Travel tips: Getting ready to launch the big trip

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Early in the New Year my oldest daughter, not all that old, suggested that we as a family visit Europe. That sparked instant interest all around. You see for many years I especially and not infrequently our family together would go places, often exotic places such as Morocco and Peru and even simply gorgeous Tahiti to name but a few. But over time things change of course and a little over five years ago now I literally dropped dead briefly. Obviously I survived but was left physically and fiscally devastated. Fortunately, time heals and the conversation rapidly advanced into a real plan.

Our family group is five in number ranging in age from 10 to 72, all but the oldest female. It didn’t take long to stitch together our basic plan. We would depart Los Angeles on March 28th and take a Virgin Atlantic flight from LAX to LHR aka London’s Heathrow Airport. We would arrive on March 29th and spend one night in London for a wee bit of sightseeing but mainly to recover from the jetlag we knew would be with us. The next day March 30th we would take a train from London to Brussels, Belgium.  We knew that Belgium was a culturally diverse nation and home to the European Union not to mention amazing waffles.  So we wanted a taste of Belgium but it would be for only one day on this visit.

The next day March 31st our two daughters Kimberly and Kari would leave for Amsterdam while my wife Nenita, my granddaughter Somaya and I would all move on to Cologne, Germany. I suggested Cologne primarily because we all have some German blood and none of us had before visited anywhere within The Republic of Germany. Plus Cologne is fairly close to Brussels.

Our two daughters are at an age where they very much wanted to visit the renowned party city of Amsterdam. But they will rejoin us in Cologne on April 1st. Will they actually show up, or will the party hardy atmosphere of Amsterdam get in the way of a smooth plan? We shall see.

I remain reasonably confident all five of us will depart Cologne by train heading to Paris, France on April 2nd. We shall explore Paris together visiting all of the usual: the Eiffel Tower, the Lourve, the Catacombs, the Arc de Triomphe and even a brief visit to the Moulin Rouge. Of course food is high on of our list of experiences to indulge while in Paris. But on April 5th we are off again and once again splitting with our two daughters and our granddaughter who will be flying off to Venice, Italy for one day as Nenita and I head out to Reims, France in the heart of Champagne country.

I am not quite sure what the daughters have in mind for their short Italian side trip beyond perhaps being stalked by some guy named Mario riding a Vespa. Ok that is an attempt at humor because surely Venice is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. I know exactly what attracts me to Reims and it is two things. One is the extreme natural beauty of the area and the other is absolutely their beverage of the Gods — Champagne.

On April 7th Kari, Kimberly and Somaya will rejoin us in Reims and the next day April 8th we shall all depart by train and eventually get to London to spend two days in full tourist mode before returning to yet another tourist rich environment Los Angeles, California on April 10th. Our wallets will be drained, we will be thoroughly exhausted and we will all be filled with great joy and rich lifetime memories.

Making this all happen Is however a huge task especially when traveling as a family. Business trips and relatively short one destination vacations are pretty simple. You know where you are going and why so you make flight and hotel reservations, you pack your bag(s), get up and go and then return. But with four females ranging in age from 10 to 60 and a geezer dude age 72 heading off on a multiple destination journey with a couple splits and returns along the way and spanning many diverse cultures and languages the task becomes huge.

Plenty of pre-departure planning is absolutely required. The first big obstacle was getting a passport for Somaya. Sadly she was abandoned by her natural father at birth and her mom never saw a need to officially through the court system secure full legal custody. So when we applied for her passport it opened a can of worms. Happily we found a solution and her passport was issued. But the lesson here is that if you are planning a trip with a minor child and both parents are not available start planning months ahead of your trip to get a passport or you might find that you just can’t take the child. This is legal stuff we all prefer to ignore but when it comes to something like getting a legal document that allows you to remove a child from our country it is clearly a matter you cannot ignore.

With the passport matter out of the way the flights from Los Angeles to London and our return were quickly secured. But then came the huge task of hotels, Air B & B’s and ground transportation and more that took many days to secure. Fortunately in this day and age of the internet it is doable but still requires effort.

Factors to consider are location, location and location because when you have a relatively short amount of time to see as many attractions as possible location is of huge importance. Yet another critical factor for most of us is money. Sure a grand hotel across the street from Buckingham Palace may well be an optimal location, but is $1,200 a night really within your budget? For most of us the answer is no, so what to do?

Get a map of each destination — all easily available via the internet these days — and find the main places you want to visit. Then especially in Europe find a nice, affordable hotel that may be a few miles away but right next to a subway station. That way you can pay $100 a night for the hotel and only a few dollars a day in train fares. It takes planning but it makes your trip more enjoyable and affordable.

One extremely useful and free tool to aid in planning a trip like this is Google. How do you get from London to Brussels for example? Simply enter “London to Brussels via train” in your search bar and hit enter. There will instantly appear virtually every imaginable option. Not sure of what to see while in Venice? Just type in “Best things to see in Venice” hit enter and viola — you will have an abundance of good ideas to consider.

Also do note however that to get the very best prices for both transportation and accommodations you will need to prepay and unless you are willing to pay a little more than the absolute lowest price your prepayment will be non-refundable and that is no joke. So in one situation in our family vacation I misunderstood the plans of my two daughters with their side trip to Venice resulting in me having a bought and paid for a hotel room in Reims that will not be occupied the first two days we are in town. Know anybody going to Reims? Give me a call. These things happen and that is why the more time and effort you put into your trip planning the greater chance you have of experiencing abundant joy and beauty and creating magnificent life time memories but without having to sell the farm.

Absolutely a family vacation is one of the most demanding in terms getting fully and properly prepared and paying close attention to every detail well in advance of departure. But the payback is in experiencing great things, learning much more of our beautiful world and sharing all of the beauty and love with those people you love the most — your family. So yes it is very much worth it. Bon Voyage!

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Top photo of Europe from Wikipedia