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How To Take 4 Kids To Europe and Love It


Potsdam, Europe with kidsI love to travel and being a filmmaker has given me all kinds or reasons to go many places. But as my family grew I got tired of long hours in airplane seats and nights alone in hotel rooms. Then, a few years ago I had a flash of inspiration (some might say insanity, but I’m sticking with inspiration). I decided to parlay a  project in Germany into a summer adventure in Europe for my family of six.

It turned out to be a memorable vacation and taught me a very important lesson: Big families can travel. Here’s how we did it:

Find A Place To Stay
BFT PragueA hotel would have been unaffordable and wouldn’t give us the kind of residential experience we were looking for, so I decided to find a short-term apartment. Today there are all kinds of resources for house swaps and rentals. Back then I turned to Sabbaticalhomes.com, a resource for academics looking to live abroad for a few months at a time. I spent a few weeks researching neighborhoods and browsing the listings and eventually hit the jackpot: a roomy apartment near Friedrichstrasse in the heart of old East Berlin.

Staying in a home where we could cook for ourselves, in a city where we could live comfortably without a car, made the experience affordable.

Note: We learned quickly that we didn’t need nearly as much space on vacation as we do at home, even on an extended vacation. It’s amazing how much space you need for your stuff rather than your self.

BFT trainTake Care of the Home Back Home

We found a college student who needed a summer rental. That offset our travel expenses, plus she kept things clean, kept burglars away, and took care of our pets so we didn’t have to board them.

Dive In To The Experience
BFT ParisThe summer came and went too quickly for us, and one cannot easily enumerate the rewards of this experience. Sure, we saw all the important sites. But the apartment rental also gave us a taste daily life in Berlin as well. My kids learned to order ice cream in German, which was a joy to hear. My 9 year-old-old learned and taught me how to weight and label produce at the grocery store.

We also learned to travel like the locals do: by train. This gave us the chance to marvel at the architecture in Prague, the art in Paris and the Alps in Switzerland, among many other things.

Let Travel Change You

We learned a lot about the world and about ourselves on that trip.

Our children learned they did have to be intimidated by the world or by people who speak another language, or by sheer wonder and beauty of the cities, the art and the landscapes we saw.

BFT LucerneWe learned that having large house back home meant that we spent an inordinate amount of time living for our possessions rather than ourselves. Traveling better means traveling lighter, and that seems to apply to all facets of life.

What I’d Do Differently

There are not many things I would change if we did this again. There are better resources available online today, so I might be able to find a house swap and eliminate the lodging cost altogether.  It’s not hard to imagine a family of any size having a similar trip a lifetime with airfare as the only major expense. Where there’s a will, there’s most definitely a way.

Our kids are getting older and we may never get to repeat this kind of experience again, but I regard our summer in Berlin as the best thing we did for our kids.  We showed them that the world is a beautiful, welcoming place, and that it’s better to spend money on experiences than on things.  We hope these are lessons they will hand down to their children.

Steve Martin is the host of the Big Family Travel blog and podcast. You can Find him on Twitter, too.


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22 Comments

  1. […] shares How to Make a Short, Fat Christmas Tree. Cute! 7. Dreaming of Europe? FamiliesGo! shares How to Take 4 Kids to Europe and Love It. You’ll definitely find some great tips here. 8. Serve up a Halloween treat with […]

  2. October 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm — Reply

    What a wonderful memory for the whole family! I only have one child and I know I hesitate to travel much because of all the extra logistics that kids require. I love that you went for it anyway!

    • October 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm — Reply

      Traveling with kids is more complicated than traveling without, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as many parents believe. Give your child the opportunity to be flexible and resilient and she will rise to the challenge!

  3. October 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm — Reply

    This sounds like a wonderful experience and the trip of a lifetime. We dream of traveling to Europe before our kids are out of school. I’m taking note of your tips. Thanks so much for sharing at Inspire Me Wednesday. Featuring you in next week’s issue.

  4. October 24, 2014 at 1:52 pm — Reply

    It’s wonderful that you and your family had a chance to spend so long in Europe. We’ve only done Europe in small doses and haven’t had a good opportunity to dig deep into living local life there. Our biggest hurdle is vacation time from work.

  5. October 24, 2014 at 12:30 am — Reply

    Children learn so much from travel and it really turns travel into an adventure as you see things through there eyes. Thanks for the great tips. I am catching up with you over on Travel Photo Thursday. Happy travels.

  6. October 23, 2014 at 11:50 pm — Reply

    You really think house swaping thing would work? I keep thinking about that

    • October 24, 2014 at 8:33 am — Reply

      Yes! We did it. Click homeswap on the tags below and you’ll find stories on how to do it and what to expect.

    • March 16, 2015 at 11:54 am — Reply

      it’s not easy to coordinate, but it was a great experience for us. Especially in cities where hotels are expensive, I recommend giving it a go. Domestically or internationally.

  7. October 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm — Reply

    Love the tip of having a college student stay in the house to take care of everything…including the pets! Boarding is expensive!!!

  8. October 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm — Reply

    Thanks for the travel tips. What a wonderful experience to give your children.

  9. October 23, 2014 at 12:43 pm — Reply

    When we lived in Boulder, we had neighbours who religiously swapped their homes & cars with people in Europe. They were a family of five but always managed to have the most marvelous vacations – and apart from food and airfare, it didn’t cost much.

  10. October 23, 2014 at 12:42 pm — Reply

    These are all great tips on how to travel with lots of kids! I’ve always travelled with mine, from day one, but I’ve only got 2 which I realise makes it a lot easier. Sounds like your summer in Berlin was an amazing experience. (By the way, with ref to the comment that you left on my post, there really are plenty of lovely sandy beaches on the Côte d’Azur, you just need to know where to go, and you really should give it another chance! Come in October and it won’t be crowded either!!)

    • October 23, 2014 at 12:51 pm — Reply

      I’m used to Long Island, which, jokes aside, really has great wide, long beaches. So I was disappointed to go to this world famous beach destination and see narrow beaches tucked between the city and the sea and packed with chairs! But if you can find a way to park there are little beaches here and there that are lovely.

  11. October 23, 2014 at 9:23 am — Reply

    I also have 4 kids. We have traveled with them to different places within the US and since I learned to travel with miles and points we can take them to more exotic trips that we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. We went to Hawaii last spring and we are planning their first trip to Europe for next spring. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • October 23, 2014 at 10:57 am — Reply

      Miles definitely help. A credit card airline miles is great, or just any card where you can consolidate your spending and earn points toward hotel stays, etc. We got a free week-long car rental with points once.

  12. October 23, 2014 at 5:21 am — Reply

    Your post almost makes me want to travel. I’m a real homebodie. I get homesick when I have to go away for the weekend.

    But I really enjoyed your post.

    • October 23, 2014 at 10:55 am — Reply

      Become a staycationer! Take a week off and every day drive 20 to 50 miles in a different direction. Take a day to enjoy a local park, and the the cultural and historical stuff that you never get around to nearby. It will feel like a real vacation and maybe warm you up to the idea of going further afield!

  13. October 22, 2014 at 10:56 pm — Reply

    We are a family of 5 and I do take the kids on holidays to various parts of Asia regularly. We haven’t done any house swaps but am blessed to get the chance to stay with friends and relatives when we visit so it defrays the accommodation costs. I’ve recently even started taking the 3 kids solo on holidays. It has been so much fun for all.

  14. […] Go Travel had a great report on how to take 4 kids to Europe and love it!  We have not yet taken our family of 8 on any kind of super long term vacation (though we did […]

  15. October 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm — Reply

    Great post! We are a family of 8 and are still working our way up to taking longer trips with our family. I definitely agree with what you are saying about renting a home rather than using hotels – cuts WAY down on food as well!

    We still have some really young kids so I think that is another wrinkle on things.

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