Jump to content
REGISTERING FOR MEMBERSHIP ON UPLAND JOURNAL Read more... ×
topdog1961

European Family Vacation

Recommended Posts

erik meade

Sorry.

 

it took some trips for my wife to learn.  But she came around.  Her first trip to Europe was two checked in suitcases and a carry bag .  But now traveling light is a point of pride for her. She and one of her friends did 15 days in Greece with carry-on luggage. Anything you might need they sell there, it turns out. You are not traveling to wilderness. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Medema

If you rent a car, make sure to get one with a GPS system.  It makes life Waaaaayyyy easier.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
rideold

Yep, pack light.  We've even gotten to the point of not bothering with a full trip's supply of things like toothpaste etc.  Easy to buy and it's a fun adventure shopping in a foreign city :)

 

When we travel internationally (and that doesn't happen very often...like 3 or 4 times in my life) we use cash from ATM's  and one credit card for the stuff cash doesn't make sense for (advance bookings, car rentals, etc).  That credit card gets cancelled as soon as we get home.  We take out the maximum withdraw at the ATM each time and spend that until it's mostly gone and then go get more.  The exchange and service fees at the ATM's tend to be pretty cheap.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred card will get you primary car rental insurance so you can forgo any other rental car insurance (just make sure you reserve/rent only with that card).  We take another credit card and hide it deep in a backpack along with copies of our passports.  I stash that in the part of my backpack that holds the frame.  Not an easy place to get to or find.  Figure having a backup card is cheap insurance.  We always call our credit card company and bank to give them our travel plans.

 

We went as a family to Baja last summer for 2 weeks and did it with a carry-on for each person.  Did laundry once.

 

Biggest piece of advice I can give is don't try to do too much!

 

A couple of my co-workers that travel a lot recommend getting enrolled in global entry or TSA Pre.  You might not have enough time for that.  We've used the mobile passport TSA offers and it really speeds things up.  Well worth the $0.00 they charge for it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Marc
13 minutes ago, Dave Medema said:

If you rent a car, make sure to get one with a GPS system.  It makes life Waaaaayyyy easier.  

Or bring your own Gps - just make sure to get maps for Europe.

 

And you will likely have to ask specifically for an automatic if that is what you require. Surprising number of manual transmissions on the rental lots there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MNice
50 minutes ago, topdog1961 said:

As an aside, the process of getting passports has been a nightmare and it’s not over. My son lost his drivers license a couple days before we intended to apply, so he had to get a new one.   Then we realized we couldn’t find my daughters birth certificate. So we applied to the California county courthouse where she was born, normally a short process. But being adopted, it had to be routed through Sacramento, a 5-6 week process. So I held off on buying tickets until we got her birth cert, because I read that to expedite the passports you had to have proof of travel, and I didn’t want to eat them if it never came. It did and we rolled the dice, applying 3 weeks before departure, using the expedited process at a local post office that estimates “2-3” weeks., though most people say they come in 2. They didn’t even ask for proof of travel. The other option was to drive to Detroit and apply in person. So if the passports don’t arrive in time, we go nowhere and I eat the cost of the tickets. With the birth cert delay, when I bought tickets only evening flights were left. So I rolled dice again and bought the super cheap mystery tickets and got a direct flight there but we have a 13 hour overnight layover in Munich airport on the way home. 

Been there...two years ago, my wife and daughter were headed to Spain. My daughter left her passport on the table and the dog chewed it enough that they had to drive 2+ hours to Mpls to replace it as they were departing in a week.

 

A friends son's passport "got lost in the mail" and they had to fly to Chicago for a same day replacement. Ugh! For what a passport actually is, it shouldn't be such a limited and bureaucratic process. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WyomingArt

If you're asked if you want to be billed in Euros or US $,  do Euros. Less chance for vendor to play games with the exchange rate. Use a credit card that doesn't charge an extra fee for money conversion.

 

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
erik meade
47 minutes ago, Dave Medema said:

If you rent a car, make sure to get one with a GPS system.  It makes life Waaaaayyyy easier.  

Do you think that is still true when phone GPS is so good?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
erik meade
13 minutes ago, WyomingArt said:

Use a credit card that doesn't charge an extra fee for money conversion.

For sure. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MTRookie76

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1971snipe
34 minutes ago, erik meade said:

Do you think that is still true when phone GPS is so good?

I was in Germany last September, (Frankfurt- Marburg area), and for some reason my phone GPS, Google Maps, etc, wouldn't work while out-and-about.  It otherwise worked just fine when I was at the hotel and at the site where I was working.  Wifi signal related, I presumed.  

 

By the way, +1 on not passing up bakeries, especially in small villages, but don't be surprised to see honey bees flying around inside freely, and even crawling around on the pastries.  I just figured it was were better than flies being there, and if it didn't bother the regulars then it shouldn't bother me.  All good stuff.  I hope to be able to get back over there this year sometime.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
CptSydor

If you rent a car, try not to do it from the center of a big city.

 

I grew up in and lived the majority of my life around Toronto, which has some of the highest traffic density in North America. I have no issues driving in Toronto, hwys, downtown, etc. Still, driving in major, even moderate European cities can be a totally different ball game.

 

When in Paris I chose to find a rental spot on the edge of town, close to access to the hwy that got me out of the city quickly. In Barcelona, for a day trip, I decided to just pay the few extra Euro's, get a bus to the airport outside the city and rent from there. I did rent from the middle of Munich, but it was a Sunday, early in the day, back early evening. But it's Germany, a little more organized than other parts of Europe.

 

I think it was Limoges France where I got stuck downtown. I speak french, had been driving around France for a few days at this point and it still wasn't a pleasant experience. Outside the cities is just fine, you'll get good at downshifting and railing those countryside roundabouts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lurch
1 hour ago, MNice said:

Been there...two years ago, my wife and daughter were headed to Spain. My daughter left her passport on the table and the dog chewed it enough that they had to drive 2+ hours to Mpls to replace it as they were departing in a week.

 

A friends son's passport "got lost in the mail" and they had to fly to Chicago for a same day replacement. Ugh! For what a passport actually is, it shouldn't be such a limited and bureaucratic process. 

 

I've twice used (for corporate travel) a service that you fedex your passport to them, they hand-carry it to the Chicago office, hand-carry it through the process, and then fedex it back to you within a week. There's obviously a fee for it (covered by my business) but if you need it in a hurry and don't want to/can't travel to  go sit there in person, it's well worth it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave in Maine

Almost all the above is good info.  I was stationed over there 3 years back in the 80s, and worked there almost 3 months a couple years ago. 

A couple things to add:

1.  Berlin is a lot closer to Munster than Belgium, let alone Normandy.  Lots and lots of good museums in Berlin:  https://www.visitberlin.de/en/museums-berlin

You can probably catch a relatively cheap train from Munster to go there, for a day trip.  I liked the Pergamon - all this ancient Mesopotamian stuff.  Also, it's likely that the cost of the train will be less than that of parking and gas.  If you go to Normandy figure at least 3 days on that - one to get there, one to be there, and one to get back.  

2.  Just hang out in a biergarten.  Good local beer and maybe burnt meat on sticks.  What could be better? Grilling is a national sport, and the sausages make it even better.  This is perhaps the best time of year for that b/c the weather is about as pleasant as it gets and, being at 51 or 52 degrees north, it starts getting light about 0330 and doesn't really get dark until 2230 or 2300, if at all.

3.  +10 on the bakeries.  Fresh bread of a thousand varieties in the morning, fresh konditorei (Cakes, pastries and tarts) in the afternoon for coffee.  Think British tea, but with coffee instead of tea and just the sweet stuff - no cucumber sandwiches.  Don't overlook the Eisdiele (ice cream stand associated with the bakery or just standing on its own).  Most of the independent Eisdiele are run by Italians and sell wicked good gelato.  Germans love ice cream.

4.  Germans are a little more formal, or perhaps less casual, than we are when it comes to dressing.  Keep that in mind.  Pack a light jacket or sportscoat for when it cools off.  Nothing ratty or even on the road to ratty.

5.  Take (paper) proof of health insurance with you in addition to your copy of your passport.  One of those little pocket traveler's pointee-talkee books which lists related topics (at the restaurant, on the train, etc.) so you can communicate is a good idea.  They all speak English, more or less, but if you try a little German they'll appreciate it.

6.  You can get an international drivers license at AAA for less than $50 (might be as little as $15), and that's while-you-wait.

7.  When I flew over most recently, I was going through customs & security in Frankfurt prior to going on an intra-German flight to my destination.  That's where they took my toothpaste, because the tube was too large.  So, check on the maximum size of tube you're allowed and get one size smaller.  Ditto for things like shaving cream.  Also, on my return flight I got a bag of grief from the security guard inspecting my carry-on because my sewing kit had scissors in it.  I wound up having to put it in my checked bag.  

8.  All the stores are closed on Sunday.  If you need to shop, you'd better keep that in mind.

9.  You can pick up the makings of a good meal for several people for 10 bucks or less.  Staples are cheap.  When I was there in '16, in the supermarket:  half-kilo loaf of local rye was less than a Euro, a couple kinds of ham/cold cuts for one or 2 Euros each, some kind of pickles a couple Euros, and beer or sparkling water for not a lot.  Alternatively, street food from a Schnellimbiss  can be both good and cheap.  Pack a reusable shopping bag so you don't have to hunt one up.  Weighs nothing.  They don't do disposable.

10.  My phone worked really well over there - I was able to direct dial the US with no problem.  I have Verizon.  BTW, in German a cellphone is called a "Handy".  Use a bank ATM b/c their fees are likely less.  

11. Some of the problems with GPS and such may be related to much stricter German privacy laws.  You'll note there's limited Google Street View for Germany.  Try to avoid taking pictures with (identifiable) strangers in the frame, unless you get permission. 

12.  The whole country is non-ADA-compliant.  They walk everywhere and if you can't do stairs, tough.  Which includes carrying your bags up or down stairs.  You also do not see the mountainously fat people we have here, nor the power scooters they ride in Walmart and elsewhere. Because they walk a lot.  (And because there are no Walmarts.)

 

Have fun.  I'd go over in a minute.  Have a Thuringer wurst.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
sneem

Check your medical insurance. The rules change in Europe and you might not be covered. Check with your company. I don't believe Medicare provides coverage over there. There are companies that will provide coverage even to the extent of returning you home if very injured. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
casts_by_fly
5 hours ago, Marc said:

Or bring your own Gps - just make sure to get maps for Europe.

 

And you will likely have to ask specifically for an automatic if that is what you require. Surprising number of manual transmissions on the rental lots there.

 

If you use use google maps anyway and plan to have data on your phone, then forget bringing a separate gps.  Google maps is perfect in Europe. Download offline maps for the areas of interest ahead of time and you’ll minimize data usage while speeding up response time. Check your phone plan for how much data would cost. If you have a SIM card based phone you can probably buy a preloaded SIM card when you arrive for cheaper than your international rate. Also if you use WhatsApp and FaceTime you can use those for calls instead of standard phone dialing to save more. 

 

If you need an automatic transmission, you have to book it separately. I would advise it unless you are fully proficient with hill starts on steep, skinny cobble streets with impatient drivers behind you.

 

5 hours ago, WyomingArt said:

If you're asked if you want to be billed in Euros or US $,  do Euros. Less chance for vendor to play games with the exchange rate. Use a credit card that doesn't charge an extra fee for money conversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generally your best rate for exchange is to book ahead and buy foreign currency at the airport before you go.  Shop around online both for airport exchanges and local currency exchange companies. For card transactions, you are better off charging in local currency as the card terminals give poor rates.  If you have a no foreign fees card then that is good too.  Your normal bank card will work, but if you have a separate bank account that you can transfer money back and forth, then best to minimize any available cash in the linked account and transfer as needed just in case.  Very low likelihood that anything happens, but if your card is compromised then the risk is minimal.

 

I live over here near London and we have traveled all over Europe. Bruges is one of our favorite cities. If time permits then it is worth a full day. We go there at least once a year so if you decide it is on the cards let me know and I’ll dig out my recommendations list. If normandy is too far but you want some war sites, Flanders field and other ww1 areas are less than an hour drive from Bruges.  

 

Lots of other great info info and considerations in this thread so I won’t duplicate them here.  Driving in Germany and Belgium are both orderly affairs. Drivers are courteous if everyone follows the rules of the road. Learn the basic road signs like national speed limit (and what those are where you are) and various traffic control signals.  You don’t need an international license, but do some of the prep as if you did.

 

Other advice?  Enjoy the local stuff. Go to the grocery store. Eat at hole in the wall places. Do things that you can’t do anywhere else. Use TripAdvisor for recommendations, but consider the style and the reviews before you say yay or neigh.  If you like history, churches, or architecture then Europe has plenty.

 

thanks

rick

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×