Sunday, January 8, 2012

European Vacation Plans

Several years ago, when our oldest daughter, Jessica, went off to college, I began a "savings fund" with hopes of sharing a "Mother/Daughters" trip somewhere to celebrate both girls finishing college, if and when it happened.  I had a chunk of money taken from my check and automatically put into a savings account.  A few years back I read "Traveling with Pomegranates" by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor, which further inspired me to keep saving. At the time, David wasn't all that interested in going, as he grew up traveling the world via the Army, and isn't keen on being too far from home.

Last year our youngest daughter, Kailyn, talked to us about her desire to participate in an immersion program in France her junior year of college.  She spent the first semester in Caen, which has been mostly wonderful, although she suffered greatly from homesickness.  It's been a treat to have her home the past three weeks, but, she will return to France for the rest of the school year.

Plans have changed, sort of.  Now we're planning a European family vacation in June.  I use the word "planning" loosely, as there isn't a solid plan put down on paper as yet.  We attempted to discuss our collective "wishes" during the week following Christmas, while all four of us were mostly under the same roof, a rare occasion. While driving to the beach one of those days, we made a list of places we want to visit, and momentarily discussed which country we should fly into, but that was about it.

Since then, I've gotten progressively more stressed out about the idea, with visions of National Lampoon's European Vacation dancing in my head.  I'm the only one in this family who has never been outside the US (unless you count British Columbia, which hardly counts, even to me).  The girls and David have been to numerous countries. I am worried about getting there, getting from place to place, finding accommodations and recognizing what I'm eating.  I'm also fretting about "missing" great places to visit because I know next to nothing about Europe.

I googled Rick Steve's European tours and was ready to book one, making life simple, until my husband talked me out of it. He reminded me that our 21 and 23 year old daughters are not going to enjoy hanging out on a tour bus with a bunch of old folks and/or young families. Put that way, I decided I probably wouldn't enjoy it much, either! The idea of being stuck on a bus for several hours every other day didn't appeal to me, once I looked at the sample itineraries.

David said, "Let's just wing it! It will be an adventure!"  This is so totally out of character for my husband I thought he must be joking, but he wasn't.  Kailyn researched renting/leasing a car, which actually makes some sense, as we would have unlimited freedom of where to go and when.  After looking at Eurorail prices, for the four of us, it could be cheaper to go with a car.  Of course, driving with my husband in traffic in America is a little stressful at times; across the pond, on the other side of the road in strange territory, it's downright frightening to imagine.

At this moment, the only thing we're sure of is that we will be meeting Kailyn, somewhere in Europe, in June.  We've tentatively chosen June 19th to fly out of here, (mainly because her boyfriend, Nick, is meeting her June 12 and they are spending a week traveling to visit his family in France). Financially, we think we can manage about three-four weeks.  That's all we really know.  I've done a little investigation on airfare, and have a general idea of that cost, but other than that, I feel like a blind person without a cane (or a dog).

And so, I thought I would appeal to my blog friends, who live all over this great big world.  Does anyone have any suggestions of European places that must be visited?  I know we'll see the main attractions, but I'm honestly more intrigued by the out of the way, unique and non-touristy type places.  Perhaps that's why I'm kind of leaning towards renting/leasing a car.  My one request of my family is that we visit the Isle of Jersey, where my ancestors came from in the 1600's. As it isn't too far from where Kailyn is living, she has assured me that my wish will be granted.

This is the adventure of a lifetime, for me, and while I'm anxious and stressed out at the planning, I am giddy with anticipation of unknown possibilities.

Who has a place in mind that I must visit??  I will appreciate any and all suggestions and ideas! Perhaps there may even be the possibility of meeting some of my blogging friends in far flung places for a spot of tea while we are "over there" a-wandering!


  1. Sandi - what a fabulous adventure. Several years ago, my husband and I went to New Zealand (both N & S Islands) for a month with no real itinerary except where we were flying in and out. We rented a junker car (we named her Sally) and learned to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. People reached out and helped us all the time. It is one of my fondest memories. Even times when things go wrong are opportunities to laugh and make a memory. What fun you'll have!

  2. It is good to have basic plans, but you may be stressing about too many of the "little things".

    What about, this time you sit back, let the other's plan it and you go along for the ride. It is time for you to be taken care of. It will be a great adventure and we all deserve to have one great adventure in our lives!

  3. It sounds like fun to me! I have never rented a car but allowed myself to be taken from place to place in taxis or other public transportation. I agree that you are beginning to stress over things that will be totally different than you imagine them to be, Sandi. It sounds like a great adventure.

    I would definitely not miss the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Coliseum in Rome, given the chance. I hope you decide to take lots of pictures and visit some internet cafes to give us a taste of your trip!

  4. I've never traveled across the pond and truly have no interest in doing that...but I'm boring and you're not! So have the time of your life and I know all will turn out super. With an adventuresome family you can't go wrong. Let them lead the just take tons of pics for the blog! Make us all jealous!

  5. You'd think with me living over here that I would be a barrel of help...but I have a hard time trying to narrow down where I want to travel too! I haven't even been to mainland Europe yet and there are tons of places I want to see. One thing to note though is that a car may be a cheaper option but it also may not. Gas is super expensive over here and most car rental companies tack on so many extra charges that by the time you get your car, you've basically paid double the amount they advertise. The good thing is that all except England, Ireland (and I think Luxembourg) drive on the right side of the road so you won't have to worry about that. Since you live in Washington, I know you can get direct flights for WA to Europe which is faster and easier. We usually take KLM/Air France/Delta from Seattle to Amsterdam and then catch whatever connecting flight from there. It's only a bit over 10hrs which saves you about 4 hours if you stop in Chicago or New Jersey.
    If you head to Ireland at all then I'd be happy to show you around my little neck of the island! If you go to Scotland then I can give you some decent ideas of where to visit too. As for mainland Europe, good luck! I will be envious of whatever you do! ;)

  6. Cars in Europe are much smaller and have better fuel efficiency. The distances in Europe are also much less. If you do not drive then most cities offer a city pass bur/tram travel plan that is valid for days, a sort of hop on/off thing. And there are some great smaller hotel places outside of every train station which can be booked over the internet. Mercure is a great chain for that.
    Food wise there are tons of cafés that offer foods for world traveller, meaning they have everything. Or you can pick up rolls and coffee or just go to Starbucks or other chains because they are world wide. Europe has it all no matter where you go. It's a global thing now.
    Not all organized tours are for elderly. Universities offer them too. But tours are not always cheaper.
    Have fun this June. By the way it gets quite hot in Spain and places around the Mediterranean Sea.

  7. So many possibilities!

    Bus tours are ideal for beginners and veteran travelers alike. What I like about them is that they take you to the highlights of a country. And, you get to feel like family with other bus occupants.

    We have also rented houses by the week. If you are in a city, use public transport! Having to deal with maps and a dif. language can be hard on a marriage.

    Going to the UK and Ireland--those are easiest because English is spoken. Ireland is the best!

  8. First, I was just totally surprised to hear that your ancestors came from the Isle of Jersey. So did mine! They also came over in the 1600's. What was your family name? I also want to visit there.

    I traveled by myself in England and Wales about 15 or 16 years ago. It was quite an adventure. I traveled by BritRail.

    A year and a half ago, my husband and traveled to Germany, France, Austria, Holland, and Belgium. It was an amazing trip. We went with a river boat tour company. I love the idea of doing what you are thinking of doing.

  9. Well I don't have any suggestions Sandi. I've been to Spain and Africa which I don't think you'll be going to but what an adventure! France is beautiful. I would love to visit Italy.
    I can't wait to see the pictures from your trip!
    Love Di ♥

  10. Dear Sandi,
    I read all the comments and they all seem so helpful to me. The ones that most stand out however are "Starting Over" and DJan's. Why? Because both of them are encouraging you to let go of worrying and stewing and fretting about the trip. Europe and the British Isles have pharmacies and department stores and gas stations and wonderful pubs and restaurants and beds and shampoos and bangages. In fact, almost everything you have here, you will also find there.

    I read a quote recently in which a noted author said, "The worst things that ever happened to me never happened. They were just in my imagination." So Sandi, I encourage you to let your imagination think of the best things that can happen. Give yourself a break.


  11. How exciting!

    If I ever get to Europe I would want to see the Swiss Alps and Touscany. I don't know where else I'd go. There are so many beautiful places to go.

    Happy planning.

  12. If I am ever lucky enough to visit across the ocean I would have England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland on my bucket list.

  13. Wow what an adventure! I grew up in Europe. France to be exact but we traveled all over the place. I highly recommend you take a moment to visit Holland, and Switzerland. If you get out that way then go see (Not sure on spelling) Lichtenstein. It is the smallest country in the world and absolutely breath taking!

  14. I am not much help with suggestions because I have never been out of the country. I probably never will be because flying over the ocean scares me just thinking about it. I would love to go to Scotland and Ireland some day because that is where my ancestors are from. If money is no problem just go over there and have a ball. I'm with you about seeing the little out of the way places. Maybe google little known secrets and get a ways of (name the country). Have fun.

  15. I had been dying to share a few words here but I didn't have much time to spare. But now, I can have some minutes.
    Let me start by saying, Welcome to Europe!
    There's so much to see here. Some have already suggested the places that I would like to reccommend too. I may add that tour around the Mosel river in Germany is great; some cities in Italy, like Venice; the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland with their colorful tulips; Swizz alps; Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria; Plitvicka Jezera in Croatia; Prague in Czech Republic; and of course, Scandinavia! Experience the midsummer nights (June 25/26) in Sweden (best is in the cities/towns around Siljan Lake in Dalarna, you may hire a cottage in Solerö Camping, nice and affordable); drop by Stockholm too which is dubbed as the most beautiful capital city in the world; the best of Norway - Trollstigen, Geiranger fjords, Åndalsnes, where you can find many comfortable camping sites (which serve as your base while going around these tourist destinations), and Ålesund. There are many wonderful nature parks along the way when you travel through Sweden and Norway. Don't forget Denmark too, especially Copenhagen.
    You may google picture-search the places I've mentioned here and have a glimpse of them.
    I hope you can travel here and I wish you the best of your journey. Best regards.

  16. I think once you've let go of worrying about what you might miss, and embrace the adventure of what you have to look forward to, you'll be able to enjoy both the anticipation and the trip. I'm so proud of David - that sort of tells me this is meant-to-be trip, which also tells me it's going to be perfect (even when things go wrong, which they will, but you won't be alone).


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