Planning a European vacation

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom and Good Cheap Eats

I spent my twenty-first and twenty-second birthdays in France. I lived a year in Bordeaux, studying and perfecting my French skills. My husband and I honeymooned there. At 22 years of age, I considered myself a world traveler. And I fully intended to spend every birthday in Europe.

But, as we know… life is subject to change.

In those last eighteen years since my feet set ground in la belle France, our family has welcomed six babies, moved cross-country and back again, and fought our way out of consumer debt. It’s not like we were sitting around twiddling our thumbs when we could have been globe trotting.

However, earlier this year, after watching a series of France-based films, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Why not?”

  • Why not take the kids to France? 
  • Why not make the investment of time and money to travel to Europe with SIX kids?
  • Why not expose them to a culture that was once near and dear to my heart and a huge part of my everyday?

So, we’re committed. At least publicly.

Our plan is to spend our 20th wedding anniversary in France — with all the kids. In fact, we hope to spend an entire month traveling throughout the country, renting apartments in Paris and in a small village on the Mediterranean. We’ll introduce our kids to stinky cheese, the metro, and my French family.

And in the process, we hope to:

Show them a bigger view of the world.

As my husband often says in regards to our large family, “You can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime.” How true it is. So, we’re taking the long view and planning through the next 22 months for this European Vacation with our kids.

Imagine the Griswolds on steroids.

Here’s how we’re planning our European vacation:

1. Saving money.

We plan to pay cash for this venture. While we can’t predict what the exchange rate will be in 2014, we can guesstimate our needs. My last calculations show that airfare for 8 people as well as transportation, accommodations, and food for the crew for a month should total at least $20,000.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us.

But, my kids are no strangers  to frugal ways. And I think that the saving is part of the experience, teaching them to delay gratification as well as work hard for something we want to do as a family.

2. Making room in the schedule.

We are thankful that my husband’s job provides three weeks’ paid vacation. We are being mindful of how we spend these days so that he has lots of hours stored up to take time off without penalty.

Homeschooling obviously affords us that room in our school schedule to take off. Literally.

3. Learning the language.

Up until this point in my kids’ education, I’ve allowed them to choose the foreign language they wanted to learn. My 10th grader is entering his second year of Latin.

But, if we’re going to spend a month in France, it would be nice if everyone knew enough French to ask for the bathroom and how to order some baguettes at the corner bakery. So, French is on our list for next year. No questions asked.

Since I used to teach French as my job, I dug out my old French curriculum and teaching aids for this coming school year. It shall be a family project. And I love Ann’s suggestions for do-it-yourself French. We’ll be using some of those resources throughout our school work next year.

4. Watching films that show French culture.

I’m on the look out for family-friendly films that will expose my kids to France, past and present. This spring we watched Hugo and War Horse, both which gave a small taste of life in France and Europe in general. While these are not the most accurate depictions, at least they offer a taste.

I’m on the hunt for more movies to help us picture what it might be like.

5. Studying France’s rich history.

Our history curriculum over the next two years will span much of the world’s history as we study everything from the middle ages to the mid 19th century. I know that the anticipation of our trip will be a great way to make our history studies a little more real.

Seeing an actual suit of armor somehow makes the crusades seem more real.

6. Eating the French way.

Since we’re a foodie family, good food is top on our list. My kids didn’t respond too positively to their first stinky cheese exposure in our winter raclette experience. I have some work to do in training their palates to enjoy la cuisine francaise.

I’m thankful that there is a true French bakery around the corner from our home and plenty of sources to buy French cheese. I plan to do some cooking out of The Bonne Femme Cookbook to get them ready for a feast  of the senses.

Because honestly? I just want to be able to dine in a restaurant without being embarrassed.

It’s worth the effort.

Clearly, it’s going to take some time, effort, and money to pull this off. Our oldest will be close to 17 when we go, our youngest will be 5. It’s as close to perfect timing as it could get, before one leaves the nest, and as soon as another can travel easily without too many potty stops.

I’m excited and nervous and hopeful of what this trip will do for our family and our homeschool.

What do you think about foreign travel with children? What’s been your experience and how did it impact your child’s education?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. What a delightful plan! We’d love to take our 4 Ethiopian daughters on a homeland visit before our 16yo is out of the house. We expect it’ll take over $10,000, which is a lot to save. And of course there are lots of other ways we *could* choose to spend the money. But we’re hoping we can make it work…
    We already did a homeland visit with our Korean sons in 2009 which was a really neat experience and a great memory.
    Mary, mom to 10
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  2. What a great idea! You have a very thorough (and inspiring!) plan.
    Two Cowgirls’s latest post: Science Adventure Club – Give Away!

  3. Sounds like you guys have a great plan. We would love to travel when our daughter is a little older (she’s only 2 now). I love the idea of traveling with kids (just not when nap time is still a necessity).
    Steph’s latest post: When in Doubt, Do the Right Thing

  4. We’re absolutely planning a European trip after we thru hike the AT. Not right after but after in the 5 year plan sense. We dream to do this when our kids are all teenagers. We can live and work anywhere so we’ll work while there to make it more affordable and also so we can stay longer to make it worth the plane tickets.
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: Leaving Montréal

  5. Sounds like such a wonderful plan!

    Foreign travel with children is just wonderful, I had traveled quite a bit before getting married and enjoyed that but with a child it’s a totally different experience… better I think.

    I’m British but we live in Chicago (husband is American), actually I’m in England right now visiting my family with my son. We also lived in Germany for 3 years when my son was little, so I suppose he’s spent more time in Europe than he has in the U.S. at this point and he’s almost 5 years old.

    But seeing different countries and cultures through the eyes of a child is such a refreshing experience, even very young children. My son loves visiting European castles especially, and he has the same love for European food that I do.
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  6. I give you SUCH huge props for this! It seems to daunting to try and plan such a huge excursion, but your step-by-step makes it look much more manageable!
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  7. This is a fun thing to plan for! I haven’t been to Europe since high school-college, and since my husband and I are days away from our 7 year anniversary, it seems like a *long* time when I used to go every other year somewhere. We’ve been back and forth to Canada (where he’s from) loads of times, but we also have high hopes for travelling with the whole family to Europe someday. I also made him promise our 10 year anniversary could be spent enjoying England + Scotland.

    I was also a French minor in college and with French being the second official language of Canada, we saved up enough money to buy all the levels of Rosetta Stone-French so he could get back into the groove, and so that our children could learn it, too. They are quite young but already know many words and songs, and I know they will love doing a ‘computer game’ for school 😉

    Bon chance!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: {This Moment}

  8. $20,000?? Sacre bleu!

    Except for the jawdropping cost, this sounds like such a fantastic plan. I hope my own family can do this one day. And by “hope” I mean we are socking away vacation money, because we’re gonna need it!

    Also, have you ever read any travel-hacking blogs? I don’t regularly, but I’ve stumbled across them before, and I know I’d be reading them religiously if I was taking my family of 6 overseas next year. The best place I know of to start would be The Art of Noncomformity (, and then branch out from there. Lots of info on saving money on airfare and travel.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: A Day in the Life

  9. What a wonderful idea! I have background in French and France (not nearly as much as you), and I am really looking forward to taking my children and husband some day.

    Thank you for all the great tips, and thank you especially for the link to DIY French. I’m *so glad* to now have the French In Action video access for FREE!

    Glory’s latest post: Steeping in American Independence & Freedom

  10. I’m so excited about this post! I want to take my kids to Belarus! I lived in Belarus for 4 years, met my husband there & my mil is still there.

  11. This post was fabulous! After reading this my husband and I immediately started making a list of where we wanted our family to go and then made a plan for the first destination on the list! Your post helped us make a timeline and decide what we should do now to prepare the kids. I don’t know why we didn’t do it before. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Shannon’s latest post: Summer Reading Program week 1

  12. My husband and I recently made the decision to take our three kids to France for a month to six weeks in 3 years when they will be 6, 7 and 9. We need to save and we wanted them to be old enough to pull their suitcase and remember the trip! I have always dreamed of traveling abroad and other than a college singing tour to Scotland, England and Wales I haven’t been out of the U.S. We’ve tried twice to go as a couple but childcare issues continued to get in the way until we just decided to take the kids with us! Everyone we know thinks we’re crazy (my uncle even advised us to talk to the embassy now!) so I was so happy to read your blog post on this. If that trip goes well, we hope to do another like it to Italy a few years later. I hope you will write more about your travel plans!

  13. Your plan sounds wonderful. The price tag is large but realistic, I’m sure.

    When I recently mentioned to my oldest (who detests travel) that in two years, once he graduates, we (mostly me) are wanting to do a one-year teaching exchange to Quebec, he got so upset. Accused me of “abandoning him” right after graduation and adding to his stress. I pointed out that 2 years was FAIR NOTICE, after all 🙂 And suggested he join us for a time or that we’d pay for him to come see us at holidays from wherever he might be living. Anyways, he apparently texted his friend and said his mom was going through a mid-life crisis and that he’d be moving in with his friend for a year, when we leave. Ooooh, dear. (Perhaps all my children have inherited my sensitive/dramatic gene).

    My family then informed me, husband included, that none of them actually WANT to move (my husband said if it is important to me he’ll do it for me) – though apart from my oldest they do want to travel for shorter periods of time. I just don’t know how, apart from my getting a job, we could save for the type of trip you are planning.

  14. So excited for your trip! I hope all your plans come together to ensure a rich, fun, rewarding trip–and that you acquire enough language for it to come together while you’re there. Comprehension + enough ability to express yourselves. It all sounds grand! Bon courage et bon voyage!
    Ann Kroeker’s latest post: Food on Fridays: Simple Guacamole

  15. This is a great post! We are dedicated to traveling more with our kids. We haven’t yet gone overseas, but we have at least made two big U.S. trips this year. We are considering Normandy next summer. My uncle left us an inheritance. He flew 3 missions during D-Day, so we though a trip to Normandy would be an awesome way to honor his memory.

  16. Sounds like a great plan so good luck with saving and planning. How exciting. I’m from Switzerland and spent tons of time in Paris, it’s on top of my destination list, I looove Paris !! I travelled most of the world before having kids and it’s a true blessing to see all that God has created for us in this world !!

    God bless !! Myriam
    Myriam’s latest post: Homesteading Arts Festival

  17. Whitney says:

    I was just thinking that as far as movies that are more French, Julia and Julia talks alot about food. Though not 100% about France, an absolute favorite is the documentary The Rape of Europa. It talks about the art lost during WWII and the stories of people trying to save the irreplaceable pieces. One of the most touching parts is the Louvre’s workers and how they saved the art there. The story of the little girl, now old, of course, whose house had the Mona Lisa…that was awesome.

  18. Jessica says:

    Wow! How exciting to plan a trip abroad w/ your family! I studied French all through HS & had a double major Elem. Ed. & French in College. I had French exchange students stay w/ my fam. & I when I was in HS, went to France in lieu of the traditional senior trip to Florida, and then spent a summer studying in France in college. I, like you, thought I would be the traveling sort for all of my days. Then I married a man who has yet to travel overseas, and had twin boys who are now 5. I dream of one day returning to France & drag…I mean, bringing my husband & boys along!! One of my sons recently started showing an interest in the French language(due to Canadian kids’ shows that we get up here in WNY!). I would love to teach him more, but have forgotten so much over the years. We’re not planning on homeschooling….our kids will attend public school come the fall…but I’m looking forward to hearing about how you teach the language to your little ones, so I can gather some ideas! Thanks for sharing your plan & sparking my own dreams a bit! 🙂

  19. I’m so glad you wrote this post! We just bought Rosetta Stone Spanish for our kids – and us 🙂 !! We’re hoping to travel to a Spanish-speaking country when our oldest, in 4th grade now, starts high school. It seems so attainable when I read what you wrote!

  20. Thanks for sharing this! It is good to see examples of others trying to live a frugal life and still being able to enjoy the riches of life.
    I myself did a study abroad to London and traveled to Scotland and Ireland. I loved it, but I did it alone. Now that I’m married with 2 children, I can’t wait to go back and share with them what I loved so much. Your planning has given me good ideas. We have a few years to go before any significant travel overseas (saving up our full emergency fund, etc.), but I hope to make it there for our 10th anniversary in 3 years.
    Could you share in what ways you are being frugal to save up for your trip? $20,000 is a lot to save up for!
    Sarah’s latest post: Keeping Busy

  21. Jennifer says:

    We too are planning a European trip for our crew late 2014/early 2015…My kiddos will be 13, 11, 6 & 4…Would love to network 🙂

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  23. Susan Gibb says:

    Hi Jessica-
    We took our brood (5 kids at that time) to France years ago, before our oldest flew the coop. We did a home exchange, staying in a 3 bedroom home in the suburbs of Paris while that family stayed in our home in the suburbs of San Diego! We also exchanged cars. It saved us a ton of money and gave us a home base to launch several excursions (south of France, Britain, Switzerland) from and retrun to and rest. We were there for 7 weeks. The kids did great in our temporary home and we didn’t spend more than we needed to on lodging, eating out, laundry, car rental or train tickets, etc. While our home was dirtier than we were used to when we got home, it was a wonderful experience and we would do it again!

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