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Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

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Menifee, California
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Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

I am posting this separately from the transportation question...

My 2 kids and I are lucky enough to be free to travel for the entire spring. Our plan is to explore Europe for 12 weeks starting in London where I will buy(and later sell back) a car. We arrive at Heathrow March 25 and spend the first 2 weeks in Crystal Palace, from where we will explore London and have day trips to Bath, Oxford, the henges, etc.

Yes, I know that locale is a unique choice for visiting but the price was right, we want the local cultural experience and the distances are all manageable from a Californian perspective. Our next stop will be Bruges via the Dover to Calais ferry, then 2 weeks in Normandy and briefly Paris. Whew...

Yet to be booked plans include southern Germany, Budapest, northern Italy and the eastern coast of Spain then back through France (Bordeaux this time) and on to UK for selling the car and flying home.

Can anyone suggest any towns or areas over others? Share ideas for website that book privately owned simple accommodations with great prices? I am having good luck with holidaylettings, top sun and plain old google searches.

I already cook all of our food fresh and I plan to continue doing the for the most part while abroad. After all, no one needs to eat out for 88 days, never mind the COST! So any recommendations for buying staples in the UK will help...Tesco? I plan to hit Ikea in Croydon for towels, plates and other things we need but are too bulky for flying. But they won't have oats, rice, spices, aluminum foil et al. We'll use local markets for daily needs wherever we are but I need to start out with the basics as soon as the car is bought. But that's another thread :)

London, United...
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1. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

I am unfamiliar with the ins and outs of buying a car, using it for 12 weeks and selling it at the end of that time so will leave it to those more au fait with the matter.

But one thing does stand out as a potential problem. Not only will you have to ensure that you have sufficient insurance to take your vehice to Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain, but if you buy a car in the UK you'll have a right hand drive car to negotiate on many many kilometres of left hand drive motorways, B roads, city streets and country lanes.

I find six or seven hours of operating a right hand drive car in the UK very tiring, and can't imagine how much more aggro it would be to throw in that not insignificant aspect to the journey. Also, with respect, I would not suggest driving in Paris period. Not even if you had a left hand drive car would it be an easy task. You'll need more than basic French, German, Italian and Spanish to navigate through those countries, not to mention more than a smattering of Hungarian should you drive in Budapest.

Distances are the least of your worries, unless one or both of your children are well versed in the languages mentioned above such that they will be able to navigate whilst you drive.

Please do think carefully, especially since you have very little time to plan such an extensive journey.

Londinium born and...
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2. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Please don't stay at the Queens hotel in Crystal Palace, if that's the one you've booked. It's an awful dump and I'd hate for you to have London ruined for you by staying there.

If you want to experience London without spending a fortune, then maybe consider somewhere like Griffin House, in Stockwell, which has 2 bedroom apartments and good reviews, or a triple room in a B&B, or hotel nearer the centre. The money you'll save in train fares will probably balance it out and you'll spend less time travelling into London.

Menifee, California
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3. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Thank you so much, you are right and I AM worried about the right hand drive issue and need to look further into that. At the very least, I had better get an automatic! Each leg of the journey will be short, as I am breaking up the 12 weeks into 8 stops. For Paris, I want to park on the outskirts in a secure facility near a city bus or tube station where we can get passes for our 2 short days. In fact we'll use public transport within each city, the car is really just for getting us between them. And thank you also for the insurance information, I had thought I could use an international policy similar to what I have here for driving in Mexico and that it would be valid throughout the EU.

For the rest, I am fluent in Spanish with some French and the kids have studied German and French for a year but cannot speak it easily yet. Hopefully the trip will address that! To navigate we have a Garmin GPS system with European maps that gives wonderful turn-by-turn instructions. My friend even programmed in a lovely British voice for me to "practice" with.

You are kind to respond with good suggestions and concern. I am getting great "car advice" on another thread and hope get information here on budget off-season travel deals for the spots I haven't booked yet (UK, Bruges and northern France, done!).

Menifee, California
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4. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Trillian, thank you and yes, I saw comments galore in other threads and did NOT book there :). I am staying in a self-catering studio that is part of (but apart from) a small B & B that is several blocks from the Queens. I hope to get a situation similar to that along the rest of my route. I'll need to post in other forums too, but I know Londoners a) travel to the areas I am visiting, b) are a sensible group and c) enjoy giving advice. So I thought I should ask here first :)

London, United...
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5. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Have you considered renting a motorhome for your European tour?

This could well be a far cheaper option than renting a car/staying in hotels. Plus they will obviously come with all those IKEA necessities, give you cooking facilities, no tedious unpacking/packing every two days, you're not all squeezed up with your luggage in a car, and there are thousands and thousands of sites to stay in which will have those much-needed laundry facilities and where you will meet many fellow travellers.

Also, as you're spending a while on the road, the kids will have the option of sitting in the back watching a movie (leaving you to drive in peace!).

After weighing up the options for two multi-week tours, we've decided on motorhomes both times.

Edited: 20 January 2010, 09:55
London
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6. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Hi Jodibird1

I like Crystal Palace. There are several restaurants and cafes if you do want to eat out and there is a fair size Salisbury's for you to buy your groceries. They sell cookware too so you may not have to go to IKEA.

sainsburys.co.uk/sol/…

If you fancy a walk then Crystal Palace Park is worth exploring. Your kids might enjoy seeing the dinosaurs (if they're not too old - my kids believed they moved around at night!) and the remains of the Crystal Palace are quite interesting to see.

Edited: 20 January 2010, 10:21
brussels
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7. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

you must be brave probably your best bvet would be to pick up a car in europe unless you intend to keep goig back to the uk.

Buying a car could be difficult and getting insurance without being a resident could take some organisation. Can you not get coverage from your existing insurance company.

It will also limit the hotels you can stay at and probably incur costs in parking fees. I visited budapst this summer and i don't believe there is a lot of street parking and you could be visiting some rather dubious areas at strange times of the day and night if you want to find free parking.

good luck

Menifee, California
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8. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Thank you everyone for great information. I am looking forward to exploring all of Crystal Palace and venturing into London several times to hit the British Museum and all the sights. I have been convinced to drop the plan to buy car (from these suggestions, an additional thread's advice and a sleepless night following up their sound advice with further research). We'll use public transportation.

This will mean we spend more time in the UK and France, with less cross-continent galloping. So the choices of exactly which spots to hit just became even more crucial.

Mesa, Arizona
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9. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Jodi, can I tell you how jealous I am? (LOL)

I hope you will find this article useful:

www.ehow.com/how_5030037_buy-car-europe.html

Paris, France
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10. Re: Mom and tweens want advice from off-season budget travelers

Hi there!

As a Londoner I'd have to agree with the other posters - buying a reselling a car sounds like a strange option if you are "budget" travellers!

I used to work in a central London branch of a well-known hire car chain and was always amazed at Americans and Canadians who considered driving the natural option for touring around Europe!

I'm sure you're aware that Europe - particularly the UK - is no way near as car-oriented as North America. Firstly, driving and owning car here costs far more than in the US - tax, insurance and the actual car itself will cost you far more than it would back home. Then there's gas prices - £1.10/litre (equivalent to $6.90 per US gallon) in the UK - higher prices even on mainland Europe. France has very expensive tolls to use its autoroute (freeway) system. And to top it all off every town or city has draconian and extortionate charges to park your vehicle - up to £30 ($40) a day in central London. There are also loads of extra annoying levies such as the London congestion charge - currently £8 ($13) per day just for the priviledge of entering central London!

However the flip side of all this is that our public transportation system is much more extensive than it is with you guys - every single town in England has regular trains - and even small villages are linked by buses. France and Germany have fantastic high speed trains that will whisk you across the land in a fraction of the time it takes for you to crawl down the autoroute in a car! If you're sticking to major towns and cities - ie London, Oxford, Windsor etc - you'd be mad but to take anything other than the train or bus. Book online and well in advance and you'll be surprised how cheap fares are though if you do just turn up and go - particularly in the UK - you can be stung. Get train passes such as interrail or Britrail and you'll save so much money over the car option.

Furthermore from experience at work I've found that many North Americans - particularly those not used to manual transmission (very few cars are automatic) - find driving in England a stressfull experience. People drive much faster and navigation in towns and cities people find difficult due to poor signage and the lack of the grid system. And while on the continent at least you'll find that the traffic moves on the same side as you're used to, driving standards in Latin countries such as France and Italy have to be seen to be believed! I wouldn't get behind the wheel in Paris if you paid me.

I don't want to totally put you off the car option - for visiting the countryside and out of the way places you'd be better off with one. But to drive from say London to Paris or Paris to Berlin you'd be bonkers when the trains are so much faster, cheaper and more comfortable - even if there are a group of you. You could always hire a car for the odd day here are there when you find you needed one!

Sorry to be pessimistic about the car - it does actually look like a good idea particularly if your kids are young. But it WON'T be a budget option. I've just seen so many Americans say they wished they knew just how good the public transport is in many parts of Europe!

Bon voyage!