Planning a Trip to Europe: Part 3, Booking Rooms and Trip Pacing
Houston, we have a problem…All this imaginary trip planning has done nothing to ease my wanderlust. Nada. In fact, I think it’s made my husband catch the bug, and this may turn into a real trip yet. Ha! (Whenever we do go, I’ll walk you through the planning in real time.) We’ve been saving our money to meet our budget, and have been researching places we want to go. Now it’s time to book our rooms in Europe. If we were actually going somewhere, I would have tickets in hand before the next step of my planning: plotting how many days we’ll be where, and then booking rooms accordingly. (Don’t you want to know this before you go, you may ask. Well, yes, we have a rough idea of what we’ll be doing, but I wait until I have firm dates to get to the nitty-gritty.)
On to the lists! I am an inveterate list-making, and yes, my lists have lists. Before I book rooms, I write out our must-sees for each stop/city, and research how long it will take to see it all. (Not to be a broken record, but I’ve already mentioned how awesome Rick Steves’ books are for this– I always plan with his book in hand.) I try to leave some slush time in there for “bits and bobs” of travel, and I also have a list of “nice-to-sees” in case we have extra time– stuff that would be, well, nice to see, but I won’t feel robbed if we don’t get to it this trip. Don’t try to plan your time too tightly; something always takes longer than expected, or you’re especially tired/sick one day, or something goes awry. Expect it to happen, and plan accordingly.
The larger your group and the more children you have, the fewer activities I would recommend planning, and the fewer “must-see” sights I would schedule. Embrace slow adventure. Savor exploring one city thoroughly. Become acquainted with their parks and nearby cafés. Travel is sometimes about immersing yourself in an atmosphere, right? This is an art I am still learning, but one that will stand our trip enjoyment in good stead…Even if you are few in number and nimble to travel, plan a slower day after a really full one. Don’t wear yourself out. One thing I’ve learned is that I enjoy having my museums spaced out — if I see too many museums too close together I stop appreciating them. I need a day of nature/fun/wandering in between to refresh my mental palate. Preferably while using my actual palate…
Where to stay? Before I book any rooms in Europe my paranoia kicks in and I write a little chart of where we’ll be when, to make sure I don’t mess up my booking dates and that everything dovetails. We are fans of renting local houses; we feel a little more a part of wherever we’re visiting, we have a kitchen to help cut food costs (up next!), as well sitting areas to chill, and a way to wash clothes. Since we don’t travel with anything larger than a carry-on (For so many reasons! Never regretted it! Packing tips coming soon…), any trip that lasts longer than a week will require some way to do laundry. Unless we’re there the better part of a week, the first place we stay won’t need to have a washing machine, but our second one will. Within the next week, we’ll need another washing machine, so we book accordingly. So at least one chance to wash clothes a week. There’s nothing like having a way to wash clothes, particularly when traveling with children. Our personal rental go-to has been AirBnb (we are strangers to them, except as consumers), and we will filter rooms/houses by whether or not they have a washing machine. (You can also filter searches for baby gear, such as a pack n’ play. In France it’s called a lit paralpluie.) Heads up, most/many rooms in Europe will not have a dryer; they provide a drying rack, just plan accordingly in your clothes schedule! I’ve never had a bad experience renting a room in Europe; I read the reviews of a place thoroughly and they have steered me well. If you’re planning on using public transportation as your primary means of getting around, look to see if the room is close to a métro/bus stop. If I’m in France, it’s an especially nice perk if there’s a good boulangerie nearby (yes, I look for that too!).
Another personal rule of thumb: the more people you have in your group, the more children with you, the easier and faster commuting should be. Logistics are already complicated enough in those circumstances. Don’t make yourself wrangle a two-year old and/or eight other people out the door on a timetable every day to race to catch a bus or train, or even for a long walk. Not a fun way to start the day. We try to strike the balance of staying close enough in to enjoy the vibe, but not pay a premium. But sometimes it’s worth the premium for the experience and convenience! We did pay some premiums (to us) on our last trip to France for some B&Bs with native hosts (like our awesome place in Amboise!) and delicious breakfasts and they were worth every penny.
Bottom line: make a list of what things you must see, and plot your days in each location accordingly. When booking rooms in Europe, plan for downtime too, and to do laundry once a week. Don’t book rooms too far away in an effort to save money.
Things to see and places to sleep are wonderful, but I travel mostly on my stomach, so next week — planning food!