Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Travel Europe on a Shoe String

Summer is here! So, it’s time to think about vacationing.

Let me begin by saying that our family—two parents and two fun kidsdon’t have all the answers when it comes to what to do or not to do. We did enjoy our vacations, though! (Our home is in northern Spain, so we’re talking about driving.) Here are our hints and a few funny stories.

We waited until our littlest was eight or nine to take our first big vacation. Friends with children invited us to their home in Germany. They told us that, if we could get there, they could house and feed us and show us around. Well, that was too good to pass up, so we packed the car and took off. Germany, here we come!

It was early August, and, for financial reasons, we chose to avoid the expensive Autoroute tolls in France and drive through all the little towns. It was slower, but it was absolutely gorgeous! Every village in France is beautiful. At that time of year, each town is festooned with flowers. Everywhere that there’s a square inch of dirt, they’ve filled it with flowers. There are hanging baskets, window planters, yards almost filled with flowers . . . . It was one of the most memorable trips of our lives.

RULE NUMBER 1—If you can possibly afford the time, take the rural roads. You will never regret it.

After our stay in our friends’ home—and an absolutely great time with all of them—our friends gave us an old tent, and circled on a map, a few of their favorite places to go with kids. We tent camped through Germany and enjoyed everything they recommended to us. (Rothenberg, Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee, and the Saltzbergwerks in Berchtesgaden.)

RULE 2—Follow the advice of people who have been there. If you have children traveling with you, make sure you get advice from people with kids.

RULE 3—Make sure you know how to put up a borrowed tent before trying it late in the evening, in an open field, with swarms of mosquitos the size of birds biting you. 
CORRELATION TO RULE 3—Travel with insect repellent.

Back in the day when our kids were small, we didn’t have the Internet or any way to know what the weather was supposed to be on our vacations. We took our trips in September when European schools were already back in session. (Homeschooling gave us the freedom to do this.)

RULE 4—Check the weather before going tent camping anywhere! Some of our “cherished” family memories are of very stale-smelling towels, wet tents every night, and very cold mornings.

RULE 5—September is a good time to travel in Europe. It’s still (usually) warm. There are short lines at any touristy place you might visit. And, the other tourists are well mannered. (Beware, though, as in many campgrounds, they limit bathroom facilities to one “unisex” bathroom, instead of one for men and one for women. Experience also taught us to pay a little more money for better facilities.)

We have stayed in small campgrounds where the road was next to our tent or the train tracks were next to the campground, or both. Needless to say, sleep was limited all night long.

RULE 6—Look around before you decide where to pitch your tent. Invest in earplugs, if you tent camp at all. The kids will sleep anywhere. It’s the parents who need to get some shuteye.

RULE 7—Plan your food. Our family usually tried to have one hot meal a day. We would eat cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch (buying the bread and enough ham and cheese in a local grocery store), and then, at night, heat up canned something (lentils, stew, etc.). Sometimes, we also served a salad. This is the most satisfactory way we found to do food very cheaply. It isn’t like home cooking, but hey, you don’t travel Europe every day, either. NOTE: The family is happiest when they have eaten. Make sure you try to feed the troops on a fairly normal schedule.

RULE 8—Go somewhere that’s new for everyone. It can be close to home or farther away, but it needs to be new and interesting. We did one trip each year after that first German holiday. We toured southern Spain; Normandy; the châteaux of the Loire Valley in France; Paris; Switzerland; and eastern France, as well as little jogs to see Madrid and pretty sights between here and there. (Love Segovia and Toledo!)

RULE 9—It’s helpful if you know the language or you stay on the beaten path. We were told everyone in Germany spoke English. Well, we were in quite a few places where they didn’t. We don’t speak German or understand it. We did okay, considering, but it was somewhat embarrassing to ask little school children to translate for us. We were in Italy for one afternoon. It was an “experience” in many ways. The biggest frustration was that they couldn’t understand our Spanish, and we couldn’t understand their Italian. Again, no one seemed to speak English or French. Maybe we were in the wrong part of Italy . . . .

RULE 10—Remember, when you are a tourist, you are a visitor in someone else’s town. While it is fine to take lots of pictures, enjoy the food, and smell the roses, it’s important to understand you’re walking around in someone else’s home. It’s best to be respectful of private and public property, wear clothes that aren’t goofy in the setting you’re in, and don’t talk or laugh raucously or demand special services. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

RULE 11—Whatever happens, normal or not, enjoy your trip. If it rains every night on your tent, laugh. If you can’t understand the natives, laugh. If the castle you so wanted to see is closed the day you arrive, be flexible, go back tomorrow, and make some memories today. And, laugh! This is your family vacation. You only have your children for eighteen years. Make the most of your canned lentils and mosquitos. Laugh! Take silly pictures. Have a great time!

And finally, RULE 12—Don’t take a vacation from God. Pray together as a family. If you can find a good church to attend on Sunday, do that. If not, have a special devotional time together and/or listen to a taped sermon. Sing hymns—in the car, not in public! Dress and act like you love the Lord every day of your trip. Ahead of time, you might be able to obtain gospel tracts in the language of the country you visit. You can give a tract to the people you meet. Be ready for “divine appointments,” when God puts you next to someone who needs Him.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under
the heaven . . . a time to heal . . . a time to build up . . . a time to laugh . . .
and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, and from 3-4).

Bon voyage!  ¡Buen viaje!  Have a great trip!  
Boa viagem!  Gute Riese!  Buon viaggio!


  1. What neat experiences your kids have had! I'm not real big on camping or traveling, though we've done some of both, but one of our memorable times involved pouring rain, too.

    1. How funny! Oh, we can tell people about rain . . . .

      We are very, very thankful that we could do these travels when the kids were younger. As both live on the other side of the ocean now, these were experiences they will always cherish.

      I don't think I'll be camping much, if any, any more. Just too creaky to do it well, but we're glad we did it when we did. :o)

      God bless, Barbara!

  2. Sounds like fun!
    God Bless Lou Ann!

    1. Thank you, Regine. God bless you, too!

  3. We tent camped through Germany and enjoyed everything they recommended to us. (Rothenberg, Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee, and the Saltzbergwerks in Berchtesgaden.) travel in europe

    1. Great! I'm so glad you could do those things! We loved Germany, especially these places. Thank you for your comment, Jade. God bless!


Please share your thoughts.