Euro2018: Planning for the adventure of a lifetime

Every now and then in my life, a luck bomb explodes. Circumstances happen to come crashing together in a way that makes amazing opportunities drop into my lap. One of those resulted in my amazing solo trip to Europe in 1995, and another resulted in our family trip on the Allure of the Seas back in 2012. They don’t always involve travel, but when you’re a family of five, international travel can be prohibitively expensive, and sometimes a luck-bomb is what it takes to make it feasible. In this case, I had a very short window to decide whether to cash out or lock in a severance allowance that I’ve been accumulating over my 27+ years with the government that was being phased out, and couldn’t think of a more spectacular way of investing it than planning a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Europe.

I committed to cashing out the allowance not too long before my dad died. There’s nothing like losing a parent to instill a little “carpe diem” into your outlook. Some of the last afternoons we spent together, my dad and I chatted about places to go and see, and talked about some of our favourite trips. The older I get, the more I’m beginning to value travel over things. It’s been a few months since we’ve committed to the trip, and I’m still breathless with excitement when I think about how lucky we are to be able to show the boys more of the amazing world outside the paths we usually tread.

We chose London and Paris because as much as I loved cramming five countries and 12 cities into a four week solo trip in 1995, I’m not sure my crew is up for that level of nomadic intensity in a travel schedule on an international trip. I loved my time in Paris in 1995 so much that Beloved and I spent our honeymoon there in 1999, and revisiting one of our favourite places in the world seemed like a great way to travel and yet not be completely overwhelmed by everything being new and, for lack of a better word, “foreign.” Also, because Paris!

We chose London because it’s somewhere we’ve both always wanted to go. I have to admit, I wasn’t as keen on the London part of the trip until I started getting into researching what we could see and do, and now I’m not sure how we’ll ever cram everything in, and especially how we’ll ever leave. Platform 9 3/4 and the Tower Bridge and the Thames and fish and chips and Buckingham Palace and the Tube; from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere to Abbey Road to Aziraphale and Crowley feeding the ducks at St James Square, it seems like a lifetime of cultural touchstones are just waiting to be discovered.

In addition to the excitement of actual travel, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to be planning this trip. It’s like a hundred research projects to be managed, all wrapped up into one! From pricing flight options and route itineraries to comparing neighbourhoods; from AirBnBs to budget hotels; from Notre Dame to Paris Disney; there are so! many! things! to learn about. I have spreadsheets and lists and a stack of library books as long as my arm, and I am loving every minute of planning this trip. (Obsessive much?)

Admittedly, we are not the world’s most sophisticated travellers. The last time I actually purchased my own airline ticket was in 1999, for our honeymoon in Paris. And when I was planning my big European adventure in 1995, it was in a pre-internet world. I made my hotel reservations via fax machine! So, I thought sharing the planning process here might be a way to both pick your collective brains, and lay some groundwork for other newbie travellers too.

The biggest expenses will be flights and accommodations. Getting five people to London, and back from Paris, looks to cost us about $5,000, and I’ve been using Google Flights to track prices for a few months. We’re thinking of flying out of Ottawa into London, taking the Eurostar through the Chunell to Paris, and then flying home from Paris. We could drive to Montreal and increase our number of options, but at current prices we won’t actually save anything for the massive inconvenience.

tracking flight prices
Tracking flight prices on Google

I’m also debating between a daytime or an overnight flight. We can leave at 7 am local time and arrive in London at around 9 pm local time, so probably not arriving at our rental flat until nearly midnight. It won’t be too bad from a jet lag perspective, as it will feel like much earlier in the day due to the time change, but navigating a strange city in the dark with kids and suitcases does not seem appealing. What seems even less appealing, though, is the other option of flying out in the evening and cobbling together a few hours sleep on the plane, arriving early the next morning. There are some members of our family who are not at their best (cough cough) when they are tired.

So bloggy peeps, let’s talk about planning flights. Got any tips to share? Do you prefer the red-eye or a daytime flight? How do you find good deals on flights? Am I right to hope for a seat sale for high season travel, or should I just lock in our flights now? Am I crazy to look at Air Iceland flights because they have free wifi and cheaper fares, even though (okay, and because) there is a stop-over in Reykjavik and the flight is four hours longer than the non-stop from Ottawa?

Please share your best flight-planning tips!

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

8 thoughts on “Euro2018: Planning for the adventure of a lifetime”

  1. You are speaking my language…….. I love the planning part….. really LOVE it! I am in the recollection phase of our Summer 2016 Europe trip- which is making photo books, another favorite thing!

    yes, you are crazy re. Iceland.

    I would lock in because that is me. but, waiting might save you money. for me, not enough to wait.

    we did the red-eye last summer. it was rough. I didn’t sleep. my teen didn’t sleep. we arrived around noon in Budapest and my teen practically collapsed in the hotel room. we attempted to drag him through the streets, and gave up and let him sleep…. 20 hours he slept. disclaimer: he was also sick with a bad cold with added to his fatigue. we have done the overnight flight with kids 5 times, and this was the worst result.

    The nice thing is that you have a good amount of time in your first stop, London… so if you need a day to just chill in a park and recover from jet lag, sleep in, or get a very early night….. it’s ok!! especially for the teens, who need their sleep ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am excited for you!!! I am also curious what your budget is for your holiday…… we will trade #’s sometime.. my own horrifying #’s will make your feel better!

  2. Our family of 5 went to London in 2015. It was the trip of a lifetime. If you are going in the summer, be prepared for crowds and line-ups. We shuffled our way, cheek by jowl, through Westminster Abbey. I had to get a docent to let my 15 year old out because he was feeling claustrophobic.
    The hardest part was finding accommodation that didn’t break the bank. I was leery of Air BNB because I had heard a few bad stories. I didn’t want to be stuck in London in high season with nowhere to stay if it all went wrong. We ended up renting a flat from one of the universities. It was perfect.

    We took the overnight flight because it was considerably cheaper. We flew into Gatwick, took the train into town. We were zombies. We couldn’t get our flat until late afternoon but we were able to leave our luggage. We ended up grabbing some lunch and taking it to a local park to eat and 2 of the kids crashed much to their dismay at sleeping in public!

    The kids loved taking the tube and were pros in no time. We bought the London Pass (you can buy in CAD before you go) I don’t know that it saved us money, but it saved us from having to pull out our wallets every 5 minutes and we were able to skip some lines. It also focused our sightseeing. At one point my son complained that he was sick of looking at old stuff. So we looked to see if the Pass got us in anywhere newish. Which is how the 2 of us went off on our own to tour Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal . It was very cool. And new! I could go on and on. Have fun planning ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. We’re in London! It’s worth knowing that kids’ holidays are a bit different here. July and August are naturally super busy, but if you must come in the summer then early July is better than later, as the schools break up around July 20. Even in regular times, there will be lines and crowds but I find that if you’re mentally prepared it’s not that bad. Public transport works with touch card now, so if you have a credit/debit card with touch you actually get a better deal than the weekly card (although the exchange rate is something to look into). For specific recommendations feel free to drop me a line and I can set you up with restaurants, attractions, whatever ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s the best city!

  4. Sounds like a great time. If you are looking for high season travel next summer, you probably can still watch fares for a while longer before locking in. I would definitely not try the Iceland stopover (unless you have interest in staying in Iceland for a couple of days to explore) What I have learned with the overnight flights is that there really is no good way to do them – they are lousy and you just have to accept that to a certain degree. Going to London is actually harder in some ways than going further, to Rome or something, because there is always something going on during your flight, whether it is meal service, selling duty-free, giving you ‘breakfast’. Between all these things, you are lucky if the lights go out for 45 minutes to try and grab a quick nap.

    If you are able to arrange to access your accomodation in London early in the day, it is truly worth any price. A routine that we have found works well is a little two hour nap upon arrival and then the rest of the day can actually be enjoyed rather than walking around like zombies.

    Although the Montreal option can be a bit of a pain, sometimes there can be deals to be had, particularly to/from Paris and one advantage is that on the way home, your car is there waiting for you, rather than waiting a couple of hours in the Montreal airport for your 30 minute flight home.

    I will be happy to share some Paris restaurants if you reach out via email – I’ve built a little Google Map of some favourites since I go for work quite often. It is a tough city to eat out in – if you don’t have a plan it can be very expensive for a pretty lousy experience – especially the places that prey on tourists.

    Check out our post on our family trip to Italy a couple of years ago – still wonderful memories – you’ll enjoy yourselves no matter what you do!

  5. Oh thanks for the great feedback, everyone! I love the variety of perspectives. This is going to be a fun series!

    Gal, you’re in London! So that’s why you haven’t booked photos recently! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. All four of us just went to Paris and London in October. I definitely prefer the overnight flight on the way there and may have slipped the kids a gravol to get them to sleep on the flight. Hubby and I were tired as we didn’t sleep as much as we would have liked, but it was so much easier to acclimatize the kids to the time change by having them sleep on the plane. We flew Air Canada from Ottawa, through Montreal, as there was no better option cost-wise.

    We went to Paris first (my brother lives there) and stayed in an Air BnB. You can’t check into to most of them until after 3 pm, so we booked it for the day before so we’d be able to go straight there when we landed. While the kids snacked and explored a bit, we took a short nap then got on with our day. I was very impressed with how quickly the kids adapted, even becoming accustomed to eating dinner past 8 pm regularly!

    We took the Eurostar through the chunnel to visit London (where we were lucky enough to stay with friends) and it was awesome. I loved the train! So clean, quiet and free (though sometimes spotty) wi-fi throughout the ride.

    Even though I’m fluently bilingual and we spent a lot of time with my brother who speaks like a native, I still found London much easier to navigate. Better signage throughout their public transportation options made it a breeze to get around. In Paris we used Uber a lot because their metro was confusing to us.

    And while we’d been to Paris before, this was our first trip to London and I’m already dying to go back. It was amazing. So happy you’re getting to experience it again soon!!!

  7. That’s so fun Carly! You’ve got me excited all over again!!

    I hear you on the Paris metro being confusing. In 1995 when I was travelling solo, I entirely missed my flight home because I got tangled up in the RER!

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