European Roadie – Over and Out

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As they like to say… Its all over red rover… 3 months, 90 days, 13 countries, hours of driving and (very surprisingly) no murdered children!!! The European roadie was a highly anticipated, much looked forward to part of our adventure. Freedom to drive, freedom to stop, being able to follow the tourist trail or get off the beaten track. We had Europe at our fingertips (or steering wheel to be more precise) and we were ready for the challenge.

Ticking off all the big European landmarks was a must do. Effil Tower, Leaning Tower, The Colosseum, the Grand Canal… the list goes on and on. Following the crowds, sheltering from the heat and sometimes paying big bucks was all part of the experience. We were wowed, amazed and surprised by all of these things and doing it all together made the experience 10 times better. Family selfies were getting taken at every stop, along with a few running races, handstands and ninja poses.

Growing up in New Zealand, the sights and countries of Europe were always so exotic and far away. Thanks to google, the kids knew the basics and could identify a few places but now they can easily tell you about landmarks, countries, geography, history and cool things to see and do. Our littlest member could easily point to a picture of the Effil Tower and could also tell you about gladiators at the Colosseum.

Having never traveled extensively around Europe before, Carl and I had a list a mile long of all the countries, places and cities we wanted to visit. The old city of Dubrovnik, the Nazi concentration camps of Poland, the ruins of the Berlin wall were all on the list. 3 months to drive around, heaps of time to go everywhere and see everything right??? Ha!!! How misguided we were!!! Surprisingly the reality of road tripping in the middle of a European summer with 4 kids is vastly different from the romantic vision we had in our minds. It very quickly become apparent (like within the first hour of the first day) that we had to greatly lower our expectations of what we were capable of. A huge amount of factors made us change our plan and route many times. Coming from 5 months in Asia where our strategy of ‘winging it’ had served us very well, making plans and booking in advance was going to be the key to doing Europe on a budget. This caused me (chief planner, chief organizer, chief decision maker – pretty much chief of everything) a huge deal of angst and worry at first. Trying to navigate a plan which was taking us in the right direction, affordable ie. cheap as chips, and seeing everything that everyone wanted to see became a complete nightmare. After a few failed planning sessions and a stressed chief operator, thankfully my 2nd in charge came to the rescue with a few words of advice in the form of… who cares where we go, as long as we are going together!!! Light-bulb moment…. and from that moment there was no looking back. Our first priority was always to find somewhere cheap to stay and wherever that happened to be, that was our next destination. We were in Europe for the summer and it was going to be dam amazing, no matter where we were!!!

From the get go our new strategy of… “go to the place where there’s some cheap accommodation” worked in our favor. Heading south from The Netherlands to Luxembourg was totally never even discussed on our original plan. A few people asked us “Why are you going to Luxembourg, there’s nothing worth seeing there”… Are you kidding me? Who are you people and have you actually ever been to Luxembourg??? Our complete passion for old castles was born in Luxembourg. A castle… a real life storybook castle. We had only ever seen these in pictures and now we could dance in the ballroom, throw each other in the dungeons and let our hair down in the castle towers just like Rapunzel. It very quickly became apparent that we were a castle loving bunch and that we were absolutely going to have to stop at every castle we passed during our travels.

The history in Europe is like nothing we have ever experienced before. The nearly 2000 year old Colosseum is certainly impressive but really new in comparison to the 20,000 year old caveman paintings we saw in France. Our farmstay hosts casual mention of his 1500 year old crypt that he found on his property and he now uses as a flower pot totally blew our minds. Coming from such a young country with a short history, it has been a real treat to be able to learn and show the kids a massive amount of ancient history. Learning opportunities were coming thick and fast for all of us and despite some long driving days we managed to get into a really good routine with some “real” school learning with the kids. It was breakfast, maths and writing in the mornings, then fitness and reading in the evenings. We also used the long drives to introduce the kids to the King of Pop as well as the classic rock of Guns n Roses. Being able to name and sing along with the greatest hits of Micheal Jackson and Guns n Roses is surely an essential life skill in our opinion. The airwaves of Europe really did like Ed Sheerans ‘Galway Girl’ and it was always great the first 8 times you heard it each day but not so much after that!!! The apparent song of the summer, an Spanish song called Despacito by Luis Fonsi had the whole car belting out our best Spanish….. and we consider being able to sing along with a whole song in a foreign language a big deal so yeah… we are pretty much taking credit for teaching the kids fluent Spanish as well!!!

Often when we stayed at Eurocamps, the kids got to make friends with other campers and being the European school holidays, there was never a shortage of kids around. The fact that a lot of them didn’t speak English never deterred the kids from striking up a conversation and encouraged them to try out the few French, Spanish or Italian words they were learning. We have been lucky enough to form some solid friendships with other families and have spent some great evenings enjoying their company. One such friendship began in Rome when Kasha started a conversation with a young guy from London, who then promptly ran back to his family tent and told his Mum that he had meet another travelling family, they were from New Zealand and they even speak perfect English!!! (Sorry “H”…. too funny not too share xxx) Lots of laughs from us all and a quick geography lesson for “H” and the kids were then inseparable for the rest of our time in Rome. We then spent some amazing time with them when we arrived back in London a few months later. “H” and his family are taking 2 years to travel the world before eventually settling in Australia and we can’t wait until they come and visit us in New Zealand and we can show “H” how amazing Kiwis are at speaking English!!!

Limited time and limited funds has been the hallmark of our entire adventure. But does this limit our enjoyment and fun??? Hell no….. in our opinion it just adds to the adventure. Everybody knows Europe is expensive, BUT it doesn’t have to be. We had to plan well and direct the money into the most important things. We didn’t go up the Effil Tower in Paris, we didn’t go up the Leaning Tower in Pisa, we didn’t go into the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and we didn’t buy a Lamborghini in Monaco (much to Carls disappointment). However, we did take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal in Venice (80 Euro), we did get a guided tour of the Colosseum in Rome (60 Euro) and we did spent 2 days at EuroDisney in Paris (I don’t want to think about how much that cost). Buying into the tourist trade is an expensive exercise but picking a few activities which were important to us and choosing not to do other activities gave us the perfect balance of being part of the action but still staying in budget. Of course not having any room for souvenirs meant that we never spent a cent on overpriced trinkets and items. We also very quickly learnt where the cheapest diesel was, which were the cheapest supermarkets, and that doing an activity everyday was going to cost us too much. We carried on our standard operating procedures from Asia and did lots of wandering. We can wander a city for hours with no destination in mind and soak up all the free entertainment and atmosphere. A cheap gelato always bought us a few more wandering hours with the kids. So big expenses one day of diesel, food and road tolls meant that the next day was a wandering day or a pool or beach day if there was water nearby.

13 countries in 3 months was as far as we could push it. I’m sure its possible to do more but we did it the best way we could. So we never made it to the old city of Dubrovnik, the Nazi concentration camps in Poland or the ruins of the Berlin wall. But we had a snowball fight in Switzerland, we drank wine from our own vineyard in Slovenia and cruised the 5 lands of the Cirque Terre in Italy. We ate pizza and gelato in Rome, schnitzel burgers in Austria and had access to an amazing 800 bottle wine cellar in Paris. We paid tribute to the fallen Kiwi heroes at Monte Casino, we kayaked past castles and chateauxs in France and we saw a top New Zealand athlete compete in Hungary. We swam in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia, rode a chair lift in Luxembourg, and screamed on roller coasters in Germany. We went to a “coffee shop” in Amsterdam, drooled in a chocolatier in Belgium and visited castle after castle after castle. We don’t feel sad for the things we didn’t do but feel extremely lucky to have done as much as we did. It was an absolute blessing in disguise that we had no fixed route and had to be flexible and go with the flow. Chasing the magic was never going to work but finding the magic where we were was how we rolled and the magic found us every time.

Thinking back on our time driving around Europe, there is always one thing that is the top of our memory bank….. the sights, the cities, the landmarks and the history are all amazing…. but its simple really…. The People!!! Friends, family, strangers that are now friends. We couldn’t have had the experience we had if it wasn’t for the friendship and generosity of others. Right from the start we have been overwhelmed by other people. We had strangers at camp grounds come and talk to us as they had heard what we were doing and wanted to hear our story. Often they would then buy us a beer, a bottle of wine or even dinner. We were so lucky to be invited into peoples homes and offered accommodation. Having 6 loud, kind of stinky backpackers turn up on your doorstep and take over your washing machine I can imagine would be quite daunting to most, but we never felt anything but welcomed and loved. Been invited for meals when your are told strictly to not bring a thing and having people go out of their way to make us comfortable. As always this was the absolute real prize. The people, the people, the people xxx

So a European Road trip with 4 Kids…

Yes we still have 4 kids that we still “kind of” like

Yes we are still a couple…. Just!!!

Yes we visited 13 countries in 3 months and saw awesome stuff

Yes the people we met along the way are totally amazing

Yes we did it under budget… Whoop whoop!!! (only by a few dollars but still under)

What would we change? Definitely need more time (but we say that in every single country), and maybe Ed Sheeran on the radio every 5 minutes!!!

Would we do it again? The next roadie is already in the planning stages!!!

The inside info…

Our Route… Picked up car in Paris, went north to Normandy, across to Brussels then on to The Netherlands. South to Luxembourg through France and into Germany. Continued south through Switzerland into Italy and visited the Vatican. Then Slovenia through to Croatia. From there it was Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and back into France. A day in Monaco then eventually back to Paris to drop of the car.

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The Car… We used Eurolease for the car. A company that offers extended time car lease of brand new cars including insurance, road side assistance and pretty much unlimited access to most of Europe. Much cheaper than car rental and extremely easy to deal with. Highly recommend. We paid $4950 NZ for a 90 day lease of a brand new people mover. Diesel cost us about $80 NZ to fill up and we did this about once a week depending on how much driving we did. Road tolls….WHOA… a necessary evil of a European roadie, and they aren’t cheap!!! We paid close to $1500 NZ during our 3 months on the road.

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The Accommodation… We used a combination of Eurocamp campgrounds and Air Bnb apartments. Eurocamp campgrounds gave us 6 berth bungalows with a fully equipped kitchen, our own bathroom and deck area. They also offered great campground facilities including pools, restaurants and kids clubs. Depending on location and time we paid anywhere from $45 to $130 NZ per night. We used AirBnb apartments when Eurocamps weren’t available and we were lucky enough to find some absolute bargains and fantastic places. Often AirBnb hosts will give you up to a 50% discount if you book their place for a month or more, so well before we even left NZ, we found a great 3 bedroom apartment in Croatia near the border with Slovenia which we booked for 1 month. This meant we were only paying $40 NZ a night for accommodation in a location which made it easy to do day trips and overnight trips to other neighboring countries. This is definitely a top tip if you plan on travelling Europe in the summer. Chose a country which you like the look of, even better if its a former Eastern block country that doesn’t use the Euro, as they are really cheap, and base yourselves there for a month. Other AirBnb houses we used were a lot more pricey ranging in price from $80 right up to our most expensive place which was $200 a night in Switzerland. Having been able to save quite a bit of money in Croatia, meant we could be a little bit more flexible with our budget. $200 a night in Switzerland was a huge amount but it was a organic dairy farm who had a family of camels living there which the kids feed twice a day, we watched a calf being born from our deck while having lunch and the hosts gave us fresh organic milk and yogurt each morning. We only stayed 3 nights so the budget was still in tact plus we had an amazing experience. Its a win win!!!

The Food… Our cheapest option was to always self cater. We found the cheapest supermarket chain was Lidl and there is one in pretty much every town in Europe. Depending on our length of stay at each place, we would do 1 big initial supermarket shop then pick up extra supply’s when we needed things. $200 NZ of groceries could last us about a week and we often took a baguette, some cheese and salami with us when we went exploring so we didn’t have to pay for expensive cafe lunches. Of course we treated ourselves to way too much pizza, gelato, pastries and 50 cent beers along the way but this affected the waistline more than the wallet.

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So yes…. you can do Europe on a budget and still make it amazing. If going in the summer, then book early if you can. Even a year in advance if possible, this is where you’ll find the best deals. Staying away from the big ticket, high priced countries can save you a fortune. And its possible to enjoy all the big tourist attractions without paying huge prices to go up, through, over and around them.

We are putting this in the huge success category!!!

Impossible is Nothing xxx

 

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