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itinerary & budget advice -- 3wks, June 2010, w/teens

Travel Forums Europe itinerary & budget advice -- 3wks, June 2010, w/teens

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1. Posted by chris6263 (Budding Member 5 posts) 7y

We are at the beginning of planning a trip to Europe for June 2010. My husband and I have 2 teens, ages 15 (boy) & 17 (girl), and want to give them a "taste of Europe" tour. We plan to travel for approximately 3 wks., and I'm hoping that $20,000 will cover everything including plane tickets.

Here's our tentative itinerary and number of days: Rome (4), Marseille or Aix-en-Provence (2), Munich/Dachau (2), Paris/Versailles/D-day beaches? (4), London/Brighton (5), Dublin or Edinburgh (3).

I know that Munich is out of the way, but we'd like to have a taste of Germany and also to visit a concentration camp. I thought we'd either fly Marseille - Munich - Paris or fly Paris - Munich - London. Not sure how we'd get from London to Dublin or Edinburgh: train/ferry for Dublin? night trains? fly?

We have friends in Rome and Marseille, and family in Brighton, so those are places we don't want to eliminate. We can definitely stay with family in Brighton, but may not do that because of the distance to London (I thought we'd either take a day trip down to Brighton or spend one night there). Of course free lodging is tempting, so we may change our minds on that.

I don't think we would be able to stay with friends in either Rome or Marseille, so I guess we're mostly looking at staying in hotels/ B&Bs/ or apartment rentals if they allow less than a week. We don't need fancy -- just basic and clean with convenient locations. I'm concerned that we'd have to get two rooms every night. In the states we always get one room with 2 queen-sized beds or a room with 2 beds and a pull-out couch.

I was thinking that we could take a night train from Rome to Marseille (or Aix-en-Provence) and then rent a car for 2 days to make it easier to visit friends who actually live halfway between Marseille and Aix. Other than that I'd thought we'd use the train as much as possible, but would be open to car rental in places that it makes sense.

I thought we'd buy open-jaw tickets into Rome and out of Dublin or Edinburgh. (Saw advice to head north in summer because of the heat).

Is this a reasonable itinerary and budget?

(My husband's relatives in Brighton weren't much help.)

Thanks for any and all advice!

2. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 7y

May I suggest a rejiggling of the itinerary?

  • Rome - Munich - Paris - Marseille - Dublin/Edinburgh - London

There is a direct night train from Rome to Munich, but not from Rome to Marseille (at least 3-4 train changes will be required if you plan to travel by train for this part of the journey). Similarly, from Munich, there is a direct train to Paris, but not for Marseille. In order not to spend too much of your day time travelling, these direct trains make good options. For both journeys, you can check for tickets on German Rail website, and often if booked ahead, you may find tickets with special saving fares. Tickets are available for booking 3 months ahead of travelling dates.

In Paris, direct TGV to Marseille takes only about 3 hours and there are numerous train options each day. Get your tickets from TGV Europe and have them delivered to your relatives in Rome. This is the cheaper ticket option, because buying from outside of Europe usually incurs additional charges imposed by the ticket agent/reseller. Tickets can be purchased 3 months ahead of travel.

Alternatively, look into booking with iDTGV. It's a fairly new initiative, primarily geared for youth travellers but as far as I know, there is no age limitation (not from the quick scan on their general terms of sale anyway). Tickets purchased with iDTGV must be printed yourself at home (there's no collection/delivery system available) and because it's a strictly online sale system, the tickets also tend to be much cheaper than the usual TGV, as low as €19 one way!

(Ops, I hit comment instead of preview before finishing the post)

From Marseille to either Dublin or Edinburgh, you may look into flying with Ryanair, which usually has pretty good flight deals. Hopefully you don't have too much luggage though, and have access to computer and printer. Ryanair is a low-cost airline which requires you to do online check-in in order to avoid exhorbitant check-in fees, and if you pre-paid for your luggage to be put on hold, there is a very strict weight limit of 15kg per person, and regardless if there are several persons booked on the same itinerary, you cannot share the luggage allowance.

If you end up going to Dublin, you may fly to London with either Ryanair or Aer Lingus, whereas if you end up going to Edinburgh, then your options for budget airline to London will be with Easyjet or BMI baby.

[ Edit: Edited on 08-Nov-2009, at 14:52 by lil_lil ]

3. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 7y

The budget of $20,000 seems reasonable to me, and I think you can cover all the costs for 3 weeks with this amount.

In order to get some price idea, I've ran a few quick random checks and these are the prices that I've got:

Rome - Munich night train (based on travelling on 2nd class travel at the end of January):
- 4 persons in a day couch compartment: €162 (not a comfortable option at all)
- 4 persons in a 4-couchette cabin: €266 (that's nearly $400 in total for 4 persons)
- 4 persons in a 6-couchette cabin: €226 (but there could be 2 other people sharing the cabin with you)

Munich - Paris by TGV or ICE (based on travelling on 2nd class travel at the end of January):
- 4 persons: €156 (that's about $235 in total for 4 persons)
(Note that "night" train with ICE leaves at 3 something in the morning, and has 1 change in Mannheim, and "day" train with TGV is direct and leaves at 6 something in the morning; the journeys take appx 6h30m and 6h15m respectively)

Paris - Marseille by iDTGV (based on 2nd class, on iD-zen):
- 4 persons: €76 (that's about $115 in total for 4 persons)

So, not including flights to UK/Ireland, you could travel Rome-Munich-Paris-Marseille for as low as $750 for a family of 4, with a little advance planning and online reservations.

For reasonably comfortable travel, in terms of accommodation and food and some sight seeing, at about €400 ($600) per day that'll work out to less than $13,000 for 3 weeks (21 days). Thus, so far, even on rough estimate, you'll be spending around $13,500 with $6,500 remaining for your US-Europe flights and flights to/between UK/Ireland, and a family travel insurance.

I note that you were thinking of doing D-Day beaches while in Paris. I would not really advise that, since you're only planning 4 days for that, and if you are going to Versailles, it'll really only leave you with 3 days to visit Paris and there's so much to do there.

4. Posted by chris6263 (Budding Member 5 posts) 7y

Thanks so much for the help. I'm feeling more confident already.

I didn't even think about family travel insurance. Where do I get that?

Also, if we added a day to go to the D-day beaches -- is that doable as a day trip from Paris? Are there local tour operators or do you need a car? Can you get to Versailles without a car?

I've heard of TGV, but what is ICE?

Any thoughts on Dublin vs Edinburgh?

One last thing -- will we need two hotel rooms for the four of us? Can you rent an apartment for less than a week?

Thanks! --Chris6263

5. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 7y

Travel insurance:
To be honest, as I don't live in US, I'm not certain who will be a reasonable provider to get. Personally I get mine from my bank (which has a service to provide travel insurance), and certain airlines also offer travel insurance that you can get when you buy your flights. Here, we can also get one from health insurance provider. Certainly, you could also go to a travel agent and they would usually have a couple of providers that they can recommend. Family travel insurance here is normally offered for 2 parents and 2 children under 18, which fits your need perfectly. (If you travel often as a family, look into getting an annual multitrip travel insurance, often they're not too much more expensive than a single trip insurance.)

D-Day Beaches:
Yes, it is possible to do these Norman beaches as day trip. Certainly there are tour operators that do day tours of the D-Day Beaches from Paris, and they cost between €150 to €200 per person (so that's going to be about $900 to $1,200 for 4 persons) and will include transportation, tour guide, some admissions but not food. It'll be a very long day, about 10-11 hours maybe? Travel time each way vary between 2-3 hours. You may also hire a car and drive there of course.

Versailles:
Versailles is very accessible from Paris, directly using the RER C. It'll likely be a day trip out, if not a good part of a day, as the ground is extensive. Journey time varies, depending on where you start in Paris, as you may need to connect from the metro to RER etc, so give or take roughly 40-45 minutes each way.

TGV/ICE:
They're both high speed trains, only TGV is French and ICE is German.

Hotel rooms:
Unfortunately, Europe is unlike US where you can easily get 2 queen size beds in a spacious room. E.g. in Paris, you'll find 1 queen size bed as a norm for a double room and very tight space even for 2 to share. So yes, 2 rooms will be required. It may be possible to get apartments for a minimum of 3 days (although it's likely to be limited) but I'm not sure if you can find one easily for less time than that. I guess it's a matter of searching on the internet for the options. Note that apartment rental usually will require a pretty hefty sum for deposit as well. Apart from hotels/apartments, you can also look into getting B&B's. Although more common in UK/Ireland, they're starting to crop up in other cities as well including Paris and Rome, and they do tend to be cheaper than hotels from what I recall in researching for places to stay for friends previously.

Dublin vs Edinburgh:
This is a tough one, sort of. I live in Dublin and I've been to Edinburgh, and they're both lovely places to be. If you want more of old castles and palaces, Edinburgh will be the place for it, as Dublin in essence feels more like a younger city with visitors coming to get the good ol' Irish merriments (read: may revolve around the pubs and this could be tricky for your children who are under 18s). Dublin makes a good base for day trips out to the countryside such as Wicklow etc. Not terribly familiar with Edinburgh food scene, I'm giving Dublin the thumbs up on this, as there is a great selection of eateries with cuisine from all over the world (my cousin who lived in Edinburgh prior said she prefers the food scene in Dublin more than Edinburgh). However, given the current foreign exchange rates, you may find Edinburgh cheaper than Dublin (unfortunately, as much as I love Dublin, I must admit that it's an expensive city to be in).

6. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 7y

Considering you have friends in Rome and Marseille, and family in Brighton, they'll probably give you lots of tips on what to do, where to go etc. So for the other cities, here are some info points of the two cities which I'm most familiar with, which may be useful to you:

Paris:

  • Many museums and sights are free for under 18
  • Many churches and cathedrals are free to visit (e.g. Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, St Sulpice, St Germain-des-Pres etc)
  • Museums and national monuments are free on first Sunday of the month
  • A large number of museums are closed on Monday (Louvre is on Tuesday though)
  • If you plan to do at least 2 sights per day from this list, get the Paris Museum Pass: it's of good value and you can skip the queue (except tower of Notre Dame)!
  • If postal code of accommodation does not start with 75, it's not in Paris proper
  • The most convenient way to travel around Paris is by metro, or by foot
  • Fete de la Musique is held on 21 June, so free music citywide on the streets etc
  • Restaurant prices already include taxes and service charges (so no huge tips required)

Dublin:

  • National Museums and National Gallery are free to visit, and so is the Chester Beatty Library and Science Gallery
  • Street Performance World Championship is held one weekend in June, and it's free (date for 2010 as yet unannounced)
  • Keep an eye on this listing (updated every Friday) for a guide to free events in Dublin
  • If you plan to visit the Guinness Storehouse, buy the tickets online to get a discount and to skip the queue
  • A couple of free podcasts from Guinness Storehouse, one good for free walking guide to Dublin city
  • Visitors' guide and podcast to Trinity College Dublin called Science Safaris
  • City centre of Dublin has postcodes of Dublin 1 (north city centre) and Dublin 2 (south city centre)

Of course, for all cities, check the TP Travel Guide as well. They're useful, and the information quite often updated by the various contributors of TP.

7. Posted by chris6263 (Budding Member 5 posts) 7y

You're giving me such great information. I never would have come up with your itinerary changes, but they make perfect sense with your "insider's" information. Thanks!!!

I think the Fete de la Musique in Paris or Street Performance Championships in Dublin would be awesome!

Any particular "hit list" for London?

Would it be better to fly back to London from Dublin or Edinburgh or take a (ferry +)/train? Should we spend another night in London before flying out or just go straight to the airport and get one a plane headed home to the US?

One last thing -- should I nail down reservations in the following order or just work on everything at once? Is there a recommended way to go about it? Can I even nail down everything now (this far in advance)?

flights to/from Europe
travel within Europe -- trains/night trains/flights
sleeping arrangements -- hotels/apartments/etc.
Lastly the probable sights, etc. for each day

You're great lil_lil, thanks for taking the time to help out me and other travel newbies!

8. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 7y

I'm glad you find the information useful. Your itinerary make sense too, just that transportation wise it's not very convenient (I find south of France usually awkward for travel from most places except Paris). I'm just passing along what I know, and hey, through reading the forum etc I'm learning things myself too :)

London:
I've only been to London a couple of times so I'm not terribly familiar with it, but there are quite a number of things that you can do. The first time I was there I was quite young and travelling with my family so we did some rather touristy things like taking the hop-on, hop-hop off bus tour, see the Tower of London, went to Madame Tussaud, Westminster Abbey, St James Park, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park etc. But when I travelled there by myself later on, I was at the British Museum, Tate Modern, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery - these are all free to enter! (I love museums, but apparently not so much for my family, hehehe). Fee paying places in London can be quite expensive, and I don't know if there's museum passes that you can get or not. And oh, there's the London Eye too, which I've passed by but didn't go up because the queue was really, really, really long. If you want to do that, you should probably buy the ticket online in advance, but you must know the time you want to be there as it's quite specific.

Well I don't know how long you plan to spend between Brighton and London. You could go to Brighton first after arrival from Dublin/Edinburgh, then only come in to London so you know you can plan the time to go to the airport accordingly without worrying if you'll need extra time or not etc?

Travel Dublin/Edinburgh - London:
If from Dublin, I'd be more inclined to fly since the flight itself takes less than an hour, and there are lots of flights for London daily. If from Edinburgh, you can choose to fly or to take the train. Time for travelling either way are not too different, so it could actually be nice to take a train and see some of the countryside, as opposed to stuck in airport while waiting to board etc. (I've never travel Edinburgh-London myself so I can only hope the scenery is worth it!) ;)

Bookings:
June does seem quite far in advance to book for most stuff. For one, trains are usually open for reservation 3 months prior to travel (exception iDTGV - 6 months), and for budget airline flights, such as Ryanair, they usually run their promotional rates 2-3 months ahead of travelling time. Long haul flight from US, I'd imagine booking 3-4 months in advance should be plenty of time.

As for accommodations, again, a couple of months in advance should work although if you want to look for apartments or B&B's where the reservations are managed either directly by owners or by a small agency, you could start looking around and to compare prices etc.

Most sights won't require advance reservations. But of course there are exceptions, and it does depends on what you want to do. Say, London Eye - you should book in advance for that. British Museum often has amazing temporary exhibitions so you should keep an eye and if they have one that you're interested in, buy the ticket in advance. Same goes for temporary exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris. If you plan to do daytrips with tour companies, yes, do book in advance. A couple of months prior to travel should be sufficient.

Perhaps between now and say, February or March, you can check out different guide books (get them from the library) or online guides, and decide what will be of interest to you and your family? Compile the list, then you can consult the map and see how you want to organise the order of visit depending on the locations. You can also send me private message for Paris sights and I can help you plan the itinerary if you wish.

Happy planning!

9. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 7y

so I guess we're mostly looking at staying in hotels/ B&Bs/ or apartment rentals if they allow less than a week. We don't need fancy -- just basic and clean with convenient locations.

With those requirements and two teens in tow also check out private 4-bed rooms in hostels. This will usually mean a room with 2 bunk beds, so no snuggling up with the hubby, but your teens shouldn't have a problem climbing into the top bunks.

Hostels will be great for your teens because they can connect with others (usually the 17+ plus crowd) and if they have a kitchen you can easily cook there, thus cutting down costs significantly.

For London check out the HI/YHA hostel at Earl's Court, it is a great hostel and I know they have family rooms and a self-catering kitchen. Good location too.

http://www.yha.org.uk/find-accommodation/london/hostels/london-earls-court/index.aspx

For Munich I can recommend the Meininger Hotel+Hostel, Landsberger Straße 20. It is close to the main train station, very clean, has a self-catering kitchen and if you don't want to cook you can eat across the street in a traditional brewery. (Been there too, can highly recommend it. Try their roast duck with red cabbage and potato dumplings.)

http://www.meininger-hotels.com

Drinking age in Germany for beer and wine is 16, btw. No need to tell that your 17-year old, but just so that you know.

EDIT: One more thing, book the Meininger hostel in Munich online through the website I gave you, this will ensure you get the cheapest rates. Their walk-in prices are significantly more expensive.

And check out the accomodation link in the left-hand bar on this website, this will give you some great options.

[ Edit: Edited on 11-Nov-2009, at 12:46 by t_maia ]

10. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 7y

One last thing -- should I nail down reservations in the following order or just work on everything at once? Is there a recommended way to go about it? Can I even nail down everything now (this far in advance)?

flights to/from Europe
travel within Europe -- trains/night trains/flights
sleeping arrangements -- hotels/apartments/etc.
Lastly the probable sights, etc. for each day

Flights to Europe and budget flights within Europe should be first, then work on the trains. You can book train tickets up to 90 days in advance, so that is your time limit there. Once you have worked out the trains and flights within Europe book your accomodations.

Note that when you book trains you should go directly to the rail companies' websites. This means that if you book trains from Munich go to www.bahn.de and trains in and from France you book through the french websites www.voyages-sncf.com and www.tgv-europe.com If you book online in advance you can get significant discounts, this would be especially important for the trains from Munich. There are special offers starting from 39 EUR per person compared to 120+ EUR per person regular fare.