Almost exactly a year ago, my little family of four was visiting Italy, France and Spain. It was our most special family trip so far.
We only had three weeks for our trip and we wanted it to be memorable. We decided to spend about 9 days in Italy, 7 days in France and 6 days in Spain - it was the perfect combination for us. We stayed a little longer in Italy because our arrival and departure were from the fantastic city of Rome.
Here is some information that you may find useful if you ever decide to travel with children to one of these countries.
How We Found our AccommodationsOur children were 5 and 13 years old when we had our European adventure. Although they are relatively easy to handle boys, they can also be moody and picky. To simplify things for us, we decided to avoid hotels and opted for places that offered at least two bedrooms and a small kitchen/dining area.
Finding places where to stay in countries or cities that you have never visited could be very stressful. All types of accommodations have risks, even hotel rooms. In our case, we use the photos and descriptions provided by the hosts as well as the information provided by reviewers. I read each one of the comments made by reviewers before making a final decision regarding a rental. When in doubt, I did not hesitate in calling/emailing the host for clarifications.
If you find that you need more help, I suggest NomadicMatt. This site provides 9 golden rules to help people find the perfect apartment/houses on websites such as Airbnb. These nine rules are helpful guidelines, but as NomadicMatt said, at the end of the day you need to go with your gut.
After using different online resources, we found all our places using Airbnb or HomeAway.
Through Airbnb we were able to find houses or apartments in all the Italian and French cities that we visited. We were extremely satisfied with Airbnb. In terms of problems or bad experiences, we only had a problem with a house that we rented near Carcassonne in France. But, the key issue to mention here is that our problems were solved in less than 24 hours. Airbnb helped us to find another place very quickly. More importantly, we did not lose any money throughout the whole process. So, overall, we found Airbnb very reliable.
Unfortunately, we could not find good places to stay in Spain using Airbnb. We ended using HomeAway to find our accommodations in both Madrid and Barcelona. With HomeAway all that you need to do is to find a property and then, contact the owner for questions and/or to book the place.
How we traveled in EuropeMost of the time we traveled by train. For example, from Napoli to Padova we traveled by train and once in Padova we rented a car to visit other places, including the amazing city of Venice. The car trip from Padova to Venice was beautiful with many picturesque places, including excellent small restaurants.
Train services in Europe are generally very good. Although we experienced some problems with our train trip from Milan to Nice (French train company), we enjoyed all our train trips in Europe.
In particular, we really enjoyed traveling by train in Italy. Train tickets in Italy were more affordable than in either France or Spain. Furthermore, Italian train companies such as Italotreno offer family packages (for 4 people, includes 2 children) where children travel free of charge. Italian trains were also very clean, providing even internet service. We often had the chance to sit all four together in those sections of the train with four face-to-face seats.
Now, if you decide to rent a car in Europe things may be a little bit more complicated, but possible. The key issue is that you need to be organized and make certain that you conduct your search in order to obtain the best prices. My advice is to try calling around to local car rental agencies or to use a travel agency.
Remember, low price is not the only factor that you should take into consideration. In our case, we rented our car from Europcar because it offered a good rate but also reliable service and various pickup/drop-off locations (including one at the train station).
In my next post, I will talk about the places that we visited in Italy, France and Spain.