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Travel Plans for Family of Six - Reaching out for Thoughts

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We are planning an 2-year trip, of which Mar 2014 - April 2015 we plan to be traveling in Europe with a family of six. Kids are aged 14 down to 6, pretty sturdy, lived overseas most of their lives and have traveled enough to know that they can handle it.

I have ALOT of research, much of which only leads to more questions, and I wanted to see what thoughts others out there who know Europe well might suggest.

Given the visa issues for Americans (Schengan visa), our plan is to spend Mar - May 2014 in Italy and France (inside Schengan area), June-August in the U.K., Scotland and Wales (outside Schengan area), Sept-Nov in Germany, Belgium, Holland (back in Schengan area) then Dec - Feb in someplace warm (New Zealand, northern Africa, others???), and March and April 2015 in Spain and Portugal.

As far as routes goes, there are so many many different opinions. My favorite book has been Lonely Planet's Best Trips Series, which outline 30+ road trips for some of the key countries we'll be in. My current plan is to just combine a bunch of those routes.

The plan is to drive ourselves. We have explored a myriad of options, including renting or buying an RV, a very large van (Sprinter or similar) or a small 7-8 seater passenger SUV or Van. We are increasingly settling on the Peugot, Renault, Citroen car leasing programs, where you can rent a car for up to six months or so and just return it as is at the end. Given it is reasonably priced, includes all the insurance and they do have larger 7-9 seaters (the Trafic, the Expert Teepee and the Jumpy seem to be the various options), that just seems the best choice. We would love to find a place that would rent a Sprinter for a reasonable price with insurance, but they seem to be 3x the cost.

As to stays, our thought was we'd probably have to book things out about 2 weeks in advance as we travel for most of the trip, staying a mix of hotels, homeaway.com, vrbo.com and such places. Probably try to stay 3-10 nights per place, and limit the 1-2 night stays as it is just a hassle.

Does this overall sound reasonable and has any out there tried anything similar? Some questions:

- Any idea if the French car leasing programs are the best choice, and if so, which of the Trafic, the Expert Teepee or the Jumpy is the larger more roomy car?. I'm guessing these are tigher than big US SUVs or suburbans, just don't know by how much.
- Any thoughts on good websites to use for accomodations? We are budgeting about $300 per night for a family of six on average throughout Europe, is that reasonable? Any thoughts on saving on that by using the same chain of hotels, website, etc.? Our experience in most of the world is that we'd need two rooms at about $150 per room.
- Any experiences on the Schengan visa, and would the above plan work on entries and exits to the Schengan region?

I have so many more questions, but thought I'd start here.

Thanks!

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