Budget for family travel western Europe

IN a nutshell: Rick Steve's Back Door 2013 edition says that a smart traveller can budget $120 per day for lodging and meals in Europe. That sounds very doable to me (from personal experience), but I've never travelled in Europe as a family. We have two children, ages 13 and 15. If we take them on a family trip to Europe, do we really need to budget nearly $500 per day?? (That would be $120 x 4) (In the U.S., usually the cost of hotels is not much different for a couple vs. a family with two children -- and our family would certainly be fine sharing two double bed). But we don't know about Europe!) (We will be a month in UK, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, planning to stay 5-6 days at a single location in each country). Thanks for your input!

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Thanks so much to those who responded! That is what I had been afraid of - cost per person vs. per room. If that is basically the pricing, then a hotel isn't much different than a hostel. (vs. in the U.S. when hotels can be cheaper than a hostel for four). I had thought apartments wouldn't be available if it wasn't for a week from Saturday to Saturday but I'd like to at least try . . . Do you have any websites to recommend for apartment rentals? (Specifically: our itinerary will be: * London 7 nights >>> Paris 5 nights >>> Loire Valley 2 nights >>> Provence 6-7 nights (I have looked into rentals for Provence) >>>Interlaken 6 nights >>> Rome 6 nights >>Venice 2 nights >>> and finally Heidelberg 7 nights.) (Another teen might join us for part of the trip, which was also a consideration in trying to figure out her budget.)

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

You've asked two questions and don't know it. First, hotels are priced by the number of people, not by the room. Second, without knowing where you're going, nobody can guess. Europe does not have standard pricing throughout the continent.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

Definitely look into apartments! 1) It can be difficult finding a room for 4, and you generally pay per person, not per bed, in Europe. This might mean ending up with 2 rooms sometimes. 2) You meal costs can go waaaaaay down! Much cheaper breakfasts (and on your own time, esp. if you have sleepyheads), and you can eat dinner at 'home'. It can be a lot of fun shopping at 'their' supermarkets (comparing to the USA), outdoor markets, and small specialty shops. The entire family can have a hand in picking out your foods...and they'll feel more invested in their trip! Plus you can make a large meal one day, then have the leftovers later on a busier day; (nearly) instant dinner! It's easier to cater to any pickier eating habits, too :-/ 3) Apartments, esp. for 4+, can be much less expensive than a hotel, plus it just feels more like your home, and NO hotel cleaning staff traipsing through. 4) Apartments will have sitting space, and usually 2+ TVs, more outlets for charging devices; they're so much more comfy! You can also pick one with at least 2 bathrooms ;-) That may be the only excuse needed LOL! I was 13 once... Some of RS' budget is also including museum fees, restaurant meals, transportation costs, etc. (If I remember correctly...), so depending on your particular plans, you may spend less. By staying in one place for 5-6 days at a time, those trans. costs just went way down. Picnics, gathered from shops/leftovers from your fridge, are a great alternative to an expensive sit-down meal at a restaurant. If your kids (or you) drink sodas with meals...€€€€€! Ouch! Much cheaper at the grocery store! Yea! for the 5-6 days at each location, too. And perfect for settling into an apartment...

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

I'm anti-apartment but I'll leave it alone after a couple of thoughts: 1. The potential savings can be deceiving: a. You have to lay in condiments and basic supplies b. It's too tempting to think you were going to eat there for lunch, but when you're on the other side of town, you wind up eating out anyway c. You've got transportation expenses getting home for lunch, and more to continue about your business 2. They rob time for domestic duties when you could be doing something better
a.(I don't go on vacation to make beds, wash dishes, clean bathrooms - -I go to see stuff and do things). My time is worth a heck of a lot. b. The idea of a supper production on vacation gives me the screaming meemies 3. I traveled as a group of five for a long time and never had trouble finding rooms. Grub I know about. (Two caveats: I've maybe never eaten supper in Interlaken and I hate Venice so much I haven't been there in years.) You can feed your faces supper very nicely for twenty-five bucks a head - - twenty if you watch it. It might sneak up a bit in London, but you'll more than make up for it the rest of the way. The most food for the money is going to be in Germany. Move three or four blocks into the darkness from any attraction before you start looking at menus - - they're all prominently displayed outside. Even if you're in a hotel, bread and cheese from the store around the corner won't come to a buck each. Toss in another two dollars for juice/coffee. Lunch is what you make of it. Ten bucks each will get you something pretty good and a beer/soda to wash it down. With a little care, you can half the cost. For the mid-day drink, stand at the bar (kids too) instead of paying extra for a café table. Better yet, get something from the grocery and sit on the curb like us common folk do.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Our last two family trips ( traveling as a family of four) came in around $75 per person per day, exclusive of airfare, but neither trip included London or Venice, both of which are very expensive. I plan nice compact trips that minimize travel time and expense, buy train tickets well innadvance to take advantage of discounts, stay nice three-star hotels ( and the occasional apartment), and we eat well at dinner but generically go light on lunch. You can often find family rooms set up withy double bed and two singles,mat least in Switzerland and Germany. I found somein Italy but not in all places we went. Apartments are generally very cost effective, esp. If compared to two hotel rooms, and are not necessarily rented by the week. VacationsInParis.com, for example, has apartments all over Paris that rent by the day, maybe with a three-night minimum but not all. This is an American company ( no language issues) that has an excellent reputation; they take credit cards and it is just as easy as booking a hotel. And having apartment doesn't t mean you have to cook meals; you can save money that way but if you like to dine out and enjoy local cuisine then go ahead. We liked breakfast in our ViP apartment but went out for most other meals. London is tough but you might have a look at Vancouver Studios, sort of an apartment hotel. Again, a great reputation and moderate prices. I recommend you stay in Mürren, Wengen, or Grindelwald instead of Interlaken, which is a city/ fading resort without the charm and scenerynofthe mountain villages. In Mürren, Chalet Fontana is a great budget saver. You can book either the apartment or two rooms upstairs in the B and B. we stay there every time we go to Switzerland. Part of the Swiss Alp experience is riding trains and cable cars, so remember that kids under 16 travel free. To be continued....

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

You can also try Air BnB for apartments. My techie son just used them for a family trip to Paris, Amterdam and Berlin and now recommends them. That might work for Rome and Venice. You can save a LOT by buying train tickets in advance on the various national train sites. The Eurostar from London to Paris has low fares to start (90 or 120'days out) and then they go up. They also have youth fares that will benefit you. I can't help much with travel around France. From Interlaken/Mürren to Rome ( it is a long trip, BTW) there are various options for getting a good fare, dependingonnwhether you will have Swiss Passes. In any case, you will head to Milan to pick up the train to Rome. Buy that Milan to Rome ticket in advance on Trenitalia to get a Super Economy Fare (9 or 19 €). Same for Rome to Venice. The Super EnonomyFare trumps any family discounts or child fares. Venice to Heidelberg also has several route and fare options. I'll let someone who knows that one better than I describe them. It is a 10+ hour tripmso probablybwant to buildin an overnight stop onnthe way. You can see the recommended route on the German train site ww.bahn.de, which shows routes all over Europe. It is a great planning tool for train travel.

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Thanks so much to Ed and Lola! I am so amazed to get such fantastic help from this message board and it was so kind of you (and others) to take all that time and trouble to share some thoughts and tips. I have certainly taken note of your comments and will reread a few more times! Ed - you gave lots of food for thought regarding apartments vs. hotels - thanks much. (And a little comment about Venice - I also am not fond of Venice the only reason it is on the itinerary is because it is the only place in all of Europe that our kids specifically asked to visit :-} Lola thanks also for all you shared and the tips you suggested. If you have any more suggestions I'd welcome them. One comment about Interlaken: The reason I thought of staying there was that I thought it might make a good central place for exploring the area. The intent is to make short day trips with Interlaken as a convenient base. (For example, lake cruise perhaps to Ballenberg, Grindelwald, nearby hikes, etc.) Would you think that Murren would also be a convenient base for several activities in the vicinity? If so, maybe we should look there instead! (FYI: our overall intent was just to expose the children to Europe - people, culture /lifestyle, and a bit of history. We figured kids would get bored if time was too packed with visiting historical sites, so we mixed up some busy cities with some quiater places where we might casually explore the area, ride bikes, hike, etc. I have lived in London, south of France, and Heidelberg (also Brussels and Athens), so had additional reasons for including these locations in our trip.) But I haven't been to Europe for over 15 years, so I feel like a complete novice trying to plan thie new adventure!!! And very unfamiliar with current prices etc.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1010 posts

I have to disagree with some of Ed's points. We've rented apartments a few times. They give you more space than hotel rooms, especially budget rooms in Europe. The ones we rented came equipped with the staples we needed for meal preparation. Unless breakfast is included in a hotel rate, you might be unpleasantly surprised at what is charged. 10 euros/pp is at the low end. Eating in a bar (Italy) or cafe may be cheaper, but there's no free refill on coffee. We make a practice of eating our main meal at midday, which I recommend, because prices are usually lower then than in the evening. That takes care of any notion that you would return to the apartment for lunch. The countries you want to visit all have supermarkets and independent delis and gastronomias selling all kinds of prepared foods that you can buy for suppers. Whether it's your main meal or a light supper, another advantage of an apartment is that you won't have to wait with hungry teenagers for restaurants to open at 7:00 or later. Apartments often come with laundry facilities, thus saving you time and money you would spend in laundromats. Finally, a lot of rentals charge a cleaning fee, so you don't have to worry about cleaning. As to the numbers, $480 just for food and lodging seems high to me. There are economies available to you, as a group of four, that a person traveling alone wouldn't have, especially if you go the apartment route. $200 - $250 a night for lodging seems realistic; check out listings on vrbo or homeaway to get some sense for that. That would leave $200 - $250 for food. I know teens have famously big appetites, but . . .

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Lola, thanks SO much!!! again for all you shared and your willingness to take the time to give additional tips in Part 2 of your message . . . Your email reminded me of airb&b which I hadn't thought of I'll check this out right away. As for inter-Europe travel, I am considering possibly flying from London to Rome (Ryanair) but otherwise when on the continent we plan to use Europe "flexipass" train ticket to allow 15 days of travel within two months. We will also rent cars in Loire Valley and Provence. (We just got our plane tickets three days ago and this next week I plan to get train psasses and start working on hotel arrangements, etc. I am late in the process and know I have sadly already missed out on some $ savings because we didn't book sooner . . . but I'm hoping I can still make the trip work by being creative for example, airb&b, possibly staying with friends in Paris, etc. . . )

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Rosalyn, THANK YOU! Wow, I hadn't thought about the possibility of laundry facilities in an apartment which would be great. And your suggestion of just making it the standard plan to have main meal for lunch is also great! I had been looking at VRBO for a place in Provence, but now I will check it out for other locations. Thanks again!!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

Before you buy a rail pass, read this from The Man In Seat 61: http://tinyurl.com/bkw4u6c Particularly in France and Italy, passes can be poor value, and more trouble than regular tickets. A pass just for Switzerland, on the other hand, is often a good deal.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

The idea to have the day's main meal at mid-day instead of at night is a good idea for everyone, not only for families. Travel and site-seeing are exhausting, with a lot more crammed in to each day than we do in our normal lives. I think with an apartment there has to be an understanding from the start that kids and Dad don't just flop down in exhaustion when getting to the apartment after a long day, and leave it to Mom to put supper together (even if only a light supper). Everyone needs to stay engaged and contribute so the evening effort doesn't land solely on Mom's equally exhausted shoulders. In London it seems fairly easy to pick up ready-to-eat prepared foods from an M&S or a market on the way back to the apartment, which could be laid out quickly for supper. Not sure how well that works in France, Italy, etc.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Harold beat me to it. You do not want a Multi-country pass; especially if you are renting a car in France ( which is a good idea there). The super Economy fares in Italy are much cheaper then using a day on a pass. I'll bet they are still available. Mthen are you going? Ni'll check for you. Fly London to Rome? I assumed you were going in the order you stated. But that would work too; fly and then work your way back north. What I would suggest is just a Swiss Pass of some type; with a Family Card both kids travel free ( assuming your 15 doesn't have a birthday before you get there). As for stayin in Mürren, yes it will take a bit of extra time to go from Mürren over Interlaken, but itis fun travelon the cablecar and well worth it. Our teens loved the experience. And going to Grindelwald, you could make it really fun by going down to Lauterbrunnen, up to Wengenonnthe train, then up to Mannlichen on the cablecar, and down to Grindelwald on the gondola. Mor walk from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg on the ridge top with world-class views,mand take the train down to Grindelwald. All for very little cost if you have a Swiss Pass. ( another reason to avoid a Eurailmor Global Pass-- they cover very little of the cost beyond Interlaken). Actually the main reason I suggest Mürren is to stay at Chalet Fontana, because it is such a money-saver. But if that is booked, you'll could also consider stayin in Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, or Grindelwald ( which actually offers the most in the way of fun things for your kids---Rodelbahn, Trotti Bikes, First Flieger Zipline, and more.)

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Don't over-weight my ideas about apartments - - I said up-front that I was prejudiced and that was why I do things the way I do. Now, from a grandfather's perspective: Don't underestimate the little critters. My kids lived under a benevolent dictator. They were drug through the National and the Louvre just like Mom had done me - - but at least they've seen them. They also got a river rafting trip in Norway, but never mention it. What they do remember is being turned loose on the subways in Tokyo, Paris, and London when they were younger than yours. They were given money and told to go find their own damn lunch. The twerp of the litter moved herself to France for her junior year of high school - - my contribution to the expedition was sending money. I'd bum-scooped her on the train station to get to Rennes, but she still made it. Somehow she'd gotten her appendix taken out, but only casually mentioned it in a letter after it was all over. Last summer I took my wife's five year old grandson to China on a month-long guy trip. (I'd taught him Mandarin and for his present he wanted to go where he could use it.) We went into the far beyonds never mentioned in a guidebook. He handled all the train business after explaining that he couldn't subtract big numbers and he trusted he'd get the right change. Once, while I was fumbling around trying to find how a bus worked, he disappeared, later to come back around the corner of the station with a couple of other kids whose father gave us a ride on a farm truck - - arranged entirely by the runt. He'd spend twenty minutes at the noddle stalls discussing what he'd like (no snake, no peanut butter) and the afterthought: 'Please fix something for my grandfather as well. He's a very nice man and not a picky eater.' The suckers are amazing if you turn them loose.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I prefer apartments, even when just two of us are traveling. Others have mentioned the benefits - more room, a kitchen to prepare as many or as few meals as you would like, a washer and hopefully a dryer, usually free wifi and phone calls, etc. I have only once rented an apartment for as long as a week. I have rented for as short as 2 nights. I have found my apartments on vrbo.com and homeaway.com. With those sites you are generally renting from the owner so they can offer flexibility that management companies usually can't. Don't be afraid to ask what their best price is. Also inquire if you're interested, even if you don't meet their minimum time standard. They might make an exception. I don't rent from anyone that charges extra for cleaning. My exception might be if the overall price was comparable. As for meals, I bring a folding soft sided cooler that is easy to throw into a day bag. No need to go back to your apartment mid-day to eat. Or eat lunch out and eat breakfast and lunch in. They are many ways to save money when traveling, you just have to be creative.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
471 posts

Liz, slightly off topic but...we have a Rick Steves' meet up group in Moscow on the 3rd Sat of the month. Well, except we have skipped May and June because too many of us are gone, but we are meeting 7/20 at One World Cafe at 1030. We would love to have you join us and add any additional information to the comments you are receiving here. It's very casual, there are usually between 6 and 12 of us, drinking coffee and talking travel!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Well I could have written Eds post, I feel just the same.. I have rented an apartment and it was a nice experience, but I do find them a bit more work, more work researching, more work setting up, and yes, even on the day we were leaving I am taking out the garbage and throwing food out of the fridge and making sure the dishwasher is running, all things I don't worry about in a hotel! I also find that are not as cheap as some will say, especially the ones with "two tvs and two bathrooms" as someone sited . That said it not a bad idea though, especially for some of your longer stays. I would suggest a mix. I think you may realize that very few hotels have two double to queen beds in a room. Consider two hotel rooms , I can get decent places with ac for about 100 euros each with advance planning and booking.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

I have to chuckle at those who think apartments are too much work or too hards to arrange. Maybe they found the wrong websites. We also rented from Vacation in Paris and it was so easy. The difference from a hotel is that you are on your own, no reception dest and no concierge. No big deal Our last trip to Italy we stayed in a gorgeous apartment in Lucca, slept 5 people for less than the price of a hotel from. How can you beat that? That was typical of out experience with apartments.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

Who the hell is cleaning the bathrooms of their rented apartments??? Seriously??? Making beds??? I've never rushed back to my apt. nor hotel room midday, so I sure wouldn't go there to eat lunch; that's what restaurants (cheaper than dinner) and picnics are for. Or, eat brunch. And dinner doesn't have to be a big production - remember the point is to save some money over the month. Depending on the region...simple pastas with salad, bread, and cheese; a roast chicken, easy veges, and crème brûlée; maybe just some bread, meats, cheese, and chocolates because everyone is too hot and tired to sit through a restaurant meal. Drinks are so much cheaper in your apt., too :-) Buy take-out/prepared foods where applicable (roast chicken, crème brûlée). You can really wash your clothing in a washing machine, and if someone isn't feeling well it's much more comfortable staying in for the day than being stuck in a tiny hotel room...with a French-/German-/Italian-speaking housekeeper talking to you...Apartments should come with the basics, and most have condiments, etc., but how many do you really need? 15 kinds of EVOO? S&P, sugar...'Italian' spices, ??? That fits in a sandwich-sized Ziplock bag. Don't go crazy filling the fridge up; buy carefully. I don't know why 2 TVs instantly means big bucks. The apts. I've actually stayed in all had 2-3 bedrooms, 1-2 living areas, patios, fantastically stocked kitchens, comfy sofas/chairs/beds, were very roomy, and cost the same as our typical 'RS-type' 2-star hotel. Definitely no $200/night! You can 'cheap-out' in one place, and splurge in another if you'd like. Or, mix it up with some hotels. For the most part, you can rent apts. for 1-3 nights; full weeks are 'required' only in a few locales, and those can be flexible. VRBO is a great place to start.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

It can get old eating out for every meal...for a month...It's also expensive. It's hard paying $15-20 for a simple pasta dish that was only so-so, and knowing how much it cost for you to prepare the same thing at home, yourself. You can control the food portions yourself. Need a doggy bag? Put it in the fridge! Want a little more? No problem. Wanna pay 5€ for a good bottle of wine, or 15-20€? And you can have a cheap, store-bought beer before dinner, wearing your old gym shorts and barefoot...as God intended ;-)...and not paying 12€ on the piazza in an uncomfortable chair. You may decide hotels are the way to go for your group, but I encourage you to at least try an apt. in at least one location. And...No Railpasses Yet! What are the exact dates of your trip? If far enough in the future, your train tickets can be really cheap...

Posted by Becky
Woodinville, WA
75 posts

Hi Liz, We are fellow family travelers (three children). We were in Paris, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and the Berner Oberland for three weeks in May. We rented apartments the entire trip (except on hostel stay in the CT), and it worked out great. But, because we are five and not four, that makes a big difference. It was more difficult to find hotels for five, and I like staying in an apartment because 1) we had a bit more space, 2) lower food costs, and 3) I liked the feeling that we "lived" there. Switzerland was expensive! If you haven't, seriously consider getting the Swiss Pass. I wish we would have done that (we got the 1/2-fare cards). Your two kids should be free (our oldest wasn't) with the family pass. Also, keep in mind that treats, like Berthillon in Paris, was $22 (at the time of our trip, the euro was around $1.30) for our family (each time we went! :). It was the little things that added upnot necessarily the place you stay (which is easier to regulate). Also, think about what you want to see in each city. If you are museum people, then get the Paris Museum Pass in Paris. The Vatican Museum, which was wonderful, cost around $72 for the five of us. The train from the airport to Paris was $80. The only reason I'm throwing out costs is this: make a plan of what you'd like to do/see in each city. Dinner out seems very reasonable, until you multiply it by five (four in your case). Our trip was fantastic, but it was more expensive than we thought it would be at first. That being said, this was our first trip as a family, so we are green, but still, it was the little things that added up. Maybe next time, we won't have so much gelato. Good luck with your trip. It sounds wonderful!
Becky

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

Sasha, Swiss passes have already been touched on...We don't even know yet when this trip is...but they sure don't need Swiss passes if they aren't going to Switzerland; sometimes, until you've actually arrived at a place, itineraries can change. Or, they may decide to buy one of the 'purchase in Switzerland' options to stay flexible. If the weather is really crummy :-( they may just move on to the next place. Point is, until you know exactly what your plans are, don't buy anything! Railpasses arrive very quickly in the mail; returns are much tricker.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

Soft drinks are much less expensive when bought at the grocery store. If you don't want to spend your vacation cooking, you can buy deli or other ready-to-eat foods more cheaply than buying restaurant meals. In Paris, I shopped for take-out items at Chinese delis. If you have a microwave oven and refrigerator it is easy and relatively inexpensive.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Eileen, can you modify your No railpasses! A bit??? They will definitely want Swiss Passes in Switzerland. Riding the lifts there is half the fun, but expensive without a pass. Liz, read up on the various Swiss Passes on the Railpass page of this website, then if you have questions fire away.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Well, your "No railpasses" came after Swiss passes were mentioned, so seems to advise No Passes at All, not even a Swiss Pass. But Liz said they are going to Interlaken for 6 days and traveling around from there, so some kind of pass makes sense, especially with the kids being free. I didn't mean they should buy them now, just look at the options and prices so they can budget for it.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

Egads! I've edited that post to read "No Railpasses Yet!" It was implied. I also asked about her exact dates and said she might do better with p-t-p tickets...But all of that depends on her dates and routes.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

I agree sodas and such are much cheaper to buy in a grocers and stock in your fridge, fortunately I have only ever had one hotel that did not have a mini fridge.. and every hotel I have stayed in has a/c,, nice.. and most of my hotels cost less then 120 euros a night.. some less then 100 euros. And central too.. So what if décor isn't great. I have not stayed in a hotel in Europe that has had a concierge.. so really wouldn't assume that most people who stay in hotels need them.. I have yet to find an apartment in Paris with 2-3 bedrooms and two living areas and two tvs for under 200 dollars,, Eileen. please post that link, that sounds amazing.. really amazing.

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
681 posts

Hi Liz, We travel with 3 not 4, so our experience is different than yours. Also, I have not read the other posts so I'm just telling you what we do. We almost always stay in B & B's because we like the atmosphere, get to know some locals, and love the big breakfasts so we cut down on food costs. Some places will charge per person others will be "a double and an extra person 20€". So, we chose the places that give us a cheaper deal, which ever that is. When it is per person, daughter gets her own room. If it is cheaper paying for an extra person in the room, then we share.
We also follow RS advice about cost, but we often do better than that. I don't think adding a third person (in our situation) adds another full price of a person per day cost. If Rick says $125 pp per day, I bet we spend 2/3 of that. We also don't need lunch because we are full from breakfast, so we only eat out dinner. Yet, our breakfast at out B&B is so nice it feels like you are going out and you can socialize with other European travelers (unless you go to popular American places, which we try to avoid so we can meet more Europeans)

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

I was away over the weekend (at lake for our son's 13th birthday) but am back and found still more replies to my initial Q. Again, thanks SO much!!! In my mind I thought I knew what was best, and only had one "little" Q re: hotel room prices for families . . But now I see how ignorant I was -- my mind is now swirling with all the new information and ideas to explore for saving time and money!
You have also given me much to think about regarding train tickets -- I realize a lot must have changed; it sounds like travel in many cases may not as convenient as it used to be -- i.e., even with flexipass I may have to reserve and pay fees (not just for TGV). But since train travel is a different topic, I may make a new posting to ask questions about that. I'm very greatful for the extremely helpful information I have received and to everyone who was willing to share info and tips!!

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

As you check out possible apartments, be sure to check for 2 bedroom places. Sometimes they are not much more expensive than one bedroom ones. Also, when a place says it sleeps 4, make sure you know how that works. Sofa bed? Separate room with 2 twins? Are there 2 bathrooms? Or at least 2 toilets? If you haven't already, try Booking.com for your non-apartment lodging. In the search box there is a way to search for rooms for 4 and to list the ages of your kids. That will give you a pretty accurate indication of costs. Sometimes those family listings actually are apartments. In addition to all the positive reasons for renting an apartment already listed, my husband and I do that because he sleeps late and I'm an early riser. For the 2 of us, I always get a place that has a bedroom with a door that shuts and a bathroom that is not en-suite so that I don't disturb him. Make sure to check on the cleaning thing. I noticed many of the airbnb options vaguely say "leave it the way you found it" without specifically saying whether or not you have to clean. For the first time we got fooled this spring by a Homeaway owner on the cleaning thing. Nowhere on any of the listing or in our correspondence did he mention that we were supposed to clean the place before we left. We only discovered that in the printed "rules" when we got there. I must say we left that apartment cleaner than we found it, but I was not pleased at having to do the work. I'll gladly pay for someone else to do it.

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Lo, thanks for the tips which I will keep in mind -- also the bookings.com website which I had not heard of -- especially appreciated the warning to be sure to clarify how cleaning is handled!

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

In case anyone comes across this post for info I thought I'd add to it. We still haven't left on our trip (over six weeks long! leaving mid-Aug!) But by now, I have pinned down the lodging and travel details. In summary: * I have been able to find decent places, in prime, central locations - typically for around $150 per night for our family of four. (See more below). * Required train reservations amounted to much more than I had expected - about 350 euros, on top of our global flexipasses).
* I'm budeting an ave of $40 per day per person for meals (could be done for even less but we want to make food part of the experience! (Usually, our main meal will be lunch (thanks to a helpline suggestion), we will sometimes stay in apartmnts where food costs will be less (thanks to another helpline suggestion).

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

PART II: Our itinerary for our six-week / 45 day trip (Aug 18 - Oct 3; (Kids - ages 13 and 15 - have made up schoolwork in advance :-) * Iceland - 3 nights (great direct flight 7 hrs from Seattle, staying with friends, recover from jetlag) * London - 7 nights (Imperial College dorms - prime location by Kensington Gardens, includes hot breakfast and use of pool) * Rome - 5 nights (VRBO apartment by Piazza Navona - prime location) * Venice - 2 nights (convent by Piazza San Marco - prime location) * Grindelwald - 6 nights (we opted for spacious B&B downtown - alhtough there were several local apartments available at good prices. Free access to large swimming pool with slide just a block away). * Loire Valley - 3 nights (staying with couchsurfing friends who once stayed with us in the U.S. :-); car rental to visit chateaux) * Provence (near Uzes) - 7 nights (rented VRBO villa with heated pool, car rentals to visit local sites of interest) * Paris - 4 nights (staying with friends) * Heidelberg - 7 nights (VRBO apartment prime old town spot where I once lived) * Brussels - 1 night (B&B 2 blocks from where I once lived) (We prefer to stay longer at most places with day trips to areas of interest, in order to minimize time spent checking in / out of hotels).
( I checked air bnb but found better prices and places with VRBO. Tripadvisor is a great source of info, I could look up places of interest, hotel reviews etc. to get a second opinion etc.)

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

On our trips, my husband and I do a combo of apartments, hotels and B&Bs. We prefer the apartments, but sometimes they aren't needed. I recommend that you visit Booking.com to compare costs for where you are going. In the search box on the upper left of the page, you can click on "guests" and eventually get to a place where you can put in how many kids and their ages. Yours may be considered to be adults. In my experience, some of the results actually show apartments and some show rooms for the number of people you have. Also, last year we looked into a Paris apartment for us and our son and his wife. I can't remember if it was Homeaway or VRBO, but I found a very nice place in the 7th with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. That 2nd bedroom had 2 twins. The price was not much higher than for a 1 bedroom. This year we rented an apartment in Bruges that had 2 bedrooms and 1 bath for the same price as their 1 bedroom rental. That 2nd bedroom had bunk beds. And in 2011 in Florence, we rented a 1 bedroom and 1 bath place that had a sleeper sofa. The owner didn't charge for our daughter and granddaughter to come up from Sicily for the weekend with us. I cite all these to show that with some apartment owners you may not have to pay much if any extra for the kids. Finally, I don't know where you plan to be in Provence, but the American owner of this place is fantastic. It is in the Luberon area, about 35 minutes north of Aix-en-Provence where we rented from her last year.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

Oops! Sorry. I guess I should have hit the "next" link before I replied...again. Have a great trip.

Posted by Roda
Houston
23 posts

I just saw your post and it has good info :) . I am planing a trip for next summer and I would like to know how much you gonna spend overall so maybe when you come back you can give us some info and tips . Have an awesome vacation !!! :)

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1509 posts

Liz; I didn't see this post when it started because we were gone on our own family trip. Congratulations on getting some good lodgings. We have done six trips like the one you are planning, five in Europe and one in Australia/New Zealand, all 3-6 weeks long with a family of five. Excluding airfare, we have generally averaged about $300/day for everything else. Our biggest budget successes have been lodgings (about $140/day) and food (about $52/day). We use a lot of apartments and the occasional hostel. Only rarely hotels. You can PM me for my blog address if you like reading such things. Good luck. It sounds like a great trip and a fantastic experience for the children. Be sure to report back when you come home and let us know what worked well and what didn't.

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Thank you everyone for your tips! Lo, I looked at that Luberon place you rented beautiful! And what a cute little village! (Maybe on our next family trip to Europe . . . :-) We are asking kids to make a "top 10" list of what they would like to do at each destination, to get them more engaged - it has been fun to see what they have come up with often very simple like ride a bike or eat a certain food (my 13-y-o son is sure a highlight will be to buy French drink called "pschitt" ??!!:-) I was encouraged at the possibility of being able to feed our family for as low as $52 a day?? (I assume buying basic groceries, and having sandwiches and simple home meals at an appartment?) That would be fantastic if we could save in that area. (But I'm not taking chances, and ensuring I budget for higher amounts just in case . . . ) I will be sure to post an update upon our return :-) Thanks again for all your help and great tips, I feel 1000 % calmer and more assured now vs. when I first posted a month ago!!

Posted by stephen
Greeley, co, usa
245 posts

I recall that the hotels I stayed at in France charged by the room. Made me mad when I was traveling single. Apartments are a great way to go. In Germany/Austria they are often priced at a rate for the first two (say 50 euro) and then a smaller amount for subsequent people (5-10 euro each). In those countries, many allow apartment stays for less than a week - we stayed 3 days and 5 days on our 2011 trip and I have 5 day visits scheduled for this year. In France I think the week long, Saturday to Saturday rental is common, although I have seen shorter stays allowed - at least off peak. In England I think the week long stay is the norm (that's what we did)

Posted by Debbie
USA
7 posts

Hi Liz, I just read through this whole thread after wondering if we were under-budgeting for two adults and two kids (10 & 13) in northern Spain and southern France in October, and was very reassured. I've booked mostly apartments, and my estimates come out at about $100 per person per day. I'd love to hear how your budget (and trip in general!) worked out. I especially liked the suggestion of making lunch the main restaurant meal, and I'm curious if you stuck to that? best,
Debbie

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Stephen, thanks for the confirmation about apartments being a great option we are doing this in Rome, Provence, and Heidelberg . . . I'm hoping all goes well :-) Debbie, I will definitely be posting an when our trip is over (if not sooner), as to how the costs worked out. We leave Aug 18 and will be gone a little over six weeks. Your trip to Spain and Southern France sounds great! (If we had more time, I would have loved to spend time on the French coast somewhere between Beziers and the Spanish border I saw many great sounding places at good prices on VRBO . . . ) Re: plan for eating main meal at lunch - I'm wondering how that will work out myself! I'll be sure to comment on that as well . . .

Posted by Kim
San Francisco
119 posts

Hi Liz: I too would like a report back on your budget! We are going next summer for 3 weeks. I have all transport, sights and tours and lodging priced out separately, but I am really unsure on food costs. We are a family of 4, kids 9 and 11. I was budgeting $200/day for food, then I added another $100/day for incidentals (I would rather come back with money than have spent too much)... my husband thinks $300/day is too low - this does not include sights, lodging or transport, I have those budgeted separately. I think he is crazy! We are not crazy eaters or anything either. So I would like to see how it shakes out for you. Thanks and have a marvelous trip!
Kim

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Kim - I also used to be a CPA so you will have an accountant's report when I return :-) I know incidentals alone can really add up (I was thinking that even having to pay to use the bathroom can add up for a family - there will likely be times were no free restroom is nearby . . . :-( Regarding travelling with kids, I thought I'd share an idea that we plan to use with our kids (my sister's suggestion): we will give them a weekly "travel allowance" theirs to spend for small purchases such as little souvenirs, snacks, etc. during the week. (They will get to practice using a budget and we will be spared some of their begging us to buy them this or that. It is just transferring part of our budget to them). (My sister informs me that this practice works well on road trips in the U.S., too.) I haven't decided the amount yet, but probably around 25 euro each. (By the way - I keep saying "I" in my posts rather than "we" because it will just be just kids and I travelling for the first half of our trip. My husband is an attorney and despite our attempts to convince him otherwise, he didn't feel he could be away from his office more than 3-1/2 weeks . . . :-}

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1509 posts

On our 3-6 week family trips we tell each child they have $100 to spend on souvenirs (converting currency for them would be easier - but I think it's part of the process to force them to roughly convert when they shop). We handle the transactions - less cash floating around. But here is the key; any amount left unspent on the trip goes directly into each child's personal bank account to spend on whatever they want/need at home. That way they do not feel compelled to buy stuff just to spend their total. When we first tried this, the children (younger then) felt rich and started salivating over everything they saw in the first store we went into. But they quickly learned to wait because the trip was long, we were going to many interesting places, and something better was bound to show up. They quickly became very smart, savvy shoppers. The thing that impressed me the most is that they each gradually settled on a particular type of souvenir they liked most and no longer felt drawn to EVERYTHING (one child liked model buildings, one liked those laser-etched glass cubes, one liked simple jewelry). Once they satisfied that particular want, they felt perfectly comfortable not spending the rest. They now average spending only about half of that $100 budget.

Posted by Liz
Spokane, WA, USA
30 posts

Thanks for the suggestion (about unspent $ theirs to keep) -- I'll do that, too!

Posted by Brad
Greeley, CO, USA
232 posts

Hey Liz we have been to Europe four times in nine years. Kids are now 12 and 15. We have spent in the area of 800-1000k per day but that includes the housing and rental car and airfare. The lower end in Hungary and Czech. republic, the higher end in Switzerland. This time our tickets only cost the taxes and a little extra for more leg room from Dulles to Denver. We always rent apartments unless its a one nibht stay half way through a long drive. I love Randy's idea but my wife and I allow the kids and herself to kind of go hog wild on the shopping and trinkets. We live way below our means every day and they call me the cheapest lawyer in northern Colorado so we let the kids buy all the trinkets they want (within reason) and they usually buy some clothes etc. so they can say they got them in Europe. And tell your husband I have taken a least a month a year of vacation every year and always at least 3 weeks of vacation when we go to Europe. I took a month the first time we went. Of course I have a secretary that has been with us for 32 years and she runs my practice when I am gone. And I have four partners that will gladly help me out. No one is that important though. lol. Not once have I had client criticize me.