Hello darlings! We are back from a great adventure that took all six of us to Spain, England, and France. It was incredible, hard, wonderful, and now a bit surreal. After my 1300+ picture download, it’s hard to know where to start. If you’ve ever wanted to travel abroad with the family, here are some things that made our trip fun, less stressful, economical, and very tasty.
Democratic voting: Ten months ago we started discussing our summer adventure. One idea was to go to Canada and watch all the women’s world cups games. In the end we decided that if we had one “trip of a lifetime” it would be to Europe. Since Paige has Grace, the American Girl, the only place she cared about seeing was Paris. Check. 🙂
Saving: Traveling across the ocean to foreign countries is expensive. We would not have even considered european travel had we not been given “summer enrichment” money from our Hogwarts. In the past, a faculty member was given a whole year sabbatical. We used to dream about spending a whole year in Spain, but summer travel was the second best option. Even with “summer enrichment funds,” we still had to plan carefully, research flight deals and the best and least expensive housing options. Is european travel possible with kids? YES. But it does require a lot of saving.
How to Start: Once you know where in the world you’re going, order a Rick Steves book. Steves lives four months a year in Europe and makes a living by giving tours, writing books, and maintaining a blog for ordinary people to have a European experience – he KNOWS everything. I wish I had ordered his books sooner and studied more. He is AWESOME.
What to Pack:
One Backpack: Yes, this means you carry your life on your back. Absolutely the best decision we made. One backpack per person. The professor and I had big backpacks that we specially ordered for this trip. Mine is purple. I love it. I’ll use it forever! The kids used school backpacks This is us…do we look like American tourists?
Minimal Clothing: We traveled for two weeks and this is what I would suggest: three outfits (I preferred short, comfortable maxi skirts), three pairs socks and underwear, one pair of shoes, one light sweater, and a swimming suit. I opted for sandals over running shoes because of my skirts. My eldest darling brought three pairs of shoes, but she had to carry them. We often washed our clothes at night and hung them to dry. Only one apartment had a washing machine. We did as the Europeans: washing in the sink and hanging to dry!
Folded clothes, hand washed the night before, ready to go.
Toiletries: The Professor was of the opinion that we buy when we arrived, but I was very glad to have my own little bottles of familiar shampoo and conditioner. I carried these for the family and we were all allotted nightly pea shapes of shampoo and conditioner. I didn’t bring razors, thinking I wouldn’t get through customs. I should have. True, I was in Europe, but I don’t enjoy feeling like a hairy beast (in a skirt.)
Other Essentials: fingernail clippers, band-aids, earphones (great for that 8-hour flight!), sunglasses, baby wipes, allergy pills, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, hair elastics, gum, chapstick. I was the keeper of these items and kept them in a small sturdy baggie.
Food: I couldn’t bring a lot, but my sandwich baggie of nuts and dried cranberries SAVED me. Until they were gone 🙁
Camera: Ah, the big debate. To bring the big Nikon or just take pictures with my phone? The Nikon is much higher quality but also requires its own bag. It’s also much heavier. I brought the big camera, wore it around my neck with my credit cards and cash. Worth it? Yes.
Passports: You’ll obviously need them! I suggest having one person carry them in one safe place at all times. The Professor was given this task. He had a special zip pocket in his backpack. Every time they were taken out, they went right back.
Money: Each country has it’s own currency. We dealt with euros and pounds. Familiarize yourself. Bring a credit card, preferably one with an electronic chip. Bring a debit card. Tell your bank you are going so you don’t get cut off. Also, ask your credit card company for a 4-digit pin number. I did due diligence and then left the pin number on my desk at home. Errr.
Converter: European outlets are not the same as American. You won’t be able to charge your phone, any electronic, blow dryer, curling iron, etc. without a converter. You can buy anywhere, even wal-mart.
Journal: The goal was to have everyone write every night. It didn’t always happen, but we are so glad to have our individual record and perspectives.
What I didn’t need
A neck pillow. I brought one but it was so big and bulky, that a child “conveniently” forgot it somewhere in Spain.
A curling iron or blow dryer. Yep, that meant that in every picture I’m wearing a bun and headband. Glamorous? Whatever. I was all about easy.
My computer or iPad. This was hard to leave behind. I wanted to upload pictures at the end of every day. I wanted to journal electronically. Alas, the computer was too heavy. It ended up being the perfect break from technology, and a huge focus on a family experience.
Where to Sleep: Do you want to know exactly where you’ll rest your head every night or wing it? Both have their plusses and minuses. I wanted to plan ahead because we had the whole family and I thought it would keep us moving. Next time? Maybe I’d be more spontaneous! What was really nice was staying in one place for several days; then you don’t have to carry the backpack. We spent one night in a hostal, family style. I’m not sure I’d be too keen to share a room with strangers…
How to Eat: Well, you’re definitely not going to go to American fast food chains, right? Try the local fare! This was probably our most favorite part – the food! With a family, food is pricey at restaurants. We visited local markets and grocery stores almost every day for produce, quality bread, cheese, prosciutto, and olives. We ate A LOT pastries. I’m practically made of butter now. I have sooooo many pictures of food. Oh, the pastries…our goal was to eat a minimum of one a day 🙂
How to Get Around the Country: You’ve got a lot of options here. We tried several: plane, ferry, taxi, walk and walk and walk, metro, train, bus. I think the biggest thing is knowing where you’re going and the cheapest and fastest way to get there – unless, traveling slower gives you a better view and experience of the country. I love this picture of mama, baby and groceries – there are a lot of bikes in Europe. So healthy and fun.
Maps: The professor was the only one who had cellular coverage and we used Google Maps the entire trip. It was a life saver. Plug in where you want to go and it will tell you what metro or bus to use. There are some great apps out there that we learned about only after our trip. Here The Professor works on our itinerary before we head out for the day. I was soooo glad we had him. His navigation skills are, shall we say, a little more developed than mine 🙂
Keeping Track of Expenses: For my own personal peace of mind, I used Evernote to record every single thing we spent money on. I recorded in euros and pounds, which translated to higher American prices. Recording helps keep you on budget (or just depresses you :). We tried to spend $100 a day, not including lodging, splurging here and there (mostly on food and admission prices), knowing this was our “trip of a lifetime.” Evernote:
This trip was all about experiencing a foreign world for the first time with our family. We were looking for adventure, bonding, learning, fun, and traveling efficiently and economically. We planned ahead, listing things we wanted to see in every city, but were also flexible. By the end, we were so tired, that Paris didn’t get our full attention.
Traveling to Europe for the first time is trial and error. For instance, you can save money using Oyster cards in London or getting Eurorail passes to England or using the ferry on the Thames to see a lot in a little time. There was also a lot of success. No one got sick, broke a leg, or was maimed by a Spanish bull. No one got lost on the subway (my huge fear) or fell in the Seine.
Were we happy we went? Oh yes! Was it relaxing? Not a bit! We guess we averaged 10 miles a day of walking. Our youngest mentioned Hawaii several times (as in, “I want to go lie on the beach and have someone serve me pina coladas”).
We were in very close proximity of one another for two very intense weeks. It’s tiring traveling in a foreign country where everything is, well, foreign. The language, food, customs are all new. This combination can produce frustration and snapping. This trip required A LOT of patience, consideration, and gratitude. Would I recommend it? Oh yes, but I will also say that I was very glad I didn’t have anyone under 8 with me. Paige was an endurance trooper, but we were on the move constantly. Wee ones would have altered our plan drastically.
Upcoming posts on what to see and eat in Spain, England, and France. Adios for now! And it’s so good to be back, writing again. xoxo.