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3 countries, 10 destinations, 5 weeks, Family of 5!

Paris, Loire Valley, Dordogne, Carcassonne, Provence (Il sur la Sorgue home-base), Cassis (Calanques!), Cinque Terre (Monterosso home-base), Florence, Rome (Trastevere home-base), Amsterdam, and back to Paris (totally serendipitously, for the FINAL DAY of the TOUR de FRANCE!) -- June 19-July 26 2017-- mom (me), dad, and kids 14, 12, and 9 --

I came to these forums throughout the Spring of 2017 to get advice and fine-tune. The trip was flawless (if you discount the incessant sibling bickering and the sweltering heat). We hit every major site we wanted to see with plenty of room in our schedules for spontaneity and rest.

We got advance tickets for:
Eiffel
Uffizi
Academia
Duomo
Vatican (did an early tour w/ Roman Guy)
Colosseum (reserved a tour through coop culture)
Borghese

We waited in line for:
Orsay
Capitoline
Rijksmuseum
Cave Paintings in the Dordogne
Miscellaneous chateau's and castles

We rented a car in France, but took trains and buses for the rest. We stayed mostly in airbnb's throughout (2 B&B's). I am a penny-pincher, and we couldn't afford this trip otherwise - my goal was to spend an average of $125/nt for the 5 of us, and I did, and the places were all great. Kids were free at many venues. I got a very cheap airfare RT to Paris. And lastly, we did not eat out for the 4 months before we left. Literally, not once. This is how we were able to take this trip (and because my husband was able to work every day of the first 18 days of June and the final week of July to make up for time off).

I can offer details about many of these places if you want details. For example, we stayed in an amazing B&B in the Dordogne L'Oustel de Vezac - that was inexpensive, slept 5, had a pool, and delicious breakfast! Also about our luggage - Osprey backpacks for 4, and a small backpacking pack for the 9 year old.

Thanks to all who responded to queries about waiting in line for the cave paintings, and how to get tickets through coop-culture (which we did successfully in the middle of the night in a hotel bathroom - so as not to wake the kids - the night before departing for Europe), among others.

Next dream: Greece (and Croatia) ;)

Jessica

Posted by
16843 posts

Jessica, that sounds wonderful, and you did a brilliant job with your budget. I think you could market your planning services to others!

Posted by
1846 posts

I agree, Jessica! Well thought out and executed! Congratulations (and to your family, too) on creating a most successful and memorable family trip.

Posted by
1108 posts

Where did you stay in Cassis and Isle sur la Sorgue ????

Posted by
293 posts

Jessica, don't wait for our questions! Put the interesting things out !! I probably have questions I don't even know about. My compliments to you as Tour Wrangler: your enthusiasm shines out to us, and we can see how you inspired your family to want to do this big trip. And how fluent were you in French? Down in "La France Profonde" maybe our English isn't very effective.... anyway, looking forward to hearing any of your insights; how to satisfy teens and kids, etc...

Posted by
951 posts

Ok, well, let's see.

The trip was relatively spur of the moment: I started trolling two flight websites in the Fall of 2016 as my go-to daydream, and one day in Feb. 2017 a flight came up that was so relatively inexpensive my husband and I jumped. The cheap fare was either for a 3 or 5 week stay, and we figured if we were spending the money for the flight, we might as well go in whole hog. So within one day we had committed to 5 weeks. and we knew the start and end (Paris).
The websites were Skyscanner and Google flights. I found the fare on google flights, which offers a search option of a type of grid with departure dates listed horizontally and returns listed vertically, and prices for each day within the grid. So I could see that if we departed June 19th (which was the first possible day we could have left, but also happened to be cheapest), the cheap fare was only for a return 3 or 5 weeks later.
When I searched for flights, I looked at cities as far away as a 13 hour drive, figuring that if the fare was cheap enough, I would drive for a day. We live in Albuquerque which is always very expensive for international flights. I looked at Dallas, LAX, and Denver. We flew out of Denver, which is a 6 hour drive from our city. I left our car at a friend's house so we didn't have to pay long term parking (omg I sound like a cheapskate but really I figured every bit helps when doing this for 5).

In Paris we stayed in an apartment on St. Germaine, right around the corner from Rue de Buci. We were only there 3 ½ days (and then 2 more at the end of the trip) and did the Eiffel, Catacombs, Orsay, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Luxembourg, Army/Napolean Museum, and walked everywhere.

In Il Sur la Sorgue we stayed in a rental apartment I found on airbnb that was right on the river. This was my favorite apartment. There is a yellow building on the river that is in most pictures of Il sur la sorgue you find online - we were directly across the river from it, on the river, along the main river-side walking area.

In Cassis we stayed right on the waterfront. I threw caution to the wind on this one - the place looked small, and it was literally right on the waterfront next door to restaurants, but the reviews were stellar, it slept 5, and was cheap. Turned out the reviews were spot on. It was a great experience. The kids loved it. It was the size of a one car garage, with one bedroom, a very tight bathroom, and a loft the sept the three kids (with a ladder). It had a tiny kitchen.

I will say, we are very down to earth, low-maintenance people. We backpack most summers and have since the kids were 2. We don't like fancy. We do have the means for a fancier version of travel, but thats not who we are and it doesnt align with our values. I was also raised to be [apparently] a little pathological about waste, and so it was important to me to not spend more than I thought we should. Despite this, I was thrilled (as was my family) with everywhere we stayed. Also despite this, I felt I was dressed appropriately for Paris, and for hiking in the CT. We obviously ate out frequently, but just as often bought things from the store and had picnic style meals (I actually tire of restaurants pretty quickly). The absolute best restaurant meal I had was at a restaurant in Rome called Pianostrada. And yes we ate Gelato EVERY day (I could list the best in each city ;) - and this was one incentive for not eating out for 4 mos. prior (and not even a coffee or muffin or ice cream cone for those 4 months ;p ) - "this is our gelato savings" I would tell the kids, and it really was...

Jessica

Posted by
951 posts

Also--

Not very fluent in French at all, but once we got to Italy, realized how much we were able to get by in France.

We drove from Paris to Nice, trained from Nice to/through the CT, Florence, and Rome. Flew OW from Rome to Amsterdam on EasyJet for $50/ticket. Trained/Thalys from Amsterdam back to Paris.

Keeping kids entertained: there was a lot of screen time, I hate to say. In the car and on trains that is. And, once we got to Italy (around 2 ½ weeks in), my 12yo son's constant complaining (that we had ruined his summer with this trip - yeah, not kidding) led to letting him stay in the apartment in the afternoons for activities he wasn't interested in and watching a movie on the iPad. I required one "cultural" outing, even if this meant the hike between towns in the CT, in the morning hours, but if, after lunch, he was over it, my husband, older daughter and I would go out and leave the 12 yo and 9 yo in the apartment watching a movie. Then we'd all regroup at the apt. for a nap or reading, and then go out again at night. Once I surrendered to this, we were all much happier. I also tried to alternate activities that I wanted with ones that they'd like. My son LOVED Pont Du Gard ... for the cliff jumping and swimming! They all liked the Catacombs and Eiffel tower and Luxembourg playground. And the medieval castles and canoeing in the Dordogne. The younger two could barely stand museums and let us know every minute.

Of course, a week after we returned home, my son said "that was actually pretty fun. I'd do that again"!

hth,
Jessica

Posted by
123 posts

What Osprey bag? I purchased an Osprey Porter 46 and hope to use that on trains for long trips like you took.

Great information, and sounds like an amazing trip.

Posted by
951 posts

Yep, the Osprey 46. We each had one, except for the 9yo. I brought 3 pair of shoes: running/trail, nicer birkenstock sandals, and flip flops. Several skirts and shorts, a dress, one pair of long pants (that I never wore), a rain jacket, a lightweight down jacket (montbell), long sleeve shirt, several short sleeve and tank tops, a scarf, sun hat, travel books, kindle, 411 bag, day pack that stuffs down to the size of my fist, cross-body bag (that the day pack fit into, which I used for groceries or extra clothing), etc etc. It all fit with room to spare --

Jessica

Posted by
81 posts

I loved this post, Jessica. It's a great way to teach your children about other countries and cultures, yet you can do it all on a shoestring. Teaching them to do w/out (the 4 months of nothingness) is an awesome lesson in saving for what you want, and how denial is all part of the lesson, and the reward is completely worth it. So, well done! I could travel with you :)

We've been to Greece, so keep it on your list! Ireland, as well. You CANNOT go wrong there; we'd go back in a millisecond. We also used backpacks and packed light as possible. It's my new norm, now.

Posted by
951 posts

Thanks Linda,

Ireland is actually at the top of my list. Im Irish and Dutch (hence the Amsterdam tacked on at the end. My mom lives in the Netherlands). So yeah, we could travel together ;)

Posted by
679 posts

Loved your trip. It was great to see how you did it. I love the idea of giving up the four months before for the reward to be later. Gelato is definitely worth it. We went to Croatia last year and absolutely loved it. We took the ferries around and went to both National Parks in Croatia. Very doable. We attached Slovenia at the end and found it amazing and friendly also. Lots of great hiking, nature and much more reasonable in price than Italy. Ireland would also get my vote for its amazing people, scenery and love of children. Can't wait to hear what you plan next.