EUROPEAN FAMILY VACATION
How much does a bucket list trip to Europe cost?
First of all, Europe is a big place. Imagine asking the question, "How much would it cost to see the USA in a week?" As you begin to plan, it’s important to narrow your focus. Understandably, if you’re traveling all the way to Europe, you want to get the most bang for your vacation buck by seeing as much as humanly possible. But pause and ask yourself, “Why do I want to take my kids to Europe?” Maybe you want to explore your family's heritage. Perhaps your son loves castles, knights, and dragons. Or maybe you’re eager for your daughter to practice her French in France. Understanding the goal of your trip will help you focus.
It’s also important to understand the difference between quantity and quality. Do you want to spend your time traveling or experiencing? Most people who want to visit numerous European cities in one or two weeks fail to calculate the amount of time it takes to simply travel from one place to another. Getting from your hotel to the train station or airport, waiting for your departure, transit time, getting from the train station or airport to your new hotel, and checking in - it takes time. An entire day can be lost just getting from one city to another. And there’s a huge difference between a drive-by tour of Paris from the seat of a bus compared to strolling the streets and immersing yourself in the charms of that world-class city. Sure, you can brag to friends that "you've been there, done that.” You have that family photo under the Eiffel Tower to prove it, but did you really experience Paris or did you just travel there?
With all that in mind, let’s examine the biggest factors that will impact your bucket list family vacation to Europe.
Low season in Europe is the first quarter of the year. American families with school schedules to consider will find the most affordable rates during President's Day week and Spring Break. High season - meaning the highest rates for flights, hotels, and cruises - occurs in the summer months and December holidays. It's all about supply and demand, my friend. In general, if your kids are out of school, those times will be more expensive to travel.
Whenever possible, start making your plans about a year in advance. There’s a lot of decisions that you'll need to make about your itinerary. Be ready financially to book your flights and make tour or hotel deposits about nine months out. That time period will afford you the best availability and pricing for the season.
Depending on the time of year that your family wants to travel, coach class airfare from the East Coast will run between $700 per person (if you're really lucky) upwards of $2000 per person for summer procrastinators. West Coast departures will run about $300 to $500 per person more. If you were to go all out and book first class seats, you’d be talking $3000 to $5000 per ticket - not a likely scenario for a family. If possible, use frequent flyer miles or credit card reward points to help ease the pain.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re using miles, book as soon as possible. Award seats are extremely limited.
Location, location, location. If you're spending the money to fly to Europe, does it really make sense to stay outside the city just to save a few bucks? Folks eyeballing the bottom line sometimes fail to calculate the cost of transportation not to mention the precious vacation time that you’ll lose commuting. Typically, the cost savings is negligible. Remember to spend money wisely for your own sanity and enjoyment.
4/Type of trip
Your family can experience Europe in different ways. Each trip comes with its own price tag based of the level of service that you require.
Independent travel can be described as a hotel or apartment stay. It can be in the city or on a farm in the country. Your room can be basic or extravagant, depending your vacation budget and needs. You're set up with a daily itinerary and sightseeing plan that you do on your own. Often this means navigating your way on public transportation or driving your own vehicle. This kind of flexible travel is often preferable for families with younger children.
Guided or escorted tours are popular options for many families. Bear in mind, you'll be vacationing with other people who are taking the same tour. Not all itineraries are created equally. Some tours may offer much more independent free time for exploring or additional guides for separate adult and kid activities.
Guided tours do come with age restrictions for children. Company requirements vary, but generally, children need to be older than 5 or 6 to participate. The reason? The overall enjoyment of all passengers. Let's be real, do you really want to spend your long-awaited vacation in Rome on a bus with a screaming toddler? No doubt the toddler would much rather be doing something else, too. Often for the same price, private tours can be arranged for small groups of families and friends traveling together. In that circumstance, age restrictions wouldn't apply.
The cost of having a professional guide is divided among everyone on the tour. Some people would argue that this makes for higher prices. Often people fail to appreciate that having the assistance and professional insight that these tour guides offer really does enhance your vacation experience. In many cases, a detail that normally would go unrecognized leads to a fascinating discovery, thanks to the narration and training of a tour guide. The extra cost of a tour is typically offset by the special contracts that tour companies have with other travel providers, thanks to the volume of passengers that they bring to a particular attraction. Not only are the admission costs to must-see attractions included at a much lower price, but tour companies can skip the lines. You know that this perk is a big deal if you'll ever waited in a line for three hours to see David in Florence or the Queen’s Jewels in London!
Some folks also would argue that this type of vacation is too structured. Others would rave about how they enjoyed being participants on their own vacation and free from worrying about the logistics. As mentioned above, your view will depend on your family's travel experience, expectations, and travel style.
A word of caution about guided tours: those tours that offer seven cities in ten days tend to be overly exhausting. In my experience, the best guided tours offer limited geography - perhaps a focus on one or two major cities or one or two countries.
Many of the greatest sights in Europe are on or close to water. Whether it’s the Mediterranean or the Danube, a cruise is a fantastic option for those insisting on covering a great deal of territory in a short amount of time. You'll get to take in many different ports and get a taste of many different cultures. It's a great overview to see what you like best in order to return for a more in-depth vacation in the future.
Cruises offer additional amenities for families traveling with younger children. All of the large, family-friendly lines offer complimentary child care. This means Mom and Dad are free to experience the Acropolis in Athens without having to worry about their 3-year-old climbing over a sky-high pile of rocks. Cruise prices start at $100/person/day and include all your meals. If you'll be traveling with teenaged boys, you’ll likely reap some savings there.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of why it's difficult to give one set answer to the question, “How much does a European vacation cost?” If you're still feeling overwhelmed, you may want to consult a travel agent who’s created thousands of European itineraries for families in the past. Armed with the appropriate expectations and knowledge, your family can make this dream trip a reality!
Sally Black is the founder of the travel agency Vacation Kids and author of the book, “Fearless Family Vacations.” She’s also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training for the Family Travel Association.
If you’d like Sally to help you plan your European vacation, use this link to contact her. Vacation Kids is a trusted KidTripster partner. Know that if you decide to book with her, KidTripster gets some coffee money at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.
Want to visit Europe this holiday season with KidTripster aboard AmaWaterway’s AmaLea on a Christmas market river cruise? Check out the details here. We’d love for you to travel with us!