Saturday, August 10, 2019

What to Consider When Planning a European Family Vacation

We recently travelled through the Netherlands, Belgium and France with our three kids for three weeks. The purpose was primarily to connect with my dutch roots and for the kids to experience various cultures. Our hope was to go to all of the museums and attractions that we wanted and to eat local foods yet keep the budget for the entire trip under $10,000 Canadian.

What to consider when planning a family trip to the Netherlands!

Our kids are seven, 10 and 13 which worked well for a trip like this. When planning I had a few questions: How should we get around? Which cities should we see? Will my MasterCard work okay? How much would it all cost?  This is what we did and I wouldn't say there is a right or wrong way; this is just what worked for us.

Here are a few things that you may want to consider when planning your European trip:

1. Accommodations: We stayed in AirBnb's
Most hotels only have room for 2-4 people unless you want to pay about $200/night–that third kid always adds a huge cost. AirBnb's allowed our total cost for accommodations for the three weeks to be under $3,000. Another way in which they save money is that if you get one with a kitchen you can make a lot of your own meals. Two of ours also had a washing machine which was very helpful as well! Our kids had a separate bedroom from us each time which is also nice when you're together all the time.

Eating outside at our AirBnb in the Netherlands

Be sure to note if linens are included and whether there are extra fees such as a local tourist tax or cost per person per night. One of our AirBnb's only had working Internet for one day which was frustrating as we needed WiFi for our planning and also for downtime for the kids. It was also in a loud apartment (note that all homes are so close together) so we did leave it two days early. Read the reviews in depth as well as their refund policy before committing!

Our old apartment in downtown Rouen, France. It's the one we left early.

2. Transportation: Renting a car.
Europe has an amazing system of trains, trams and buses. In the Netherlands, the bike routes are plentiful. We decided to rent a car because it would allow us to get to a greater variety of cities and we could go on our timeline.

We rented a compact car which meant that we could not take a lot of luggage. One carry one each!

That said there are a few drawbacks to driving: gas is very expensive, parking can be tricky to find, navigating may add stress and there are are often road tolls. The total cost of our compact car, gas, parking and tolls was under $1400. We did take a train into Paris which saved us the stress of navigation and parking costs. We booked ahead using Trainline and it saved us money ($130 for the five of us return trip).

The train from Rouen to France 

There were also times when we could rent a boat and bikes which is a "must do" in the Netherlands.

Renting a boat in Giethoorn, Netherlands

Riding bikes in Veluwe National Park, Netherlands

3. Money: Euros and MasterCard.
Only major businesses (museums, gas stations) accepted MasterCard and most supermarkets could only take euros. Even our parking in Delft, Netherlands was tricky because the parking machines would not accept our MasterCard. I got creative and asked a woman to pay for me and I paid her in cash.

Trying to figure out parking in Delft, Netherlands
It was better for us to take a large amount of Euros to start so that we didn't have to pay the bank machine fees and whatever exchange they offered. Having about 500 euros for our family of five for three weeks was ideal. Reminder: Let your MasterCard know you are leaving the country. I let them know about mine but forget to include that Gary would be there too.

4. Location: How many cities to see.
We stayed in three very different locations for a week at a time. This gave us a home base to get settled and relax which is ideal with kids. It allowed us to branch out about one hour from each AirBnb into different directions. This meant that each week included a longer travel day, a rest day, and then about four cities to explore.

Our day in Paris!
We did not book our museums or attractions ahead of time as we wanted to adapt our itinerary depending on how we were feeling and what the weather was like. There are some things you can book ahead of time, online, to save money or possible line waits. In regards to what cities and sites to see, I highly recommend connecting with someone who has done the trip before or lives in the area.

Vimy Ridge

5. Travel dates: When to go and for how long.
We went in the summer for three weeks. There was a major heatwave with record-breaking temperatures which made some of days very exhausting and uncomfortable. Our AirBnb's also did not have AC as they are not used to those temperatures either. Be sure to consider this fact when booking.

Trying to stay cool with ice cream and cafe air conditioning!
Three weeks was the perfect amount of time for our family to see all that we wanted and to make the most of the trip (and the expensive airfare!). In regards to airfare we actually did get a pretty good deal using Flight Hub which lets you put in the dates and destination of travel and tells you when there is a drop in price. Also, I've found that when booking, Thursdays are generally cheaper to fly on. We flew with Icelandair and had a two hour stopover in Iceland. It worked out well; we could run around, grab some food and then get going again. Looking back we could have spent a few days there while we were there anyway! The cost of our flights was $3800 for the five of us.

Beaing the heat on record breaking days in the North Sea
I will be sharing our exact trip, week by week, in a follow up post but wanted to address this first.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Oh, and are you curious if we kept it to $10,000? It was $9,700–guess I could have had a few more pastries, frites and coffees at the cafe.


What transporation should you use? How many euros do you need? How long should you spend there? Here are some of the questions that I had before going and the answers I learned along the way.

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