I have been asked some questions about the planning of our trip – so I thought I would share them here for all.
Our trip was two fold in its purpose
- To build some family memories, to spend time together, to enjoy God’s world together.
- To add to our children’s educational experiences – this wasn’t a holiday as such, but rather a learning experience
One of the highlights for us as a family was to blog each day (when internet allowed). We created a new blog just for this purpose, and each took turns. My plan is to get a book made from the blog as a memory of our journaling. If you are interested in more of our planning and preparation pop over to the blog, and start with the May archives where I blogged every so often as we prepared. Not a holiday
Did we make our own travel arrangements? Did you use a travel agent?
- We had a family meeting to discuss where we would like to go. Since we knew our kids passions for ancient and church history this was a fairly harmonious discussion with everyone wanting to go to pretty much the same places.
- Peter and I then researched what was to see – and then we talked to a travel agent. The travel agent put together our flights, tour in Turkey which included accommodation, they did half the accommodation in Italy and the train trip from Italy to Switzerland. We did the rest – other accommodations, tours and activities in Italy/Switzerland. It took a lot of time to investigate (though the travel agent gave us a great website for accommodation), compare and choose!
- I was very glad for the travel agent for two reasons. First was simply time. I found it very hard to plan a trip and live our regular life – the travel agent saved me a lot of time. Secondly, we had never travelled overseas with the kids so the travel agent gave us cohesiveness to our travels and was a point of reference for little questions.
Did you do any tours or were you on your own?
- In Turkey we booked a tour as a family group – they did minimum of 6 so that worked well for us (being a family of six!) This meant for two weeks we had one tour guide, who spoke good English but was from Turkey, and a bus driver. This was fantastic and I couldn’t recommend it enough for family groups if you had the numbers. It gave us a little flexibility but more significantly we got to know the tour guide, and was able to converse about the things we were interested in, not just the things on the scripted tour. Each night we were left to our own choices for meals, but our tour guide took us to her recommended places which gave us a quality of culinary experiences we weren’t expecting but were a highlight.
- In Italy we booked our own tours and went predominately with a tour group called toursbylocals. Once again we were able to be just our family and one tour guide, though a different guide each day for each different thing we went to see. We were able to select an English speaking guide – and had communicated with our guide via email before we met which gave us confidence. We also used another group, contexttravel, which we chose as they promoted themselves as educational lectures (not tours). These were fantastic and we found ourselves with professors or lecturers of their profession – we enjoyed these immensely as they were able to help us dig deep into the topics we wanted to talk about. We felt that the tour guides were passionate about their topic and because our family was also interested and informed (to some degree) they were happy just to keep on talking. One lady gave us an extra 2 hours just talking about her subject.
- One of the biggest benefits of not only pre-booking tickets but having a tour guide was beating the lines. If you book tickets online for a tourist spot the ticket selling websites tell you you’ll skip long lines – but what we found, and what tour guides confirmed, is that everyone was doing that and you still had long lines – maybe just not as long as without pre-booked tickets. Whereas those with guides when pretty much straight in. Our longest wait was 15minutes – compared to several hours we saw others waiting!
- We were about ½ way through our Italy trip and I wondered if really we could have saved money by using a book – walking tours – and Peter was convinced that every tour was worth it. Not only the waiting issue (though that in itself was significant) but also the extra information, and interacting with the information, making it personal that we could do with a guide was also worth it. We would do it this way again.
Is there somewhere you would visit again? Is there somewhere you would avoid?
- We loved Turkey. At the end of our tour there, we felt that we could go home, we had experienced the best! But then at the end of Italy, we loved all that we had seen there too. But we wouldn’t have missed Switzerland for anything! So we are glad we did them all. Because we loved Turkey so much the first instinct is to say we would go back and experience it all over again… but not sure that we would – I think we would rather keep the fantastic memory and see somewhere else in the world. If we went back to Italy we would all want to see a different aspect. Our Italy time was very much around ancient history and art – next time we would go to enjoy the culture and people which we feel we didn’t really even touch. We would like to go more to the Tuscany region which we just travelled through on train, but didn’t experience or absorb in any way. Switzerland – everyone reckons they could go back to Switzerland for a holiday – it was beautiful.
- Places to avoid…. Can’t say that from our one trip we would avoid any of those places.
Other lessons you learnt?
- I had read a few books with ideas to keep younger children engaged which I had hoped to use a little to help Daniel. I didn’t put enough prep into this – and it would have been good if I had! Things like a prep brochure for him to read to give him context of what we were going to see each day, or a treasure hunt to help him hone in his observations, key questions to help his journaling etc. There is a fine line between helping them stay focused and it becoming like school.
- Everyone had their own camera – this was fantastic though it meant we have a ridiculously large amount of photos!! Daniel’s camera broke in the first week. We should have bought him another one – this is one of the things that I had planned to help his focus and yet we didn’t think it through once it broke.
- We had enough adaptors and rechargers so that everything could be recharged every night. We all had cameras and kindles, Peter had a phone, and we had 2 netbooks between us. The first thing we did every night when we arrived at our motel was to get the recharging sorted. Having this priority meant everything worked well for us the next day. We had spare camera batteries but next time I’d have a spare for each camera/person.
- I would take a travel iron. None of the motels we stayed in had an iron available – and the laundry services didn’t fold clothes flat. Of course this would depend on what type of clothes you took.
- Down time was important – we had a few rest afternoons even on our Turkey tour. This was important for all of us.
- We took board games – we always travel with a board game in every person’s carry on luggage. These came into their own at airports, on trains and on our days off.
- We had a rest before we came home. People had suggested to us that we stop over at Singapore – not only to give us a rest from the go-go pace, but also to bridge the time zones. Instead we took a week at Switzerland for family time and relaxation. This was a great idea (though it didn’t help with time zones – but we didn’t find that too much of a hassle). Once we were home, we hit the road running so it was good to have that break in Switzerland.
Our next travels?
- One idea we would have liked to happen was to come home via Africa. Not only to see the animals and landscapes there but to visit with friends who are doing it tough in Zimbabwe. We would have liked to find some way to support them and encourage them in the things that they do there. Though it would have been ‘nice’ to finish our trip on a focus other than ourselves it would have meant extending our time away. We did also wonder if one focus wouldn’t overshadow the other – either way – and therefore not maintain lasting impact on either our Europe trip or our Africa trip – especially since time was limited. So if we were to travel as a family again Africa is high on the list.
- We have friends who live in Thailand and maybe one day….
- We have friends who live in New Zealand so maybe one day ….
- I would also like to travel around Australia so maybe one day…
But our family is growing up so it is unlikely it will include everyone. This was one of the considerations in our planning was to find a time that was before Joshua left home and yet wait long enough so Daniel would be old enough to appreciate it. I think we found the right time slot!