of the most important is breakfast! You won’t enjoy your jam packed day if you don’t have any fuel. I consider two main choices. Some lodgings include your morning meal and others don’t. If it’s included at no extra charge, great! If not, check into how much you are being charged. You may find out that the price of one in house meal can cover your whole group at a local place that offers more local flavors. Consider finding a local bakery or deli to get your morning started.
As You Are Planning Activities…
It’s the reason you have done all this planning. The reason you are willing to endure an uncomfortable airline seat for 7 plus hours. The fun stuff! There are so many choices to enjoy and it’s hard to know where to even start.
Know what you want to do and how you should go about doing it. As you put together your list of must do’s, take into account not only the time to do something but also the time to get there. Additionally, help kids out by not making everything a surprise. If you are going to Paris, let them read about the Eiffel Tower. If you are off to Japan, cherry blossom information is a must. The more kids know, the more they will enjoy the experience. This includes food! Allow kids to get used to the menu of your destination so that they are looking forward to all the local eats.
It doesn’t matter how you journal just do it. You can simply post to Facebook or get a new fancy leather book. Somehow, someway, journal. Seriously. I have never met a traveler who has looked back at a trip and said, “gee, I wish I hadn’t spent all that time writing or posting about all the cool things I did”. If anyone on your trip needs to journal, it the kids. Let them learn about where they are going and let them collect all the pamphlets and pictures they can. Let them become the trip expert. Put a small pair of kid scissors and tape in your bag so that they can cut a tape things into their journal along the way.
3. Find a playground.
That means you too, adult. Find a few places along the way to take a break. Rent some bikes (very easily done in most cities) and ride along the river for an hour. Go to an iconic park and take in the gardens. Take the kids to a neighborhood playground and let them make friends. (Language is no barrier for kids.)
4. Book some downtime.
Let’s face it, we all get tired out on our travels. It first starts with that nasty jet lag we have to shake and then it hits us again about 6 or 7 days in when we have traipsed all around taking in as much as we can. It’s at this point, in mid vacation, that I schedule something different. If I’m in Athens, a day Hydra or a day to just enjoy a stroll, to sleep in a bit, or simply enjoy all of the hotel’s amenities that we are paying for! Double or triple that downtime when traveling with kids.
5. Be your trip’ s editor.
Face it. There is never enough time in any trip to see everything on your list. You have some tough decisions to make. Be prudent on what you include on your itenerary. Include a few bucket list icons, some experiences, some out of the way spots. Consider your much needed downtime and chances to eat at different locations.
Over plan to your heart’s content and then acknowledge that you will not get to do everything on your list. It just won’t happen and that’s just fine. It only means that you have a good reason to go back! One last tip: pre-book tickets and reservations for high volume sights so that you can skip the ticket lines and ensure that you have a guaranteed entry. I once walked right past 300 people standing in line in Giverny and used my tickets to breeze through a back gate.
- Use a purse that is pick pocket proof. That means leave the brand names at home and make sure it closes well and is easy to carry closely. You don’t have to clutch your bag in panic but be aware. Pick pockets represent the number one crime against travelers world wide.
- Don’t get scammed online. I keep my phone on airplane mode for my entire trip. It is very easy to use public wifi as I go along. By doing this, I don’t have to spend money on an international sim card or contract plan. I do, however, use a VPN mask like Tunnel Bear to ensure that wireless thieves can’t gain access to my passwords and credit cards.
- Don’t stand out. Look, I’m all for individuality and fashion choices. I just don’t think that travel is where it has to be a priority. Many European friends tell me that they can spot an American in a crowd very easily. As a collective, we either dress to flashy or sloppily. Men who wear baseball hats are obvious and women with crazy nails are a no brainer. Take a moment and think about those pick pockets. If my friends can spot you, so can they.
- Additionally, things like statement tees (especially offensive ones) are frowned upon. This isn’t a judgement thing, it’s simply a safety thing. Take this statement “we love when Americans visit! They spend so much money!” Remember those pick pockets.
Lastly, the number one cause of death for tourists is car accident. Predictable. The number two? Accidental falls and drownings. In other words… death by selfie.