I can still remember the first time I tasted homemade pasta. We were visiting North Carolina and were told we just had to try this Italian restaurant called 411 in Chapel Hill. What was the secret to their amazing food? “They make their own pasta.” […]
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 […]
Welcome back to planning my would-be trip! Last time we talked turkey about budget figures. Today we talk about the next step of the planning process: how to choose a European destination and buying bargain plane tickets to Europe.
If you’re planning a Europe trip (which thus far, all of ours have been), we often start with Rick Steves’ YouTube Channel just to see what’s out there and what piques our interest, as well as get our daily dose of dad jokes and fashion. (Last night I had the novel experience of watching one of his episodes, only to say, “Cute place, but I’d rather go elsewhere right now.” Never had that happen before, but totally helpful to eliminate a possible destination!) Before you decide where you’re going, it also helps to figure out what sort of activities you’d like to do: lots of food? museums? shopping? history? hiking? sitting and doing nothing? How many people are going and how busy/ambitious do you want to be? (Trip pacing coming up next!) Once we’ve figured out a broad outline of what we want to do, we buy a guide book(s) to help us in our initial planning; cities we want to visit, in what order they should be visited, how long we want to stay, and best ways to get there and get around. Again, we are fans of Rick Steves’ books for their practicality and clarity, not to mention suggested itineraries and which airports get you closest to where you want to go (between our families we own Spain, Germany, France, London, Italy, and have borrowed Czech Republic, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Despite all this, Rick has no idea who we are. Yet. Hi, Rick!)
Once we know where we want to go, time to stalk some flights! (I don’t book any lodging or transportation where I’m going until I have airline tickets in hand.) Getting a great deal on flights seems to me to be key to affordable international travel, especially with a crowd. You will most likely need some flexibility in your dates (and possibly your ideal destination) to get the best deal, but the savings are worth it! Traveling during the so-called “shoulder season” (usually April-May and September-October, depending on the destination) is our vote — everything’s in less demand since it’s not peak season yet, so your money goes further, but the weather is usually lovely, and it’s close enough to peak season for most everything to be open.
We highly recommend Scott’s Cheap Flights for scoring bargain plane tickets to Europe! (Scott doesn’t know who we are either, but we have a crush on him anyway. Hi, Scott!) It’s an email subscription that notifies you of airline sales (and possibly also mistake fares), with both a free and premium level. The free version is more than enough to trigger serious wanderlust, but for $39 a year the premium version will send you even more deals, and you can filter by airport. (I had to unsubscribe from even the free version because it was killing me to see that I could FLY TO GENEVA ROUND.TRIP. FOR $485. For our next trip I’m definitely buying a premium subscription.)
If you don’t live near a major airport, it may require some creativity to score a good deal… or friends near an airport. Consider multiple departure airports to cast your net as wide as possible. What, exactly, constitutes a good deal will vary on where you’re headed and how big the airport you’re leaving from is, but from New Orleans to anywhere in Europe I would consider anything $500 or less a bargain for plane tickets to Europe. If you’re flying out of NYC, a great buy can be even significantly less than that. If you’re considering booking two different tickets (say, to a major airport to catch the cheap international flight), be careful! Leave LOTS of time in between flights, so if there’s a delay you don’t miss your next flight. If you book separate legs the airline is under no obligation to you get to your final destination (file that under “lessons learned the hard way”, though it did pan out. After we payed extra money.)
If you’re traveling with children, you may have a lap infant up to the age of two (there will be taxes/fees involved on an international flight, so they won’t be totally free), and often airlines will give a little reduction in fare for young children (it will apply automatically). Don’t forget to get even the smallest babies a passport! And both parents have to be present when applying unless you have a notarized form for the absent parent. (What else do you need to do? Check out our International Trip Checklist post.)
Narrowing down what I want to see in a trip can be difficult (I want to see AAALL the stuff!), so now that we’ve figured out where we want to go, next up we’ll be talking trip pacing and booking accommodations.
Sometimes it’s little things that bring Europe into your home. Sometimes it’s the not-so-little things. This DIY bistro table one is probably the latter. One thing about Europe – in particular Italy – that we’ve especially enjoyed has been the coffee culture. It’s […]
So, bad news for me, y’all — I have the travel bug like crazy but no trip on the near horizon! The Detroit Crew is planning a trip this year, but our next (hopefully!) planned one isn’t for over a year, so I’m going to […]
(Hi, it’s me, Christie! The third member of In Cahoots, the one with no kids, aka the one who gets the joy of aunting all over with my siblings! I’m here to tell you where to find coffee in Windsor, Canada.)
One of the perks of having siblings who live in Detroit is that it only takes about twenty minutes to go south of the border into Canada (yes, south! Bet you thought “south of the border” was only Mexico…). Close enough to make a jaunt for coffee in Windsor, Canada. (Ye, really.) When I came up for a visit, I romanticized the idea of trotting across the border for a fun jaunt to another country. Don’t tell the Canadians I said this, but Windsor, Canada, is not hugely different from Detroit – or maybe it’s Detroit that isn’t so different from Canada. Whatever the case may be, I came up as traveling nanny and the Detroit Crew showed me a good time.
The first thing you get to see as you cross into Canada is the lovely Ambassador Bridge, where you pay a $5 toll both ways (credit cards accepted) and, after crossing, go through customs. We timed our visit to avoid the morning and evening rush-hour traffic. If you have similar flexibility, I’d advise doing the same – there was no one ahead of us in the line for customs! Since my sister-in-law Michelle and I took the kids alone, we also brought notarized waivers authorizing the kids to go across with just one parent. While we adults only needed our passports, the waivers are an extra precaution to combat child trafficking as well as household disputes in which one parent flees the country with a child. The border patrol was super nice and let us through after a few security questions.
The next stop was for coffee. If you’re traveling with four kids, you’re gonna need it… and Michelle and I had long hankered to visit Anchor Coffee House, so really the trip was an excuse to mark it off of our respective bucket lists.
It did not disappoint. We got a double chocolate cookie and an Earl Grey shortbread, which were both excellent – especially the chocolate! The kids helped us munch on the cookies while we sipped our coffee. The shop was open and spacious, but definitely had a quiet-studying vibe – thankfully the kiddos did not choose that time to act up (temporarily distracted by sweets, no doubt), or they might have disrupted the several customers who were there working. We didn’t linger too long, though, because we had another stop to make…
McKee Park! We started here with a playground stop for the kids, but only stayed for a while because it was very chilly and the playground was tiny. We relocated to Windsor Sculpture Park and took a walk along the river as there were plenty of interesting modern art statues to see – and we knew that the walk would end with another park to work off the kids’ bug juice before we crossed the border back into America.
The kids’ bug juice? Who am I kidding. I’m just grateful that Michelle puts up with my tomfoolery…
Windsor Sculpture Park was a great stop, though (free parking, convenient bathrooms, great views of Detroit). Centennial Park at the end of the sculpture walk was an awesome playground, and the kids played for about 30 minutes before we started the trek back to our car to return home. As we crossed back into America, the American border guard asked us our reason for going into Canada.
“Coffee,” we said.
He looked at us with disbelief. “You’re trying to tell me that you went into Canada just for coffee?”
Somehow, adding the playground into our explanation did not help. But he eventually let us back through, and we were all glad to be back on American soil again (I’m not saying I blared Lee Greenwood, but yeah I did). Even so, Canada, you were wonderful… we shall see you again soon.