Hey everybody! Welcome back!!!
As many of you know, we recently completed an epic 18-day trip to Europe. We visited 3 countries, stayed in 7 different spots, and had an absolutely life-changing experience! If you followed along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you also know we took oodles of pictures. Although we’ve pruned some of the duplicates, we still have around 3,000 photos from the trip!
Not only was this the longest trip we’ve ever taken, it was also the first time we brought the kids to Europe (ages 6 and 8). Overall, I was super impressed with how they handled it. We bounced around A LOT, especially the first few days. While there were a few moments when everyone had a complete breakdown, our little towheads handled the whole trip like seasoned travelers! We learned a lot about traveling with the kids, and we’ll cover some of those tips in an upcoming piece.
Anyway, I’ve gotten several requests to share a detailed play-by-play of our trip, so I definitely wanted to oblige. Since our trip was 18-days long, I’m going to break this up into several bite-sized pieces. We’ll start off talking about our financial preparation plus our stays in Munich and Verona. Part 2 will focus on our time in Rome, including a side trip to Pompeii and Positano. Finally, Part 3 will focus on our stays in Florence (with a side trip to Cinque Terre) and Switzerland. Each piece will have plenty of pictures for you to check out, plus I’ll include a list of resources we used at the end of each piece.
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started!
Family Trip to Europe: Our Financial Strategy
Obviously, a European vacation lasting this long requires a ton of cash. While Holly and I have visited Europe several times alone, this time, we were also bringing along several extra bodies – including our two kids and Holly’s brother Brian. That made 3 adults and 2 children total, so we had to find ways to save wherever we could.
To be honest, I don’t even want to know exactly how much this trip would have cost had we paid completely out-of-pocket. We started adding it up and stopped once we got past $15,000. So, if we’d paid full-price, I’m estimating this trip would have cost about $20,000. Now, we make good money, but that would have put a serious hurting on our travel budget for the year. Luckily, we had a ton of points and miles to help us pull it off!
Paying for Accommodations
Because we had 5 people, booking hotel rooms across Europe was pretty difficult. Due to space restrictions and fire codes, many European destinations only allow 2 people to stay in a hotel room. Instead of booking two rooms, we decided to book several vacations rentals throughout our trip. Yes, this cost us money out-of-pocket; however, these rentals also provided more space (which was nice) and kitchens we could use to save money on a few meals.
Paying for Flights
For us, the most expensive part traveling to Europe is getting there… and this time we were paying for 5 flights instead of 2! In preparation for this trip, we transferred a buttload of AMEX Membership Rewards® points to Flying Blue. (We earned the points through a limited time offering on the American Express Platinum Card®.) We also transferred some Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to help cover the cost. In the end, each round-trip flight on Delta (through Air France) cost about 50,000 Flying Blue points. Use the banner below to find a current list of our favorite travel rewards cards offers!
Meals and Tours
We enlisted a budget of $200 a day for eating and souvenirs. Remember, we had 5 people, so this isn’t as easy as it might seem! In order to hit our goal, we ate breakfast in the apartment whenever possible. We hit the grocery store to stock up on fruit and snacks, plus we made a couple of dinners “at home” during the trip. We also tried to keep our lunches on the cheap side, which definitely helped. In the end, we came in a few hundred dollars under budget, so I’m really happy about that.
On several of our past trips to Europe, Holly and I have purchased city passes for sightseeing. Because we were trying to cut as many out-of-pocket costs as we could, and since we’d saved up a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards® Points, we decided to skip the passes and pay for tours with points whenever possible. This saved us several hundred dollars in city pass fees and about $2,000 dollars over the full-ticket price of the excursions.
We arrived a little after 8:00 A.M. (local time) to our first stop, Munich, Germany. From the airport, we hopped on the S1 S-Bahn subway train and headed toward the city centre. (You can use either the S1 or the S8 train. They leave about every 20 minutes from the same platform, and they’ll both get you to the city centre.) The family ticket cost us about €25, and the journey from the airport took roughly 45 minutes.
In Munich, we booked a stay at the Meininger Hotel München City Centre. This place is a hotel/hostel combo located just a 15-minute walk from the train station and 25 minutes (walking) from the Marianplatz area. We had a private room, costing roughly $120. The room was very clean, included 6 single beds, and was affordable. We were happy with the accommodations, and for a short stay, we’d do it again.
When we originally booked our flights, we planned to stay in Munich for 2 or 3 days. However, between the time we booked flights and the time train tickets to Rome became available, prices on the train jumped from about $200 to $750. Rather than eat the cost, and based on the best train schedules, we cut our stay in Munich short, adding a stop in Verona instead.
Unfortunately, that meant we didn’t get to see much of Munich or the surrounding area. (We originally planned a trip to the famous fantasy castle – Neuschwanstein – and a small Bavarian village but had to cancel.) We did make it to the famous glockenspiel clock, had a giant beer, and walked around the very interesting Royal Residence in Munich – former home of the ruling Wittelsbach family. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Here a few photos from our short stay in Munich!
Everybody was tired, so we hit the hay around 7:30 P.M., preparing for an early morning train ride to Italy. Leaving from Munich’s Central Station (Hauptbonhof), we hopped a high-speed train to our next destination of Verona, Italy. It was a very comfortable and scenic trip through the alps of Austria and northern Italy, lasting just 4.5 hours. (We’ll definitely be back to Austria someday!) As the first of several train trips during our vacation, and it became immediately clear that train travel with the entire family was simply awesome!
Verona is a small yet beautiful city with a super laid-back vibe. The city is easily walkable, and you can see the main sites in just a day or two – although I would have loved to spend a few more days there soaking up the atmosphere. We stayed one-night in an adorable vacation rental just blocks from the Roman Arena for about $200. Unfortunately, it appears to be unavailable now, but you can search dozens of places to stay in Verona here.
We spent the majority of our time in one of the town’s main squares, Piazza Erbe. A giant column capped with a lion stands at the north end of the piazza, a remnant from the time Verona was under Venetian control. (The piazza has also featured a fountain for more than 2,000 years!) A slew of restaurants and pop-up retail shops sit below, making the area feel a bit touristy but plenty lively. We noticed dozens of locals eating and drinking here as well, so it seemed like a good place to hang.
Just down the street, you’ll find the famous “Juliet’s Balcony.” Though there’s absolutely no basis in fact, Shakespeare lovers from around the globe flock to this site to snap photos and rub the Juliet statute for luck in love. Campy? Yep… but it’s still fun to experience once.
The other main square in Verona’s historic center is the Piazza Brà. Lined with more restaurants, you’ll get a great view of Verona’s Roman Arena. Built in the first century A.D., it’s one of the largest and best preserved buildings from ancient times. While it seated around 30,000 spectators at the time, these days the arena is used for opera and rock concerts, seating about 15,000 for security purposes. Big name acts like Paul McCartney, The Who, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, Adele, Alicia Keys, and many more have all played here.
And now… here are a few more pics:
Europe Trip: Part 1 Wrap Up
If you’ve made it all the way to the end, thanks so much!!! Again, in Part 2 we’ll be talking about Rome, including our side trip to Pompeii and Positano. Part 3 will cover Florence, Italy (with a side trip to Cinque Terre) and our stay in Switzerland.
As promised, I’ve dropped a list of resources below. You can ask questions or leave comments below, as well. Thanks again for reading. Until next time, happy traveling!