Europe – A Family Dream Vacation
As a young man I had the opportunity to live in a small German town called Schwäbisch Gmünd in the heart of Bavaria Germany, while serving in the military during the Cold War. I have the fondest memories of Germany and also traveling and backpacking around Europe by train. For me it was living a dream that very few get to experience.
It was my dream that one day, when I had a family, that I would take them back to my small German town and show them the rest of Europe as I recalled it. I would tell my kid’s bedtime stories of how I had a train pass and would grab my backpack and jump on a train and go. Weekend excursions to Paris, Bern, Innsbruck, Prague, you name it. I had an Interrail Pass (pretty much like a Eurail Pass) while I lived there. My kids love hearing about times when I took sleeper trains and how I would wake up in another country or with a view of the Alps.
Once my children reached an age (7 & 9) where we felt they could understand and take interest in Europe, it was time for planning the perfect family vacation. I knew it would be an unforgettable experience that would build life-long family memories and bonds between each family member tighter than anything previous. I was so excited to share with my family a part of my own history as well as explore all the European history. The most difficult step in planning was to determine what countries to visit and for how long. Each European country has so much to offer. You can spend weeks in just one place and still not be able to get it all in.
Traveling to Europe does consist of long flights and airport layovers. So we wanted to make the most of our vacation and get in as much as we could. We had already determined this would be the first of many trips, traveling to Europe. We decided to make this trip sort of exploratory. We hoped to figure out which cultures and places we might fall in love with and want to return to in the future.
As a family we talked about what countries we might be interested in. For me I had experienced living in Europe first hand so I had a clear vision of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to show my family. Germany was obviously number one on my list. For my wife, it was more about the culinary experience. The thoughts of Italian food and French bakeries filled her vacation dreams. Two things drove the kids, they wanted to go to Germany because of the influential stories I told them and Italy because that is where the best gelato is made.
More than anything my kids wanted to travel around Europe by train, bringing the stories I’ve told them to life. Of course a sleeper train had to be incorporated in our journeys too! To start we decided to bust out the map and look at which countries we could travel to by train. Since Germany was going to be a must see location we looked at the surrounding countries that we thought we would like to visit and we could get to each one easily with our Eurial Passes. We created sort of a loop by selecting some of the main cities in each of the countries we picked. These would be hubs for exploring. For lodging we researched and rented apartments using Airbnb and Home Away. Using rentals is a great way to travel with kids because you typically have a washer and dryer, which means packing light. See – “The Problem of Over Packing for Family Travel.”
We had four weeks during the kids’ summer vacation to choose from for traveling dates. This gave us the flexibility to find the cheapest and best flights. We had several months to plan our family vacation so we were patient. We searched Google Flights daily (probably the best flight search tool to find the best and cheapest flights anywhere) looking at flights to one of our major stops that would provide the best pricing and schedule. After several weeks we finally found the perfect flight to Milan, Italy.
Italy was one of the countries on our list. Milan, northern Italy was an easy train trip to Germany and other nearby countries. We knew after a long overnight flight to Italy the kids would be jetlagged and tired. We decided before heading out on the train we would take a few days to just relax and let the kids get acquainted with the time zone. See “Travel Time – Kids and Different Time Zones.”
Our first stop was the bucket list dream location of Lake Como, Italy! Lake Como was the perfect location to just relax and take in all the beauty that Italy has to offer, great food, cappuccinos at a street side café, and of course gelatos! Lake Como is the perfect location for a family vacation in Italy.
From Como our journeys would take us by sleeper train to Vienna and then on to Prague. Prague was an amazing surprise; So much culture and history. The Prague Castle is an all-day must see family attraction. See “Kids on the Run – Visiting the Prague Castle.”
We chose Munich in Germany because it’s central and there were so many other attractions to see in Munich and the surrounding area, such as Dachau and Neuschwanstein Castle. Another stop in Germany took us to Berchtesgaden to visit Hitler’s secret hideout, The Eagle Nest. The best part of our trip was being able to take my family to Schwäbisch Gmünd and show them the actual building I lived in when I was a soldier. Our third stop in Germany was Stuttgart where we could make a day trip, by train, to the town I had lived. We happen to time it just right and got to experience the town during an annual festival.
From Germany we headed off to Paris! It’s hard not to go to Paris to see all the sights and some of the world’s most famous attractions. Paris is a large city and can take a lot of energy to get around with children. The Metro was key and we used it to get around seeing all the major sites, like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, the Catacombs, and the Louvre. We found a great tour operator that offered treasure hunt race as a way to see the Louvre with children. We had several hours with a list of clues to artifacts to find. The rules required no asking anyone for help and teams (mom and son, dad and daughter) had to take a selfie at each exhibit in the hunt in order to score your points. The kids loved it and we had a blast doing it.A family vacation to Europe is great because it is so easy to get around and quick to get from one country to another. Click To Tweet
We headed back to Milan for several days to wrap up our trip. Milan was an amazing city with a ton to do and see. Being the fashion capital of the world it offers a blend of old world and new world both in design and culture. If you know you will be in Milan get tickets in advanced to go see Leonardo De Vinci’s “Last Supper” and be sure to visit the roof of the Milan Duomo. On our last day we decided to be adventuress by jumping on a train to the Italian Riviera coast. What better way to wrap up a European vacation than having a final gelato.
Heading home we reflected on our amazing adventure and all the places, people, and food we experienced. A family vacation to Europe is great because it is so easy to get around and quick to get from one country to another. Kids will recognize the famous sites and landmarks and parents will revel in the history. Traveling to Europe as a family can be less expensive than you think and very easy. You just have to pull the trigger and book it! – BLG