Help with planning family trip to europe

Sep 16th, 2009, 06:48 PM
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 185
I've never used a travel agent, really don't know why I would, 'cause for me, the planning is half the fun. I think it would be hard to get a travel agent to go with your program, which I read as basically a trip to Holland with a stop in the UK on the way (for H Potter) and a very brief Paris excursion for the Louvre. I would think a travel agent would try--maybe unintentionally--to push you into a more standard London and Paris sight-seeing kind of trip.

I think you should definitely be able to bike from town to town in the Netherlands; there are tour packages that are exactly that (not that you want one, but these are not 'adventure' packages--they're for a demographic that likes to keep things very safe, so that's an indicator)

You mention you're getting the girls journals--coool. Keeping a journal is something my son and I enjoy doing as a bedtime routine when we travel. He's just starting 1st grade, so it's always very basic, but it's a lovely way to filter through the day's events and record a few favorites, or to discuss "hi"s and "lo"s of the day. If you want a 'splurge' gift, you might want to consider a netbook to download and comment on photos in a daily ejournal, and perhaps to use to stay in touch with folks back home (we love skype, but email would give you a written record). You'd have to pick up outlet adapters in the UK and in Europe, but the computer would be able to handle the current, so you wouldn't have to spend a lot on fancy converters.

Another gift idea: books. Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates opens with a description of Holland as 'upside down', Ann Frank was about as old as your girls are now when she wrote her diary, and if they're into that sort of thing, your kids might enjoy learning about the Wattenmeer before they get to Holland. If you think it would add to their Potter pleasure, you might want to look into sites that inspired the whole feeling of the books--haunted castles and the like, maybe even Stonehenge
saacnmama is offline  
Sep 16th, 2009, 07:09 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
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I think the summer vacation in France is July and August - it is standard across the country, not staggered like some other school breaks. I would suggest getting a car for either the Loire or Normandy, if you add those to your itinerary. It's not impossible to see either area without one, but it will give you more flexibility. (There are LOTS of posts on this forum about getting around both areas.)

As for gift ideas - since they already have good cameras - the only other things that occur to me are books, if they're readers, or perhaps a movie or two that was filmed in a place you'll be visiting, or a nice cosmetic bag/organizer for their toiletries.
Barbara_in_FL is offline  
Sep 17th, 2009, 03:06 AM
Join Date: Jan 2009
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We took our kids to Europe last year for 5 weeks.

When we travelled, the two things which kept the kids most amused while travelling from place to place was a pack of cards and an ipod loaded with their favourite music. Travellers kits of Yatzee, backgammon, etc can also be good, although they didn't get much of a look in with our kids. When not actually on the move, the soccer ball was used a lot.

Although I tried to involve them in planning for the holiday, they actually weren't that interested in it. But they still had a great time. However, one thing I noticed was that things weren't always as they'd expected. For example, we went to Italy solely because they wanted to see Venice but in the end, my son didn't like it there at all. If you'd asked my son before we left, he would have said he was a city kid but he loved the rural places more. However, some places which were included almost by accident were highlights. Just shows you can never tell exactly how things will turn out.... We spent at least four nights in most places and that was about right.

Travelling without a heap of luggage was definitely the way to go. We all had backpacks and they were great. Be aware when you buy any kind of luggage about how much it weighs when empty.

We are hoping to go again and, if we do, plan to include activities such as cycling and hiking.

You'll have a great time, I'm sure.
dreamon is offline  
Sep 17th, 2009, 08:40 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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For touring the Loire Valley, is much easier. We flew into London, took the Eurostar to Pari, then immediately picked up the rental car and drove to the Loire for 3 nights.

We then returned to Paris, where we spent the last 5 nights. What we did was drive to Tours and take the train from there. What we should have done, we all agreed in retrospect, was just drive back to Paris. We had included that other train ride because we thought my son would like the train, but he realized soon after boarding the Eurostar for the trip to Paris that trains aren't that exciting, and on the high-speed trains, at least, you can't see very much.

For Christmas and birthday gifts, if they already have backpacks for school, have them use those. Journals are fun, though like another poster, I haven't had a huge amount of luck getting my kids to keep one (though I keep one myself).

We're big readers in our family, so I focus on books (fiction, primarily) set in the destination. For the Paris trip, our 10yo and I both read (or reread, in my case) the Hunchback of Notre Dame. There's so much about Paris and its history in that one book, and it made our visit to Notre Dame just wonderful. Anyway, I would do books. A fun thing for kids of all ages is the Asterix series, if your kids aren't already reading them. We got them in English, but you can buy them in French.

I have tried to get the kids interested in nonfiction and history books about our various destinations. No matter how well-written, it hasn't gone real well; even the great Eyewitness books on things like castles. Well-written historical fiction does much better (and the classics, too, like the Hunchback) with my kids. There's a plethora of historical fiction for kids, and your older child may enjoy the Philippa Gregory books.

Some of the travel videos have been interesting (like one on the construction of the buildings in Venice, for our Italy trip), but most have not been. Movies that are historically based work better, even if they're not totally accurate. Movies actually made in the country, by producters in that country, are the best.

For other travel items as gifts, toiletry bags and the like, if they don't have them, and jewelry holders if they wear jewelry. Booklights if they'll be reading at night after other family members have gone to sleep.

One London-specific item. My son really wanted to go to afternoon tea, but DH didn't. We compromised with a late lunch / tea at Richoux (several locations), where DH could get something more like lunch food, and the rest of us could have a full-sized tea (at a reasonable price).
Lexma90 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2009, 03:30 PM
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Posts: 397
Tineke, school holidays in England.

These are not as precise as in other countries but in London, my local authority schools will close on 23rd July and private schools usually close a week or so earlier. If you plan to go to Scotland their holidays are noticeably earlier than in England.

However, the last part of the summer term is a favourite time for school outings so places may be busy. In addition, southern Europeans and others invade in July for language schools. Those schools send their groups out to visit the sites too, usually at least one day a week and at the weekend. Your children should be OK you may find it a bit wearing. It is a good idea to get to popular sites as they open because coach groups usually arrive a bit later.
helen_belsize is offline  
Sep 19th, 2009, 05:16 PM
Join Date: Jan 2007
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I have not read the above posts, so I may be repeating advice here. . .

We took our then 9 year old to Europe in the summer of 08 for two months and I planned the entire trip - you can easily plan it yourself. I think planning it is half the fun!

Definitely do an open-jaw ticket (i.e. fly into Amsterdam and out of London). We travelled mostly by train which was very easy and convenient. For train schedules, go to We bought a train pass that allowed us a certain number of train trips during a two month period. Even with a pass you will sometimes need a ticket (i.e. Amsterdam to Paris - we needed a ticket (reservation?) from Brussels to Paris and we needed a ticket from Paris to London on the Eurostar). If you take the Eurostar spring for 1st class - we had champagne and a delicious breakfast and it was very comfortable. Keep in mind that boarding the Eurostar is like taking a flight - you must arrive very early to get through the security and the passport lines.

For a party your size, I highly recommend renting apartments. We loved having the space where we could retire to separate rooms after a long day and loved having a kitchen. We didn't really cook, but we stocked the fridge with drinks and kept fruit, cheese and bread around for late night snacks. I also only rented apartments with laundry facilities so we didn't have to waste time at laundromats. I would put in a load when we left for the day and another when we got home.

To find an apartment, first get a map of the city you will be visiting. When you decide the location where you want to stay, start searching the internet. Some good sites are and I read each and every review then posted on Fodors to see if anyone knew anything about the apartment, location, owner, etc. . . I only considered apartments that had LOTS of pictures and several reviews. When searching for our Paris apartment, I loved - you put in the address of the apartment you are considering and it will show you the street view. This came in handy when I discovered an apartment I was seriously considering was located on top of a movie theater! Somehow the owner had neglected to mention that fact. . . I would start booking your accommodations as soon as your itinerary is set.

I also recommend finding apartments (or hotels if you choose that route) located very close to the transportation lines. It was soooo nice to come home after a long day and only have to walk a short distance from the metro to our front door. Also, it made it very easy to run back to the apartment if we needed to drop off a package, grab a raincoat, etc. . .

As for packing - I cannot recommend enough taking ONLY carry-on bags. It is so much easier to get around if you are not lugging huge suitcases. Elevators (if your apartment or hotel even has one) are very tiny and huge suitcases will not fit. If we could travel for two months with only carry-ons, your family can too!

Regarding Harry Potter - most of the filming was done outside of London, so it is kind of hard to see much when in London. We took a Harry Potter tour (I believe the company was London Walks - the tour guide is a magician). It was OK. If your girls are huge fans, they might enjoy it, but I thought it was very crowded and very hard to hear the guide. Because not much of the filming was done in London, the tour concentrates on buildings/roads, etc. . . that influenced J.K. Rowling when writing HP. (As an aside, the night my daughter and I took the Harry Potter tour, my husband took the Pub Tours from the same company and thought it kind of sucked). I don't know where you live, but the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a fabulous Harry Potter exhibit right now. We are actually going next weekend! It ends Sept. 27 so if you are interested in going you need to hurry! If your daughters like theater I highly recommend seeing Hairspray in London. My daughter loved it!

Regarding the Louvre, we regretting not taking this tour ( We took Context tours in Venice and Rome and thought they were worth every penny (I admit they are expensive, but we learned so much and our daughter loved them). The Louvre can be overwhelming, and my daughter gave up after about 30 minutes. I think with a family friendly tour guide, she would have enjoyed it much more.

Our daughter kept a blog of our travel. Every couple of days we would upload our pictures and she would type in what she had experienced and her thoughts and observations. It was a great way to pass the time on trains or as down time before going to bed. We sent the link and password to all of our family and friends so they could read about our travels and send comments. Our daughter loved doing this and it was a great way for her to keep in contact with her friends. She also had a journal, but we found she enjoyed the blog more.

I know I'll think of more later, so I'll post again! You are going to have such a wonderful time!!
Attnymom is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 07:20 AM
Original Poster
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This information is all great, everyone. Thank-you!
tineke is offline  
Sep 30th, 2009, 04:53 AM
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 185
As far as where to stay--several people have mentioned that apt rentals are great, and I agree, but even if you are in a hotel you can still get more of a feel of living there if you stock your room with food. Cheese was invented as a way of storing milk, so you're probably OK keeping some without refrigeration for 1 or 2 days, baguette and red wine should be room temp anyway. Add some fruit and you've got a meal.
Hotel coffee makers can be great cooking devices--boil in bag rice can be cooked in the pot, instant oatmeal only needs to have boiling water poured over it. I've heard of people soft-boiling eggs in one too, but I never have.
Of course, you might want to have breakfast in your room and pack up your wine and cheese for a picnic along the way, which is lovely, relaxing, and cheap.
Keep us informed on your planning progress.
saacnmama is offline  
Sep 30th, 2009, 09:20 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,425
Summer vacation in French schools begins July 2nd in 2010.

With all you have to do, I personally would have never recommended you visit the Loire and Normandy on this trip. I also don't think they will be that interesting to your children. IF you have time to fill, there are many places I think would be of more interest than those, including lots of England or even Scotland.
Christina is offline  

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