International travel tips + why you don't need a travel agent...
Okay, I am going to try and sum up the questions I’ve received as best as I can when it comes to our European Family Adventure. Since I’ve returned, I cannot tell you how lovely it is to see people in person, receive texts, DMs and emails regarding how you all followed along and loved my posts and stories. That just warms a girl’s heart and I am not kidding in the least bit. It is so much work to edit and create story content worth posting that is not only visually appealing but actually unique and interesting. I could have stopped at every corner to snap photos but that is clearly not an option. Not with my family!
<note to self: upload all the photos from your camera. ugh!>
With the above said, I wanted to share the most common questions I received and of course, my tips!
Q: How far in advance did you book your trip?
A: We found tickets on Expedia five months in advance and timed it with our school’s Spring Break. The tickets were 50% off for a grand total of $347 a pop. We saw it and booked it on a whim. You just gotta book and figure out the rest later.
Q: How did you find such awesome AirBnBs and why no hotels?
A: We booked those in advance, too and did the most research on this piece. Since this was a family trip, I spent a lot of time reading which areas were best for families based on the landmarks that were a non-negotiable for us. Additionally, we have very specific guidelines and the biggest was that we needed a decent common area to watch TV and relax because we knew our kids would be gassed at the end of the day and we did not want to be relegated to drinking wine in a hotel bed every night. It’s just not comfortable.
We really love to make breakfast at home and plan our day plus that’s a lot of eating out which makes me feel icky after awhile. Shopping local markets and picking up a loaf of bread, eggs, yogurts and fresh fruit is the main event when we arrive in a new city and it teaches you how to live like a local.
Pro tip: Bring your Apple TV and Fire Sticks. Jack and I like to keep up on our shows when we travel or when the girls go down. French TV is clearly a bit hard for us to follow!
Q: How did you plan your itinerary? Did you have an agent? Did you read books?
A: The answer is we did not have an agent and I did not read books. I read heavily online. Also, I have spent quite a bit of time in Paris hence I knew what I wanted to make sure my family saw. London was a different story but my husband had already been so it kinda worked.
Additionally, we wanted to plan for jet lag with a heavy dose of spontaneity, if that were a thing. We allowed each daughter to pick one activity in each city and then my husband and I picked one additional tour/activity in each city. In essence, we stayed 4-5 nights in each city and booked a total of 4 activities which is modest but it really worked. My only other comment is that I think it’s worth booking a private tour through the Louvre vs. any third party tour. That was money well spent.
Finally, social media can be a wonderful travel resource. I polled my audiences and many people offered suggestions or shared must-have destinations for tea, chocolate, shopping, museums and more. It was hard to get to them all and most people simply volunteered information. I learned so much from YOU! Better than any travel agent that is out to make a buck.
Pro tip: AirBnB has experiences and tours that you can book through the actual app. Not only are they affordable but they are well reviewed and provide great value. We booked 3 of the 4 experiences through the app.
Q: Wasn’t it expensive to take cabs everywhere?
A: No, because we refuse to take cabs. We take the subway system in any major city we travel to. 1. You immerse yourself into the culture and 2. It saves you time and is so much more cost effective.
Pro tip: The Google Maps app has replaced old school paper maps. Simply type in the address and you can tap TRANSIT and the app will literally tell you your entire route, where to transfer, how many stops you have to go and when to get off…just like driving directions. It is an incredible life saver.
Q: Did your kids walk forever? How did you stay out all day?
A: YES! They were fabulous and I think part of that has to do with the fact that they participated in picking an activity so they had skin in the game. 7 + 6 are wonderful ages to travel. And this is only the beginning!
Q: Did your kids get jet lagged?
A: Not really. The adults were! But, we were very strategic to stay up until we were on their time zone and we also said to ourselves…”if someone needs a nap, then we go home and take a nap.” Thing is you can’t over plan trips with kids. The first few days we returned to our flat early for some iPad time and to decompress and I think it helped.
Q: How long were the tours you booked?
A: We did all walking tours save for the macaroon class and I purposely did not book a tour longer than two hours. It’s just not realistic with little ones.
Q: I’ve never travelled that far with my kids. Were they good on the plane? Were you scared?
A: Angels on the plan and we were never scared. Honestly, you have to go in expecting the worst and hoping for the best. TSA Pre-check is a game changer with kids so highly recommend that one. And people travel with kids all the time. You just have to embrace it. With iPads, coloring, the built in seat TVs, snacks and games…you have nothing to worry about. Teach them young so you can enjoy life is what I say!
Q: Where to next?
A: We are not entirely sure but Spain, Greece, Brussels and Portugal are on our list. I’d like to do one international trip a year.
Favorite Travel Apps: iTranslate, Google Maps, XE Currency, Expedia, The Weather Channel, Yelp
I hope this was helpful guys. If there are more questions, I’d be happy to put together a Part II specific to each city. Thanks for reading!