30 Days in Europe: What We’d Do the Same and What We’d Do Differently
June 14, 2017
A classic gondola ride on our last stop - Venice!As I write this post, I’m sitting on an airplane 40,000 feet or so above Greenland. Just having finished up a not-so-terrific meal of Mediterranean chicken with gnocchi (sounds better than it was), my husband is reading while our boys are finishing up a school project (not by choice) and binge-watching movies. I’ve got time. Seven more hours to be exact… ugh... to reflect on the past month. Our European adventure that we had carefully planned for months and months is now behind us and a memory that will live on in pictures and stories.
Overall, I think the trip went well. Of course there was some bickering, exhaustion, teenage eye-rolling and even a few things lost. But I still call that a success! My big prayers were for safety, health and stamina. When you travel for a month at a time, and plan to be in 15 different cities like we did, a lot can go wrong. We put hundreds of miles on our little rental car and covered lots of ground. I’m so thankful that we were safe on the road, everyone felt great for the entire trip… not one tummy ache or sore throat, and that everyone was able to keep up with the activities we had planned.
With the adventure fresh in my mind, and knowing what I know now, would we do everything exactly the same if given a chance to start over? Well, yes and no. If you’re thinking about taking your family on a road trip, whether across Europe or even just through your own state, read on to see what we learned.
A 30-day road trip through Europe sounds like a big task to organize with oodles and oodles of details to pull together. It was, but oh so fun! I’m weird like that. If you’re curious how we did it, read this post here which also includes our itinerary.
Do the Same - Minimize Driving Distances
When planning our route we were careful not to plan any driving day to exceed 4 hours. And our average driving time was only 2.5 hours between destinations. We tried to keep it interesting by alternating activities. We listened to books on Audible. We stopped regularly at gas stations for bathroom breaks and snacks. The gas stations in Europe are so much better than they are in the US. You can actually get a cappuccino in a real cup with a saucer and a decent meal. We also planned a half-way stop of interest on our longer days. For example, on our drive between Lake Como, Italy and Bolzano, Italy we stopped at an adventure park and high rope’s course for a few hours, a perfect place to get out and stretch. Side note: I knew we’d alternate activities while driving, but I didn’t know we’d also alternate the shotgun seat. This was our first road trip where everyone was big enough and able to sit in the front seat. It was kind of a pain for me at first because I just imagined the front seat would be mine. But truth be told, it helped to break up the sibling squabbles and that was worth it for all of us to take a turn and sit in the backseat. I also helped in the driving occasionally and so my husband sat in the back when it was his turn!
Rope's Course in Italy
Mountain carts in Switzerland
Do the Same - Alternate Between Hotels and Airbnb Rentals
When on vacation, I love to be pampered. I love having someone else make the bed and prepare our breakfast, and I love the services that a concierge can provide. But when traveling with a family, and especially when traveling for a longer period of time, having a kitchen and a washing machine is a pleasant change from time to time. On our 30-day road trip we stayed in four different rentals that provided us just that. It was nice to have a kitchen with snacks on hand, a place to prepare a simple meal, and a place to catch-up on our dirty clothes. Side note: We packed in carry-on size luggage and knew it would be imperative to do laundry 2-3 times while on this trip.
The view from our villa outside of Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Do Differently – Schedule More Downtime
It was day 10 when our boys hit a wall and needed to basically sit inside and do nothing. We were in Lucerne, Switzerland and they had just had it! We were checking into our fifth place in 10 days and they couldn't have cared less about Lucerne or anything there. We had just arrived and my husband and I had plans to grab lunch, gelato and walk around the old town. But there was no persuading these two who were completely exhausted. So, we got them settled in our hotel room with WIFI and a pizza and my husband and I went to explore on our own. Our stay was short and as we had a train to catch the next morning. Our boys can technically say they’ve been to Lucerne, but all they saw were the four walls of our hotel room. While we did have some downtime scheduled during our 30 day trip, we can see now that more would have been better. We could have achieved this by visiting fewer cities and staying places longer. Lucerne was one of a handful of places where we only stayed one night.
Enjoying a boat ride on the Adriatic Sea.
Do the Same - Plan Activities with My Family's Interests in Mind
I’ve got a husband and two boys that feel a whole lot more comfortable in the wide-open spaces of nature than they do in a busy city center. More than 50% of our time in Europe was spent hiking, exploring nature such as caves or mountains, small villages and we even stayed on a farm in Italy. The boys made their own Swiss Army Knives in Switzerland, we went fishing, and spent a number of days on the water in rented boats. Knowing what everyone enjoys the most and then planning our time to do these things was a big success!
Getting to know the farm animals in South Tyrol, Italy.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Building his own Swiss Army Knife in Brunnen, Switzerland.
Do Differently - No More Month Long Trips
Okay this one may surprise you, and to be honest it surprises me too. Or maybe it just surprises me that I’m admitting it and actually putting it into print. Please family and friends, don’t hold me to it. I might change my mind when my memory fades a bit. We’ve taken many month-long trips with our boys and had a good deal of success with it. Our reasoning has always been that we’ve put in that much effort and cost, why not just plan to stay longer. But here’s the truth. As the boys get older, it’s hard to pull them away and keep them away for a longer period of time. They are missing activities with their friends and they are more aware of that now than ever before. And that’s not to mention the other things they are missing like school (it gets harder the older they get), sports and music commitments. So will we still travel as a family? You bet’cha! But in the future, my husband and I both agree that it will be best to keep our trips to shorter ones such as two weeks or less.
Skipping rocks at Pragser Wildsee in the Dolomites.
PIN FOR LATER
Here's a few more notes on "What We'd Do the Same" and "What We'd Do Differently" - regarding STUFF we brought:
Bring Again! - Portable Charger
This was a life-saver! Considering all the purposes your phone provides while traveling… camera, email, computer, google docs, Uber app, Tripadvisor app, Airbnb app… and so much more, it’s imperative that you don’t run out of charge while traveling. And of course the boys appreciated the extra charge on their iPods while on the road. So we brought this along after reading reviews on Amazon and we were so glad we did. I will always plan to travel with this for future trips as well.
Bring Again! - Packing Cubes
We love them! They help us condense our items and keep them organized. Every person in our family has their own color. Then once we’re traveling, we begin designating bags for dirty clothes. I also like to use them to separate certain items in our suitcases that don’t necessarily need to get mixed up with our ordinary things. For example, we kept our swimwear in a separate packing cube since we wouldn't be needing them until the end of the trip.
Bring Again! - Portable Printer for Photo Journal
My 11 year old kept a journal for school, writing about the places we visited. It was fun to be able to print his pictures from his own iPod and attach them in the journal while we were traveling instead of waiting until we got home. I previously wrote about this portable printer and shared the free journal pages on this page.
Not Bring! - So Much Clothing
I say this every time! In fact, we've even improved so much so that we're down to carry-on sized suitcases. But I still feel like we lugged around things we didn't end of using. One of these days I'll get it right.
So now we leave behind the quaint medieval towns of Croatia, the dramatic landscape of Switzerland and Slovenia and the delights of northern Italy. I’m so thankful for this past month of new memories and shared experiences with our family.
Have you recently planned a road trip for your family? What have you learned that you can share?