Our European Family Trip: A 5 Week Itinerary

We get this question a lot: How did we choose where to go? 

It’s kind of like asking, where do you start? That’s why I created travel products to support other families who might be wondering, how do I even begin to plan a meaningful family trip? 

Here’s how it went for us: 

A few years prior, I was dreaming up a world/homeschool experience where our family would explore, learn and discover together. I knew Ancient Rome and the Renaissance would be topics of study with our seventh grader. From the physical power of the Romans, to the flourishing of new thought during the Renaissance, these historical time periods reflect the inner changes of the pubescent child. 

Actually, it felt like the whole family was on the brink of more expansive thinking and expression, not just our preteen. So instead of asking: where do we want to go?, it was more like: why not go to Italy? Why not go to the very place where the Romans built their great roads, aqueducts and arches? Why not go to Florence and see where the Renaissance was birthed? Why not view learning as a constant, always available opportunity that does not have to be contained in a classroom? 

So . . . first up on the itinerary: Rome. We found a direct flight with Norwegian from New York. I love direct flights! Because we have family in Brooklyn and we’d been wanting to visit, we decided to begin the trip with five days in New York. After that, one red-eye would land us in Rome. 

Elle and I in front of the Colosseum

Through mutual friends, we knew a couple that had a B & B in Tuscany, not far from Florence. This made our next decision easy! Second stop: small Tuscan village.

Village in Tuscany

I convinced Kai that because it’s so easy to move around in Europe, we should stay longer and explore more places. I had my eyes set on the south of France, while he searched out some of the top places for surfing. Once he pinpointed Ericeira, Portugal as his surfing destination, it looked like a natural ending point for our trip—with France and Spain in between. I chose Aix-en-Provence because it was near a site I’d long wanted to visit—the cave of Mary Magdalene. Then, looking at its placement on the map, and hearing so many great things about this city, Barcelona was an obvious choice. 

Swimming at the coast of France

We booked Airbnb’s for our next three stops: Aix, Barcelona, Ericeira. We did this thinking that we’d drive from Italy to France, then to Barcelona, and lastly, fly to Lisbon, Portugal. When we went to book the car, we realized our rookie mistake. Renting a car in one country and returning it in another cost an extra $1200. I researched our transportation options and found that flying with Vueling in between cities would be the easiest and most affordable alternative. (If you want to avoid our other mistakes, check out Practical Tips on the Travel Resources page!

View from our Airbnb in Ericeira

Here are the highlights of our trip (More on each destination in separate blogs): 

Rome: 5 days

Private car pick-up from the airport arranged by our Airbnb host. Lots of walking and some taxi-taking. Eating lots of pizza and pasta. Gelato every day. Visiting the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Taxi back to the airport. Rent a car and drive 3 hours to village just outside Lucca. 

Tuscany: 12 days

Bike riding along an ancient aqueduct, walking the walled city of Lucca, learning about olive oil production and dinner on a Tuscan farm. Day trips to Pisa, Cinque Terre and  Florence. Pasta and pizza, oh my! 

Drive back to Rome, return rental car and fly to Marseille, France. Rent a car in Marseille, drive 30 minutes to Aix-en-Provence.

Aix-en-Provence: 5 days

Walking the small city of Aix, crepe making experience with a local. Day trips to the cave of Mary Magdalene and the coastal town of Cassis. 

Drive back to Marseille, return rental car and fly to Barcelona. Taxi to Airbnb. 

Barcelona: 3 days

Walking Barcelona and using public transport. Flamenco show, and visiting La Sagrada Familia. 

Taxi to airport, fly to Lisbon. Rent a car in Lisbon and drive 45 minutes to Ericeira. 

Ericeira: 9 days

Surfing every day (Kai), walking the small town and beaches, down time and day trips to Sintra. 

Fly Tap Air Portugal home to Florida. 

If you’re planning a European trip with your family, subscribe to this blog and receive Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them for free!

And if you are wondering where to go and how to begin, find support in the products on the Travel Resources page. 

Rome: Twenty Years Later— With Family

In 1999, while the media spoke the word Y2K approximately 2K times a day, I was all, carpe diem—I’d just resigned from my first full-time job and was headed to Europe for two months. I was based in the Czech Republic and took trains to nearby countries, including Italy, where Rome was a highlight of my travels. When I walked the Roman Forum, I couldn’t believe that my feet were walking a path more than two-thousand years old. The magnitude of time revealed itself in a way that was completely new to me. Then I discovered gelato. Even ice-cream revealed itself in a completely new way to me. Obviously I was mind-blown. But Rome kept coming at me, with more. I stood inside St. Peter’s Basilica and nearly wept for the beauty. I was twenty-three and my world busted open. I was connected to a deep, deep history of humankind. 

Fast forward twenty years. When I started to plan our five-week family trip to Europe, I knew Rome would be on our itinerary. The fact that Roman History would be part of our middle-school homeschool curriculum, MAJOR BONUS! 

But how would I create a meaningful trip without feeling overwhelmed? 

First, I’d been thinking about my intentions around travel for a good amount of time. I knew that I wanted to travel to Europe because of our homeschool studies; I knew I wanted to experience again that feeling of deep connection. And I hoped that our trip would provide that same experience for my family. 

I spent months researching, scheduling and planning. In September 2019, we flew to Rome and stayed at an Airbnb in the Trastevere neighborhood. We ate considerable amounts of pizza and pasta and gelato. We walked the Forum and the Colosseum. We visited the Vatican Museums and the Pantheon. Our twelve-year-old, not easily impressed, was visibly inspired inside St. Peter’s Basilica. 

But what did Rome do? It kept coming at me, with more. The windows, wide open at our guesthouse, displayed a full moon hanging over Trastevere apartments. There I was, exactly twenty years later in the age-old city, staring at the most ancient time-keeper. And it was full. I was struck, once again, by the scale of time. Something stirred in me . . . this feeling of being exactly there . . . how we each hold together the ancient with what is to become. Rome

All of this, and it wasn’t a perfect trip. There were things that went wrong, things we learned as travelers. I stepped off our red-eye with an intense migraine. Our visit to the Vatican Museum was not as enjoyable as we’d hoped, mostly because of the crowds, although we did love the Raphael Rooms. The Trevi Fountain was so saturated with people we could barely toss our coin.

There are always things that happen in travel that help us learn to be flexible. Some things we can plan for, others are out of our control. Are you planning a trip to Rome with your kids? Follow this blog and receive, Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, for FREE. Just leave me your email address so I know where to send it. (You can enter it on the righthand side of any page, and click follow, or on the Subscribe page.) 

Don’t forget to check out Travel Resources, where I’ve compiled suggestions based on hours of research in preparation for European travel, and guidance on creating meaningful trips wherever you go!