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. 

Are you planning a family trip and wondering where to go and how to begin? Get the free guide, Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience, when you subscribe to this blog. You’ll also receive Rome with Kids: 5 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

Unschooling Myself

I remember this moment clearly: I’m in the third grade. I sit in my desk in the second to last row when the teacher announces, “We are ready to begin learning our times tables.” I think—This is it! The moment I’ve waited for! I begin drumming my desk and pounding my feet in excitement. Finally, I would learn something supremely fundamental about life and how it works. “Carrie, I know you’re excited, but please sit still,” Ms. Cantrall says.

I always sat still. I was the most proper student any elementary teacher could hope for. This was a rare moment. 

Then this: It is nighttime. I’m at the kitchen table with pencil and paper. I’d been told to “write out your 3’s times tables.” I go down the paper, line by line: 3×1=, 3×2=, etc. I try to recall any multiplication facts I’d heard my older sister recite, but I only remember a few. Anger and frustration well up inside of me . . . Why didn’t my teacher show us how to multiply? I ask my mom, “What is three times three?” I am heartbroken as I write out 3 x 3 = 9 because I have no idea why or how these numbers go together. 

My third grade teacher never showed us how to multiply. We were instructed to find the facts, write them out, then memorize them. 

So it went for most of my schooling. I became efficient at memorizing facts and passing tests. I could play this game. In this game, I didn’t even have to think too much! And still, I’d be considered a success, as evidenced by my good grades. 

Of course, somewhere along the way, I learned to multiply. What I never learned, though, is how I might take these numbers (along with most of the information I was given) and use it in the world; how I could create things, understand the meanings, connections, and workings behind things. There was also simply no space for exploring individual passions and how we might contribute to a greater good. 

It’s been nearly five years since the desire to unlearn what I thought I knew—to un-school myself—first began to swirl in me. Even though I had no idea what it would look like, my imagination was holding on to this idea: discovering the world alongside my daughter, Elle. 

Today, we are halfway through our first year of homeschooling. We’ve traveled to four European countries. We’ve been to Hawaii. We go to Central America next. AND we love home. We love traditions and small, simple moments of connection.

What did Elle do the moment we returned from our extended European trip? Forget jet lag, she was so excited to share a piece of France with her friends, having them over for crepe-making. I consider this a great success. These are gifted girls, competent at making traditional French crepes. 

What is happening here? So much more than “just” making crepes.

How did Elle learn to make crepes? Resources for finding unique and local experiences can be found in the free guide, Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience. Leave your email address here and I’ll send it to you!