Planning a Family Trip to France: Real Time Travel!
Oh boy, you guys, stuff has gotten real and a lot has happened! We’ve booked a trip to France for our whole family! (I still can’t believe it’s happening!) A few months ago I was daydreaming about a European trip, and I promised to bring you along for the planning ride in real time. So here we go!
Through a series of circumstances, we have been able to plan a month in France with all four of our children. I have dreams of worldschooling galore (not to mention delicious food), but that’s a whole ‘nother post. . . today I’ll walk you through what we’ve planned and spent so far. I have never taken this long of a trip before (!), or with this many children (!!), which adds a whole new twist to everything. When our trip is said and done I’ll let you know what I will do differently next time, but for now, here’s what’s happening. . .
Why and how??
So it started with having the travel bug. We knew we’d take a trip soon for our anniversary next year, and thought about taking the kids. And then. . . our train of thought ran like this: “fall sounds like a lovely time to go; we homeschool; if we’re buying tickets for 6, wouldn’t it make sense to go for as long as possible?” The catalyst was Christie getting a remote software job. She can work from anywhere (and split room costs and be our traveling fun aunt). So suddenly a two-week anniversary trip morphed into a month abroad for us girls and the kids, with Michael joining us halfway through. I’ve been saving for this for almost 2 years, so we had the funds. That is, assuming we got cheap tickets, but more on that below.
Does going for this long with four children, ages eight and under, scare me? Um, yes!! To be honest, it totally intimated me (still kinda does), to the point that I almost scrapped the entire idea. But exploring history and food and art with my children has been a dream of mine for years, and the opportunity for travel is one of the reasons why we homeschool; a family trip to France checks all of those boxes. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed I was inspired by the analogy of just running as seemingly impermeable walls. So I took a deep breath, jumped on tickets, and took the first step into the unknown.
We’re headed to France the whole month! A few days in Paris, a lot of time in Avignon, and then some time in Toulouse and Bordeaux, and finishing with day trips to Chartres and Château Fontainebleu from Paris again. Why France the whole time? I’m trying to embrace slow travel with my children, savor local life, and practice our French. As much fun as a road trip is, we decided to save that experience with our kids for when they’re older (aannd we’re not lugging 4 carseats. . . ); we’ll travel entirely by train this particular family trip to France.
I’ve tried to be realistic and transparent about trip expenses before. But heads up, I am currently totally spitballing this, and I’m sure I will need to do some serious post-trip analysis for an accurate budget for future family trips. I’ve never taken a trip this long! Or with this many people! Right now, I am hoping that I won’t spend more than $6,000 past normal expenses, which will likely be closer to $7000 total. What do I mean by “past normal expenses”? Our normal monthly budget has room for gas, food, entertainment, kids’ educational expenses, etc., which gets spent regardless, because, well, we gotta eat. So I’m not counting that regular budget as a travel budget because they are fixed expenses. The travel budget is for non-monthly expenses. In the interest of fiscal responsibility, I will have more than this in my travel fund before we leave, but I’m sure hoping that I can save it for future trips! Realistic? I’m honestly not sure. Currently I’m prioritizing spending on rooms, since with little kids we’ll be eating in more than in restaurants, they’ll need chill time, and the whole trip will be much more enjoyable if we’re not spending too much time commuting and can remain well-rested. Christie needs (alone) space to work, which pushes the room budget up a little too.
Just as I said I would, when I knew a probable trip was on the horizon, I subscribed to the premium version of Scott’s Cheap Flights for $50. The whole trip hinged on finding affordable tickets, because we have to buy six of them. (Christie makes the 7th, if you want to get technical! But I’m not buying hers, snicker.) We picked our approximate dates, and waited. And waited. I passed up on a deal to Paris out of NYC, because I was concerned that the logistics of buying 6 more tickets to get us to NYC and then the possible fallout of a travel delay wouldn’t be pretty. If it was just my hubby and me traveling, I would have done it, but possibly paying more to leave from a more convenient airport was a call we made traveling with little kids. But lo and behold, an amazing deal out of Atlanta came up! We have friends in the area who can drop us off and store our van for us, plus Atlanta is driving distance, so it worked for us. Our flexible dates helped us pick the cheapest day of the week to fly, and our flexible departure airport gave us a steal of a deal. How much of a steal? A whopping $1882 for six tickets– $313.66 each!! It does not include a checked bag, but we pack lightly anyway; we just won’t be able to bring back Nutella and jellies. (All the more reason to eat our fill of that there, ha!) Takeaway: currently thrilled with how this played out. Hopefully travel to and from Atlanta will be smooth and we’ll remain thrilled. Having a basic plan and flexibility in place helped us snag a good deal. [EDIT: We’re flying into Paris. From my research Paris is not only the cheapest French airport to fly into, it’s also easiest to get to anywhere else in France from Paris. It’s such a massive city that the infrastructure to and from it is the best.]
This is a new category for us — we’ve never bought travel insurance before, but with this big and this expensive of a trip, I thought it might be worth it. Obviously, I would like to NOT test the necessity of it, but through our regular insurance company we paid $125 for coverage for all our non-reimbursable expenses, plus help for flight delays and theft, etc. In retrospect, we would have benefited from travel insurance on a previous trip (missed a connecting flight due to a flight delay, and had to pay more money to get where we were going), so we’re learning from past mistakes. You should learn from our mistakes too. 😉
Planning our exact itinerary and booking rooms is next! (My previous thoughts on the process can be found here.) I’m in the middle of that process now. To be honest, it’s probably my least favorite part of trip planning. . . I find sifting through options stressful, but maybe that’s just me. (Being honest. There’s always stress involved with trips, I just remind myself what awaits us. 😉 ) I’ll update you soon on what I look for in a room and how this trip pacing is different! Till then. . . stay curious, my friends. 😉 (Update: You can now read all about how I chose rooms and how much I spent here!)