I’m so excited to announce that we finally booked our family vacation to Europe for this spring! We were debating whether we should go or not and after much thought, we decided to go ahead with it for a few reasons:
- I’m currently on maternity leave and can easily leave for 3 consecutive weeks.
- Siena travels for free since she’s under 2.
- If we don’t go to Europe now, who knows when will be the next time since it’ll only keep on getting more difficult to go on big trips.
The first step in booking this family vacation was to make sure we had enough savings to spend 3 weeks in Europe which we somewhat did. I wrote about ways to save money for your maternity leave and by following these simple steps, we were able to save for a vacation. My husband and I are both big travelers and it’s really important for us to maintain that traveling momentum as a family. I strongly believe that exploring the world is the best gift you can ever give your children.
Traveling with a baby is definitely more expensive than traveling as a couple. As a couple, we would often stay in hostels, rent small cars and cut corners wherever we could just so we could visit more places and go on more trips. Given that we have a $6,000 budget and that the Canadian dollars is very low ($0.66), it was essential for us to consider cost-saving options for this trip.
Here is how we managed to save money when planning our first family vacation to Europe.
1. Stay with friends or family
Regardless of which cities we wanted to visit, we couldn’t afford to pay for accommodations during the entire trip. It would have been way to expensive and it’s crucial to stay within our budget so we can travel again next year. We began thinking about who we knew, where they lived and whether they would host a family of 3. Since Siena is still just a baby, I feel like we can still get away with staying with friends. I’m fully aware that this will get more complicated as our family grows but it’s the perfect time to take advantage of it. The great thing about having international friends is that everyone is always welcoming – whether they come to visit us in Montreal or we go visit them in their country. This being said, we hosted our two friends from Berlin last May while they were traveling the Americas and we thought it would be a great opportunity to go visit them – especially since none of us have been to Berlin. After reaching out to them and their willingness to host us, we went ahead and booked a week in Berlin. The great thing here is that they live close to downtown so we also didn’t need to rent a car. Double win!
Additionally, given my Italian background, I have close family who live in Abruzzo (Italy). This was a great opportunity to go back to my roots, visit family and explore the province of Abruzzo.
Based on this, we will spend one week in Berlin and one week in the Abruzzo region in Italy.
2. Rent apartment and cook
We’re far from being the luxurious types of people and it’s just the way we like to travel. We hands down prefer to stay in a hostel rather than in a hotel because of the type of people you encounter in hostels. Now that we’re a family however, that option is just not viable because most hostels don’t allow babies. As I was researching options, it became evident that they were limited based on what we needed: bed for Siena, access to a kitchen so we could cook her meals and some privacy as a family. After evaluating different options such as B&B, hotels and apartment rentals, we chose to rent an apartment on VRBO. We opted to find an apartment that was walking distance from convenience stores and main attractions so we can easily go back for naps.
By renting an apartment at an affordable price, we also have the option to cook our own meals and avoid eating out in restaurants every day. Our plan is to eat breakfast at home, have lunch in a restaurant and eat dinner at home. How did we come up with this plan? First, lunch menus are always cheaper than dinner menus. Second, since Siena goes to bed around 7-7:30pm, we’ll be stuck in the apartment for dinner (considering that Europeans eat dinner late). And third, we’re on a budget and don’t have the luxury to eat in restaurants for every meal.
Choosing a destination for our third week was quite easy. We both wanted to visit Siena, the city our daughter is named after. It was perfect because it’s a close drive from Abruzzo. The plan is to base ourselves in Siena and visit Tuscany during our time there.
3. Travel Off-Season
A great way to save is to travel outside of the peak travel period. In Europe, the busy period is between May in October. We purposely chose to go in April because everything from flights to accommodation is cheaper. It’s also warm enough to visit but cold enough to avoid large tourist groups. April was also the latest we could travel since I’m going back to work in the beginning of June. I wanted to keep a few weeks buffer to prepare for my return to work.
4. Rent a manual transmission car instead of automatic
If you’re planning to visit a few places in Europe, you’re best bet is to rent a car so you have the flexibility you need for traveling with your baby. Traveling by train is also very reliable and relatively cheap but for us, flexibility was key when choosing our mean of transportation. For this reason, we decided to rent a car when landing in Rome. When shopping for prices, I quickly realized that renting a manual car is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than an automatic one. Just to give you an idea, you’re looking at about $300 difference for a 10-day period. Unfortunately, both my husband and I don’t drive manual so we were stuck renting an automatic car. We definitely don’t want to learn in a country with full of curvy roads and a baby in the back seat. But if you drive manual, you should definitely book a manual car to save money.
5. Bring your car seat
If you’re planning to rent a car (in Europe or anywhere else), the reality is that you’ll need a car seat if your traveling with your little one. You have two options here:
You can bring your car seat (cheapest option)
This option is somewhat tricky and there are a few things to consider. First, if you plan to sit your baby in the car seat during the flight, you need to make sure your car seat is certified for air travel. Second, if you don’t plan for your baby to sit in it during the flight, you still need to make sure you can easily travel with your car seat because you’ll have to lug it around with you. You do have the option to check-in your car seat but the problem with that arises when they lose your car seat and you’re stuck at you’re destination’s airport without a car seat. Or it can get damaged by all the handling. Third, after doing quite some research, there exist car seat travel carts where you can attach your car seat and push it around like a stroller. This is a great option if you plan to lug a car seat in the airport or plane.
Car Seat for The Littles is a resourceful website for anything related to car seats.
You can rent your car seat with the rental company for a cost of approximately 3 euros per day
We opted to rent the car seat because we just don’t feel like lugging it around while traveling. The extra fee per day was worth for us to pay to have some piece of mind and a little less luggage to carry.
Note that this was possible because our friends in Berlin have a car seat we can use during our stay there. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a choice but to bring our car seat.
6. Bring carry-on luggage only
It’s no surprise that domestic flights charge for any checked-in luggage. Although our international flights allow for one checked-in luggage and one carry-on luggage for free per passenger, our domestic flight from Berlin to Rome doesn’t. For this reason, we will try to check-in one large suitcase and then bring two carry-on luggages. This will minimize the fees we need to pay with the domestic flight and save money.
This is definitely something to consider if you’re flying within Europe. When you book your flights, do make sure to ask how many free luggages you’re entitled to.
7. Shop around for prices
The most obvious piece of advice is to shop around before booking anything! Since we were booking a multi-destination trip (Montreal-Berlin-Rome-Montreal), it was a little more tricky.
- Momondo: Easy to use and I found the cheapest price on this site. What I liked the most is that you book the entire trip instead of each leg of the trip separately.
- Kayak: I was a little disappointed with Kayak because they now include “Hacker Fare” options for multi-destination flights which basically gives you the possibility of booking different legs of a trip with different airlines. When clicking on this option, I always got an error message when trying to access the domestic flight. I’m not sure if I was simply unlucky but it was incredibly frustrating. Then I don’t like the fact that you need to book your flights separately because by the time you book your second or third flight, the price may have changed. I’d be careful when booking a multi-destination trip using the Hacker Fare.
When came time to shop for cars, one thing was for sure: we needed a car big enough to carry luggages and a stroller. Surprisingly, there weren’t many automatic intermediate sized cars left when I began shopping in January.
- Europcar: This was the company that a few people recommended for booking a car in Europe. I liked the online chat feature on the website because you can ask any questions you may have and get a quick response. However, they didn’t have a wide selection of cars and what they had was pretty pricey.
- Expedia: Expedia offered more options but I couldn’t see all the details of the car without having to log in which was a bit annoying to say the least.
- CAA Québec: Since I’m a member of CAA I decided to give their travel division a call just to get an idea of prices. And they were sky high so I quickly moved on to a different company.
In the end, I booked our flights and rental car with CheapOFareUS. I actually thought I was calling Air Canada Reservations when I was looking to book my flight but it turns out they’re a separate travel agency. The service was amazing to say the least – especially in accommodating travel with a baby. The agent also suggested I call the airline company directly to reserve a bassinet for the overnight flight which I did. It was such a great experience that I called him back to book the car and he was able to find a cheaper price than what I found through the research I had done.
Now that everything is booked, the next step is to think about packing! Stay tuned for the next post on my first family vacation to Europe!Follow us on social media: