The European Trip of a Lifetime
I’ve always been a fan of gifts. I love giving them. I love getting them. I could spend hours in stores filled with them. They make people happy… me included! But, when I’m holding a box with a big bow and my name on it, my happiness stems from more than just the feeling of giddiness I get about adding something to the collection of goodies that I call mine (because, let’s be honest…who doesn’t love “stuff”!). It’s about feeling loved, thought of, and valued. It’s about knowing that the gift-giver cared enough to spend a bit of their hard-earned money and give a bit of their precious time to choosing something that I would hopefully love. They wanted to make me feel special and, in those moments, I do.
So, when it comes to getting gifts for the ones that I hold dear, that’s always in the back of my mind. I want to make them feel just as special as I do when I’m the birthday or anniversary or new-mom or just-because girl. That’s why, for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday, I wanted to go all out. Along with Ryan, his brother and wife, and my father-in-law, we combined her love of family with her love of travel and the nine of us (including four grandchildren, two of whom live in Germany) surprised her with a European adventure that we knew would convey just how much she is loved and appreciated. We all spent two weeks breathing in the beauty of Croatia, Austria, and Germany together, and then me, Ryan, and our kiddos headed to Paris for a mini adventure of our own.
It was the trip of a lifetime and, even though there was a bit of a blip on the radar in the form of a first-time seizure for me (that’s another story for another issue), it gave us an eye-opening lesson into how short life truly is and made us appreciate our long-anticipated family vacation that much more.
For those who have had the pleasure of seeing these destinations with your own eyes, you know that I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are stunning.
For those who have yet to experience them, add them to your bucket list… posthaste. You will not be disappointed. Especially if you include these highlights and tips in your plans:
1 . When in Paris, pack a blanket, bottle of wine, snacks and, if your little ones are along for the ride, bring something to keep them entertained… and get to the Champ de Mars just before dark. Your goal…to see over 20,000 light bulbs turn the Eiffel Tower into a beacon of sparkles. It only happens for a few minutes on the hour after dark, but it is worth every second you may wait and a sight you will never forget. That’s why it’s first on this list!
2 . Do your research – both online and off. Schedule some quality time with you and your computer, searching the highest rated excursions and activities, paying special attention to anything that may save you some time (skip-the-line) or make you feel like the VIP that you are (private and custom tours and experiences). The more research you do, the more at ease you’ll feel heading out on your trip – and the more likely your trip will go smoothly! For our Eurotrip, I used TripAdvisor.com (I even booked with them!) and they helped me plan the most memorable parts of our trip – they take all the guesswork out of the travel experience and guide you with the help of thousands of un-biased reviews. My mother-in-law had been dreaming of visiting Neuschwanstein Castle for years and we were able to book a Premium Tour that not only fulfilled her dreams but also allowed all of us to see that and another gorgeous castle (Linderhof) as well as the Bavarian countryside in style.
3 . On your first day in a big city, take advantage of local transportation and see the sights from the best vantage point around…with someone else doing the driving! Kick back, relax, and take it all in, whether you pop in the headphones, or not. Let your gut, heart, and olfactory senses guide you to the areas you want to explore and embrace your special role as tourist (while acting like a local, of course).
4 . Get out to sea! Especially if you get to Croatia! The Adriatic Sea is full of hidden coastal gems and not all of them are chock full of tourists…if you know who to ask. We were lucky enough to spend an incredible day with Argola Charters, exploring the crystal clear turquoise waters from Split to Brac and a handful of gorgeous private coves in between. Definite highlight!
5 . It might seem simple, but if you’re traveling with your whole family, check in with the local Tourism Boards – they can help you find local spots, events and activities that can fit the whole family. For our trip, the websites for the Austrian and Parisian tourism boards (www.austria.info and https:/en.parisinfo.com) couldn’t have been more helpful or enlightening on what destinations and attractions should be at the top of our lists, and where we should call home for a day or two or seven (I highly recommend the Grand Ferdinand in Vienna!). They can help you plan a trip around exciting local events and regularly share images on official Instagram and Twitter accounts that will make you want to jump on a plane asap.
Seeing the world for myself is one (incredible) thing, but seeing it through my children’s eyes is everything. I know it’s completely cliché, but do I care? Not. One. Bit. Why? Because I’m happy living in a cliché knowing that my kids are learning first hand about the ways of the world, and bonding with them while they’re doing it. The bigger the adventure, the bigger the treasure, so get out there and give yourself and the ones you love the gift of beautiful memories.