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Graduation trip from high school to Europe

I am taking my 18 year old daughter to Europe as a graduation gift. It is our first time, we have traveled a lot and she actually more than I out of country for missions trips. We have 2 weeks and are flying in and out of Paris. I am completely overwhelmed with the possibilities and would love some help with suggestions/ideas. Thinking 3 cities if we leave France, and thinking I really want to do that so we can experience more. Don’t really need to be in the busiest places by any stretch and plan to do only public transportation. Figure I want to end in Paris so traveling home won’t be a stressor.

*** edited. I got a round trip direct flight that just couldn’t be beat so it is in out and of Paris.

Any help would be absolutely awesome!

Posted by
46 posts

I will suggest only two cities with your time of 2 weeks. With travel days, moving around will take up your limited time. How about London? There is much for an 18 year old to like in both cities, there are many day trips from each to take and transport on the Eurostar is easy. (Buy early for cheaper tickets). I am assuming you have already bought airline tickets? If not, then definitely fly into one city and out of the other so you don't waste more time backtracking.

Posted by
593 posts

If you want to leave France, you could take a train to Amsterdam (Thalys Train-3.5 hours). Spend 3-4 nights there. Then travel to Belgium to Bruges (Train 3 hours) 3-4 nights with a day trip by train to Ghent. Train back from Bruges to Paris and spend your remaining nights in Paris. Have a nice trip.

Posted by
7628 posts

Do you already have your plane tickets? If not, then consider flying open jaw - in to one city and out of another.

If you do have them purchased already then you plan of ending in Paris is good. I'd give yourselves at least 5 or 6 nights in Paris.

Taking the train from Paris to London is easy as indicated above. You'd get your Eurostar tickets 6 months in advance for the cheapest rates and purchase directly from www.eurostar.com No need to go thru a 3rd party on this. You could do 4 nights in Paris, take the train to London, do 6 nights there including day trips by train, then your remaining 3 nights back in Paris with a day trip out of town on one of the full days. Your first day may be fogged with jet lag.

You mention the possibility of 3 cities if you leave France - what 3 cities interest you? BTW, I think 3 cities plus Paris is a lot for a first-timer unless as suggested above you do Amsterdam/Bruges/Ghent which is an easy combo by train.

Posted by
15 posts

I was thinking three cities including Paris. So many choices and didn’t know about the open jaw idea until after I had booked our flights..which were a crazy great deal so not too worried. Just figure leaving Paris right away going someplace might be the easiest thing to do.

Posted by
950 posts

Where does SHE want to go? I have done similar trips with my daughters and usually they have a slight idea of one place, and then we build from there. I like the idea someone had of Paris, Amsterdam, and Bruges/Ghent. London would be good too, but for me, staying in one place 7 days feels like too much (shrug. I just feel ready for somewhere new after about 4 full days). You can always return. I also find that being in major cities can start to feel oppressive. Maybe weird, but I like to go big city, smaller city or town, big city, etc. The town/smaller city gives me a sense of catching my breath, and then Im ready to tackle a big city again. Thats why I like the idea of Paris, Bruges/Ghent, Amsterdam. I also like this idea because AMS is one of our favorite cities (mine and my three teens). Its lively, charming, energetic, and the size is such that you can get oriented fairly easily and start to feel like you know your way around. I avoid the center of town (red light district area) bc we find it the least interesting. So when you read reviews about crowding and partying, they are usually describing that area (although yes, the city is crowded). The other reason we love it is that we always rent bikes, and if you are comfortable with this, biking around AMS opens up the city in a whole new way. It gives you quick and spontaneous access to the entire city (because biking from one end to another takes 15-20 minutes), and it puts you in close contact with the streets and directions and locations of things. Plus, biking is just fun! On one visit, my 13yo daughter and I biked out along the Amstel river simply by following the water (no map. The idea came from RS' book though). Within minutes you are seeing cows, windmills, and rowers out on the water. A nice breather from the city and good perspective of the countryside.
Anyway, that was a longer spiel than I intended. In short, ask your daughter where she wants to go ;p

Posted by
2437 posts

Another vote for Threadwear's suggestion of Paris, A'dam, Belgium. You'll get a nice variety of places without sacrificing too much time lost to changing from one location to the next. Just make sure you're back in Paris the night before you return home.

Posted by
5284 posts

Or, to suggest another viewpoint, stay in France the whole two weeks. In addition to Paris, consider the Loire area for castles, Provence for villages. (Two weeks just in Paris would also sound good to me.)

Posted by
1378 posts

2 questions:
What are the interests of your daughter?
Which date / season do you plan to travel?

Posted by
1064 posts

Yeah, I’d definitely ask her. Tell her to get on YouTube, there’s plenty of travel vlogs from people around her age. You know your family better than anyone, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t want to spend every hour in a castle or art museum. She’ll probably want some alone time, and it isn’t the end of the world if she wants to send some selfies and text her friends back home.

Posted by
15 posts

So she is even worse than I am in knowing what she wants to do. I don’t want to spend too much time doing a “big” city thing. I would rather learn the nuances of real life where we are. I really think like someone else said 7 days in one place is just too much. I want to get a real taste of life. I saw some beautiful places in France like Colmar, but have concerns how hard it is to get around without a car to some of these smaller places.

Posted by
15 posts

Sorry forgot to say it will be end of May into June. Heading over after Memorial Day

Posted by
5284 posts

What language did she study in high school -- and would she like to try it out ??

Posted by
4125 posts

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a fast-paced survey-style tour, but that is at odd with your "don’t want to spend too much time doing a 'big' city thing....rather learn the nuances of real life where we are."

For that, slow down.

As for the car thing: It is feasible to go car-free in many places, especially in high season. Provence for instance has a decent network of trains and buses. You can also rent bicycles to get around in Burgundy and Alsace.

However, even in Provence, if you are staying more than a few days in a small town or rural area, you will see more and have richer experiences if you rent a car for a few days. You'd still use the trains to get from region to region.

So ask yourself: what exactly is wrong with renting a car? It is easy to do, will enable a richer experience, and in the great scheme of things does not cost that much.

Posted by
3243 posts

In my opinion, getting around by train, bus, ferry and other forms of both long-distance and local public transportation is much easier and often faster than by car. And I've navigated as my husband drove in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. I've also driven in those 3 countries, but it was way back in the early 80's when I lived in Nürnberg.

So here are some links to help with your research and planning, some from this very Rick Steves website.

Travel Tips. Both of you will benefit from reading and discussing everything covered there. Especially important and possibly shocking to you will be the section on Packing Light.

There's also a forum on Packing where the participants discuss the pros and cons of packing style.

Time and Date. Expect it to be chilly and damp where you are planning to go. My husband and I spent the month of April in the Netherlands one year and still managed to pack light because it was so cold! We also experienced very cold and wet weather (people were wearing puffer jackets) in northern France in mid-June one year. Time and Date provides day-by-day (not just averages) weather data from the previous year as well as predictions for the current one. This is the link to the World Weather section.

Explore Europe. Choose the countries from the browsing list. Then choose the locations from those listed for the country. For example, Belgium--Bruges.

The Man in Seat 61. This is the train expert. And here's a link to traveling by train in France. Going by train is much easier if you pack light.

Posted by
50 posts

If you want to stay in France, here’s an itinerary idea that worked great for us. 10 years ago, when our daughter was 15, we planned a 2 week spin through a few highlights of France. I wanted to give her a taste of several regions - big city Paris, a town in Provence and small city in the east. We had 5 nights in Paris, 3 in Arles and 3 in Strasbourg and returned to Paris the night before we flew home. We used trains and public transportation for the entire trip with the exception of renting a car one day in Arles for a day trip to Pont du Gard.

Even though we never left France, we felt as if we had visited 3 different countries - with Paris, the Mediterranean influences in Arles and the Germanic look and feel of Strasbourg. It wasn’t a deep dive into any of the locations, but the time in each was enough to know if we wanted to return. We have also done the other suggested itineraries (Paris/Amsterdam/Bruges and London/Paris) and think you can’t go wrong with those either.

Posted by
4968 posts

Thinking 3 cities if we leave France, and thinking I really want to do
that so we can experience more. Don’t really need to be in the busiest
places by any stretch and plan to do only public transportation.

Jens' Strasbourg suggestion is a very good one. It's a world apart from Paris, and you can get there in 1.75 hours on a direct TGV journey.

And Strasbourg is only a matter of minutes from Germany and the Black Forest (where you can definitely escape the big city.) A day trip by train to Gengenbach and Gutach, two towns on the scenic Black Forest Railway, is very doable from nearby Strasbourg - see railway map - or you could stay in one of these towns for a couple of days to see more of the Black Forest.

Posted by
2360 posts

London and France. Maybe Strasbourg. Not a fan of Belgium. Amsterdam is great, but not essential on a first trip.

Posted by
1064 posts

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier. Is she going to college? I’d have her reach out to the study abroad group and talk to some of the student ambassadors. Even if she isn’t going to college or going to a small school, just reach out to any major university. They’ll almost certainly have an Instagram or Facebook page and those who have studied abroad recently will happily talk all about what they saw and experienced in Europe

Posted by
30931 posts

shawnie,

What a wonderful graduation gift for your daughter! For a two week trip to Europe and flying R/T to Paris, you could consider something like this....

  1. Flight to Paris
  2. Arrive Paris, check into hotel (you may not get much sightseeing done on arrival day because of jet lag)
  3. Paris, touring
  4. Paris, touring
  5. Train to Colmar (there's a departure at 10:55, arriving 13:31 (time 2H:26M, one change in Strasbourg)
  6. Colmar, touring
  7. Colmar, day trip to Strasbourg (the Cathedral there is magnificent)
  8. Train to Lucerne (you could use a departure at 11:23, arriving at 13:30 (time 2H:07M, one change at Basel SBB)
  9. Lucerne, touring
  10. Lucerne, day trip to Mt. Pilatus or Rigi
  11. Lucerne, day trip to Lauterbrunnen Valley (there are frequent departures, with a travel time of 2H:19M, one change at Interlaken Ost.
  12. Lucerne, touring
  13. Train back to Paris (you could use a departure at 10:54, arriving Paris Gare de Lyon at 15:38 (time 4H:44M, one change at Basel SBB, last segment via high speed TGV at 300 km/h).
  14. Flight home?

This is only a rough framework and the specifics would have to be added once you've made a definite decision on destinations. I included more time in Lucerne as it's a spectacular place and one of my favourites. There are lots of interesting sights in that area. If you're more interested in hiking and outdoor activities, you could switch destinations and stay in the Lauterbrunnen Valley and day trip to Lucerne. There are lots of possibilities.

You could also cut one day in Lucerne and add that to Colmar. Use the extra day to take a day trip to Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany), which is not far. It's a University town in the Black Forest region and very scenic.

Once you've decided on which places to visit, have a look at the Rick Steves guidebooks for those areas to plan hotels, sightseeing, transportation, etc. You should be able to find copies in your local library. With such a very short Itinerary, efficient sightseeing will be important so that you can see as much as possible.

Using open-jaw flights would have been more efficient as that avoids the time and expense of returning to your starting point. However since you've already bought tickets, you'll have to work with what you have.

Posted by
111 posts

We did a trip several years ago as a family that included Paris and Bayeux in France and Haarlem/ Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Being able to take trains between those two counties was very easy and I think you could make a lovely two week trip out of those areas. You can take the train from Charles de Gualle airport to the Gare du Nord train station. From there you can take the Thalys train to Belgium and or the Netherlands or a different train to London. All are doable. However, I don't know that I would take a reserved time ticket train on the same day that I flew in. I would actually suggest spending one night in Paris and then taking a train the next day to your destination. It would alleviate a lot of travel anxiety or worry when flights are delayed.

Posted by
15 posts

Ken,
We are taking your lead and following your route. I am getting ready to book in Paris, airbnb and will move forward from there. We do want to spend time outdoors in Lucerne, but also want to enjoy meandering the city. I have one more day than you accounted for. We land in Paris at 1315 and leave Paris at 1620. We are planning to fly from Zurich to Paris and stay near the airport to simplify, unless someone thinks that is a terrible idea.

I do like the idea of adding a little Germany in. With this information, where might you slide time around?

So we have a total of 15 days/14 nights with travel included.

Posted by
7165 posts

I understand about great flight prices. But you should be aware that France is probably one of the worst countries when it comes to transport strikes. So your thought of flying into out of Paris for ease of travel probably isn’t exactly correct.

Posted by
15 posts

Tim,
I am a little confused on where to go with this post. My flights are booked to and from the states Denver/Paris, non refundable. And was considering flying back from Zurich to Paris to give us more time in Lucerne. Is there a suggestion in this?

Posted by
1650 posts

Ken's itinerary would be nice, we've been to all the places he mentioned. This is maxed out, don't add any more, especially if you want to have a little time for the "nuances".

Pepper your stay at each location with "free time", don't try to rush from one site to another. Spend a morning or afternoon with nothing scheduled. Just wander around.

You are giving your daughter a wonderful graduation gift! This will stay with her from now on. My oldest grandson went to France as an exchange student when in middle school. He's now studying at the University of Tours after spending his first year in college in Paris!

Posted by
15 posts

DougMac thanks, I honestly do want to plan anymore that absolutely necessary to not miss certain things. Like I have heard buying certain museum and fast past/front of the line tickets are a must. I want to meander, bike, walk and enjoy her and our time together. The idea of strolling around sounds phenomenal

Posted by
682 posts

I also like the idea of more than one country, especially if that country is France. We were caught in the French transportation strikes in December, and altho we had a great time in Strasbourg/Colmar xmas markets, we were happy to get out of the strike mess and get to the dependable trains of Germany. And as another OP mentioned, Switzerland is also very close to Strasbourg/Colmar, and has a crazy good and dependable transportation system.

For a longer trip in France, it would have been too much stress to have to replan every day, trying to figure out which French trains/buses et al were striking the next day, and then which museums/sights would be closed/on short hours as a result, [because employees couldn't get to work.] I expect that labor strikes in France will be part of life for quite awhile.
That being said, congrats on having a high school graduate, and for having the time to travel together.
Safe travels!

Posted by
682 posts

PS
I'm adding this info because I was so ignorant of the French labor strike scene. I learned that French transportation strikes can be planned six weeks in advance, maybe longer. My suggestion to you is to keep checking on the strike news, as I remember some OP's were able to change their airline tickets [at no charge] to airports outside of France, once the strike dates were posted.
In the France section here, there are many on-the-ground OP's updating daily on the effects of the labor strikes.
Never hurts to be prepared. We were caught completely off-guard, due to our ignorance, but were lucky we were able to take a cab out of Strassbourg, France, to Kehl, Germany, train station, so we could travel on. [We were prepared to walk the three miles if the cab hadn't shown up.]
Again, so glad that you and your daughter enjoy traveling together, and will have memories that will last forever!

Posted by
15 posts

Thank you! This all makes this mama just a little bit anxious! I have traveled a lot, just not where I have had a language barrier and with one of my girls alone. With that said, how would I go about checking to see if I could change my flight? I did book my airbnb in France, but have 48 hours to cancel no penalties. Walking around and getting to see the sites doesn’t bother me, we can walk for days and miles, but not being able to get to other destinations does

Posted by
682 posts

Obviously I'm not the expert, but I doubt the airlines will do anything before strike dates are posted: in December, the airlines and airport employees were also striking.

The issues involve the multitude of pension systems, which doesn't seem like an easy fix.

Perhaps use booking.com and only book sleeping arrangements with free cancelation?

Do search the French labor strike sections here, there's so much helpful info.

Perhaps OP's much more informed than myself can help out, and those who have been caught in the strikes will have valuable info to share.

You will have a great adventure, no doubt!