Behinds the scenes here at Vacationkids, our travel advisors answer this question about week long family vacations in Europe almost every day. I'll be brutally honest, when I hear this question the above picture immediately pops into my brain.
it's a map of the United States that is super-imposed over a map of Europe. it certainly offers some visual perspective.
As this photo demonstrations, a family really wouldn't be able to easily travel through three quarters of the United States in seven short days - nor would they really want to. It would be stressful and certainly not enjoyable.
So the honest, straight up answer to the question "Can my family see Europe in 7 days?" is a hard NO.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day and you won't be able to visit all the amazing sights in Rome in one day either. Unless your family is trying to to break a Guinness Book of World's records land speed challenge why would you want to? Overpacking an itinerary just leads to stress and arguments.
But....We totally understand.
Making important family memories and experiencing the wonders of Europe is a huge dream many of our parents and grandparents. You want this dream to come true. You want to do it properly and you want the most value for the vacation dollars you're planning to spend. We're on your side!
Perhaps the real question here should "how much of Europe can we affordably see and share with our kids?"
Our team knows many tips and tricks that can help your family get the best value and the most fun experiences out of your vacation to Europe. Here are just a few ideas that can help you get started and bring some clarity to your European vacation plans....
1. Have the Right Expectations
Hopefully the photo here gives you some perspective and a reality check to what is possible. Bottom line, it will be impossible to see all of Europe's delights in 7 days. This mindset is important to have. It will help you focus, prioritize and help you plan to visit places that are a priority for you. It will also help you avoid FOMO - fear of missing out.
2. Do You Have The Right Documentation?
This is the first step and frankly the most important piece of planning an overseas vacation.
Every member of your family traveling to Europe will need valid U.S. Passports to travel to any European country. This includes babies, even those flying free as lap children. It's generally recommended that your passports be valid for at least 6 months beyond your return travel date. If anyone's passport expires within that 6 month window then plan on getting that passport renewed before you travel. Every European country has different travel requirements. It's highly recommended that you check with the U.S. State Department's Website to find out about requirements and rules for visiting specific European countries.
You can go ahead and confirm your reservations prior to obtaining or renewing passports. Just be 100% sure the names used to confirm your airline tickets matches exactly the names used on your passport application or renewal forms to avoid name change fees from the airlines and airport security hassles.
New starting in January 2021, Americans will be required to register for ETIAS - that is the European Travel Information and Authorization System. Technically this is not a visa but travelers will need to register online and pay a small fee.
3. How Much Vacation Time Do You Have?
Flight costs from the United States to Europe are usually one of the most expensive parts of your overall trip costs. Some families may have credit card points or enough airline loyalty miles to help with all or some of these expenses. If you are spending out of pocket for airline tickets then do try to extend the number of your vacation days to get the most value out of your ticket costs.
Flight time from U.S. East coast cities to Europe is at least 7 hours. From the west coast, figure 12 hours plus you may need to make connecting flights which adds more travel time. Your family will experience anywhere from 5 to 12 hours worth of jet lag. First time overseas travelers often will underestimate the powerful effects of jet lag. Just know, you'll probably feel like the walking dead on your first day of vacation. For this reason, you'll need to plan for a light day of sight seeing or adventures for your first vacation day.
Another important factor when it comes to time is travel time vs. vacation time. .If you are planning to visit different countries or even different cities on your European vacation, you'll need time to get from point A to point B. Often travelers fail to calculate the time they will spend actually traveling instead of really "vacationing".
Take the example of a family traveling via train from London to Paris. It will take time to check out of your London hotel and make your way to St. Pancreas rail station. Passengers need to arrive at least 60 min prior to departure. The train ride itself is 2-3 hours. The family would then need to make their way in Paris from the Gare Du Nord and check into your Paris Hotel and unpack. Without any traffic or hiccups, you've lost half of one of your vacation days just getting from London to Paris.
Think flying would save time? It's an hour from downtown London to Heathrow airport. Passengers need to arrive 2-3 hours prior to international departures for immigration and customs. Flight time between the two cities is about 1 hour but Charles De Gaulle airport is location about 1 hour from downtown Paris.
Another timely factor to consider is traveling with children and seniors. Getting places simply takes more time. Whether it's packing extra gear, mobility issues or a child's sense of wonder, it's a fact of life that families traveling together need extra time. Trying to plan a family vacation itinerary like a full on military maneuver adds stress and takes away from a fun adventure.
4. Plan Ahead
Our favorite saying here at Vacationkids that certainly holds when it comes to European destinations is "Planning a family vacation is just like planning a family....you need to start at least nine months in advance!" Mom's and Dad's always remember the 9 months part but it's true. Airlines, European hotels and tour companies usually make their rates and availability public about 9 months prior to departure. Cruise lines publish their sailings and rates about 1.5- 1 year in advance.
When planning any itinerary - getting there and having a place to sleep are the two most important features that should be booked first. This means get your flights and hotels booked straight away. That said when it comes to Europe, there are many 'Must See" attractions where you'll need to reserve your tickets months in advance to avoid disappointments. You can't just show up, buy a ticket and walk in. If you don't book your tickets for the Tower of London, The Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome, expect to wait 2-3 hours in line and hope tickets don't sell out before you get to the window.
5. Set a Vacation Budget
Understand travel costs in advance can help take the stress out of planning a European family vacation. There are so many different factors and variables that go into travel prices - ages of children, size of your family, time of year you plan to travel. Check out our article about how much is costs to take a family to Europe. It will give you a ball park idea of what to expect with travel prices to Europe.
Whether your budget conscience or want to travel in complete luxury, everyone wants the same exact thing....to get the most vacation value for the hard earn dollars they spend. This is where are team of travel advisors can really help. We've been there and have done that. We can tell you when it makes sense to save and when its a really great reason to splurge. We can also help your budget with group discounts, payment plans and financing. Best part is, for most itineraries, it doesn't cost any extra money to use our knowledge, our personal contracts and expertise.
6. What's Your "Why" For This Vacation?
A question that travelers seldom ask themselves yet probably one of the most important parts of planning any family holiday.
"Why" does your family want to go to Europe and "Why" now?
- A long time dream for your family
- High School Graduation trip
- Celebration of some family milestone - Birthday? Anniversary?
- We want to visit as many different countries as possible
- It's what the kids are studying in school
- We've always dreamed of skiing in the Alps
- Grandma wants to show the family the village where she grew up
- Your daughter is obsessed with the Eiffel Tower
Just like families are not "one size fits all" neither is the answer to this question. There could be millions of reasons why families want to visit Europe but there is only one answer that is the right answer for your family. Knowing that answer, along with having a budget plan will help to keep you focused and make the right, important decisions when scheduling your family's travel plans. You'll know exactly what your priorities are.
Without having these goals and structure in place, it's easy to get overwhelmed very quickly with vacation planning. It's like food shopping when you're hungry without a list. Everything looks good and you end up buying stuff you really don't want or need.
6. Accommodation Locations
Time, budget, value and splurging can sum up the balance necessary to choose the right accommodations for your family om Europe. If you are taking the time to travel so far away and spending thousands of dollars on airline tickets, does it make sense to sleep someplace an hour or two away from where you want to be to save a little money? If you commute every day to work do you really want to commute on vacation? Have you calculated the actual cost of your vacation commuting - again traveling vs. vacationing.
Parents will often turn to the idea of using Airbnb or similar property rentals to save money in Europe. Many are not aware of some of the inconveniences and inherent risks involved here. Did you know that our team has contacts with managed apartment companies throughout Europe that offer many of the benefits of larger property rentals, in ideal locations with less risk?
8. Choose Your Transportation Wisely
For the most part, public transport is often the best form of transportation in Europe compared to the United States. Opting to use trains and subways can ease your journey while saving money. While road trips may be your family's favorite type of vacation back in the states, navigating narrow medieval stone streets, avoiding speeding Italian drivers or safely getting through a Scottish roundabout driving on the wrong side of the road may not sound like fun to you. Depending on your specific vacation plans it may make senses to do part of your vacation independently and part of your vacation with a guided tour that provides transportation for you.
9. Find Vacation Balance
Not all family members have the same idea of what vacation "fun" means. Parents may want to visit iconic castles. Kids may think these are simply piles of rocks. Grandparents may enjoy a fun hike over a tour bus. It's important to address everyone's wishes on this kind of trip which can often mean achieving a certain amount of compromise. Our team knows how to balance a morning at the museum with a playground picnic so the kids can meet local children and run off some energy. Days filled with lots of sightseeing along with some leisurely time at the beach.
If you have less than 10 days in Europe our top suggestion would be follow your "why" but limit your vacation spots to two areas of exploration for example....
- Switzerland and Austria
- Rome and the Amalfi Coast
- Dublin & London
- Paris & Amsterdam
If this is everyone's first trip to Europe, consider a fully escorted, guided tour. These type of vacation packages cover a good deal of ground, visit all the "must see" sights and having a tour guide along every step of the way relieves so much stress for parents. it's a very effective way to make the very most of your time in Europe and a great way for you and your family to meet and make friends with other travelers.
If your "Why" is still to see as much of Europe as humanly possible, then we recommend that you consider cruising through Europe. Whether it's sailing the Mediterranean, cruising the Baltics or a scenic family river cruise through the heart of Europe these cruises visit multiple countries in a short amount of time. The very best part is that your family can conveniently "travel" while you sleep so you can enjoy the maximum amount of "vacation" time each day. Imagine waking up in a different country every day and only unpacking once! In addition all of your food costs are included too!
Visiting Europe together is an important family milestone for so many parents and grandparents. As you can see there are a great many decisions that need to be made in order to create a customized experience that your kids will long remember. Let our team of experts at Vacationkids guide and help you to make the right decisions every step of the way.