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24 Days, 6 Countries, 2 Teenagers Part 1 - Overview

Whew! We're back from our whirlwind 24-day travel through Europe for my son's high school graduation, and thanks to a lot of advice from Rick's books, the website, and this forum, things went pretty well overall! We visited Oslo,Norway; Paris, France; Bacharach, Germany; Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; and Iceland, averaging about four days each. I want to do a thorough trip report of each country over the next few days, but I thought I'd start with a general overview.

First, yes, life really is easier when you travel light! We chose to pack in carry-on size backpacks, and not having to check luggage was both a time and money saver on flights. It's extremely easy to pick up toiletries once you're in Europe, so just traveling with a handful of small travel-size necessities was really no big deal. I packed two pair of pants, four shirts, and one dress - all wash and go material - along with a handful of scarves and cowls to jazz them up. A bathing suit, a pair of pajamas, and a fleece jacket finished my packing list. We did laundry at a laundromat three times - around Day 6, Day 12, and Day 18. Otherwise, we washed in the room. If there weren't four of us (and if the kids hadn't packed jeans), I could have probably done with just one good laundromat washing about halfway through. We still managed to vet pack and brought along a bunch of extras that we never used - a clothesline ( the shower curtain rod was usually enough) , a money belt (honestly, we only used it to carry passports and credit cards on travel days - otherwise, we split up the daily cash between the four of us and carried it in our purses or pockets), an umbrella (who ever remembers to actually carry it?), and various things to occupy us during "down time" like books and playing cards (down time? what was that?).

Second, be ready for the unexpected! Among other more minor inconveniences, we had flights delayed by several hours, we dealt with flooding and landslides along the Rhine River that cut off all train and bus travel for three days, we were denied access to the tower of Notre Dame for security reasons, and we were emergency evacuated from the Natural History Museum in London. But you know what? Life goes on! Though the uber-planner in me had a really hard time when things didn't go exactly as planned, I had to just let go and allow things to unfold, and we still had a great vacation!

Third, give your loved ones (and yourself!!) a little space. Twenty four days traveling with the three people that I love most in the world sounds like a great idea - until I realized that we were crammed into tiny hotel rooms, trains, and planes together 24/7. We had to find ways to carve out a bit of "me time" in order to stay off each other's nerves. My husband got up most mornings before the rest of us and headed out to grab a coffee and find a spot to people-watch. I would retreat to a balcony with a book and a glass of wine while everyone else was in the hotel room watching the Euro Cup games. It's OK to take some "me time."

That leads to my fourth realization - don't over plan your days! You're not going to get to everything that you want to do, so don't kill yourself trying. Take things at a relaxed pace, and what doesn't get done this trip is just something to look forward to on your next trip! I WILL say that I'll never try to do six countries again. That much travel involved four flights and two train trips, so we wasted a lot of time getting from place to place. Also, train travel is sooooo much easier than flying! The next time we travel to Europe, we're going to try to travel exclusively by train. I'd prefer to pick a smaller area and spend more time in fewer locations than we did this time. I'm glad the kids got to experience several different cultures, but it was really tiring!

All in all, I've learned that it's best to keep things simple! Don't overpack, don't over plan, don't get stressed out about things out of your control!

Posted by
1705 posts

Great report...it only took me one trip to Europe to start packing small, two trips to Europe to stop moving around so frequently and start taking trains when I can. It's definitely a learning process but it seems like you've got the right attitude about it all and you'll enjoy your next trip even more! I bet that next time you might enjoy yourselves more if you rent apartments so you can all spread out. We've had apartments that are 1000 square feet and more for the same price as a hotel room...it's priceless to me to get a little space.

Posted by
11613 posts

I think apartments for families are great, perhaps a hotel for the first night in case of delays, and you can meet your hosts the next day - and you will be alert enough to understand the washing machine instructions!

Re: #4: it takes more time to navigate a big city than you might think. A small town is much easier for keeping a schedule.

Posted by
36 posts

If we travel with the kids again, we'll definitely look into apartments. Since we only stayed in each place 3 or 4 days, hotels, guest houses, and hostels seemed like a good option this time around.

Posted by
7165 posts

Our first apartment rental was in Rome. Wife, myself, 2 kids - unbelievable how much room we had to spread out and it was way cheaper than a hotel. Apartment rentals are wonderful!

Posted by
12086 posts

"Train travel is so much easier than flying!" Isn't it? Bravo!

Posted by
36 posts

@Fred, this is our second Europe trip, and our first on 12 years ago was completely by train. This time, the kids wanted to go all over the place (Norway, Scotland, and we all wanted to go back to Iceland), so air travel sounded like a sensible way to save time and money. It was so much hassle, though, that I'd rather waste six hours on a train than two hours on a flight, especially when you factor in checking in, going through security, etc. on the flights!

Posted by
111 posts

You have an awesome attitude and I can't wait to read all of your reports! Having just traveled to Europe for the first time with my own family of 4, doing three countries in 12.5 days, I learned many of the same lessons and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything :)

Posted by
12086 posts

@ peanutzmom...."It was so much hassle." How true! I see flying as the last resort option, unless I am really pressed for time. In 1970s and '80s I flew to (West) Berlin from Hannover-Langenhagen. I don't even like to think how many hours I wasted at the train station and the airport before the flight took off, which was 35 mins to Berlin Tegel.