- Whatever you budget in your mind for the day to day expenses for the trip, if you have five kids, take that number and triple it. Give each kid their own Euros when you arrive. (Mistake: We gave each kid 200 euros to spend on top of us paying for all food and entertainment. I gave them my credit card every time they wanted to buy something and told them to keep track of their own budget. Of course every time I asked them how much they had, they told me 190 Euros left…I finally had a mini meltdown ( I think in Pisa because I was so mad that they didn’t respect the money or our kindness of giving it to them to keep track. My husband reminded me (they are teenagers….) I got a hold of wifi and tried to figure out how much they really had spent and got cash at a train station to hand out.
- Pack as light as you can and inspect your teenagers suitcases before you leave. Our two year old didn’t need her own suitcase to add to the other eleven. Each person gets one pair of jeans, two shorts, two shirts, one bathing suit etc. (Mistake: I told the kids they had to pack an outfit that covered their knees and was not sleeveless for the Vatican and other churches we may tour. Of course on the trip it was the typical Sunday morning of the kids coming down in outfits that we said “No way. This is church, not a day at the beach.” The day of the Vatican included lots of whining and screaming when the girls ended up having to wear (gasp) MY CLOTHES and CORRIN’S CLOTHES because they had nothing appropriate and we wouldn’t let them wear painted on jeans. Apparently Corrin and I dress like old grandmas. Ha! Another mistake: We were rushing to get on a train at some point and a guy helped Brad load a few suitcases. Another woman insisted on Corrin letting her help with the baby’s suitcases. As soon as they helped, they put out their hand and insisted that Brad and Corrin pay them. Of course they did and we were so mad. I told all of the kids, DO NOT LET ANYONE HELP YOU WITH YOUR SUITCASE! We are not paying for people who pretend to just be nice. Of course my daughter Paige (who gets this from me) is very black or white. Our train pulled up in the Cinque Terre and there were tons of Americans waiting to get on the train as we were getting off. The train doesn’t stop long so this sweet American man and woman tried to grab a suitcase (because they wanted to make sure they got on in time and they were being nice). I thanked them for their help. They tried to help Paige and she said “no thanks.” When the guy insisted, Paige said “Don’t touch my bag.” That poor guy was just being nice. Ha!
- Pack books to read and card games to play. We didn’t realize that wifi would be spotty in lots of places where we traveled. Long train rides and no English TV gave way to lots of free time. (Mistake: We packed no books and no games. I think we ended up spending $14.00 on a pack of Uno card and $14.00 on a pack of Skip Bo which the kids played the entire trip. )
- Trip essentials: Make each kid have the following: A backpack with a travel blanket and head rest pillow. I went to Ikea and found these fantastic travel blankets. They roll up very small, cost a couple of dollars, and are fairly large. I silhouetted each person’s name on their blanket since they all looked alike. We used the blankets and head pillows for the entire three weeks.
- Electronic situations don’t change when you go to Europe: Make each kid pack their own electrical converter and phone charger. On top of that, pack two extra. (Mistake: I gave each kid an electrical converter for Christmas. I brought three extra and my phone cord charger. Guess what? I ended up without a phone charger or electrical converter for most of the trip. The teenagers insisted the entire time that someone (one of us) stole their electronic chargers. On that note, mark each one with the kids names. I bought a bright pink phone charger so the kids could not try to say it was theirs. If you have four teenagers, you know what a issue electronic charging devices is.)
- Plan ahead: We planned for some of the cities and others, we decided to wing it. We ultimately had more fun when we had done prior planning. (Mistake: Our day trip to Pisa and Florence could have better if we had figured out what trains we would be traveling on, train stations getting on and off at, and monuments we wanted to visit. Figure out ahead the price to go to the top of monuments and research beforehand if it is worth it. It was going to cost about $100 for our family to go to the top of a tower in Florence. As soon as Brad heard that, he said no way….so it cost our family $85.00 to go to the top of the tower. We put Brad in charge of the Vatican tour. Several of our friends suggested we do the Vatican kids tour. We got lazy and didn’t relay this information to Brad and he signed us up for a three hour adult tour. The kids did WONDERFUL in the crowded, hot, and long tour. Next time we would do the kids tour or hire one person for the group of us as a guide to tailor the visit to the needs of our family. Book train tickets ahead of time. They cost a lot more the day of or the day before.)
- Have the family learn some key words and phrases. In Copenhagen, everyone spoke English and they were excited to practice it. In the mountains of Italy, very few people spoke a lot of English so you had to try to communicate in Italian. Write the phrases down because wifi is spotty, therefore google translate wouldn’t work.
- Immerse yourself in the local culture We LOVED renting bikes in Copenhagen and traveling as the locals did. In the mountains of Italy, we went to a hotel where they didn’t have menus. You just ate what they were making that night, which was always amazing food. The cooking class in Cinque Terre was wonderful. Try to plan some of your trip in lesser known places. I feel that many people who go to Europe stick with the main cities (London, Paris, Rome, etc).
- Instead of staying in hotels, rent vacation homes or apartments Our first two spots were home exchanges and the rest (except Venice) were large places. Even if you don’t want to cook, having the larger space (as opposed to a hotel) was wonderful. We paid the same amount a night for a hotel room in Venice as we did for a very large Villa in the Cinque de Terre. When we arrived to our Villa, Brad said “I don’t even want to know what this cost us.” I told him and he was shocked at what a great deal it was! (We have stayed in gross hotels in Waco for a Baylor game that cost more money).
- Just do it! Traveling with eight kids and four adults can be a struggle but it was totally worth it. Did people think we were crazy? Absolutely! Would we travel with the two year olds again? Absolutely! The kids (and the adults) for the most part were wonderful on the trip. We all had our moments at different points (even sweet Brad…lol). We love going on couple trips with just our spouses but we prefer the family trips. We are happiest when we have our kids with us.
So there you have it. Ten tips from two crazy girls who told their husbands a few years ago, “We are taking the kids to Europe.” They said “No we aren’t.” Ha! Both husbands agreed that it was the best trip ever and they are very glad we went.
My take of our trip:
Copenhagen was wonderful. It was beautiful and was a different experience that you would get in Paris or London. The people were very nice. Copenhagen is a little pricy (a beer in a restaurant is around $8.00).
The mountains of Northern Italy were beautiful and the area was super cheap. Wine was around five dollars a bottle and was really good! (Wine in all of Italy (except Venice) is cheap and good). We would go back to this area. There were not a lot of American tourist here and we became friends with the locals.
Venice: We have ALL checked Venice off of our list for good. I have been in the past and thought that the kids should see it. Venice is CRAZY expensive (We had to take a water taxi to our hotel and it cost $140 each way). My recommendation, if you go to Italy, skip Venice. If I had to plan this trip again, I would for sure skip Venice. It is cool to see for a second and then you are over it. (I know some would disagree…this is just my opinion).
The Cinque Terre is amazing. You have to go. If you go, rent a Villa with a terrace overlooking the water. Hike the villages and explore the beautiful region. A sweet lady told us the story of a couple from America who stayed a week there. The husband had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The couple decided to take a trip before his health was too bad. The doctor asked where they were going and they said Paris. He said “Why would you go to a city that is crowded, overpriced, and sometimes the people are rude?” The couple then asked, “Where would you go?” He said, “That is easy. The Cinque Terre.” I will have to 100 percent agree with him. This was our kids favorite place and they wished we would have stayed there longer.
Florence and Pisa are nice but I wouldn’t spend more than a day total for them and I wouldn’t plan my vacation staying in either of these places.
Rome is wonderful but was CRAZY hot. I would hire a person to drive you around to look at all of the places (where you can get in and out of the car). We stayed in a wonderful apartment by the Coliseum that I highly recommend.
My question for you: Who is ready to join us next summer? (HA!!! COMPLETELY JOKING BRAD AND DAVE)