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Baby Boomer's first trip to Europe - is this too much?

Hi folks!

I'm gifting my mother her first trip to Europe for Christmas and would LOVE some feedback from folks on this initial itinerary I've set up. My mother is in her mid-60s, healthy, a solid roadtripper (around the United States), but she's not an athlete by any means. I'm half her age and travel quite often so I don't really get the European sensory overload many first-timers get. I would like to get some feedback from other Boomers or those who have traveled with their parents.

As a note, we are going late-May, early-June, so it should be lovely. (Fingers crossed)

Itinerary:
- Day 1: Flight to NYC
- Day 2: Sightseeing in NYC, late flight to Paris
- Day 3: TGV to Strasbourg, rest and sleep (jet lag)
- Day 4: Rent car and road trip to Lauterbrunnen
- Day 5: Lauterbrunnen (overnight in Lauterbrunnen)
- Day 6: Lauterbrunnen to Colmar
- Day 7: Colmar and vicinity
- Day 8: Colmar and vicinity (rest day)
- Day 9: TGV Train to Paris (early morning)
- Day 10: Paris
- Day 11: Paris
- Day 12: Paris
- Day 13: Fly all the way home from Paris (1 connection through JFK)

Do you think I should skip the Swiss part of the itinerary below and add an extra day in Colmar and then maybe an extra day in Paris to slow things down a bit? I know my mother would LOVE to see Switzerland, but it just seems like too much shuffling around from place to place for my own taste.

I have already split up the initial flight by adding an overnight in NYC, so she doesn't have to be awake for like 24 hours on the flight over to Paris. I don't think the train to Strasbourg would be too taxing and the hotel we are staying at is easy walking distance from the station, so there's no reason to eliminate that and stay in Paris one night, either.

Thank you for your help!

J.

Posted by
509 posts

I can't comment on Colmar, no experience.

However, if Switzerland stays on the itinerary -- just personal preferences here -- I'd consider using rail all the way to the Jungfrau region. That might enable less navigation aggravation and more quality time with Mom, especially at the front/jetlag end of your trip. As you probably know, while you'd be making a handful of train changes as you get closer to your destination, the Swiss rail system is so efficient that it's often just a short wait for the next leg. Picking the right rail pass will produce efficient and flexible hop-on-hop-off transportation in the area.

I've visited, but not stayed in Lauterbrunnen; that said, I think the charms of the region are better appreciated with lodging in Wengen or Mürren (with a balcony room at the Hotel Eiger if that's in the budget -- it was a splurge for us, but one we've never regretted.)

Posted by
1743 posts

I'm a healthy baby boomer, but I've been to Europe a number of times. My first few trips were on group tours.

I don't think this would be too much for me. In fact, I'm quite sure it would be no problem for me at all from a stamina perspective.

But I would be very frustrated to spend the first four days of my first time in Europe in transit, with a different sleep location each night. I live on the west coast and would much prefer to fly directly to Europe than have a day in NYC (which would be pretty exhausting) before an overnight flight. You don't say where you are starting from, and I gather you've already committed to the flight itinerary, which if unfortunate. (If there is a way to get to somewhere in Europe direct from your home airport, I think that's always better.)

Anyway, once you're on the ground in Europe, you should trust your instincts. If you think it's too much shuffling around, you're probably right. I don't have a specific suggestion, as my last time in Switzerland was 1994.

But if your mom is a healthy mid-60s, don't underestimate her. She's not an invalid. If she needs a rest day, she'll let you know. Allow her to set the pace. If she's as excited to be in Europe for the first time as I would be, she will want to be doing stuff constantly, and she's more likely to wear you down than the other way around.

Posted by
6786 posts

So you've got 9 full days on the ground in Europe, not counting arrival or departure days.

Your pace seems fine to me, in fact, perhaps a bit more relaxed than I might expect.

But I'm wondering if your itinerary really hits enough of the "wow" spots for her. It all depends on her interests (as you said, you're confident she will want to visit Switzerland). I think for most American's, there are other, "bigger" places - and I'm pretty sure Colmar wouldn't make that list, though you dedicate 2+ days there, which I wouldn't do.

Consider taking those two days from Colmar, peel another day or two off somewhere else, and add either the Loire Valley (the chateaux hit most tourists' sweet spot bullseye) or Mont St Michel + a taste of Normandy (both of which resonate with just about everyone). Those are places that make most Americans swoon, pat their hearts, and sigh, "wow, I'm really in Europe..." Not sure Colmar does.

Of course, it all depends on tastes. I'd certainly trade those days in Strasbourg, Colmar (and maybe even Switzerland, but that's just me) for the Loire Chateaux and MSM/Normandy.

In any case, how very nice of you to do this for your mom. Good on ya.

Posted by
8889 posts

How about this:

  • Fly into Zürich. Immediate train to Lauterbrunnen (2½ hours by train, 2 departures per hour, times here: https://www.sbb.ch/en )
  • 3 nights Lauterbrunnen
  • Train to Colmar, pick up hire car. Tour wine villages (2 nights)
  • Return car in Strasbourg, 1 night
  • TGV (High Speed train) to Paris, remaining nights in Paris
  • Fly home from Paris

The problem with flying in to Paris and immediately catching a train to Strasbourg is that if you are flying intercontinental you cannot predict when you will get out of the airport (flight late landing, immigration takes extra time), therefore you can't buy train tickets in advance and have to get expensive walk-up fares.
You won't have that problem in Zürich, Swiss trains are more frequent and tickets are valid on any train.

Posted by
27020 posts

I had some of the same thoughts rca did, but I think what you've got is also OK, as long as you're picking up and dropping off the car in the same country to avoid any international drop charge.

With you, a highly experienced traveler, along, I believe your mother will not feel there are too many hotel changes. I traveled with my own mother when she was 60-70. She walked slowly because of compromised pulmonary function, but she had no issue with changing hotels more often that I (healthy 67 year old) do when traveling alone. And we were booking hotels on the spot, a nerve-wracking mode of travel that I do not recommend to anyone during the Internet era.

This sounds like a lovely trip.

Posted by
16131 posts

Chris F has a great idea. Book your tickets open jaw, into Zurich and home from Paris, This will minimize travel time and fatigue.

And I personally would skip the night in New York. It doesn’t make for a more relaxing journey; it adds travel time, airport stress, and an unnecessary one-night stand hotel night. Take what you would spend on the NYC hotel (quite a lot) and add it to your flight budget to fly in Premium Economy. The eastbound flight is overnight from most US cities, and this will enable you to get some sleep on the plane.

You do not say where you are starting from. If you do, people can help you with good reasonably-priced flights and the open-jaw itinerary. For example, many cities have major airports with direct flights to Europe in 8-10 hours. Add the short hop to Zurich, and you should be able to achieve an overall flight time of 15 hours or less.

Posted by
27020 posts

I trust that Jenna has had input from her mom about the itinerary. I basically let my mother choose our destinations, and she chose Alsace and Switzerland (also Morocco, Yugoslavia, Puglia, Portugal and Greece), never the Loire Valley or Normandy (or Paris or London). I really enjoyed Normandy last year, but the thought of multiple days traipsing through the Loire Valley Valley causes an aversive reaction; there are definitely some Americans for whom palaces are not highlights.

I think it's great if a first-time traveler wants a combination of city, smaller town and countryside. It takes a lot of us multiple trips before we can break free from the Rome-Florence-Venice-Paris-London parade.

Posted by
45 posts

I have not been to Paris/France or Switzerland yet (they are on my list). But just my opinion from other travel experiences, why not “flip” your itinerary and stay in Paris first get you and your mom settled in from the flight and a lay of the land. Then venture out and about into Switzerland and returning and staying the night before your flight back in Paris where you already know the basic ins and outs.

Posted by
3590 posts

In defense of the elderly, I want to tell you that my husband and I (82 and 79 at the time ) spent 3 weeks traveling around the southwest of France last fall and in no way felt limited. We walked - - - 13000 steps some days according to his Fitbit, and climbed a lot of stairs and hilly paths.
Now as to your queries, you haven’t given a clue as to your interests. Personally, I was less than blown away by Colmar. It’s not what I would include on a 1st trip, certainly not for the proportion of your entire trip that you’ve allotted to it. I’ m also lukewarm about Loire chateaux.

I think you could have a very satisfying trip going to Paris, Strasbourg, and Switzerland. The suggestion for open jaw flying, into Zurich, out of Paris or vice versa, is a good one. It’s easy to visit some Alsatian towns from Strasbourg to get a taste of non-urban France, and that city, itself, is well worth a visit.
I also agree that you should skip the overnight in NYC. With eliminating that and Colmar, you would have 4 nights to add to Paris, Strasbourg, and Switzerland, distributed in any way that suits you. You would avoid a couple of 1 nighters in hotels, and have more time to enjoy what you are traveling to see.

Posted by
13881 posts

I haven't been to Strasbourg but I don't get why you are just going there for 1 jet lagged night?

I like the suggestion to fly in to Zurich and head for Lauterbrunnen then stay up in Muerren. This is one of my favorite places for scenic beauty and hiking.

I'd also cut the NYC part of the trip. Do you have to connect thru NYC? If so give yourself plenty of time for your connection and book them on one ticket so you have protection from the airline. I fly from a little end of the line airport in the Intermountain West thru Salt Lake City (usually) and even with transit time, waiting around etc, it's easier then fly/stop/fly etc.

I'd do NYC as a separate trip.

BTW, I'm older than your Mom, so this is what I would enjoy.

Posted by
11119 posts

Strasbourg merits more time than Colmar which did nothing for me. Strasbourg plus a wine village such as Riquewehr or Kaysersberg for hotel nights would be better..
And for Switzerland, I would recommend stunningly beautiful Grindelwald instead of Lauterbrunnen.

Posted by
595 posts

Everyone is different, but on my most recent trip to Europe I did not sleep at all. I prefer to spend as much time as possible outside and walking on my first day, resist the urge to nap, and have as late a dinner as I can manage then crash. The next morning I'm over my jet lag and ready to take on the town. So I agree with the poster who put suggested you put Paris first.

Speaking as someone who is 64, keep an eye out for occasional breaks for tea or coffee and a snack, just something to sit down and savor between sights.

Talk over the plan with your mother, look at guidebooks and videos together, and get an idea of what she feels she would enjoy. Read up on packing light, as the less you have to carry the more energy you will have for sightseeing. Personally I find it draining to change hotels so try to stay three nights at each location.

Posted by
6 posts

It sounds as though all you intrepid travelers think this itinerary is doable which is very heartening. Thank you for your input!

Our flight itineraries are set - usually, I like to fly nonstop/open jaw but for this instance it was cost prohibitive for my young cousin who is also coming along on her first European trip. Plus, we all live in different parts of the US so it made sense to fly to a central point for the first connection. Having said that, we are flying in a day early to minimize the risk of flight delays and the potential of my mother or cousin having to do the overseas connection alone (that would be much more stressful than a day in NYC).

I gave my mother three short itineraries to choose from after she told me that the one thing she wanted to do in France was to rent a car and see the countryside (and ride the TGV/inOui). She chose Alsace as her preference over both Burgundy and the Loire Valley (even though the pictures of the chateaux made her gasp). One of the reasons that I chose Colmar over Strasbourg is that I thought my mother would like a smaller area to hang out in in the evenings for cocktails after sightseeing (she lives in a small town and is more in tune with that vibe than larger cities). I'm not convinced that there's a ton to do in Colmar, but sometimes atmosphere and a good dinner/wine is all that is needed at the end of a busy day.

Posted by
6 posts

@Marty, I'm already working with her on those important travel skills - the need for relaxation stops, staying awake the first night as long as you can, and especially packing light (unless you're hauling bottles wine like I tend to).

I think this is good advice for travelers at any age!

Posted by
10164 posts

Although I’ve been making flights over and back once or twice a year for the last 47 years, I’ve forced myself to stay awake only once in all these years. Instead, I typically get to my hotel or apartment, have some late breakfast or lunch, fall asleep but get up after 2-4 hours and finish the day and evening at a normal pace. Forcing myself to bear a day when I want a nap is torture. Mom may do well if allowed to sleep a couple hours.

Posted by
8021 posts

Looking back from my mid-70s this trip does not seem overly challenging but it is too much moving around for my taste. I absolutely would not start and end in Paris as someone suggested; that essentially wastes a full day of the trip as you rush back to Paris the day before the flight. Make sure the train is at least 4 hours after ETA in Paris and take the risk of calamity (e.g. a very late plane).

I would with so little time focus on two places and not three, so I would do Alsace or Switzerland and would fly from Switzerland to Paris if you make that choice. If you want a variety of places there are literally dozens of places for day trips from Paris including small cities like Rouen and Reims, chateaux like Versailles, Vaux le Vicomte (my favorite), Fontainebleau, Malmaison etc etc and many smaller towns including the lovely medieval town of Senlis.

I would not move every night for the first several days as every travel day eats up so much time and money with so little payoff. You essentially lose each day that is dedicated to logistics and so basing in a couple of places or places a short distance apart and being there would be my choice.

Posted by
472 posts

I am in my mid-60s and don’t really consider myself “elderly.” I think your mom will do just fine. I do agree with those who say less is more, fewer stops with more nights would be my preference when I am traveling on my own.

Along with Bets, I reject the usual advice to power through and stay awake on the first day. Why be miserable? I am not usually hungry when I arrive overseas from the US, so if I can get into my room, I check-in, go to the room, take a nap, take a shower, and change clothes. Then I am ready to go out for dinner and a walk, feeling almost normal! I have not found that this routine interferes with my sleep that night, although I might wake up somewhat early in the morning (not a bad thing, it gets me going!)

Posted by
6 posts

@Renee...I completely agree - my mother isn't elderly by any stretch of the imagination, and I hope no one will consider ME that way at the same age. But...she does like some downtime to rest and recharge, which is fine.

I've been doing my best to book things in a flexible manner so everyone can have a good time. And...I won't insist she skip that nap if she wants it that first day...for all I know she will be so excited she would outpace all of us.

Posted by
11278 posts

The thing that strikes me is that it is Day 5 of your itinerary before you really get to do much more than transit, rest, and sleep. I would skip go right to Colmar on Day 3 and spend 3 nights. Rent a car for this portion if you must to give Mom a taste of the countryside by car. Then take your road trip to Lauterbrunnen for 3 nights but skip the car in favors of the train. It is much more efficient for your itinerary and eliminates the need to double back to France by driving. From Lauterbrunnen take the train to Paris for your final nights.

Posted by
27020 posts

I grant you that Colmar is touristy, but I think it's lovely. And the Unterlinden Museum is a good one. Yes, it has the Isenheim Altarpiece, but that's not all it has. No art lover should skip it.

Posted by
16131 posts

Barbra, they are going late May, early June. It is unlikely there will be much snow in Lauterbrunnen (in a valley) at that time. And the recommendation is that they fly into Switzerland (Zurich), travel by train to Lauterbrunnen and on to Colmar, and then rent the car to tour that area.

If Mom would LOVE to see Switzerland as she says, she should. I get that (I LOVE Switzerland myself). It is not difficult or strenuous to add that to the itinerary. I would have no problem doing the itinerary outlined, particularly if it starts in Zurich and proceeds one-way to Paris. And I am considerably older than the OP’s mom.

Posted by
634 posts

I'm also in my mid-60s and would have no problem with the itinerary. I seem to have twice my normal energy when motivated by new experiences, and have no problem walking 6-12 miles each day when I'm in a place like Paris or Rome, even though my fitness is probably about average for a person my age with no serious health issues.

Posted by
1878 posts

If you want to go to Switzerland to start, I recommend flying into Switzerland vs. into Paris and picking up a car, etc. You are not getting to the place where you want to start until day four, and then only after a (best case) 3.5 hour drive.. Also Lauterbrunnen looks great based upon my research, there are other worthy places in Switzerland (Bern, Lausanne for starters). I have been to Colmar and Strasbourg, and preferred Strasbourg. If you go there, don't just do it as a place to sleep for the night before moving on. Colmar is not bad, I just liked Strasbourg more. The Unterlinden Museum in Colmar is really great though. I just did not find the town itself to be that charming compared to a lot of other smaller to mid-sized towns.

Posted by
40 posts

Just came back from Paris/Strasbourg/Colmar. I think Colmar is at best a one day town (30 min from Strasbourg via train). So is Strasbourg. We took the train from Strasbourg directly to CDG. I'm sure you can do the reverse. It was very easy. Download the TGV app so you have your tickets on your mobile phone.

A few years ago we went to Switzerland and spent 4 nights in Lauterbrunnen. Loved it! Unlike other towns in the valley, Lauterbrunnen doesn't feel like a ski resort. We took the train there, walked to our hotel, and then spent the next days taking the various gondolas, funiculars, etc. around the valley. It was great fun to combine the transportation options with walking. Paved paths, and people of all ages walking to and fro. Lauterbrunnen has a small town feel, with easy paths to the big waterfalls. We stayed in Hotel Silberhorn - perfect location for a few days of exploring without a car. And from the bathtub of our room I had a view of Staubbach Falls.