2014 Family Vacation in Europe

Ok so I know this is really early planning, seeing how we've just started this years vacation planning, however we plan on spending 2 full months in Europe next summer so that takes quite a bit of planning as well. We will be traveling with our two teenagers who also love to travel. So for two months our budget is $25k not a penny more than that. We are pretty thrifty and willing to consider small hotels, convents and low rated hotels just not hostels, the movie kinda messed that up for us, lol. Anyway we stayed at convents before and we loved it. We would like to spend about 3 weeks in Italy with 3-4 days in Venice, maybe 3 in Florence and another 3-4 in the Amalfi coast maybe Positano or Minori. We know that we want to spend another 3 days in Madrid, and we'd like to go to Paris and spend at least one day in Provance. We are very dedicated to teaching our children about the Holocaust, so we would like to take them to a concentration camp, preferable Auschwitz but another would do fine as well. I guess my question is where are the most reasonable places to go. What places have you guys stayed and recommend? We are open to eating cheap and I am a teacher so maybe I can teach English part time in some places with my TEFL??? Just need general advice and guidance. Any takers, do I see a hand raised back there?

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

I hope you take the children to the Shoah Museum /Memorial in Paris, my 11 yr old daughter and I visited it a few years ago and were very moved, seeing all those names hand written on index cards in file boxes, all of Jewish citizens of PAris that the Vichy Government handed over to the Nazis.. and one particularily touching exhibit, a little girls faded dress, with the yellow star sewn on it, my daugher found that especially touching it humanized the whole loss down to one little girl.. she identified with that more then all the photos of hundreds and thousands,, just one little dress. As for hostels, I have noted that for a group of four then are often not the cheapest options anyways as they charge per head and not per room. Finding quad rooms in Paris is not the easiest, suggest you consider renting an apartment for the week or two you are in PAris, you will save money on food by breakfasting in , and by being able to make some picnic lunches. Even when staying in hotels I get ones with mini fridges/bars as I stock them with drinks, yougurts etc, saves snack money for important treats like ice cream ! I eat cheap by getting sandwichs and crepes from street carts and bakeries, bakeries also sell pizza like slices and quiches. Get a juice/pop at grocery stores.. 3 euros or less a six pack instead of 3 euros each at cafes! Buy train tickets well in advance for best rates..

Posted by Frances
Arlington, TX, USA
33 posts

Thanks for the memorial tip, we will be sure to visit. I'm so confused on the train tickets, which pass should I buy? Also what websites do you suggest for apartment renting? Thanks in advance!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Frances, for trains, rough out a route, and then post it on the "transportation " forum, we have some trains whizzes on here, it is NOT always an advantage to get rail passes anymore ( they were a much better deal 30-40 years ago, but now with higher prices and more restrictions and extra fees for reservations fees they do not often even work out as cheap as some point to point tickets bought in advance.. depends on several factors.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3511 posts

Have you thought about spending time in the east? Budapest, Prague, Krakow have lots to offer, including, sadly, a lot about the Holocaust. And they will be significantly cheaper than France and Italy.

Posted by Frances
Arlington, TX, USA
33 posts

Yes, I do want to go to Prague and Krakow is definitely on our list. Budapest I'm not sure, but it is a possibility...

Posted by HK
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
115 posts

If you decide to go to Budapest, the Holocaust museum there is outstanding. It is focused specifically on the Hungarian experience and admits the responsibility Hungarians had for collaborating with the German Nazis.

Posted by James
Frisco
1804 posts

I learned about the holocaust in school like most people did. So much for that. Then I visited a little nondescript synagogue in Prague and something, for lack of a better explanation; snapped within me. We search out the old Jewish districts and synagogues where ever we travel. Paris has a wonderful living Jewish district for instance. But no place is the subject more relevant and alive in both good and sad ways than it is in Budapest. I usually rate the central European trinity of Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the order of "must see" with Budapest being first and Vienna last. But if you have no interest or if you don't understand the importance of the lessons of history then I would change the order to Prague, Vienna and then Budapest as Prague and Vienna are more like amusement parks. Krakow just plan saddens me especially in its current state.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

Convents I really like in Venice and Florence are: Istituto Suore Salesie Catecumeni 108 Dorsoduro, Venezia,30123, vecatecumeni@salesie.it (right across the Grand Canal from San Marco; a few hundred feet from S Maria d Salute) Suore Oblate dell'Assunzione Borgo Pinti 15, Firenze sroblateborgopinti@virgilio.it
(about 3 blocks from Duomo) MonasteryStays.com is also a good source of lodgings in Italy. Their price includes a small fee, but they have lots of listings. The one time I used them I was happy with their service. In Venice, I also really liked Hotel Doni, 1 star, on a quiet side canal behind San Marco; less than a 5 minute walk from San Marco. I've also stayed at a couple of convents/monasteries in Rome; PM me if you'd like me to try to dig up that info.

Posted by Frances
Arlington, TX, USA
33 posts

My husband and I traveled to Italy for 2 weeks back in 2011 and stayed at that convent in Florence, we loved it and I keep in touch with the buns from there as well as the ones we met in Venice, Rome and Sorrento. But am not sure if convents are that readily available in other countries like France, Spain, Germany & England... Does anyone else know?

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Google for apt rental agencies in Paris, but a few good ones off the top of my head are: VacationinParis.com, ParisBestLodge.com, Homeaway.com, VRBO.com. We used ParisAttitude.com twice and were very happy with them but their system is just a little complicated (but typical of the French agencies).

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10888 posts

If the $25,000 includes everything, then you may need to rework your budget. Back out $5000 to 6000 for air flights and takes you to about $325/day. That is going to be very hard for four people even with a lot of economy. Remember you are visiting some very expensive cities - Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice. Then throw in your travel even with cheap train tickets - you are not going to make it on 25,000. You might trying cutting to 45 days to get your daily rate closer to $450. Travel can be a killer on tight budgets so you might consider staying in more rural area and using the local, regional trains (cheapest fares) to get around. And only hit three or four general areas to reduce your major travel expenses. Doubt seriously if a rail pass would any money. Absolutely cannot work for anything without a work permit which would be nearly impossible to obtain. The Schengen zone is very tight on this point so don't try to dance around it.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

Regarding other countries, I think there are religious guesthouses in Spain that take tourists (but you need to ensure they are open to tourists, not just retreatants). I've stayed in several convents/monasteries in France, but always on religious retreat; they don't take tourists, although I don't know there are others in France that do accept tourists. I know there are at least two series of books listing convents/monasteries/religious guesthouses that accept tourists; I've not used them, but you may want to see what books you can find on Amazon.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Frances: $25K should be very do-able for your trip. Unfortunately, flight prices are at an all time high for 2013. Who knows about 2014. Your question about where to go is a little general, so you'll be getting suggestions in little detail. Unfortunately, Europe is so many countries that even 8 weeks is not enough to see everywhere. You'd probably do best to divide your trip up into 4 two week segments. Travel city to city by train. When you are going long distances, fly to where the budget air carriers go. EasyJet and Vueling (Spain) are favorite budget airlines. Rent cars from time to time to see the countryside thru AutoEurope.com. Stay outside the big cities in bed and breakfasts and agriturismos in Italy. You may have stayed in convents, but don't do that to teenagers as they'll be totally bored. Try to travel in straight lines. Fly into one end of Europe and out of another, called open jaw. My suggestion for cities grouped together: London-Paris-Amsterdam Cologne-Rhine River Valley-Munich-Salzburg-Innsbruck Venice-Florence-Rome-Naples/Postiano Budapest-Vienna-Budapest-Warsaw Madrid-Barcelona You just have so many options available.
Rule #1--everybody must handle their own carry on rolling bag with a maximum length of 21", or a backpack.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Frances: $25K should be very do-able for your trip. Unfortunately, flight prices are at an all time high for 2013. Who knows about 2014. Your question about where to go is a little general, so you'll be getting suggestions in little detail. Unfortunately, Europe is so many countries that even 8 weeks is not enough to see everywhere. You'd probably do best to divide your trip up into 4 two week segments. Travel city to city by train. When you are going long distances, fly to where the budget air carriers go. EasyJet and Vueling (Spain) are favorite budget airlines. Rent cars from time to time to see the countryside thru AutoEurope.com. Stay outside the big cities in bed and breakfasts and agriturismos in Italy. You may have stayed in convents, but don't do that to teenagers as they'll be totally bored. Try to travel in straight lines. Fly into one end of Europe and out of another, called open jaw. My suggestion for cities grouped together: London-Paris-Amsterdam Cologne-Rhine River Valley-Munich-Salzburg-Innsbruck Venice-Florence-Rome-Naples/Postiano Budapest-Vienna-Prague-Warsaw Madrid-Barcelona You just have so many options available.
Rule #1--everybody must handle their own carry on rolling bag with a maximum length of 21", or a backpack.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1509 posts

Frances; We have done five long summer trips to Europe as a family of five. Our usual length is 4-5 weeks. In each case, we have kept the budget for EVERYTHING (including the cat sitter at home!) to around $13-$14,000. Airfares are up from 2-5 years ago, so say that's $15,000 to repeat that today. That's still right in the ballpark for your budget. But the only way we could make that number was by eating very cheaply and the only way to do that and still stay healthy is to do a lot of your own cooking with groceries. The only easy way to do that is to stay in rentals. In some places rentals can be had for periods of as little as 3-4 nights, but it's a lot more common, economical, and convenient to get a home base for a full week (usually Saturday-Saturday). Rentals are frequently cheaper than any other option. Fortunately, that fits well within your generous time frame. With 8-9 weeks to work with, you can easily stay in a week-long rental 4-5 times, add a couple of shorter rentals and then a couple of segments where you hop from place to place every night or two, and you can cover a heck of a lot of ground. Now, it will be tempting to forego staying a full week in any location in favor of hopping around even more frequently. But beware that there are only so many different locations a person can absorb before they start to feel overloaded. On one trip, we were gone for five weeks and in that time, slept in a dozen different locations. By the time we got to about number 10, we could hardly remember (much less appreciate) number 1. Staying longer in one place has lots of advantages, not the least of which are the more firmly planted memories. Don't forget rural locations as well (like Provence, Tuscany, Bavaria, etc) for longer stays, but there you will need a car. Driving is easy and efficient away from cities.

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
800 posts

I also recommend getting an apartment for a week to cut down on costs. Exmaple: breakfast-cereal, milk, juicethat'll last a few days for just 10Euro. Lunch-pack sandwiches, fruit, etc. is cheaper than eating out. Same for dinner-obviously cheaper to eat in, but Doner (3.50Euro-at our local shop) and pizza (4.00Euro) is a great deal for dinner. I wanted to comment on the work. Just calling up blind to some place in the town where you're visiting isn't going to get you very far, as I'm sure you would think, plus if you're a US resident, there's loads of foreign income paperwork on your taxes which is a huge nightmare. Having said that, do some serious research through where you teach, or local community colleges, universities, that may have a 'visiting teacher' or sabbatical type options in European countries. You may be able to set up something through a local school (perhaps paid -technically-through the US school) so you get some of your expenses paid for. Also see if your town or neighboring towns have 'sister cities' in a European city that you could contact for more information about teaching there.
You never know what you'll find, so to me it's worth the time to poke around for teaching options.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

Hi Frances, You need to be very clear on one thing - you are not allowed to work under any conditions while in Europe as a tourist. They are very strict on this, in addition to cash, they consider working in exchange for food or accommodation or even for free to constitute employment and if caught the consequences are serious. You and your family will be deported and banned from reentry for several years and you may be fined as well. Fines range from a couple of thousand euros to about 10K and baring orders are usually for up to 5 years, but can go to 15 years in some instances. Jim.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3511 posts

From Prague, you can visit Terezin as a day trip. The entire town was a concentration camp, much different from the death camps. Very interesting.

Posted by Mark
Houston, TX
22 posts

If you are rambling about Italy, I recommend passing through Alborobello, in Puglia (the heel of the boot). Really charming town. The Hotel dei Trulli is quaint, nice, and reasonable, and the rooms are like little whitewashed stone cottages.

Posted by Becky
Woodinville, WA
75 posts

Hi Frances, That sounds like a fabulous trip! We are a family of 5 and planning a trip to Europe this May. A few tips to pass along. It's not too early to start planning. The best, low-cost places get booked first! Through endless research (and lots of postings here :), we found that the cheapest option was to stay in an apartment. We researched monastery stays, but for the ones I looked into, they all charged per person (like a hostel), so it wasn't cheaper (at least for 5) than staying in an apartment (with a kitchen!). We are on a budget too and so plan on eating in and as cheaply as possible to save money for the good stuff, like gelato, sights, and fun. Another possibility that we checked into was camping. It may sound crazy, but there are a TON of campgrounds all over Europe. Many have bungalows, which rent for a bit more (but still cheaper than a hotel). Because we are going in May and wanted to maximize time right in the city, we didn't end up going that route, but we researched a few and they looked great! One other option I considered was a home exchange. I've heard of many people doing that very successfully. That may offset your trip costs as well. Good luck with your trip! It sounds fantastic. Becky

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I would second the suggestions to go east, at least for a good chunk of your trip. I did the math and at first was like $325ish a day for 4 is doable, provided you can get an apartment rental for about $150...but then I realized $150 is pretty cheap for a 4-bed apartment in many places in Western Europe...and then I realized what's left over really doesn't account for travel costs within Europe. I think the only way to make this work without going a penny over $25,000 is to either cut down the length of your trip or shift the focus east as much as possible. The good news is that the east is cheap (not all of it as cheap as it used to be, but...) I did a 10 day trip to Romania, Serbia, Bosnia/Herzogvenia and Croatia. In every place I was able to find great accommodations (for two) for less than $60/night. One of those was a beautiful apartment in Sarajevo that would have slept 4 easily. Much of the transiting in this area is done by bus and is a lot cheaper than trains in Western Europe. There are also budget air carriers that hit all the major airports in the Balkans. So why not consider Poland, Czech Republic, Austria (OK more expensive but regionally convenient), Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, BiH, Serbia (Belgrade is great! Really!), Montenegro, (parts of) Romania, Turkey? Not all of those, obviously, but it gives you a nice idea of how many diverse and fascinating places are available in this region. I would think of Croatia in particular, if you are big on Italy. The Croatian coast is very Italian-influenced, the water is amazing, and despite rising prices they still cater to affordable family digs and backpackers.

Posted by Michael
Chemnitz, Saxony, Germany
37 posts

Airfare: unavoidable and summer = high season means 1000$ per head. Accomodation: rent apartments/gites, there are plenty, they offer more room and more amenities than hotels (fully equipped kitchen etc.) at cheaper prices. A bigger one in high season I'd say 100$ - 150$ a day. Makes 6000 - 9000. Transportation: public transport in cities / rental car / a bit long distance trains and Ryanair etc thrown in .. guess 3000€ rounding up to 4000$. Sum=14k to 17k.
In my opinion your budget looks very healthy. For itinerary I would split the trip into like 9 weeklong parts/areas with a good mix museums, castles, more museums, nice scenery, ancient ruins, prehistoric places, more museums, maybe some beaches thrown in ... But that's a thing of personal preference.