True fact. I write about New England to travel elsewhere. And my favorite place to travel? Most definitely Europe. I first visited Spain and Italy with my family at the age of 14. As soon as I returned from that trip, I planned my next- to visit my German pen pal Sabine. And the pattern has continued throughout my life- it seems that I am dreaming and scheming about my next trip to Europe as soon as I return.
I have four adult children- and now a daughter-in-law! Our family is far-flung-the newlyweds live in Los Angeles, my two younger sons live together in Boston and my daughter lives in London. Lately, the opportunities to spend time together as a family have been increasingly limited.
This year, my husband and I decided to spend our August vacation in England partly because our daughter had finished her graduate studies at Oxford and applied for a UK work visa and couldn’t travel outside the country. My younger sons flew with us to London, but were able to spend just 6 nights with us. My oldest son and his wife had work commitments and came for 5 nights. My pen pal and her husband decided to meet us in London too- they flew in from Germany and joined us for the final 2 nights of our vacation.
It turned out to be a magical vacation. And remarkably, we returned still speaking to one another. But the trick was to create an itinerary that (mostly) met everyone’s needs and desires. From the get-go, I knew that the accommodation choices were going to be key. We did a lot of hotel-hopping on this trip- for location and to save money (we were paying for 2-3 hotel rooms each night). We rented a house in the English countryside too.
I was also able to step back from my usual role of trip planner/tour guide because my daughter was “on the ground” and was able to make great restaurant suggestions, arranged the train ticket reservations, and generally helped tweak the itinerary.
Here are some photo highlights from our trip.
We splashed out and rented a 16th century manor house in the Cotswolds. Yes, all for ourselves. Horton Court has been featured in episodes of both Poldark and Wolf Hall – and I do love a good Masterpiece historical drama!
Bonus: Here’s how the Olia’s travel like pros!
We travel light. See the photo at the top? My husband and I each travel with a small wheeled case. Nothing more. I have a small tote bag for souvenirs for the way back. I am a huge fan of duty free shopping because it doesn’t count towards your hand luggage.
Someone needs to be connected. For us, that someone is my husband. Either sign up in advance for your carrier’s international /global plan or buy a SIM card upon arrival to insert in your phone .
Download the apps. You’ll want your airline and the public transportation system of where you are going. We relied heavily on Citymapper in London. The best kept secret of international travel may just be the Mobile Passport app from US Customs & Border Control. It’s free and it allows you to submit your passport information, and your photo to use the express lane to breeze through customs when you land at a US airport.
But tickets in advance. Spontaneity isn’t really possible when you travel as a family group of 8 people. You can avoid lines and crowds- and save a little money too- when you buy tickets to popular sights on-line. We bought tickets to Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and the Greenwich Museums just a day or two in advance, but were able to waltz right in to each place.
Eating & Drinking. There’s no way around the fact that feeding 8 adults on vacation is expensive. And for our family, dining is top among our travel experiences. All of our hotel rates included breakfast which was convenient for the copius amount of coffee my bleary-eyed “kids” had for breakfast after a night of drinking. For lunch, we often took advantage of the open air markets (Borough and Greenwich) for cheap eats. For dinner our strategies varied but included having ethnic food (Iranian and Indian) and choosing restaurants that offered 3-course fixe prix options . Also, England has great pubs (which are not expensive) and the kids learned to appreciate the Imperial pint !