Summer Vacation for 5 in Europe: 9 Weeks, 8 Countries, 14 Cities, $10,000

The Root of Good family is ramping up for an epic adventure across Europe during the summer of 2017.  The five of us will spend nine weeks traversing an all new (to us) continent by train, plane, bus, car, and foot.

We really struggled to narrow down the itinerary to something feasible for a family with three young children.  As a result this trip will NOT include London nor Paris nor a dozen other cities we would have loved to visit.  What we will see are museums, parks, castles, palaces, cathedrals, caves, mountains, seas, rivers, lakes, and canyons scattered about the rest of western and central Europe.

Many will view this as a “trip of a lifetime” or a “dream trip” but I choose to view this as just another cool vacation in a series of vacations we have already taken and will continue to take.

However, this Europe trip is in some ways the realization of a dream.  As a wistful traveler / college student yearning for adventure before embarking on my 10 year corporate grind, I ordered a stack of maps from AAA back in the dark days before the invention of Google Maps.  What better way to think, plan, and dream about where you want to explore than a pile of maps for all the countries in Europe?  For 15 years I kept these maps in a shoe box in the closet.  Now I’m figuratively dusting them off and planning on hitting the road soon (I’ll leave the maps at home since I’m going all digital with Google Maps on my computer and phone!).

Dreams fulfilled. Finally getting to bust out these maps of Europe.

Dreams fulfilled. Finally getting to bust out these maps of Europe.

This Europe trip is unique compared to our typical budget travel two months in Mexico and road trips through the US and Canada.  We’ll spend two or three times as much as we usually do on our grand summer vacations. And it’s Europe – a place we have never visited before, and in a cliché way, a must-have on every legitimate traveler’s resume.

 

Where are we going?

In mid-June we depart Raleigh for a flight across the Atlantic to Lisbon, Portugal where the adventure begins.  From Portugal we fly to the Andalusia region of southern Spain for a bit over a week before flying onward to Italy for a week.  After landing in Italy we travel overland through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic before arriving in Amsterdam where our vacation ends with a flight back to Raleigh.

The itinerary for nine weeks:

  1. Lisbon, Portugal 5 nights
  2. Malaga, Spain 2 nights
  3. Granada, Spain 3 nights
  4. Seville, Spain 4 nights
  5. Milan, Italy 4 nights
  6. Venice, Italy 2 nights
  7. Ljubljana, Slovenia 7 nights
  8. Bovec/Bled, Slovenia 4 nights
  9. Salzburg, Austria 2 nights
  10. Munich, Germany 7 nights
  11. Prague, Czech 7 nights
  12. Berlin, Germany 7 nights
  13. Koblenz (Mariaroth), Germany 7 nights
  14. Amsterdam, Netherlands 3 nights
  15. Back to Raleigh!

 

 

Transportation: Getting around town. And country. And continent.

To get around Europe, we’re relying primarily on buses and trains.  We are also taking a pair of flights for those travel segments that are difficult, expensive or take a long time on ground-based transit.  Overall, transportation in Europe is quite a steal IF you can snag the advance purchase cut rate fares.  Budget airlines aplenty such as Ryanair and EasyJet offer tickets for USD$10-20 in some cases.

Buses and trains can be even better deals for families with kids since children’s tickets are often heavily discounted or free altogether.  I looked into rail passes and quickly decided purchasing tickets a la carte would be much cheaper and easier than understanding the rules for different regional rail passes and days of validity versus days of travel.

All together, we spent 300,000 United Airline miles plus USD$544 cash for plane tickets.  More than half that was taxes on our transatlantic flights from Raleigh to Lisbon and Amsterdam to Raleigh.  The other bit is a roughly 1,000 mile flight from Seville, Spain to Milan, Italy on Ryanair at just under USD$40 per person (and a meager 2.5 hour flight time).

The flight from Lisbon, Portugal to Malaga, Spain was free since we booked an award flight to Europe.  You get a one way flight within the region you’re visiting with United Miles redemptions.  The award flights that we booked for 300,000 miles plus $350 in taxes would have cost $6,000 to $7,000 had we paid cash.  In the end we obtained between 2 to 2.2 cents per mile of value out of these points, which is pretty good for United miles.  All thanks to travel hacking some credit card sign up bonuses over the past few years.

To add to the value, we picked up the Chase Sapphire Reserve card earlier this year which gives us free Priority Pass Select membership.  Priority Pass admits us to certain business/first class lounges in the airports we’re traveling through so we can stop in and grab drinks (alcoholic or non) and some basic grub before and after our flight in lieu of paying for the same at an overpriced airport restaurant or rushing to get to a food establishment before the kids starve OMG literally to death (or so they would claim, literally).

Plane Tickets: Points Cost
United: Raleigh, North Carolina to Lisbon, Portugal x5 150,000 $175
United: Lisbon to Malaga, Spain x5 0 (free 1 way tix with United miles award booking) $0
Ryanair: Seville, Spain to Milan, Italy x5 0 $194
United: Amsterdam, Netherlands to Raleigh x5 150,000 $175
TOTAL 300,000 $544

 

For buses and trains, we spent between USD$40 and $69 for all segments with travel times between roughly two to four hours.  One exception is the Berlin to Koblenz train trip which is closer to six hours.  Since it was a longer duration than other trips, we decided to indulge in a little luxury and spring for first class tickets on Deutsche Bahn for $32 more than second class tickets (that’s $32 total for the entire family!).

Though second class seats on German trains are more than adequate, we opted for the upgrade to get comfier more spacious seating (including a private compartment) and more importantly, first class lounge access for the day.  We’ll be feasting on the all-inclusiveness with pastries, fruit, coffee and hot chocolate for breakfast in Berlin.  After a four hour high speed train ride from Berlin, we’ll grab a quick bite and pop some champagne during the 35 minute layover in Frankfurt before transferring to another high speed train bound for Cologne, Germany.  We have a three hour layover in downtown Cologne to explore on foot and have lunch with some beer or wine (and maybe an early dinner if time permits) in the first class lounge before heading a few minutes down the tracks to the airport for our rental car pickup.  A day on the rails in first class, three snacks or meals in their lounges, plus a quick city tour for $84 for the five of us.  That’s how you travel in style on the cheap!

Bus/Train: Cost (total for 5 tickets)
Bus from Malaga to Granada, Spain $41
Bus from Granada to Seville, Spain $40
Train from Milan to Venice, Italy $49
Bus from Venice, Italy to Ljubljana, Slovenia $69
Train from Bled, Slovenia to Salzburg, Austria $41
Bus from Munich, Germany to Prague, Czech $40 (estimate; not yet purchased)
Bus/train from Prague to Berlin, Germany $53 (estimate; not yet purchased)
Train from Berlin to Koblenz/Cologne, Germany (higher cost due to 1st class tix) $84
Train from Koblenz/Cologne to Amsterdam $40
Total $457

 

We’ll be renting cars for three different periods during our trip.  I’m unable to drive a manual transmission vehicle so I’ll be paying the 20-30% markup for automatic transmission vehicles.  The extra $100 will be recouped dozens of times when I don’t stall the car or inadvertently roll into oncoming vehicles or back down the hill onto the hood of an about-to-be-angry driver.  The frugalist in me says “learn to drive a stick to save a few bucks”. Then the realist shouts “This is why we saved up all this money. To afford small luxuries and conveniences.”  Though learning to drive stick while destroying someone else’s clutch does have its merits.

I’m shocked at how cheap the rental rates are since we are doing one-way rentals for at least two of the rentals (and possibly the third rental in the Koblenz area if I can find a decent one-way rate).  Another lesson learned is the lack of rental office availability on Sundays (note: never plan on conducting business or shopping for groceries on Sunday in Germany).

I’m also shocked at the opaqueness of rental car pricing. It jumps all over from hour to hour and day to day. And there are quirks.  Sometimes the price to rent for seven days is the exact same as for five days. And sometimes the total price DROPS if you extend the rental period.  Our Ljubljana, Slovenia rental was $20+ cheaper for a 13 day rental compared to a 10-12 day rental.  Ummm, okay, I can store your car for you for a few days in exchange for $20.

Rental Car: # Days Cost Cost Per Night
Ljubljana, Slovenia to Bled, Slovenia 13 $161 $12
Salzburg, Austria to Munich Germany 4 $113 $28
Koblenz, Germany (Via Cologne) 7 $181 $26
Total/Average 24 $455 $19

We will be taking public transit during about two thirds of our trip.  Most cities have multi-day or weekly transit passes and discounts for children (or they ride free with an adult pass), so transit costs should be fairly moderate overall.  Except in Venice where it’s $8 per person for a boat-bus called a vaporetto!  I’m sticking $750 in the budget for all transit costs.  Other miscellaneous transportation costs include parking and tolls at $75 and gas for the rental car at $250.  The gas cost is based on 1,375 miles at 33 miles per gallon with gas at $6/gallon.

Gas for Rental Car $250
Parking, Tolls $75
Local Transit $750
Total $1,075

To sweeten these deals, I’m always checking online cash back shopping portals like Ebates.  In this case, I didn’t have much luck finding the European train and bus companies on Ebates (but there are some travel consolidators that sell train tickets and qualify for cash back).  However, most rental car companies qualify for 4-5% cash back (like Hertz and Sixt) and the big travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity offer a couple percent cash back on rental car reservations.  I booked two out of three rental cars through Ebates so I should get another $10-20 cash back once the car rental is complete this summer.

If you’re interested in getting cash back at hundreds of sites where you are already shopping online, check out Ebates.  And click through this link for $10 bonus cash back for new members!

 

Lodging

At first we planned on a combination of hotels for short stays of two or three days and apartment rentals for longer periods.  After digging in to available hotel and apartment offerings, we quickly discovered that apartment rentals offered a much better value even for short stays.  Most hotels in Europe offer standard rooms that sleep two or possibly two plus a kid.  And you pay extra for guests in the room beyond one or two people, including kids.  For our family of five this put us in large hotel suite territory (think $$$) or paying for two rooms, the second of which might come with extra person fees for the third kid.

We moved on to Airbnb, our choice for vacation apartment rentals.  I’ve used VRBO in the past when I couldn’t find anything on Airbnb.  But this time around, the inventory and options available in all the cities we are visiting was simply overwhelming so I didn’t need to expand my search beyond Airbnb.

I love their search tools because you can filter out properties that don’t meet your criteria and then save your favorite properties on a map so it’s easy to see where your most desired properties are located.  Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, the thousands of properties in a city drop to several dozen or several hundred.

My typical search criteria was:

  • Whole house rental (not “shared room” or “private room”)
  • 2+ bedrooms (unless there aren’t many properties or they are super expensive or we’ll only be there for a couple nights, then 1+ bedroom)
  • 4+ guests (many times there’s an extra bed or couch where a small kid can sleep or a huge bed where multiple kids can sleep; 5+ guest weeds out too many perfectly acceptable rentals)
  • Air conditioning if it’s hot (summertime anywhere in Spain, Portugal, Italy)
  • limit price to a max of 60-80% of the average for the city (and increase price limit to show more properties if nothing cheaper looks appealing)

Though not included in our search criteria, we highly desire:

  • washer, and preferably dryer
  • internet
  • non-smoking
  • pet free

I find that limiting a search based on these latter four factors will eliminate nice properties that will work for us with some flexibility.  Sometimes there’s a washer available on site for free or a small charge that isn’t included in the listing.  One place we booked charges €3 per washer load, for example, but costs $40/night less than other comparable apartments!  If the cost savings are huge (as in $100+), or the property is really luxurious or in a sweet location, it might be worth making a trip to a laundromat a couple times to make the apartment work for us.

airbnb-montreal-2

Pretty decent bedroom (with a VERY firm bed) in our airbnb rental in Montreal a few years ago. We booked nicer places during our 2017 trip to Europe.

Internet is another weird one. Almost all rentals that aren’t absolute bare-bones have internet these days, but some don’t list it or only list “wireless internet” or “internet” (they are two separate check boxes on Airbnb’s search).  However, virtually all that have “internet” have a wireless router.  The key is reading the description or asking the owner if it’s in doubt.  Again, if the cost savings are huge or the property is otherwise wonderful we could forego internet.  However, I can’t recall seeing a really nice property that didn’t have internet, which is why I ignore this as a search term but double check that internet is available before booking.

We also looked for places that had ratings of 4+ stars with at least a few written reviews.  There’s no way to limit this with the search terms, but I would often skip over properties with poor ratings or no ratings.  Too many other polished gems out there to research!  However, if you’re on a very tight budget or not able to find much availability, there are certainly hidden gems waiting for you to find them.  We’ve had to stay at a few places with zero or one review due to reservations falling through at the last minute and suddenly needing to book a new apartment on short notice.  They all worked out fine after discussing the properties with the owner.

Amazing last minute booking in Mexico City with only one review. It was around USD$45 per night and beautiful inside and one block from the subway.

Amazing last minute booking in Mexico City with only one review. It was around USD$45 per night and beautiful inside and one block from the subway.

If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, you should do so on your next vacation.  It’s an incredible way to save money, stay in a much larger, nicer accommodation than a hotel room (especially relevant to families!), and end up in a cool non-touristy neighborhood surrounded by locals (part of the reason you’re traveling, right?).  Right now you can take $40 off your first Airbnb stay through this link.

Here are all the apartments and houses we booked for our nine week trip:

Destination Nights Cost Cost Per Night
Lisbon, Portugal 5 $389 $78
Malaga, Spain 2 $124 $62
Granada, Spain 3 $201 $67
Seville, Spain 4 $252 $63
Milan, Italy 4 $343 $86
Venice, Italy 2 $332 $166
Ljubljana, Slovenia 7 $600 $86
Bovec/Bled, Slovenia 4 $180 $45
Salzburg, Austria 2 $260 $130
Munich, Germany 7 $618 $88
Prague, Czech 7 $351 $50
Berlin, Germany 7 $697 $100
Koblenz (Mariaroth), Germany 7 $383 $55
Amsterdam, Netherlands 3 $517 $172
Total/Average: 64 $5,247 $82
20% savings w/ gift cards   $4,198 $66

We booked 14 different properties for a total of 64 nights at a cost of USD$5,247, or $82 per night.  Most are apartments with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and one bathroom.  A few places are three bedrooms with multiple bathrooms.  All but one place booked for three or more nights have a washing machine.

Our goal isn’t to stay in the cheapest lodging possible, but rather to balance cost with comfort, luxury, convenience, cleanliness, and location.  We could have saved 20-40% in most cities if we were traveling on a bare-bones budget and didn’t mind making sacrifices.

We have enjoyed a half dozen very positive Airbnb rentals and only one “rental from hell”.  Feel free to read more about the latter experience.  We learned to be wary of the lowest price properties and go with our guts when it comes to Airbnb places.  If there’s a hint that a place is unclean, it doesn’t make it on our list.

I amplified the cost savings on apartment rentals through Airbnb by buying Airbnb gift cards at a 20% discount through Giftcardmall.com.  Lots of them.  Roughly $5,800.  I clicked through Ebates to make the purchases at Giftcardmall, thereby adding ANOTHER 1% discount to the deal in the form of cash back.  Sadly the Giftcardmall promotion ran for just a few days in December. However, keep your eyes open at discount sites like Slickdeals and you’ll occasionally see Airbnb gift cards on sale for 10-20% off face value (usually in limited quantities).

And don’t forget Ebates for cash back on hotels if you don’t go 100% Airbnb.  Most hotels qualify for 3-6% when booked directly at the hotels’ website (12% for Hilton!!) and about the same if booked through Travelocity or Expedia.  If you go the Hotels.com route (possibly with discounted gift cards from somewhere like Raise.com), you currently earn 6% cash back through Ebates on hotels.com purchases.  Sign up for Ebates through this link for $10 bonus cash back for new members.

To summarize, you should be able to take at least a few percent off the cost of lodging using Ebates, and possibly 10-20% by combining discounted gift cards and shopping through Ebates.

In my case, I paid $4,198 cash for the gift cards used to purchase $5,247 worth of Airbnb rentals, a 20% cost savings (plus I got 1% cash back through Ebates).

 

Eating all the food

Most of the other areas of our trip are pretty well planned out, booked, and paid for.  Food is the one area where we’re going to make it up as we go along.  Belly rumbling means it’s time to eat.

Since we’ll have a full kitchen in all the Airbnb rentals, we have the option to cook essentially all meals.  We (and specifically the kids) enjoy basic breakfasts including cold stuff like fruit and yogurt or cereal and milk.  Sometimes we might get fancy and make some meat or eggs.  Or get pastries from a nearby bakery or grocery store.

For lunch we’ll grab lunch on the go while we’re out sightseeing during the day.  Some days we might pack a picnic lunch if we happen to have good ingredients on hand.  Otherwise, it’ll be a mix of street food and sit down or casual restaurants and cafes.

Dinner will be a mix of cooking at the apartment and getting take out, with some dining out mixed in.  You can’t go to Spain and NOT enjoy some tapas with wine or beer, right?

I know lunch is usually less expensive than dinner at restaurants, and we’ll naturally be consuming a higher proportion of lunches at restaurants given our schedule as tourists.

I found an app called “Too Good To Go” that I’m excited to try. The concept is simple – for a heavily discounted price, you purchase unsold food from a restaurant at the end of their meal service for pickup at a pre-determined time (usually around 3 pm or 8-9 pm).  The price is generally USD$3-4 for a take out plate.  I gather that sometimes it’s a mystery what they give you, and other times they give you a takeout tray to pick from their selection behind the counter or from their buffet.  Definitely an interesting concept, but it leaves me wondering how fresh the offerings will be by the time you pick them up.  So far the app is confined to a handful of countries in Europe plus 10 or so restaurants in New York City.  Of the places we are visiting, the only city with a major Too Good To Go presence is Berlin with 50+ restaurants offering dirt cheap surplus food.

As far as groceries, I always enjoy visiting new grocery stores to see what’s new and different versus our experience at home.  I’ve scoped out a few sales circulars for grocery stores near our rental apartments and confirmed that (1) Europeans do indeed buy food at grocery stores just like us Americans and (2) the prices are roughly the same on average, with some things a little more expensive and many things the same or cheaper.

A grocery run from our last Canada trip

A grocery run from our first trip to Canada. Pastries, fruit, bagels, and yogurt for breakfast or snacks. Broccoli, fries, salmon, tuna, and beef steaks for lunches and dinners.  And jello.

For budgeting purposes I’m making an educated guess that we’ll spend an average of $20 per day on dining out and $20 per day on groceries (with the understanding that we can greatly exceed this budget if we find awesome places to eat!).  That works out to roughly $1,250 each for restaurants and groceries, or $2,500 total for food.

We won’t dine out every day but we might end up dining out twice per day for several days in a row while we’re on the fast paced segments of the trip that find us staying in each city just two or three days at a time.  We’ll have access to free food and drinks on some of the travel days at the airport lounges and the first class train lounges, so we might spend next to nothing on food for a few days of the trip.

 

Having fun

We’ll be on vacation for nine weeks and don’t plan on packing in the museums, castles, and tourist attractions every day we are overseas.  But when we do venture out for the day, we’ll inevitably buy numerous tickets for those museums, castles, and tourist attractions.  I am pleased with just how cheap admission fees are in general.  Many cities have castles, museums, and churches open for free visits all the time or on certain days of the week.  We also enjoy walking around the historic districts, taking the kids to the park, and exploring natural parks and waterfronts (most of which are free or have nominal admission fees).

I’m budgeting $750 total for the various attractions that cost money.  There are a few “must sees” on our trip that cost $40-100 for family admission:

  • El Alhambra in Granada, Spain
  • Postojna Cave and Skocjan Cave, outside Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Dachstein Ice Cave near Hallstatt, Austria
  • Neuschwanstein Castle (admission is part of Bavaria pass)

We haven’t nailed down every single place we want to visit, but these locations stood out in our preliminary research as places we have to go.  We’re brainstorming fun stuff to do and see in each city and we keep track of all that info in a spreadsheet. Then once we arrive in a new city we’ll dig through our list of local attractions to see what we’re up for at the moment.

 

Packing

Our goal is to pack light.  By light, I mean everything should fit into regular size bookbags.  The idea is we’ll be agile and mobile. We can hop on trains, toss the gear in lockers for a couple hours if necessary, stick the bags in overhead compartments (and carry them on board planes for free), and walk a mile or so with the bags on our backs (remember, we have kids including a soon to be five year old) to get from intercity train/bus station to public transit to our apartment.

The family with all our gear on our backs. Pack light and a mile or two is nothing!

The family with all our gear on our backs. Pack light and a mile or two is nothing!

We’ll probably take three changes of clothes since we’ll have a washing machine in every apartment and can do laundry frequently.

We will keep electronics gear to a minimum.  Phones for the adults, Amazon FIRE tablets for the kids.  We have a pair of ultralight laptops for the adults (the 13″ HP Probook 430 G3 at 3 pounds).  All travel guides, leisure reading books, and entertainment will come from our tablets, phones, and computers.  For photography, we have a basic DSLR, the Canon EOS Rebel T5i with a few lenses including a 75-300mm zoom lens.

Beyond clothes and electronics, we’ll have the regular assortment of toiletries and travel meds, snacks, water, and travel documents.  That plus a spirit of adventure is all we’re taking, folks.

I admit it feels weird to walk out your front door for a two month journey with nothing more than a bookbag slung over your shoulder, but we did exactly that in 2015 when we spent nearly the whole summer living out of our bookbags while traveling around Mexico.  It worked out just fine before with only 52 pounds of gear between the five of us.

This is all we packed for seven weeks in Mexico.

This is all we packed for seven weeks in Mexico.

The only tricky part about this trip is cold weather gear. It’ll be mild to warm in most destinations but the ice cave in Austria is supposed to be around freezing even in summer.  I hate to bring a heavy coat and winter gear for this one cave visit, so I need to figure out a solution.  So far I’m considering wearing socks on my hands, a long sleeve shirt, and accepting that it’ll be cold temporarily.  Or find a thrift shop somewhere in Slovenia or Austria then ditch the clothes after the ice cave visit.

 

Challenges

We are traveling with our three kids who will be five, ten, and twelve during our trip.  The pace of the whole trip takes that into consideration which explains why we’re going pretty slow.  We’re big fans of slow travel and loathe the idea of “popping off to another country for a quick weekend away”.  Slow travel and kids go hand in hand.

The whole idea is to spend a relatively small proportion of the trip on a bus, train, or plane and most of the time relaxing or enjoying the places you are visiting.  Initially we laid out a bold plan to visit 12-15 countries including 25 cities in the same nine week period.  After realizing this was idiotic, we started amputating amazing destinations from our itinerary.  Places like Paris – nope. The French Riviera – nope. Switzerland – nope. London – nope. Rome – nope.  Belgium – nope.  Budapest – nope.  We eventually settled on eight countries with stays in 14 cities.

We designed our itinerary with plenty of time in most cities so we can take a day off every second or third day.  This means we won’t see everything in every place we visit and that is okay, as long as we have a generally good time and all get along.  Nine weeks on the road with exhausted children and frazzled adults is not a good time.

These “do nothing days” are golden.  What a luxury to travel half way across the globe and NOT have to spend every waking moment sightseeing.  It’s like a rainy Saturday back home when you don’t go out and spend the day reading, relaxing, catching some Netflix, and maybe an afternoon nap.  Great way to battle travel fatigue.

Homesickness is a related issue we’ll face.  We crave the familiar and the routine as much as we crave uniqueness.  Sometimes you get tired of arguing with the guy behind the car rental counter or stressing out that you’ll miss your train.  I find the “do nothing” days help it feel a little more like home as much as they provide relaxation and a day of respite.  A nice juicy burger or a familiar home cooked meal helps too.

Along with homesickness is the yearning for people who just speak plain ole “regular” English.  Conversing in a foreign language is tricky and mentally exhausting.

Foreign languages are challenging too.  We are proficient in Spanish which will help for the nine days in Spain.  I’ve completed a few dozen modules of German on Duolingo but I’m nowhere near being able to carry on a conversation.  Otherwise, I’m hoping Italian and Portuguese are close enough to Spanish to let me catch a few words here and there.  We’re totally screwed in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Amsterdam since languages spoken there aren’t familiar to us at all.

I hope what they say is true – that everyone speaks English in Europe.  For those that don’t, we have Google Translate on our phones along with mad charade skillz to mime what we need.  I’d like to spend some more time on Duolingo learning the basics of Portuguese and Italian and refreshing my very rusty and basic German.

 

How we planned the trip

We started planning this trip in September of 2016 so that we could book plane tickets as early as possible in order to get the best flight schedules with convenient layovers.  Our transatlantic flights are only 7.5 hours to Lisbon and 8.5 hours returning from Amsterdam (plus a one hour hop from the Washington DC airport to Raleigh here in the States).  Seven or eight hours in coach isn’t ideal but overall our transatlantic flight itinerary is hard to beat.  It’s only two hours longer than flying to the west coast from here and people do that without hesitation.  And they still give out those tasty bags of peanuts, right?  We might even get two bags on the transatlantic flights.

Once the flights were booked we had our trip bookends. We are flying into Lisbon, Portugal in mid-June and flying out of Amsterdam a bit over two months later.  Then we had to figure out where exactly we wanted to visit in Europe and how we were going to travel between cities.  Portugal and southern Spain made it on the list as did northern Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.  The biggest jump of the trip is between southern Spain and northern Italy, so we decided on flights between these two points.

Other cities were close enough together that buses and trains offer reasonable transit times.  As a form of due diligence I checked the prices between cities along our route to ensure that a bus or train link was available at a reasonable price (it was).  Then we started booking Airbnb apartments in all our destination cities before all the cheap and good places were reserved.

Once the lodging was finalized, the train and bus schedules for our specific travel dates opened up and I booked most of the intercity bus/train tickets.  All intercity travel is booked at this time except the segments into and out of Prague which go on sale at the end of April.

The only remaining bookings are a few of the most popular tourist attractions like El Alhambra that can sell out a month or more ahead of time.

In general, we booked the big ticket items first to lock in good prices and options, then drilled down to smaller details on the itinerary once we knew for certain we were staying in a particular city and traveling by a certain method.

This method has worked out well so far except for the rental car pick up in Germany.  We are doing four one week stays across Germany and the Czech Republic and switching apartments on Sundays.  The apartments are already booked and paid for, and come with cancellation fees to change the dates.  We are stuck with Sunday travel days.  Many rental car offices aren’t open on Sundays or open for just a few hours so we’ll end up driving an hour longer to pick up the car at the rental company’s airport location instead of their downtown city locations.  A lesser inconvenience is the German grocery store. It’s closed on Sunday so we’ll have to make do for our Sunday evening meal and get some groceries on Mondays.

To economize on the trip, we used a few tricks:

 

Conclusion

There you have it.  That’s how you do a nine week vacation in Europe for a family of five for around $10,000.

Trip Budget Cost
Planes $544
Buses/Trains $457
Rental Car – 24 days $455
Misc. Transportation $1,075
Lodging – 64 nights $4,198
Restaurants $1,250
Groceries $1,250
Admission Fees $750
TOTAL $9,979

Most of the trip is already booked and paid for, so the hardest part is done.  Now we get to enjoy the fun part of reading about each destination and figuring out what we want to do while we are bumming around Europe.

In some regards, this will be a budget trip because we’re not staying in fancy five star luxury hotels nor dining in three star Michelin restaurants (well, probably not).  In other regards, this really IS a luxury vacation because it won’t be rushed and the itinerary is customized to our interests and tastes.

As this post goes live, we have just under three months till we leave for Europe.  Soon we’ll be packing our meager possessions in our bookbags and bidding farewell to home so we can spend the summer exploring the world.

 

 

Are we crazy?  Can this be done?  Any suggestions on the cities we are visiting? General tips on travel in Europe?  If you’ve been to any of these places, what is number one must see on your list?

 

Want to get the latest posts from Root of Good? Make sure to subscribe on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (in the column to the right) or RSS feed reader.

232 comments

  • First of all WOW! The value you are getting for your money is astronomical. I would venture to guess that the “Average” guy taking a family of 5 to Europe would do so on a 2 week trip, would be rushing the whole time and spend twice as much as you are spending for virtually the whole summer.

    I’m blown away by how inexpensive the rental cars and flights are over there. I know these represent the best of the best deals, but still. Last year due to a snow storm one of my friends from work and I got stuck overnight in DC. We then were able to fly to Chicago, but there were NO flights for several days to South Bend (our final destination) We rented a car one way and drove it the 1.5 hours to South Bend, it cost around $300!

    Travelling with just the backpacks would scare the heck out of me, but then again lugging around suitcases while travelling would be such a pain. I love the slow travel concept. When we visited Orlando last summer we stayed for 3 days and it took us 2 days to get there and 2 to get back. We were pretty much rushing the whole time. After running the numbers I found that it was SO much cheaper to stay there or anywhere really for longer periods of time. We will certainly be incorporating slow travel into future vacations…

    I can drive a stick, but would MUCH prefer an automatic, especially when you aren’t used to the area and in some areas may be driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Certainly a convenience worth paying for! I hope you and the kids have a blast, sounds like an amazing vacation!

    • Fortunately we’ll be in continental Europe where I’m 99.9% sure they drive on the right just like us. Hope I haven’t missed something there 🙂 Not sure if I will brave left side driving if/when we end up in the UK on a future trip.

      I know what you mean about that Orlando trip. I don’t think I would even attempt a trip like that. When the ratio of “getting there” to “having fun while there” is too high, it’s not something I want to do. Another reason why I would never fly/drive to Miami for a 3 night cruise (5 nights min, and probably 7 nights). Just too much hassle in exchange for the fun. That’s the idea behind the structure of this trip. Spend 3-5 hours every 4 to 7 days to switch cities and apartments and it shouldn’t be too bad with kids.

  • Spectacular, thanks for sharing all this. We’ve traveled extensively in Europe with our twin boys (5 yrs old) and it’s a blast watching them absorb all the new sights and culture. Amsterdam is one of our favorite cities in the world. My best tips there are to visit the NEMO Science Center and the large (120 acres) Vondelpark, which has playgrounds, ponds, open air music, etc. Bring bread for the ducks. It’s just a lovely city and I know you’ll enjoy it!

    Other tip is I’m not sure if you have a streaming device but we always bring our Roku on trips so the kids can watch cartoons in English when they need to wind down 🙂 –R

    • That Vondelpark sounds perfect for us. Nice place to explore and walk around for the day. I don’t have a clue how we’ll spend the time in Amsterdam other than a day downtown exploring, so it’ll be good to get out to that park if we have time.

      As for streaming movies and TV, all our phones and tablets have netflix and youtube, so bandwidth permitting they’ll have some form of live streaming entertainment. We also have some offline movies/entertainment too. For me and Mrs. RoG we usually have some TV series on hand or watch Netflix. And there’s always e-books (free from our county library).

      • Be warned you may have trouble accessing netflix due to geo-blocking. I’m using a VPN while I’m in the UK, and even then Netflix sometimes blocks me.

        • I’ve heard about this. Are you still able to get some shows on Netflix? I’ve heard they will play local shows to the UK or wherever you are (plus some American ones) based on the IP you’re using to access Netflix.

  • Ahhhh, I’ve been having wanderlust and this certainly isn’t helping. 😉 This is what achieving FIRE is all about–doing whatever the hell you please for as long as you please. I can’t wait to read all about your adventures!

    • Sorry about dumping this on top of your wanderlust. Right on about FIRE – this is what it’s about and what we planned and saved for. I’ve lost sight of how lucky we are but it’s pretty awesome to do this EVERY SUMMER (energy permitting 🙂 ).

  • Sounds like it will be an awesome trip. We went to England, France and Switzerland a few years ago and have been itching to go back. Spain and Italy are next up on our list to visit.

    I can’t imagine driving in a foreign country. I’m not sure if they drive on the left side of the road where you’ll be, but that always throws me for a loop. The only time I’ve done it was in the Virgin Islands where there wasn’t much traffic to worry about. At least the cars had the driver on the left side like I’m used to. I can’t imagine driving a manual on the right side of the car using my left hand to shift. I’d probably break the transmission within a few minutes.

    • That left side driving scares me too. Fortunately we’ll be driving on the right exclusively, and mostly freeway/highway since we will probably take transit around town (or we’ll only be driving a mile or two).

  • Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the travel hacking details. That’s an impressive trip for the cost. Your packing impresses me even further. I though we traveled light but we do about double that. Then again we typically pack a minimum of six days of clothes and are less mobile.

  • We loved our time in Europe! We lived in Germany for 4 years when we had just 2 kids. It was a blast. If you can pit stop in Cologne, it’s a great place to spend a few hours. Also as you leave Germany there is an amazing open air museum. It takes a full day, but is one of my favorites. We still have some great friends there, so when the kids get a bit older we will be heading back.

    • I’m excited about our pit stop in Cologne. I wanted to stay there for a week instead of Koblenz but we ended up settling on a little village outside Koblenz due to proximity to a few outlying areas near there (it’s a better base than Cologne for the week). I hope to see the Cologne Cathedral (right next to main train station) and walk down to the Rhine river waterfront, if nothing else.

  • This post is epic and inspiring. I’d never thought about using ebates/gift cards for Airbnb, but we’re a family of 5 so this is definitely something for us to consider. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Killing it! That’s one hell of a trip to plan out. You’re gonna need a vacation after all that travel hacking 😉

    We just got back from our free trip to Jamaica, it was totally worth the four cards we signed up for 😉

    I’m sitting down today and getting our rooms booked for Spain. At least we have the flights and car in place, and I don’t need to find rooms for 64 nights!

    • The hard part is behind us. So at this point it’s basically an unguided 9 week tour with all transportation and lodging arranged. We just show up at the right times and explore where we want. 🙂

  • Wow, great planning, thanks for sharing! Great job on the lodging and transportation, that’s always the hard part.

    I’m half-French and spend a few months a year living in Europe – from my experience, it’s going to be very difficult to spend max $40/day on food for 5 people in some of those countries (e.g. Italy, Germany, Spain). I’m always looking to save by cooking but groceries are much more expensive there and options are far more limited than in the US. My advice would be to be prepared to spend a bit more and know that you may not be able to find certain ingredients to make more familiar meals. Fortunately, you should be able to bring with you expensive essentials like olive oil, condiments, etc. as you change locations (don’t forget an extra tote bag or something for this). Also don’t forget all the treats you’ll need to try 😉

    • The prices I saw from skimming the grocery circulars in Germany seemed about like here in the US. Spain was even cheaper it seemed (though we’ll probably dine out more there due to short stays in 3 places).

      No big deal if we bust the $40/day budget. Even at $60/day it’ll still be an ~$11,000 trip and well within our 2017 travel budget (paid for half of the trip in 2016). And definitely looking forward to trying all the treats. 🙂 That’s the best part.

  • That was a monster of a post! I’m so jealous of your trip. We don’t have any vacations in the works yet, we might end up doing a staycation or go camping for a week somewhere close by.
    I can’t wait to see pictures!

  • Patrick Wolfsjaeger

    Looks like you will be having an amazing summer.

    My parents own a small hotel in Linz ( Austria ) and in case you should be chaning your route , we would be more than happy to have you stay with us.
    http://www.booking.com/hotel/at/landgasthof-kreuzwirt.de.html

    When you will be visiting Hallstatt, I would recommend you to take the time to see the Kaiser Villa in Bad Ischl and Schloss Ort in Gmunden and Traunkirchen . According to your map you will be passing through St, Wolfgang, where I would recommend you to take the Schafbergbahn .

    I know this region very well as I have a sailing boat on lake Traunsee and spend all my weekend in the Salzkammergut , which is only a one hour drive from Linz ,

    • Hey, thanks for the local input! Google Maps tells me we’ll be passing right through Bad Ischl so maybe we can check out Kaiser Villa on the way to/from Hallstatt (we are spending the nights in Salzburg right next to the castle and not Hallstatt, so it’ll be a day trip down there).

  • That is one serious vacation! I love the fact that you guys are only bringing backpacks and 3 outfits. Just brilliant! We are planning a trip to Europe in a few years so I’m curious to read a recap of your trip once yall get back. I’ll definitely be pulling up this post when planning, that’s for sure. Thanks for all the details.

    -Stafford

  • Portuguese is very different to Spanish and Italian. Be careful in restaurants in Portugal, you can find yourself accidentally ordering a dish big enough for two or three (it isn’t defined well on menus and is designed to feed 2, not just a large portion size). I agree with the person who doesn’t think you can manage to spend that little on food for 5 people per day. I found that easier when I visited in the US as the portions are huge and you are expected to take home your leftovers.

    In general, tourist attractions will have English speakers, but if you’re driving or going to less popular places be prepared to point. At least knowing the way to be polite in a foreign language will help as people will be more inclined to work with your miming if you started with please, thank you excuse me!

    The Alcazar in Seville is lovely and was where some of Games of Thrones was filmed. Although bizarrely there are no straight vistas! Every time you look thinking there should be a great, long view, somebody planted a tree in the middle or blocked that window. Odd, but still a beautiful place.

    Look forward to reading about the trip. I think avoiding London, Paris and Rome were key to saving money! Although we’re lucky in London that the majority of museums are free.

    • I hope to know please, thank you, and you are welcome in the 7-8 languages we’ll be encountering on the trip. I think I’m half way there already, and practiced those a bit when booking our airbnbs with sometimes limited English ability hosts. Danke schoen, grazie and all that 🙂

      Good tip on the restaurants in Portugal. How embarrassing if we order food for 10-15 🙂 Hopefully the prices reflect the fact that it will feed 2-3. If the price is right, that might be a way to save money by splitting the plate.

      Someone else mentioned the Alcazar to me, as being a Game of Thrones filming location. We’ll have to check that out!

      • Haha. My partner and I ended up with a whole octopus and fish stew big enough for 4! The waiter must have realised but left us to it. We were embarrassed so tried to eat the lot. Less moressed with €70 lunch for 2!

  • What an epic post!

    Of the 14 cities on your list we’ve been to 6 over the years – Seville, Granada, Salzburg, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam. I almost made it to Prague – but the cheap airline that I had booked my tickets on went bankrupt less than two weeks before the trip. If you plan to go to the Alhambra early in the morning, be warned that it can get a quite chilly even when the weather is warm. This took us by surprise. In Seville ask around for local bars that host flamenco performances. A general rule for tapas: you will get free tapas with every round of drinks you order. The ‘quality’ of the tapas generally increases with every subsequent round. This means that it is better to order multiple rounds at one bar rather than bar hop and do one round at every bar.

    We are using the same United stopover trick this September to do SFO->Lisbon->Amsterdam->SFO ($248 for 3 round trip tickets plus 180,000 miles). We plan to see Croatia as well. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how cheap AirBnB options (and how plentiful) are in Lisbon. My sister (who lives in Amsterdam and has spent a month in Lisbon on a work assignment) assures me that Lisbon is fantastically cheap for both food and drink, and that the food is excellent.

    Driving between cities in Europe is easy – the speeds you can get up to on the autobahn are fun. The lanes are narrower than what we are used to in CA though, and there are about eight hundred thousand more roundabouts. Driving in a city is a pain the ass. Avoid like the plague.

    Where are you planning on converting your $ to euros? This is one area where I still feel like I get ripped off. The best option I’ve found is to use my debit card at an ATM where I won’t be charged fees for the withdrawal.

    • For cash in €, we will pull from ATMs directly. I have the Fidelity ATM/Debit card and they reimburse all ATM transaction fees (so I think I’ll pay 1%, possibly less for a conversion fee and that’s it). Since they pay transaction fees, I don’t have to worry about withdrawing a huge amount of cash to make a $4-5 transaction fee “worthwhile”. Much easier to pull €150-200 or whatever we might need for the next couple days out of the ATM and replenish the cash as we go along.

  • Just a couple of comments on what appears to be a trip that will create life long memories for your family:

    Car rental prices that you’ve locked down may not include local taxes, airport pick up charges and local mandatory liability insurance.

    Your dining out budget of $20 per day for five people would be hard to achieve in most of the countries you are visiting.

    Have you made arrangements to have data access on your smart phone for mapping and other google searches while you are on the road? WIFI hot spots are still spotty in most of Europe. Having smart phone data access should be a must and will come in very handy.

    And to the point above – there are great tanslation apps for a smart phone that can help with communication.

    • I think I’ve got the rentals for the “out the door” price that includes taxes (which are HUGE on all the rentals – base price is next to nothing!), fees, and one way charges (small or none). But I won’t cry if there are surprises. 🙂

      The $20/day for dining out is an average. We won’t dine out every day and some meals will be really simple. That’s probably optimistic in most places for one meal if we eat anywhere decent though. I figure $30-40 for most sit down restaurants if we are careful, otherwise more.

      We have Global SIM chips for some basic data that works everywhere but Slovenia. And Google Maps Offline for GPS navigation everywhere without needing data connections. Should be good – we worked this way in Mexico for 7 weeks without any cell connection and it was fine overall. Translation apps also work well offline with the downloadable libraries.

  • Excellent upcoming trip and post! We did 20 day trip to Europe last summer – family of seven to London, Paris, and Muenster, Germany – about a week in each location. Our cost was about $7000 all in. Business class seats on points from US to London and from Amsterdam to US. Used homeaway for our stays, and as you point out, there are so many more advantages to an apartment over a hotel, especially with a relatively large family.

    Hit all the highlights in each of the cities listed, so admission fees were high overall (e.g. day trip to Versailles was probably close to $400 bucks, trip to Harry Potter Studio in the UK was probably the same).

    Did not rent any cars – used trains, buses and trains (and bikes!) and mass transit when within cities.

    Dont think we could do the book bag packing, but envy you that you are able to do. 🙂 We went larger at a roller board each.

    Have a great trip. Look forward to vicariously traveling through your trip report!

    • Nice trip! What was your favorite between London, Paris, and Germany?

    • Another family of 7!

      We haven’t ever done Business Class, did you have trouble getting that many seats together on points?

      • Liked them all, but if had to rank – probably 1) Muenster, 1A) London, then 2) Paris. Had an apartment in Muenster about 10 Km outside of town. Owner was nice enough to provide 7 bikes so rode into town every day. University town, so some cultural attractions, but was more the epitome of slow travel. Relax, ride the bike, long lunches, eat pig knuckles, etc.

        • That sounds wonderful. And makes me feel better about skipping London and Paris on this trip. 🙂

        • Yikes! Also wanted to add Münster! A lot of churches, a very historic city (listen to hardcore history: prophets of doom). 50.000 students, super bike friendly. Very family friendly city with lots of green spaces

      • Actually used points to book economy seats, and because I am super duper elite with the airline, I was able pull some strings to use upgrade certificates to book into normal business class seats. Not something readily available, so was very fortunate there. I think the kids are spoiled now and expect that on every flight. :O

        • Slick move! I bet it was totally worth it. Ha I do bet the kids are expecting it. Our kids keep asking every time we tell them about a trip, do we get to ride in the nice seats?

          No kids you don’t. Mom never even has. Some day. On a long flight I would love to.

  • That sounds like a great trip.

    Booking first class to get lounge access with good and drinks is a travel hack i can actually apply! Thx for the good idea.

    Sadly, Belgium has a poor offer on credit card rewards and on top off that, there are few services we can book on a credit card.

    • Those German train tickets are really affordable, and the advance purchase cost to go from 2nd class to 1st is small – €10-15 per ticket (€30 max for a family ticket I believe). Very nice upgrade if you have a long day of travel, and on Deutsche Bahn it’s easy to add in 2 stopovers up to 48 hours each, so you could theoretically have ~5 days of first class travel (spread between 3 segments) for under €80 for a family ticket.

  • AMAZING JOB!!! So inspiring. I had no idea rental cars in Europe were so cheap – I’ll look into that when I go back. Also don’t worry about English in Venice, the Czech Republic or Amsterdam. Everyone I interacted with spoke English really well. Also if Slovenia has a similar English speaking population to Slovakia you’ll be fine there too :).

    • The rental cars took some searching but prices not bad at all. Even the $6/gallon gas isn’t too steep in the grand scheme of things. Of course the economics for us as a family of 5 needing to purchase 2 to 5 transit tickets makes rental cars comparatively affordable options to get around. But it’s really the convenience. Some places we’ll spend 3-4 hours round trip in the car and see several places during the day versus 7-8 hours round trip on the bus/train only to see one place. If it was me alone I’d probably go for transit but the kids will certainly appreciate the much lower travel times. 🙂

      Glad to hear your experiences with English speaking. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem. We aren’t veering that far off the tourist path. Especially Venice. That’s English language central. And I know the most important Italian word – Pizza! At least we won’t go hungry.

  • I’m so jealous of your trip. I look forward to attaining FIRE in order to take extended vacations.

    I’ve been working on my travel hacking this year. I have an 8 Night trip to Portland and Tacoma/Seattle from the Midwest planned for myself and my little one (4 yr old), along with my best friend and her little one (6 yr old), and another mutual friend, so five of us in total. I used points for our airfare from STL to PDX and SEA to STL, and only had to pay $28 in fees. We have an AirBnB rental in Portland for our 3 nights, that I did save $40 on for clicking through the link and also saved $8.63 on a $50 gift card on Amazon. We are taking an Amtrak train from Portland to Tacoma in business class that includes the Metropolitan Lounge access that I used points for, so that is free. Our hotel for 3 nights in Tacoma is free with points and our last two nights in Seattle we are paying for, but the price was low enough that I am not willing to use the points for it, and would rather earn points for the stay. We are renting a car for the three nights in Portland and five nights in Tacoma/Seattle, but I did get a free upgrade. Both hotels come with free breakfast and the AirBnb is an entire 2 BR house with a full kitchen. The entire cost of flights, lodging, train travel, and car rental is $967 and since we are splitting it three ways (me, my best friend, and our mutual friend) it comes out to $322 each for the 8 night trip. Not bad, IMO.

    • Sounds like my kind of trip! 🙂 I do the same thing with hotels – sometimes pay cash if the points redemption options aren’t a good value. Seems like I have no problem finding hotels where I’m getting 5-10 cents per point for Starwood points (like a $400-500/nt Niagara falls hotel room for 3000 points/nt; so cheap we got 2 rooms for the family!).

  • Wow, that’s going to be an incredible trip! I know you guys have been planning this for awhile — I’m glad to finally see that grand total. That’s really quite affordable for 9 weeks!

    We’ll be doing a month in Japan this fall and i expect the cost is going to be around $4k for our family of 4. If I can travel hack another free plane ticket, it might even cost less!

    Good luck on the trip!

    • That’s not a bad price for Japan. Funny how we stereotype all these places as really expensive but when you get down to hacking out some deals it’s nowhere near as bad as we think at first.

  • I think that you will run into some challenges.
    You’ve fallen into the standard ‘first time in Europe’ trap of wanting to see everything in one trip. With children, a good number of locations would be around 4.
    Compact cars in Europe are small, typically hold 4 persons and minimal luggage.
    Your phone isn’t going to work and you won’t know where you’re going. Since you’re staying at someone’s house and don’t speak the language, navigation will be challenging at times.
    Consider not taking the DSLR. It will mark you and your family as easy targets.
    Take a softshell combination jacket for everyone. They combine a raincoat and light thermal jacket in one garment. Standing in line in the cold rainy morning won’t be possible without something like it.
    You will likely spend a good bit more for food than you think.

    • The phone should work based on hundreds of reviews of this Global SIM. If not we can always buy local prepaid SIMs as needed (already checked my cell’s radio bands work in Europe; they do). Compact cars that we have reserved so far appear to be about the same size as our compact car (Honda Civic) that worked just fine for us. Tight but doable. I won’t mind that at all when I’m navigating sometimes narrow city or mountain village streets 🙂 Luggage is no problem – we’ll have five regular sized bookbags, a camera bag and maybe some little totes or kids’ purses. Could probably squeeze all that in the passenger compartment if we had to, but I imagine the small trunk will work out fine. If not we’ll have interesting stories to tell. 🙂

      As for the pace – I hope it’s not too much too fast but admit it’s kind of a first timer “desire to see everything”. But you should have seen our first draft of the trip with 25 different cities 🙂 That would have been HORRIBLE!

      The busiest part of the trip will be Spain where we’ll have 3 cities in 9 days. And I only have one “must see” in that period so no problem if we take a do nothing day or two.

  • Will you need a chip and PIN card (not just a chip a signature card)?

    • Chip and PIN would be handy but not worth applying for a credit card just for that purpose. Our debit card from Fidelity has zero transaction fees (they reimburse any if locally imposed) and works as a chip and PIN (on the VISA network) so we can use that in a pinch. I’ve read the automated ticket machines at the subway or train station plus the unattended gas pumps are the two main areas you need chip and PIN (but they sometimes work for low dollar amounts with chip and signature cards).

  • I ran into the same problem with grocery stores in Germany on Sundays. Train stations usually have restaurants, possibly grocery stores, open on Sundays. Sounds like a great trip. Have fun!

    • It’s kind of a bummer but we’ll make do I’m sure. 🙂 A good excuse to go out and enjoy a meal somewhere I suppose. Worst case every restaurant is closed and Sundays become our McDonald’s days (they are open on Sunday’s I hope!).

  • So exciting, hope we get to hear more about this trip. BTW thanks for turning me on the ebates, I started using them after hearing you talk about how you saved on a cruise via ebates on the choose FI podcast.

  • Sounds like a great trip! Please post your adventure as many people with kids don’t know how to begin to pull a trip like this off. We had decided to do shorter more controlled trips like this by cruising on ships and doing excursions so we could have a full experience with childcare, food and transportation mostly included. However, that would add quite a bit to your great cost of 10K.

  • Congrats, I am exhausted just reading about it. I like that you’re spending 7 days in Muenchen. Bavaria was my favorite place in Germany and it’s gorgeous with lots of castles. Someday I hope to go back to Europe.

    Did you use the Fidelity brokerage transfer to get the United miles, or did you already have those from your Reserve card? Also, I have found that rental cars are very cheap if you buy them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall vs. paying cash for those same rentals somewhere else. $175, or 11,000 points for a 7 day rental in Puerto Rico, for example (mid size car, we are only a family of 4).

    Enjoy and congrats.

    • I just hope we don’t get castled out. 🙂 Is that even possible?

      I already had 300,000 United miles from previous CC apps (United Explorer and Continental cards probably). So I still have the 200k points from Sapphire Reserve and 100k from fidelity transfer. Another trip to Europe? 🙂

      I took a quick look at redeeming Chase UR points for rental cars and it’s all 50-150% more than paying cash elsewhere. So best case I can get roughly 1 cent per UR point value out of them (even after the Sapphire Reserve 50% bonus on UR redemptions for travel). I’m hoping I can get at least 1.5c/UR point elsewhere.

  • This sounds like an absolutely amazing trip! Packing light, in my mind, will make the trip much more enjoyable. Especially since you’re not spending a ton of time in each place, you don’t want to be wrangling your luggage over and over again.

    Have a great time!

  • Wow…brave man…brave family!

    I wanted to share a few tips and tricks we picked up on our trip to Europe a few years ago, hopefully they will help you enjoy your adventure even more.

    First, it’s by far the best trip we’ve ever taken and we’ve taken many – so in that regard, whatever hardships you have to endure I think you will find it all worthwhile.

    Language barriers: Italians love speaking English and will take every opportunity to try to speak English with you – they are trying to learn!! The Germans and the Spanish were less English friendly, but 2 years of high school Spanish was more than enough to get around Spain (Donde esta el bano?) Central Europe will be a hoot language wise – if there is a modern day Tower of Babel I’m guessing it’s located somewhere in Central/Eastern Europe. Having said that our good friends from Norway assure me that most if not all European school kids are required to learn English nowadays so if all else fails find a nearby European kid to translate.

    Crime/terrorism: I hate to bring up this topic but since you didn’t cover it I thought it was worth mentioning. There is a lot of minor theft and low level crime in European cities. For the most part it’s not violent, but it is a real threat to a fun vacation. We used money belts to protect our cash and IDs. More important than the cash was our passports. Imagine the hassle of getting that stolen early in the trip? We encountered at least 3 incidences of pick pocketing, purse snatching and the like. The police are very knowledgeable about looking out for tourists, but it’s very easy to find yourself in precarious situations if you’re not careful. On our trip there were 2 terrorist alerts and while they were disconcerting to say the least (imagine 30 militarized cop cars barrelling down the road at 100 mph sirens screaming), the rest of the people on the street barely noticed so we took it in stride. Unfortunately these are things Europeans have gotten used to these days.

    Food: Italy by far had the best food, with a Spain a close second…I can still taste that thin crust pizza made with flour and water from the Alps!! If there’s any way for you to take a detour to ROME by all means do it. Venice was not our cup of tea, touristy and decaying while Rome (and Florence) was the most amazing stop on our long journey. German food? It wasn’t bad, but our fondest memories are the beer and pretzels so ya know…The rest of the food we ate was passable but nothing to write home about.

    Trains/Planes/Automobiles: The train system is amazing in most of Western Europe – we loved traveling the rails. Sometimes the train stations were in scary places and since we often walked from station to station with minimal luggage we felt that we probably should have called a Taxi, but that opens up the can of worms of the taxi’s cheating you on the cab fare – a pretty common problem. We learned to avoid leaving or arriving late at night in some cities. Flying in most of Europe is comparable to the US however the level of security can be different in each airport. I would assume that they’ve tightened up security in the past 2 years, but when we were there some “security” checks consisted of our bags being felt – yes felt by one guy at a conveyor belt. Most however used more modern and elaborate systems which made us feel better about getting on that plane. One annoying thing was the plane announcements are generally only made in one language…not English. The trick is to find someone near you ahead of time who speaks both English and the native tongue and ask them to translate – most travelers are very friendly that way.
    Traveling by auto was very tricky for us. Some European road systems are not very logical or efficient (France has no systematic highway numbering system). We stupidly forgot to add access to our GPS while driving and wasted many precious hours lost on highways to nowhere. Whatever it cost to have your GPS working at all times on the road it’s well worth it!

    Despite my warnings, 95% of touring Europe was an exceptional once in a lifetime experience. I could spend another 10 paragraphs telling you about all the positive experiences and people, but you’ll find that out for yourselves. Have a great trip!

    • Thanks for the detailed comments! I’m tempted to copy/paste this into a new blog post 🙂

      Re food: I’m thinking the same – excited about the grub in Portugal, Spain, and Italy, and hoping for the best in the other places.

      Re: crime – yep, a problem everywhere. Today’s London terror attack doesn’t phase me a bit. We’ve traveled quite a bit in Mexico so heavily armed police and security guards don’t bother us a bit. Seeing armed convoys of soldiers with roof mounted 0.50 caliber machine guns on the back of their trucks is par for the course (occasionally).
      We’ll try to keep documents and cash safe and make do if something gets stolen. There are contingencies in place to handle loss of cash, credit cards, and travel docs. We will undoubtedly encounter unpleasant situations at some point in our 9 week trip, and hopefully we can mitigate those, move past it and enjoy the remainder of the trip.

      I have multiple smartphones and Google Maps allows offline map saving that includes vehicle navigation, so GPS shouldn’t be a problem (as long as I can keep the battery charged in the phone). We also have global SIM chips with 1.2 GB/month of data, so in a pinch we can do a little online navigation and searching for stuff. Google Translate also has offline translation language packs for all the regions we are visiting (or most of them at least). Slovenia is the only country where our SIMs won’t work, and I’ve heard the capital’s downtown zone is covered in free (possibly time limited) wifi. And there’s always starbucks/McDs and tons of local places to get a wifi signal.

      • You are a man of steel, saying London doesn’t phase you. I am so scared of this in Europe right now. I had thought we would stay north in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Norway and stuff where it seemed safer to me. And then this happens. I get scared to even go there at all.

        I know all the stats, but man. It is hard for me to not want to scrap it all.

        • It’s a numbers game. 52.999975 million English are safe tonight and 25 are injured or dead. I’m more worried about slip and falls or getting in a vehicular accident since odds are much greater (and I can somewhat control my risk for those events by not getting piss drunk, minding my footing on sidewalks and trails, and looking both ways before crossing the street).

          • Yes, it is a numbers game and you are numbers guy. I totally get it, in my mind.

            I just wish we didn’t have to worry about that kind of stuff.
            Wishing you a safe trip.

            Thanks for all the planning help this post just gave me. Should make my job as trip planner for the family easier.
            Do you do all the trip planning?

            • I’m mostly the trip planner in terms of the transportation logistics. Mrs. Root of Good helped extensively with the airbnb search and we jointly sat down and pored over probably a hundred, maybe two hundred different airbnb rentals on the big screen TV (plugged to a computer) so that was our evening entertainment during the month of January 🙂

            • Wow you guys really got into the AirBnB search. You should link to the ones you stay at so we can all benefit from your hard work. 🙂

              You have done so much research and I really thank you as it is going to help lighten mine. You have brought up a lot of things that I didn’t think you. I think you are so smart to looking into everything that you are.

              I do a lot of the trip planning in our house and it takes so much time. Other than Canada, this is our first international trip, we did the Banff area last year. I am little overwhelmed at the moment.

              I can really see now why some people pay trip planners or just go on pre planned trips.

            • Yeah, it’s a lot of work in terms of pure hours, but I enjoy searching out cool places and good deals. I figure even if we spend 200-300 hours planning all this out (which is probably a gross overestimate), we are probably saving $15000+ versus buying a prepackaged trip to Europe of similar scale. That works out to $50-75 after tax earnings per hour and I enjoy the trip planning.

              By the time I leave a city I have a great feel for the layout and get more immersed in wherever we visit. If we did a guided tour I probably wouldn’t remember as much about each place we visit and it would all blend together.

            • Ahh
              I love the way that you think of it and seeing how much money you are saving by doing it. I will have to tell myself that every time I am planning one of our trips.

              And so true that I think you learn a heck of a lot more about a place when you are doing it yourself. If you were on a guided trip you wouldn’t have to.

              You could start your own trip planning business for sure!

            • I’m not sure I would care enough about someone else’s trip to plan it this carefully. 🙂

            • Ha. Simple, just sell the trips you have already been on as guides! 🙂

            • Good idea. Maybe I’ll convert this post to an e-book and sell it on Amazon for a few bucks (once I’m done with the trip and have some actual experience to share). 🙂

        • I am somewhat amazed to read comments from Americans that they would be afraid to visit London – you live in a country with over 10,000 firearms-related murders *a year*!

          The cost is a much better reason to avoid London. I’m going for a day trip in a few months time and am struggling to find even a reasonable chain hotel for less than £150/night.

          • You are right about that. I was freaked out by what happened in London and then watched the local news and saw that more people were killed in gun incidents in the state just that day. And those are just the ones that made the news.

            • I think there’s a gun murder basically every weekend here and plenty more shootings and gun deaths during the week. It’s so routine that I don’t even care. Isolated terror incidents are infrequent and random enough that I don’t worry about it. Just have to keep perspective (and not dwell on the news headlines too much!).

          • That’s what gets me. We have gun-related shootings and/or killings many times per week in our medium sized city (metro area is about 1-1.5 million people). You grow callous to it and learn to ignore it and hope it’s not you next time (playing the odds). A few deaths in London (a huge city) is a blip. Statistically I feel a lot safer in countries with strict gun control laws that have fewer guns on the streets (but I’m just one guy playing the odds here 🙂 ).

            Commence gun debate in 3… 2… 1…

            • Yesterday in London 4 people, including a police officer and the assailant were killed. Only one by a gun, controlled by law enforcement.
              Yesterday in Wisconsin, 4 people were killed, including a police officer and the assailant, all by gun as far as I’m aware, in what US police describe as a normal ‘domestic incident’.
              We withstood worse attacks from the IRA for many more years and death by a terror linked attack is no more glamorous than any other. You’re still gone.
              Whilst in no way belittling the loss for friends and relatives of the deceased, statistically you are very unlikely to be killed or injured in a terrorist attack. For anyone who is concerned you can teach your children some basic tips, like ‘run, hide, tell’, but it’s quite possible they have already been taught those in school due to the sad incidence of school shootings.
              I think you’re right not to let it worry you overly. You can be practical about avoiding situations that might be dangerous (which are more likely to be football hooligans!), and still have a great time on holiday.

      • European Starbucks was our good friend re: wifi
        nearly every restaurant/business had wifi, but starbucks was the best/strongest signal.

        Bon Voyage!
        Have an amazing journey!

        • Starbucks and McDs has saved me a couple times when the airbnb wifi didn’t work and I didn’t have cell service overseas. That’s my Plan C if we lose internet and cell data at our house here in Raleigh. There’s a Starbucks and McD’s on the corner at the end of the street. Free wifi (well, for the $1-2 cost of a cup of coffee or burger).

  • This trip sounds amazing! For our honeymoon a few months ago we went to Munich, Prague and Amseterdam. For Munich and Amsterdam we had no troubles at all communicating with anyone. Even much of the transit in Amsterdam is in English. Prague was a different story… If we didn’t have an old friend from college showing us around it would have been much more difficult! On the plus side Uber is very cheap($3-$4USD for anywhere in town) so when we did get lost we just found some Wi-Fi and got a ride home! When you are in Prague you should see the Prague castle! It is huge and takes an entire day to roam around. You can see the grounds for free but if you want to go into the buildings you pay a fee of around $12 per person but it was an entire day of exploring a 1000 year old castle which is so cool! Also you can touch the window where the defenestration of Prague happened!

    • Right on – if nothing else we can uber it back to the Airbnb. 🙂

      That prague castle looks incredible! We’ll definitely be visiting it a day or two.

  • That is some nice travel hacking! 🙂 One of the best things about travelling through Europe is the cheap transportation. And now that AirBnb is so prevalent in so many countries, no need to worry about expensive accommodations either!

    Initially we were worried about Airbnbs with no reviews too, but as it turns out, those actually ended up being some of the best ones! The hosts were new to airbnb so they went out of their way to do a good job. Also, since they just started and didn’t have reviews, they lowered the price by as much as 30-40%. So, good deal AND good hosts. Or maybe we just lucked out. Who knows.

    Oh and as for the language issues “We’re totally screwed in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Amsterdam since languages spoken there aren’t familiar to us at all”…

    I don’t know about Slovenia, but CR, everyone spoke English (at least in Prague anyway). Amsterdam, they have signs in English everywhere and all their TV shows are in English or have English subtitles. So everyone spoke both dutch and English. So you’re right. Pretty much everywhere we went in Europe, people spoke English. Only exception was Spain, and you guys are already fluent in Spanish, so no worries there.

    Count down to your epic trip begins! It’s going to be awesome!

    • I felt the same way about the no review places we stayed in the past. Great values and very clean because the owner wanted to get a good reputation.

      As for language, I’m not too worried. We can point very effectively. We won’t be lost forever, we won’t starve, and after a week we’ll be moving on to the next city. Since we’ll be spending almost a month between Austria and Germany we’ll probably pick up quite a bit of German. For Czech, I just need to learn to say “beer and meat, please”.

      • Jedno pivo, prosím [Yed-no pivo, proseem] (or dva piva for you and Mrs. RoG) will get you a long way in Prague 🙂 For the meat, I’d recommend klobasy or guláš.

  • Thanks for posting, I love to see someone travelling with kids, fairly inexpensively. Our kids are just kidding old enough to start to travel in the US more. I then look forward to overseas. Travel Hacking ….. I know I should learn about this, but it’s so overwhelming! Ahhh! So much to learn!

    – The Tepid Tamale

    • Age 3 for us was the magic number. Age 2 was very difficult and we actually came home early from our summer road trip (which was okay by us – we knew it might be tough). Last year with a 4 year old, no problem at all.

  • Wow looks great. I love how detailed you are for our benefit!
    I wish you could plan our trip to Europe.

    9 weeks for 10k is great. I think some families spend that or a bit less on a week at Disney.

    Are you at all worried about terrorism in the areas that you are going?

    I am in the middle of planning our trip to Europe. I haven’t even decided where we are going to be yet. Ha need to get on that.
    I am possibly thinking of going the AirBnB route and packing in backpacks for our family of 7 too. We shall see. We normally pack light in just carryons and a back pack. It would be nice to carry less around.

    We only hacked part of our trip. Used our Chase Reserve cards for 6 (plus a lap baby) round trip tickets for only 165k points. I thought we would need 360k United points, so this was a huge savings.
    Did you use your Reserve cards to charge any the travel for this and use your travel credit?

    The kids are crazy excited, we can’t wait.

    • Awesome! I recommend the backpack/bookbag packing if you can do it, especially if you’re moving city to city more than a couple times. Makes airports, buses, trains, etc much easier when you don’t have to worry about luggage (beyond what is strapped to your backs). Kids carry their own gear of course 🙂

      We’ve booked the train and bus tickets plus paid for 1 car reservation and received almost the full $600 cash back. But we paid the $450 annual fee x2 so it’ll almost be a wash once we get another $600 in December when the 2018 travel reimbursement year starts fresh. That Priority pass select benefit will come in VERY handy though 🙂

  • I’m sure you are going to have a great time! Alhambra is absolutely beautiful and the kids will love it.

    Couple of thoughts, i would echo the poster upthread about security,. Be vary about pickpockets and beggars. Not sure what your kids are used to but most European tourist attractions comes with, often East European, beggars sadly. Consider having stored photos of your passports and maybe credit cards (?) somewhere safe but easily accessible for you. Also maybe have an awareness of the closest embassy in case of issues.

    My other half is Dutch, but we never go to Amsterdam as it is very touristy. i was in central Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago for work and quite frankly I found it disgusting. I would not take my kids there. Tourists openly smoking (not cigarettes) and quite explicit sex shops even outside the red light district. Do some research and consider what you want to expose your kids to. The western side is better but it’s not a big city center. Anne Frank huis, van Gogh museum and rijksmuseum all worth a visit if it suits the kids!

    • We’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico with the kids so poverty, beggars, homeless etc is nothing new. We even have those in our own city on some street corners and downtown. Our city’s kids museum is a block away from the homeless shelter 🙂

      Thanks for the heads up about Amsterdam. I don’t think I’ll take them through the red light district proper and maybe tell them to avert thine eyes when those shops pop up elsewhere. We’ve already been through the smoke shop district in Toronto (and joked we’ll be smoking pot in Amsterdam) and don’t have a problem with the kids seeing that (I agree with their stance on the issue more than the US Federal Government’s stance FYI). For other tourist attractions, we’ll probably swing by Anne Frank’s house but not visit inside. Everything I’ve read points to tourist trap central, long lines, etc and we only have 2 full days to see stuff. We’ll get other WW2 exposure (and sadness) elsewhere in Europe without the lines (like Dachau near Munich – might be all we can handle…).

      • Dachau is worth seeing but anti-climactic. There is nothing there but white stones and a museum. Everything was torn down decades ago, FYI.

        • That’s not what their website says:

          The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site is comprised of the former prisoner camp and the former crematorium area, which was outside the area of the prisoners’ camp itself. The memorial site was founded in 1965 through the initiative of survivours of the concentration camp. A number of the original buildings from the time of the concentration camp have been preserved (incl. the Jourhaus, the maintenance building, the bunker, the crematorium and the guard towers). However, two barracks have been reconstructed and foundations have been placed where the original barracks once stood. In addition, a central memorial has been erected on the former roll-call area.

          I’m hoping their website is accurate as I really want to visit a concentration camp due to a strong interest in WW2 history. From my research Dachau appeared to be the “best” (not quite the right word given the theme) concentration camp to visit along our route since we aren’t going to Poland this time around.

          I’d probably still go even if it was a museum and memorial. Kind of a stand out from castles, palaces and caves 🙂

          • We really enjoyed Dachau, also having a strong interest WWII history. Worth it from Munich. Also, recommend taking pictures of your rental cars when you pick them up. We got charged for a “ding” when we returned our car to the Hertz in Salzburg after visiting Halstatt because we had no proof that it was there when we picked it up. They were VERY thorough on the inspection when we returned the car!

            • Good tip on photographing the rental car upon pick up. Hard to remember to do after a long day traveling though 🙂

              Good to hear positive experience at Dachau. I expect it to be somber and impressionable.

          • Maybe they added on to it since 1994, but lots of white rocks and empty spaces outside that museum. Hope your experience is different.

          • Agree that Dachau is worth visiting. The original bunkhouses were torn down, but the original foundations remain along with some rebuilt ones. I would also suggest Anne Frank house in Amsterdam (make reservations early).

            United provides 2 meals on the long haul flights, but snacks and a water bottle help. In fact, I would bring a reusable bottle for each member of the family, to save on buying water… a big waste.

            • Great to hear that about Dachau. Hopefully it’ll be worthwhile for us.

              Wow, we’ll get 2 meals on United? Luxury!! 🙂 We always bring disposable water bottles, dump them before security then refill at a water fountain before getting on the plane.

  • Hi Justin! Great details on this post, what an exciting trip you have coming up!

    Last year my wife, daughter and I did 17 days in London, Paris and Rome for roughly $7600. It was an amazing trip, but we knew from that experience that we could do better than financially next time around… we were right.

    We just returned from a 28-day excursion to SE Asia and Australia. We saw the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bali, and Doha, Qatar. Total cost $9300, but no points or miles used (we did capitalize on purchasing our flights and lodging to earn matching 100K bonuses from Chase Reserve). We planned it all ourselves and preferred it that way. Essentially, we figured out the most economical way to get to and from that region of the world, then we stitched together the inter-city travel, the lodging, intra-city transport then finally food and activities.

    No language barriers except in Thailand, but it was definitely navigable as most all signage was in Thai and English.

    I think your observations are spot-on and that you guys will have an amazing time. One thing I’ll echo – slow travel is the way to go. We took on seven cities in the 28-day period (two of which were spent just getting there). It was too much moving and shaking; we inevitably found ourselves saying “I wish we had another day” at every location. We always felt rushed and never fully felt as if we settled in at any one location. Although our daughter is 14, she was irritable every travel day in the mix. Having some more rest would have gained some brownie points for all concerned, but one month was all I could afford as someone who hasn’t cut the cord with the employer just yet.

    I’d also pack lighter the next time around. We carried way too much in terms of checked luggage, although we were always within weight and size limits. More AirBNB next time with laundry facilities onhand.

    Next year, China, Japan, northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are all on the radar. We’re banking those Chase Ultimate Rewards points along with others to get flights at or next to nothing!

    Looking forward to all the pictures and commentary on the upcoming adventure!

    • I can imagine that 28 day trip was quite a whirlwind! I feel like 7 to 14 days in one city is the sweet spot to feel relaxed and not rushed. That way you can take it easy the day after a travel day, then spend a few days being a tourist and have another day off before seeing some last minute stuff and packing up to go to the next place. We’ll see how that works in practice anyway.

  • Wow – just awesome use of travel miles and hacks!! I am amazed that you can keep track of all this — so inspiring.

    And scoring the priority passes — double awesome! We actually paid for them and it was still wonderful in the middle of a long international trek. Showers with free towels and toiletries! food and drink! Wifi! comfortable places to stretch out! I do believe as much adult beverage as you wanted? did I mention hot showers???

    The kids will have a blast, I bet, and all FREE! Cheers and have a great journey!

    • The lounges sound awesome. Our flights aren’t bad at all, but a nice place to relax and wine and dine is always a plus. We had free lounge passes once in Charlotte and that was a nice way to start our international travel day. Hope to enjoy that again on this trip!

  • Hi there! I have been to Europe twice and loved it. Our three kids have never been – one day!! A very high percentage of people speak English in Amsterdam, I didn’t run across anyone that didn’t! (not so much in Germany or any city that’s not very touristy)Your itinerary sounds amazing so I don’t have any suggestions. We did go to the Heineken brewery tour and then Anne Frank’s house. I do not recommend doing two opposite emotional things like that back to back! There are so many low and no cost things to do as you know. We too always bring suitcases or backpacks that we can carry or minimal luggage, we always get comments or praise by airport personnel when checking a bag or two tops! I hope this doesn’t sounds obnoxious but someone wrote about feeding bread to ducks. I recently read that it is harmful to them and builds algae in the water or something like that. Apparently they like corn, cooked rice and bird seed. Have fun and can’t wait to read about it in the future!

    • How was the Anne Frank house visit? Did you have to wait to get in? Is it a worthwhile place to visit if we only have 2 days in Amsterdam? Do you think kids would get much out of it?

      • No wait to get in but I was there in March – bit of a low season time. It is a very small museum in a house so it could be a short visit. I remember it being interactive so you would press a button and hear a verse from her diary. It is geared towards children most beneficial probably for tweens. People of all ages are visiting and it is a very somber experience. Maybe you could call/contact them and ask them day of the week and time in the day to visit? Not sure you’d get much out of it from seeing the outside. I’m not sure what else kids would visit in Amsterdam – most popular would be Rijk Museum maybe, walking around the canals, going to the big Vondel park, biking maybe, seeing crooked leaning houses, fun stuff like that. Checking out coffee houses, jazz/live bands, red light district and Heineken tour would be for adults.

      • I also found the Anne Frank visit very moving and worthwhile. I had no wait because I was there off-season, but there might be a reservation system to get a timed entry or some kind of Amsterdam Attraction Pass with a priority line.

        If your girls haven’t read The Diary of Anne Frank’ it could be a great thing to read together on the trip – then visiting her house will make a big impression. Even as an adult, I re-read the book before going and it enriched the experience.

        What a great adventure you’re planning! Enjoy!

        • I’ve had the Diary of Anne Frank on my bedside table for a while and I’ll read bits and pieces when my e-reader is unavailable. Hopefully we can see the house on this trip.

      • I’m from the Netherlands and I really recommend the Anne Frank House. Be sure to buy your tickets online to avoid wasting your time standing in line at the ticket office. You can find more info here: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Museum/Practical-information/Online-ticket-sales/

        Vondelpark and NEMO are great suggestions, and try a guided bicycle tour or a boat tour on the canals. Fun and informative. Don’t forget to eat pancakes. We eat them for dinner, usually.

        • When I was last in the Netherlands (a few decades back), there was a park being built. I think it was called Archaeon. It had an ancient Roman section, a medieval village, a bronze age village, etc.

          I don’t remember where it was. Might be fun to check out if it’s still around.

        • Boat tour sounds fun! I also saw that you can rent your own battery powered canal boat? Haven’t looked into that yet but it sounds really neat to cruise around the canals for an afternoon.

          • Actually there are zillions of nice boat tours everywhere in Europe…just choose the ones you like … some are 1 to 4 hours long etc…some are like part of the bus/tram system…you hop on and off at various towns, villages, hiking parks, mnts … then catch the next one as it circuits the lake etc…..some have meals simple or fancy… I liked the ones around Lake Annecy, Lake Geneva, Lake Zurich, and the open air one around Strasbourg … I would like maybe to try the ones around Lake Constance, Interlaken, Lake Zug or maybe a river cruise in Germany etc… there are probably billions of these…Italy etc too etc etc etc…God Bless Beijing 🙂

            • This sounds great! I know about the ferries in some places. For example there’s a free ferry (well, included as part of the standard city transit pass) in Berlin that’s 25 minutes and takes you across a lake. We almost stopped in Lake Garda Italy to ride the lake ferry boat around but couldn’t squeeze it in (would have taken too much time out of Venice).

  • This is amazing. You are going to have a blast!!!

    We love Lisbon and Berlin! The rest of it is great as well.

    Very very jealous and very impressed with you travel hacking abilities!!

    • Lisbon seems to be a hidden gem in European travel. Low cost and not the top spot people recommend. Looking forward to it!

      • shhhhh….don’t let the word get out…been living here over a year.so far its mainly the Brits and the French that are discovering this excellent gem ….when here, grab the no. 28 street car. then get off at the Miradoura Portas do Sol to see the castle and then head back to the miradouro , and just meander down through the narrow streets of Alfama..dont follow a map, just head down the hill toward the river..also check out neighborhoods of Mouraria and Graca.
        The Time Out market worth a visit, but better food and more locals at the Mercado de Campo de Ourique…end an evening at the Miradoura of St. Catarina at sunset…

        • Oops. 🙂

          Thanks for the tips. I’ll add it to my spreadsheet. That Mercado de Campo de Ourique sounds cool as does the evening Mirador view. Too bad we only have 5 days in Lisbon!

  • I want to thank you for so clearly laying out your methods for cutting costs on a trip like this.

    We’ll be making use of this starting next year!

  • This is an amazing article! Thank you for painting a picture for the rest of us. My wife and I were in Italy last year and Scotland a month ago. We drove in both countries. If you know how to drive a manual, it is not that bad, even on the other side of the road. You get used to it in about 5min.

    Before I got married, I overheard friend mention that he had been mentored to snowball save for travel. It was recommended he put together snowballs to travel annually, every five years, ten years and twenty five years. I’m writing an article on that strategy that will be posted soon. Your trip helps me get ideas for our next trip as the snowball grows. Thanks RoG!

    • I figure I would adjust to left-side driving eventually but it just seems daunting thinking about it now. I suppose you’re correct though. It shouldn’t take long to grow accustomed to it.

      • Left-side driving is a piece of cake and totally natural IF YOU ARE IN TRAFFIC.

        Where it gets dangerous is when you pull off the road to check out local site if interest where there isn’t any traffic. It’s really easy to head out of the parking lot in the wrong lane going the wrong direction.

  • We visited Lake Bled and Ljubljana last October – beautiful! Enjoy the trip!

  • Love the thorough detail in this article. Having recently considered, but talked myself out of, a European trip, these details are all so important. I look forward to seeing how it all comes together!

    One question, is it really this easy to travel from country to country? Are there no customs checkpoints? I recall being surprised​ that it took hours to get from the US into Canada by car.

    Thanks!

    • Yes, as far as I know. I don’t think they check passports anywhere within the “Schengen” zone at border crossings (unless it’s something new due to the refugee situation). The majority of European countries are members of this and allow free passage without border controls I believe. So you can hop on a train in Slovenia and ride to Austria without showing a passport. We’ll be going into Germany to pick up a rental car for Salzburg Austria just to make it lower cost when we return it later in Munich, Germany. It’ll take an extra 6 minutes on the train and €8 to get just across the border into Germany but save us several hundred dollars by avoiding an international one way rental fee.

  • The Alhambra is amazing. You could seriously spend most of a day wandering around there. It’s huge, and gorgeous. Beautiful buildings, gardens, and views! If you’ll be in Seville, definitely see a flamenco performance (or two). That was the highlight of my Spain trip years ago. There are also beautiful cathedrals in both Seville and Granada. I believe the one in Seville is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world (and the third largest church overall). The Seville cathedral has a tomb where Christopher Columbus is supposedly buried.

    I’m so jealous of your trip. I can’t wait until my husband and I can retire and do the same!

  • Sounds like a great trip. I found the Europass good for trains and buses. When you are doing your 7 day stays in various cities, it is great to go on day trips which you can sign up for on Viator… etc…driving has advantages, but the odd guided day trip to castles, palaces or places like Hallstadt …takes the stress out finding things, getting tickets and the like …and the tours are great for meeting folks…the guides explain things too etc .etc … we did this in the surrounding areas of Zurich, Geneva, Mnt Blanc / Lake Annecy, Strasburg, Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. Shorter stays get eaten up by packing and travel time. The Alps are awesome…especially Switzerland and Austria. I wish we stayed longer in Salzburg and Vienna …God Bless, Beijing, China.

    • We’ll be doing a lot of day trips, though mostly on our own via local train or public transit, or rental car when we have one. I’m not ruling out guided tours, but the costs add up quick when you’re buying 5 tickets (versus 1 rental car + gas). I also find the pace of guided tours disagreeable. Might be too slow or too fast, so you might spend 45 minutes touring a site that you’d rather spend 3-4 hours on.

      • Yes they can be pricey… using viator you can also just search their daytrips to surrounding cities, palaces, and far off sites/countries etc for ideas…we didn’t have a sense of distance so were surprised you could do a day trip from Munich to Salzburg and Halstadt etc…Vienna is close to Prague somewhat etc…then use the car etc to go there .. half of the fun is planning the trip stops, daytrips transport and places to camp out…even heard of folks travelling in Britain renting a camper van to see the sites…or of course AirBnBs… we used Viator to search … Chamonix Mnt Blanc as a day trip and went there by train…Maybe you will send your kids to a German school? And resettle there? ..the Unis are free! GRIN! ☺God Bless, Beijing

  • Greetings from Munich! We are a German-American family living here. I would love to give you a tip since you are here for a week. State Museums (i.e. Neue Pinakothek, Alte Pinakothek, and Pinakothek der Moderne, my favorite) are only 1 Euro admittance fee on Sundays.

    Hope you have a great time here!

    • Awesome! This is going in my spreadsheet. 🙂 Sadly we have screwed up though, since we’ll be traveling between cities every Sunday.

      I’m planning on buying the Bayern Palace/Castle pass that should get us into several places in Munich plus Neuschwanstein Castle for one low price.

  • Great plans!
    BTW German food is great, esp. savory dishes, best gravy ever! Another thing I’m (German) always disappointed about when being abroad is baked goods. German bakeries seem to be the only ones that are able to produce rolls and bread that’s neither cotton dry nor rubber-like or completely tasteless.
    Another good thing: Food is a bit cheaper in Germany than in the US. According to numbeo.com (cost of living index) the US rank 11th with the groceries index being 75 (=75% of what you would pay in New York), Germany ranks 45th (50%).
    On Sundays supermarkets and banks are closed (ATMs are available of course), gas stations, cafés and restaurants are open. Bakeries are open in the morning as well. One thing you might want to keep in mind is to bring cash. Small places (like cafés, ice cream parlors, etc) usually don’t accept debit or credit cards. And restaurants also expect you to pay cash although many are able to accept debit or credit cards.
    Germany is a beer country, Cologne has its own beer (Koelsch), which they are very proud of and they have a great chocolate museum, too!
    Enjoy the trip!

    • I’ve heard good things about German bakeries and hear that a lot re: the US. Not many local bakeries to get good fresh bread.

      I hope you’re right about food in Germany being cheaper. I looked at Numbeo while planning the trip and food seemed very reasonable in all the countries we’re visiting, with prices the same as home in the US, or sometimes much cheaper.

      Good tip on the cash. We’ll have some on hand all the time.

  • It will be a great trip. Your kids are so lucky. I never had a chance to do something like that when I was young.
    We went on a backpacking trip in 2003 for 8 weeks. Mostly western Europe and it was a ton of fun. Mrs. RB40 got sick so we didn’t make it down to Lisbon, though. Seville was one of my favorite.
    Packing light is the way to go. I never understood the people who drag huge luggage around. That’s way too much work. $10k is really good.

    • This is our version of “backpacking through Europe”. 🙂 I never made it over there during college for my youthful backpacking through Europe trip so this will make up for it.

  • Phenomenal trip planning, Justin! You guys will love Europe. We have had the great fortune to visit Europe a number of times in the past (Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Holland) and enjoyed every trip. As a history buff as well I would recommend visiting the Anne Frank House because of its significance (to go to Holland and not see it would probably be a regret you’ll have down the road). I would also highly recommend the Rijksmuseum as one of the big three museums in Europe, but that might be a trip for you and the wife alone someday.

    Admittedly it has been upwards of 15 years when we were in Italy, but if they are still in the area be aware of the gypsies in Milan. Notorious pickpockets and you have to be pretty rude to them since they swarmed tourists back then. Someone who has been there more recently can update on that front.

    Enjoy the whole time. BTW, smart move on the limited luggage; will definitely keep down on any buying of things while over there. The wife and I just returned after spending three months in FL and SC, driving down in our F-150 with a locking tonneau cover over the back bed. I swear half that truck bed was filled with “stuff” she bought when I was emptying it at home. On the flip side it did allow us to bring everything we wanted, including a lot of food, so it was a good thing in that respect.

  • RoG, great plan! The trip will be a lot of fun, for sure. A couple of random comments: groceries/food will most likely be double of what you planned for; get a chip and pin credit/debit card to be used in train/subway terminals in Europe; Alhambra can get overbooked a month ahead – do not postpone buying those tickets.

  • As a caregiver I do not have the opportunity to travel. I travel vicariously thru your posts. Your trip sounds awesome. Can’t wait for the reviews and pictures when you return. Love the detail.

  • I had an interesting experience at work today. I mentioned your trip and how you had done it so cheaply. (Buy in advance, gift card discounts, credit card miles by pre-paying utilities, etc.) My whole conversation was in an amazed, “Wow! This is awesome!” kind of tone.

    A co-worker really got on my case about it. He was mad and bitter about someone having the money to do that. No one who wasn’t wealthy could possibly make use of any of that information.

    The crowning comment was how horrible it would be to fly somewhere next to someone like that. They might talk about how they had afforded to do this.

    Don’t mind that last comment, it wasn’t directed at you. It was very clearly directed at me.

    Thankfully one of the other people chimed in that anyone could use those principles and save some money.

    I do feel sorry for the guy since his wife has been very ill for some time – apparently a form of cancer. I’m sure he’s got medical bills out the wazoo.

    Might not have been such a good idea of his to vote for Trump and the GOP in those circumstances, but that’s a different discussion.

    • Really strange, but jealousy rears it’s ugly head once again, huh? In that guy’s case, he probably wants to get away and do some fun stuff but he’s pinned down w/ caring for his wife and handling the medical bills. So he’s stuck in a crappy situation and can’t travel.

      • What’s sad is that the tricks I mentioned would all work even if you never travelled anywhere! Get gift-cards for 20% off for things you do intend to buy. Save a bit for your next big purchase, then get some credit cards with cash back bonuses. Use the saved money for your big purchase to pre-pay your utility bills to get the cash back. Then, re-fill your big purchase kitty over the next few months with the utility payments you aren’t making and top it off with the cash back from the cards.

  • I totally agree with you about do nothing days. If you jump from city to city playing tourist all day long, you get burned out pretty fast….I would bet even more burnout with kids. For me, It’s hard to know in advance how long is the right amount of time to stay in each place, so I admittedly made some of those decisions based on the financial costs. It sounds like you’ve done a pretty good job of being able to see a lot of places, without rushing in the amount of time allowed. Also, I envy being able to travel so light for a longer period of time. I’ve been doing laundry about every 10 days…apparently I have 10 pairs of socks. I probably didn’t need to pack as much as I did because I wear the same stuff til it gets dirty, heh.

    • I’m following along with your trip and see what you mean. Never know how long you’ll want to stay till you get there.

      For kids, assume you’ll see a half to a third of what you, as an able bodied adult, can see. Which translates to 2-3 hours with a 2-3 year old and maybe 4-5 hours once the kids are school age. Accept that and pace yourself accordingly and everything will go relatively smooth. 🙂

      On this trip we’re planning on visiting a ton of places and hopefully finding some cool new favorite destinations that we’ll visit again for a longer duration. First time in Europe so no clue what to expect other than reading the impressions of others!

  • Planning for summer vacation is the most happiest thing. And from y side, I love the part of packing luggage for the trip. And the traveling part is most loving one.

  • Great itinerary Justin! It should be a whole load of fun. I would add not to plan anything business, shopping etc. in Spain and Portugal on Sundays, not just Germany as mentioned somewhere above. Make sure you grocery shop on Saturday before the market closes, otherwise nothing till Monday. If you drink fresh milk only like we do, only Mercadona the supermarket carries it. Otherwise you have to drink the unrefrigerated kind. Free entry to the Alcazar and Seville Cathedral is Monday afternoon. Free entry to the Belem Monastery in Lisbon is Sundays. It will be an excellent trip for all of you l’m sure :-). The London attack prompted me to book flights there next month :-).

    • Pretty sure I’ll be in Seville on a Monday to snag some free admissions. Sadly we’re flying out of Lisbon on a Sunday morning so we won’t get the free admission to Belem Monastery.

      Have fun on your London trip! 🙂 I’m sure it’s no more dangerous than it was before this latest attack. If anything it might be less dangerous given stepped up police enforcement.

  • Hi Justin,
    My family and I are also traveling to Portugal (Lisbon and the Algarve) and Spain (Sevilla, Ronda, Malaga area) this summer and going the AirBnB route.
    Can you provide a link to how you got 20% giftcardmall cards for AirBnB? I am looking but I don’t see it.
    Maybe it’s sold out?
    Thanks and have a great trip!
    Karin

    • Not 20% but here is a 10%

      (Root of Good edit 3/29/2017: I removed the link because the deal was dead. Check Slickdeals or Ebay for random Airbnb gift card sales)

  • That really is a killer trip you have plannned. Wow!

  • We were in Munich a few years ago for Oktoberfest and a few days afterwards in Amsterdam. Almost everyone we encountered in Munich spoke at least passable English, and I think 100% of the people we encountered in Amsterdam spoke English (with hardly an accent). It really wasn’t bad at all. Not sure about Czech Republic and some of the other eastern bloc countries you are visiting.

    I would point out, if nobody else has, that you may be in for a surprise on your rental car. I have had this happen to me numerous times booking rental cars in other countries–you get there and there are lots of extra fees for insurances and stuff that are not disclosed in the booking. And some places (Ireland I know for one) don’t even accept your american insurance and I had to put a $2500 deposit down on the car! Maybe look more into this if you haven’t already

    Sounds like an awesome trip! Excited to read more about it.

    • Good to hear about the English being spoken. Not too worried about language barrier after hearing all these personal observations from over there.

      I’m prepared to argue with the rental car companies if they don’t honor the quotes I’ve arranged. And probably do a chargeback after the fact. $2500 deposit no big deal if they take credit. I’m also getting my credit card’s rental car insurance info handy in case they question that. As far as I can tell the rental car companies in Slovenia and Germany don’t require anything extra, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we encounter something unexpected.

  • You will definitely want to do Hellbrunn Palace just outside of Salzburg. The trick fountains are pretty neat.

    • Looks awesome and just a couple miles from our Airbnb. Not sure if we can make it given how little time we have in Salzburg and our plans to visit Hallstatt all day (plus the ice cave near there)

  • This is just awesome. We just got back from a “fast travel” trip to Europe and I kept thinking about how we could stretch the whole thing out for not that much more money. We spent about $500 a day if you include airfare. With a full month to spend, we could easily cut that daily burn in half.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • I enjoyed reading your trip summary article for Iceland and Paris. And while reading I kept thinking how I’d stretch the trip out to make it more economical on a per-day basis.

  • Nice.. btw the driving isn’t that hard – even with a manual but i wouldn’t want to do a manual for the first time on a trip like this. sounds like a lot of fun.
    I haven’t had time to go through all the comments but just in case it hasn’t been brought up make sure you check the check in rules and bag rules on ryanair. They are known for catching you out if you haven’t printed the ticket at home or the bags are slightly too big and then slam you with extra fees.
    but beside that – enjoy!! My wife is heading over for 5 weeks with the youngest child to visit our European family – including time in denmark. Sadly i have to work (my last summer though…)

    • I’m not too afraid of the driving – all right hand side of the road and I’ll have GPS on my phone. Just take it easy and hope to avoid too much honking 🙂

      The baggage rules on Ryanair are strict but I think we can squeeze through without a fee. Just bought a camera bag last night and confirmed it fits within their “small personal item” criteria. For our bookbags, they are a little bit fatter than the 8″ depth allowed but we can pull out our laptops and maybe a few articles of clothing to reduce the width by an couple inches if they are really strict. Or absolute worst case, pay the €50 gate check bag fee x2 for the adult backpacks. Not the end of the world and still a pretty reasonable overall flight cost (about $300 total for 5 people), which is less than an overnight train and 12-16 hours faster 🙂

  • A few “off-the-beaten path” places that you and the kids might like, and accessible via public transportation: Koingsee and the Eagles’ Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) and salzwerks (several companies) in Berchtesgaden (easy trip from Salzburg). Make sure you stop at the Augustiner Bräustübl biergarden as well – there’s even food and drinks for kids, and it’s basically all street food.

    The Dom in Koln is worth the price of admission, and you’ll have plenty of time in your short stopover (it’s easy walking distance from the train station).

    Volendam and Marken and Edam are worth a visit too – all three can be visited in one day, and easy public transit from Amsterdam. Just ask at the tourist office (across from the train station) which bus you’ll want.

    Berlin to Prague is a pretty long train ride – we did an overnight sleeper car when we did that trip, so be prepared with a lot of things for the kiddos to do!

    • Oh, I’ll also add that getting to Neuschwanstein by public transit from Munich is an adventure in and of itself – luckily, pretty much everyone on the train to Fussen is going to Neuschwanstein and you can follow everyone else 🙂

      • We’re going first class and driving our rental car. 🙂 The trip was 3.5 hours one way from our rental apartment on train/transit vs just under 2 hours by car, so we’re going to hopefully save 3+ hours. And maybe stop by some cool places on the way back home.

    • Thanks for the tips! I added a few to our list.

      I’m definitely going to the Cathedral in Koln/Cologne but from my googling it appears to be free to enter and walk around. I think they offer guided tours to groups which cost $$. We only have an hour or two for exploring the historic center of Koln so it’ll be a quick one.

  • We visited Amsterdam last January and were just fine speaking exclusively English. They do a great job there if having all of their museums in native tongue AND English. You’ll be just fine there.

      • We had one day/one night in Amsterdam at the end of our trip. Great city and we wish we would have had more time there.

        Someone mentioned that Anne Frank house – we were not able to go due to the long lines – you may run into the same problem as it will be the height of the tourist season. However, it was worth it to at least visit the outside of the house. Puts lifes struggles in perspective.

        Also, not sure if your family has seen the movie “Fault in our Stars” or read the book? You can get your picture taken on the bench where the two star crossed leads had a famous scene. Kids loved it – I was not aware of the movie/book, so not as much interest, but it is a pretty location along the canal.

        As mentioned above, everybody seems to know English – in many cases speaking it better than I do. LOL

  • Justin,
    You killed it with planning ahead and taking advantage of different deals.

    A friend of mine backpacked through Europe(they stayed at hostels). They purchased jeans and shirts here in the states at a very inexpensive thrift shops..then they just donated them as they went. Got me to thinking, I wonder if you could pick up thrift shop or out of season gloves for your family here and donate them so you would have to carry them the entire trip?

    • That might work but we’ll be on city 9 out of 14 by the time we’re at the ice caves so we’ll be carrying them for most of the trip. I think I’ll try to improvise or find some at a local thrift shop in Austria or Slovenia.

  • Sounds like a great trip. One big cost for us is dog daycare at $35 a day which adds to the vacation cost. We have a nearby family member to care for the cats, but nobody willing to take the dog.

  • My only recommendation is to visit Murano, right outside Venice, the neighborhood with all the small glass-making shops, pretty cool stuff, off the regular tourist circuit.
    With the strength of the dollar lately this seems to be the right time to go to Europe…

    • Very tempting to go to Murano. I’m not sure if we’ll have time or energy to get over there since we only have an afternoon plus one full day in Venice.

      • Sometimes there are guys hanging out by the ferry steps near St Marks plaza that will give you vouchers for free tickets over to Murano. It is an interesting boat ride to get there.

        • Wow, that might be tempting! Do the tickets over include a free ride back? 🙂 I’m hoping to walk the ~20-25 minutes down to St Marks Plaza from our airbnb and end the day there, so Murano might be a good add on trip before we head back to the apartment.

  • Have you all considered Airbnb’ing your primary residence while you’re out of town to earn some extra $? We’ve used other people’s primary homes as Airbnb’s for short-term rentals while they are out of town and we are visiting. You’d probably want to lock up your personal things or maybe store any personal valuables off-site (parents/friends house) but you could probably book a good number of the nights you’re gone… If you could average $100 a night and 2/3s rented that would give you $4,000 in income.

    There’s some hassle to doing that – you need to find and schedule cleaning services. We’ll be in Raleigh in 10 days and we are renting an Airbnb from a guy that’ll be in Asia on tour while we’re staying in his house.

    Did you also negotiate the Airbnb prices or did you more/less settle for asking price?

    • I spent a lot of time thinking about airbnb’ing (or more likely, rent furnished for a monthly rental x2) our personal residence. After discussing it with Mrs. Root of Good we decided not to pursue it this summer. We would want to fix up a few things and have to store most personal belongings in a room and lock it up. I figured we could gross around $4,000 like you say, maybe a bit less if it’s just 2x 1 month rentals.

      As for airbnb’s in Europe, I typically didn’t ask for a price concession from anyone, but I did ask that they waive the extra person fees (which seems very common in Europe as compared to Canada and Mexico, for example). So we often avoided $100-300 in extra person fees on a 5-7 day rental that ended up costing $400-700. So if you look at it that way we “negotiated” and got a 15-50% discount in many rentals. The concession from the landlord made the decision for us in several cases where we were choosing between 2-3 properties and only one would waive the extra person fees.

      • Makes total sense. We haven’t gotten to the point of renting our primary while we’re out of town yet, either… Mostly because we’d want to lock things up and I just don’t think we trust humanity that much yet with everything we’d still be forced to leave out.

        I’m looking forward to following you guys from here on out – you’ve got an unusual story – that’s always the kind of thing that makes for a good blog.

        • Mathematically and risk-wise, we would probably come out several thousand dollars ahead to rent out our house. There’s always a slight chance someone would ruin our carpet, scratch up our pots and pans, destroy a bathroom or be excessively dirty AND we wouldn’t be compensated by forfeiture of their security deposit or wouldn’t be reimbursed by airbnb. Maybe they steal a TV or two. But odds are everything would be fine and we would net the entire amount of the rent minus operating costs like higher utilities.

  • Looking at your post makes me feel embarrassed about how much we’re spending for our 2 weeks trip this summer… I have much to learn and grow in regards to budget travelling! The tip about “you get a one way flight within the region you’re visiting with United Miles redemptions” was a good piece of information!

    Hope you and your family have a fun and safe travel!

  • I’d love to hear more about your decision to take a full size camera when you have been so ruthless with the rest of your packing list. For instance, my family has gone down to iPhone pics for all our vacations because the quality is so good that we just stopped bringing our Canon D/SLR.

    Thanks for another great post!

    • Photography is Mrs. Root of Good’s thing now. Our last “light travel” trip to Mexico for 7 weeks, we took just a simple small point and shoot camera.

      The DSLR does a lot better in low light conditions, especially with motion.

  • This is so awesome, especially to see it all laid out!

  • This is awesome, I loved when I backpacked through Costa Rica for ten days with my backpack and a friend. We stayed in hostels, which usually carry a negative connotation, but it was the best experience I’ve ever had. The rooms we rented were private and ran us $20 – $30 a night and were like Best Western hotels more than the immediate image that comes to mind for most people. In all we zip lined, rode horse, went snorkling and white water rafting, biked to Panama, and hiked Arenal volcano all while eating out for most meals and it cost us $1500 per person for ten days including air travel. Still one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. Enjoy the trip!

  • Justin, this trip looks great. I like the overall idea of slower travel that you have, and the costs seem good too. When you are in the Lake Bled area you might want to travel into Austria, to the Carinthia region with its beautiful and relatively warm water lakes, Worthersee and Millstattersee for instance.
    When in Munich, there are so many day trip possibilities, Regensburg, Passau, one of my favorite lakes Tegernsee, the Alp towns like Garmisch, Mittenwald etc and really stretching things a bit Nurnberg. For historical purposes I think the German historical museum in Berlin looks interesting. (haven’t been there but looks comprehensive). Personally, though I’ve studied a lot about WW 2, when I go to Europe next I plan to focus on non-WW2 history, since Europe’s history is so much more than the 20th century tragedies of Communism and Nazism.
    Love the idea of an Airbnb gift card discount. Also, did you try bargaining with prospective rental hosts? Hope you have a great time.

    • Thanks for the tips!

      We got some price concessions on the airbnb rentals, mostly by asking the host to waive extra guest fees for the kids.

      • Good tip.

        I am going to give it a try.

        • Go for it. We probably had a 50-90% success rate depending on where we tried this strategy. And when two properties are both winners, whichever one waives the extra guest fees will get our business.

          It’s really strange looking at the pricing model for some of these places. 1-2 guests might be $400 for the week but 5 guests would be $700. It must be that they know a family of 5 is expecting to pay for 2 hotel rooms in Europe whereas 1-2 guests are looking at 1 hotel room or possibly a hostel.

  • Wow, that’s an ambitious itinerary! I’d personally be a little nervous about the stays <4 nights – might have some cranky kids and adults on the travel days around them.

    If it had been me I would have condensed or cut some of the shorter stays in order to spend much more time in Prague, one of my favorite cities in the world. 🙂 I lived there for a summer in college and one of the great things is that the country is small so many places are accessible by day trip. You might want to look into Terezin, a concentration camp (not one of the death camps), which is a day trip by train. Pilsn is also a day trip away, but the main attraction is the brewery, which may not be too much fun for your kids. There's also a church, I forget the name, but the interior is decorated with elaborate sculptures made from human bones. In Prague proper, the castle is the biggest draw, and the entire old town is charming. People tend to speak some English, but there's not nearly the fluency you'll find in western Europe. Definitely be prepared to practice your miming.

    • For those <4 day stays, we don't plan on doing a ton. Check into airbnb, get something to eat, maybe walk around and explore a bit (or not!). Then on the full days there head out for some mid-day sightseeing. Nothing too intense 🙂

  • Justin,

    You should check out MAPS.ME in the Google Play store. It’s an offline mapping app that uses the OpenStreetMap project maps. It includes POIs with offline search and navigation. You download the maps ahead of time or update them when needed at night with WiFi.

    • I tried it a couple years ago and didn’t like it as much as google maps (which has great offline data download capability now, along with offline vehicular navigation). Google maps is great because I can bookmark places on the map on a computer while doing research and trip planning and those geo-coded locations automatically show up on my offline maps. And collaborate with Mrs. Root of Good if she’s logged in using my email address (so she can add her own geo-locations). Even the kids add data points to the map!

  • Hey Justin,

    until now I’ve been a silent reader, but now its the first time I can add some useful advice! 🙂

    I’m living in Munich, one of the cheapest ways (and easiest) for getting to Prague, is taking the train. There is a special ticket (“Bayern-Böhmen Ticket”) which allows travelling from Munich to Pilsen quite cheap:
    – 28€ for 1 Person
    – 6,60€ for every other Person
    – Kids are free

    So it’s 34,60€ for the whole family – You just have to buy a ticket from Pilsen to Prague. You can either buy it at the Munich central station, online on the czech train website or directly on the train (a few stops before Pilsen, some ticket guy will go through the train and sell tickets – but that costs some extra fees). You don’t need to switch trains, but you need two tickets…

    If you have questions for Munich/Bavaria, just ask 🙂

    • I’ll have to look into that more. I had a quote for €38 for a bus from Munich to Prague (which probably won’t be as comfortable as a train, but direct I think). DB runs the bus from what I recall (you purchase through the DB site). It’s around 4-4.5 hours on bus. Any idea how the train compares on time? Is it a Eurocity/Intercity high speed train to Pilsen/Prague?

      • You will see&stop at many different small towns 😉 (but this is already an adventure compared to the bus travel where you only see the highway…) – I think the train will take around 5h…

  • Too bad you’re skipping Switzerland. I live just outside of Zurich and you are welcome to stay at our house. My 5 kids could play with yours and we speak English! Might be a nice break for a couple days when you’re in Munich.

    • Thanks for the invite! 🙂 You should have seen my list of initial places to visit. Then you would understand why we can’t visit so many awesome places in France, UK, Switzerland, etc. Just not enough time/energy in a 9 week vacation. Assuming we like Europe in general we’ll be back and maybe hit Switzerland next time. We’ll be very very close to Switzerland while in Milan, though I don’t think we’ll be able to day trip north the hour or so on this trip. Next time though!

  • ok here is one of my vacations in 2016 14 days in boulder denver aspen co springs sante fe taos nm then from denver flew to the big island of HI (not recommended but i went and saw.) for 10 days staying at marriott and beach side villa condos and convertable mustang total cost including all airfare between all cities food car hotel stays and entertainment and tour stuff about $1200.00 or less. note –my third time to hawaii the big island was the worst of the islands to visit. maui and honolulu way better islands to visit as a whole.

  • Have great fun on your trip! Seems like a well thought through trip with most angles covered. You should be just fine.
    We are planning out ourselves too for 2018, but it will be a road trip for us starting in the Netherlands. About that, if you have time and/or want to meet up. Let us know!
    Cheers from your cheesy friends from the Netherlands.

    • Road trip! Love those, and we’ll be doing some decently long drives in Europe this summer. Thanks for the invite to hang out in NL this summer, time permitting.

  • Hi! We took our boys to Europe for six weeks and the only problem I can possibly foresee for you all is there weren’t dryers where we went. Your clothes may take more time to dry and you are anticipating. Zip lock bags may be a solution.

    • You are right – we won’t have clothes dryers in most places. But we will have washers everywhere! I guess we will have to do the last load of laundry the morning before we leave for the next city and hope things air dry before we have to pack up. I hate the smell of wet/mildew on clothes and it seems to be common in places that don’t have dryers. We stayed in an airbnb that air dryed their towels and they all stank like mildew so we washed them and dried them before using – no reason to bathe then wipe mildew stink on your clean self right? 🙂

  • Awesome planning should lead to an epic vacation.
    Just a couple things from my time there:
    1) Neuschwanstein is great but crazy busy. There is basically a small town at the base of the mountain where all the buses, cars, and their tourists are EVERYWHERE, this is where tickets are bought and is also where another small castle named Hohenschwangau is located. Nice lake at the base to see as well. To see Neuschwanstein you will either need to hike it up a long hill or pay for transportation (horse and carriage). Allow plenty of time to make it up there by your designated tour time. While up there, hike up to Marienbrücke (Mary’s bridge) for a fabulous view of the castle and valley below.
    In Germany many bathrooms are ‘staffed’ with a cleaning lady of varying work ethic. It is customary to leave a coin or two on their plate, especially if the bathroom is well-kept. You may hear a gripe if you don’t give but no biggie in general.
    I loved Berlin and we were just giving recommendations to my parents as they leave tomorrow for a month-long Europe trip spending several weeks on a river boat. I was captivated at Checkpoint Charlie and its small museum, as an engineer it’s impressive to see what desperation can achieve in design. Also see Brandenburg Tor, Holocaust Memorial, Berlin Wall Memorial if time permits (if not then I think the wall memorial should be priority). And we’re not normally ‘tour people’ but we took the ‘Subways and bunkers in the Cold War’ tour through Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin from below) on a rainy day and really enjoyed it. They take you to a fallout shelter in an active subway station and you begin to think that ‘doomsday preppers’ are even crazier than you imagined. 😉
    Excited to see the travel posts later!

    • Thanks for the tips. We’re going to Neuschwanstein on a Monday so hopefully it’s not as crazy busy 🙂 I think we’ll tour the inside but not 100% sure. Definitely plan on hiking over to Marienbrucke because that’s the view we want to see (I’ve heard the inside of the castle isn’t as spectacular as the outside). And there’s a waterfall over there somewhere.

      Thanks for those ideas in Berlin. We have a whole week there and we’re staying very close to the city center so we should be able to see a lot even if we take it easy with 1-2 things per day and some rest days. I don’t have much planned there yet but Checkpoint Charlie and Berlin Wall are tops.

  • Do you have any tips for researching and booking overseas bus and train travel? Are there aggregator websites for overland travel?

    Thank you, and great blog!

    • We used goeuro.com for comparing bus vs train vs plane in Europe. It’s particularly useful for those with families as you can dial in the number of children, teenagers, etc. and get a more realistic price for tickets for the whole family. For example in Germany and some surrounding countries kids ride free on the train, so a family ticket might be 39 euros, or 19 per adult if purchased separately. Whereas a bus ticket might be 15 euros each x5, so 75 euros total. Goeuro will tell you the train ticket is cheaper. It also shows tons of different options from all kinds of providers.

  • Just a comment on driving in Europe. It isn’t any more difficult than anywhere else, however it would be smart for you to review the road signs and their meanings for any country you are traveling through. No sense not knowing the difference between their yield and their stop signs. Additionally, expect a thorough inspection upon the return for the rental car in Germany. When I was with my family in Europe about ten years ago there had been a wind/rain storm and a number of small branches down and I ran over one. It had caused a nickel sized dent in the body underneath a door, not even noticeable unless you bent over and really looked for it. They said I could either pay 100 euros up front or they would charge the actual repair to the credit card and I would be billed in a few weeks, with the sales clerk heavily hinting it would likely be more. We paid it up front, mainly because we’d gotten such a decent deal on the rental and because I couldn’t envision arguing long distance. However you want to go over the car well when you get it (and I mean really well) and well before you turn it in.

  • Justin,

    Could you explain how the flight from Lisbon to Malaga is both free and uses 0 points? I’m familiar with many travel hacks but couldn’t find an example of receiving free tickets by using United miles award booking?

    • When you redeem points on United, you get a free one way flight within the region you are visiting. In this case, we are flying to Europe from the US, so our free flight is valid for any flight within Europe. We could have theoretically flown from Lisbon to Moscow, as I believe they classify Moscow as a European city on United.

  • Hi! This all sounds amazing!. Dutchie here! I’m planning also a trip with friends to Slovenia, Ljubljana and Bled are on the top of our list. Nice to see that you included that also in your trip. It looks like you have done a wonderfull job for planning your trip. I’ve visited a few places on your list and these are my two cents:
    – I really like the surroundings and city of Malaga, and ofcourse Granada (Alhambra is amazing) We went there in August, and can be kinda hot (depends on what you’re used to ofc) There is a nice nature park where you can hike, it’s called El Torcal Nature reserve.
    – Venice is ofcourse amazing! But can be really crowded and touristy, at least as much as Paris i guess. It is with good reason since it is so nice but thought i mentioned it.
    – Salzburg, nice choice!
    – Germany, in general is also interesting. Heard a lot of good stories about Munich, and have been to Berlin which is also a very interesting city with a cool vibe, lot of history and places to see.
    – Amsterdam, yeah i can imagine why you include this Dutch city but i am not the biggest fan. In the last few years there has been a tourist explosion. As is the same case with Venice, with a good reason since there are nice places to visit. It just doesn’t seem so special to me (obviously i am not living there haha). I think the Netherlands have some nice highlights outside of the city. But, again, it all depends on what you are interested in and how crowded you are okay with. Amsterdam does not have the levels of crowdiness as Venice of course.

    Wishing the 5 of you a wonderfull trip! Have fun and be safe.

    • Thanks for the well wishes! We’re very excited to visit all the places along our route and know some places will be more crowded than others. Even in the crowded places, like Venice, I think we’ll be able to get away from the crowds on the back alleyways where we are staying.

  • Do you know if you already have an Airbnb account I can still use your link for the $40 off?
    I don’t think we have ever used it to book a stay, but somehow I have an account already.

    • I think it’s for new accounts only, but it’s worth a shot! I actually messed up somehow and didn’t use the coupon the first time I signed up for an account so I created a new one (and used that new one ever since). Just so I could take off the $25-30 or whatever they were offering at the time.

  • RetroGamePlayer

    I have travelled with wife and kids in Germany a few times. We love it! Our kids and this big kid always make it a point to seek out the closest sommerrodelbahn where ever we go in Germany. In our last trip we stayed near Koblenz. There was a sommerrodelbahn not too far away in Loreley. There is also a lovely view there at the famous Loreley point along the Rhine river. I recommend it very much.

  • This sounds incredible! You are going to fall in love with Andalusia, my adopted home for the last 7 years or so. Be prepared for INTENSE HEAT, 47 celsius most days in july and august. Don’t plan on doing anything between 2-5pm, its like living directly under a giant hairdryer…

    • I’m looking forward to Andalusia a lot. Just not the heat. Already looking like it’ll be a hotter than normal June when we are there. 🙁

      At least we have early tickets to Alhambra so should be done by 1-2 pm.

  • What a great way to explore Europe. I’m following your blog for a few months now.

    And I think you would love Koblenz and Amsterdam. I live about 40 kilometes from Amsterdam and my in-laws have a holiday home 70 kilometers from Koblenz. So I can say that Amsterdam and Koblenz will be fun.

    Enjoy your stay in Europe!!!

    Regard,
    Jeroen Jansen van Rosendaal.

    • Awesome! That part of our trip will be very different from the part we’re on right now in Portugal and Southern Spain. I’m looking forward to the variety for sure.

  • Super late to the comment party but I lived in Munich for a while and can recommend: Englischer Garten (guys and girls surf the river there which is certainly something to see), Olympic Park (you can get the U Bahn there – super cheap to swim in the Olympic-sized pool where Mark Spitz won ‘some’ of his medals, plus super great walking in the park, lake, hills with views for miles and fun family events at the weekends). If you fancy getting out of the city for a day, I can recommend Starnberger See – SO beautiful and kid-friendly, plus German trains are cheap and reliable. Have an amazing trip!!

  • Hi Justin, please could you share some suggestions regarding the web sites used for booking the bus and train trips? Thank you, very useful post. 🙂

    • Goeuro.com was great for comparing bus vs train vs planes (put in origin and destination cities and date, and it shows you all the potential options. Bahn.de is where we actually booked most of the tickets in and around Germany (Germany’s Deutsche Bahn website). Buy way ahead of time (aka 2-3 months) for best discounts and best schedules in general.

Leave a Reply