When The Parent Report’s radio host, Joanne Wilson decided to travel Europe with her kids she learned a lot about booking flights, Eurail passes and car rentals. Here, in the third of a six part series, she shares her tips on Europe’s trains, planes and automobiles.
Okay, once you’ve committed to traveling to Europe with your kids, the next step is deciding what countries you and your family want to visit and how many days you plan to spend in each country (see my article “Travel Europe with Kids – Creating an Itinerary”).
Once that’s settled, it’s onto the next step — booking your flights. Or is it booking your accommodations? Really it’s a little of both. Before booking your flights you’ll want to at least have an idea of what type of accommodation you’ll be looking for. If you’re planning to rent an apartment or villa (which we highly recommend) it’s important to know on what days of the week your booking begins and ends. For example do they book Saturday-to-Saturday, or Sunday-to-Sunday? This may have some say on your travel dates.
When it comes to actually booking your airline, we recommend a travel agency. No one better knows who flies where and when, and which airline has the best deal than a good travel agent.
When booking your flights, you may want to consider flying into one city and departing from another. It’s can be an easy and inexpensive way to add another destination to your European vacation. In our case we had originally planned to fly KLM into Amsterdam, where the airline would allow us a free stopover. Our plan was to spend 3 days in Amsterdam, get back on a KLM flight and head to Paris for no extra cost – a very tempting deal. But because we already had Air Canada points, and flying to Europe was a chance to top up our points significantly, we passed on KLM. In the end we flew Air Canada into Amsterdam and out of Paris for no extra fee, however it did mean having to get ourselves to Paris from Amsterdam for an additional cost. Whatever you decide, do weigh your options carefully before laying down your credit card.
Take Advantage of the Little Things
When traveling with kids, it’s wise to take advantage of those little extras like booking your seats at the same time you book your flights. If you have younger children or leggy teenagers, consider booking the bulkhead seats – it will give your family a little more room. And whether you have a picky eater or a vegetarian teen, don’t forget about the kid’s meals and special menus. Remember to request these little extras at the time of booking flights. It means you’ll have one less thing that has to be done before you leave.
Travel Within Europe
There’s not much choice about how you get to Europe, but there is a choice of how to travel within Europe. Let’s make the assumption that you’re not planning on going on a bus charter (they are an option, but we found them too cost prohibitive and not our ideal ways of traveling Europe). That leaves you with cars or Eurail…or both.
Traveling by car has it’s own advantages. First, you’re not bound by train schedules, and you can get off the main roads to check out all the charming small towns and villages. However, if you’re not big on driving holidays at anytime, a car may not be right for you and your family. In any case, most people will warn you to forget a car in large cities, such as Rome and Paris.
Europe’s train system is remarkable and works like clockwork. There are fast bullet trains and slower overnight trains. For the most part they’re a great way to see the country without the stress of driving in a place you don’t know. And you’ll meet people from around the world on trains, adding to your European experience.
The ideal for our family was to combine both a Eurail pass and a car rental. As we were planning to spend a fair amount of time in large cities such as Amsterdam, Paris, Bern, Rome and Florence, we knew a car would be more trouble than was worth. But for our week in Italy’s countryside, renting a car was the ideal option. It gave us a chance to wander down small roads and reach villages we otherwise would never have seen.
Another benefit of having your rough itinerary in place early in the game, is that you know what countries and destinations you will be visiting, and you’ll need to know this if you’re planning to travel by Eurail. First and foremost, make sure you buy your Eurail passes at home; it’s much pricier if you buy them in Europe – go figure! Eurail pass prices are determined according to the number of days you’ll be traveling and the number of countries you’ll be visiting. For example, you may book a 5-day pass for 3 countries, which means you plan to travel by rail on 5 different days through 3 different countries. You can book through your travel agency or on-line. Learn more by visiting www.eurail.com.
If you decide to travel by car, you will want to book your car rental at home. It’s much easier to comparison shop when dealing in dollars rather than in Euros, and often they offer discounts if you’re a member of groups such as AAA or CAA. Also, it might be wise to check with your travel agency, as it might know of some good deals. However, don’t automatically go with the price your agent comes up with. Time and time again we found better deals in all areas, including car rentals, than our travel agent did. After all, she was working for many clients, and we were working for ourselves. This meant we had a lot more time and energy to devote to finding ourselves the best deals. Traveling Europe with kids means taking the extra time and doing the research to save yourselves money, and believe me it can add up to thousands of dollars.
For more information, check out these articles:
Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.