I just finished doing the laundry from our family-bonding trip to Disneyland and college visits, and it’s time to pack again! This time we are going to test our renewed family ties by going on a true odyssey clear across the Atlantic: Europe with our teenagers. We’re confident that having spent four days sharing one room and one bathroom prepared us for 17 days of the same living arrangement, albeit cozier. Will we survive such cramped quarters and so much family closeness? We’ll find out, and let you know.

Three months ago, the head of the family surprisingly announced we could plan a big family vacation this summer in spite of the economy — or perhaps to spite it. In any case, our hard working provider envisioned relaxing in Hawaii: sandy beaches, peace and quiet. At the family dinner table, his proposal was summarily shot down and replaced with a unanimous decision to forgo the blue waters of the islands (“we live by the beach already”, stated our daughter), and instead explore the old continent for the first time with our kids; battling the culture-seeking crowds and smoldering European heat, all on a budget, of course!

Thus began my career as a travel agent — of sorts. Since we don’t do well on organized tours with deadlines and time limits, I decided to rely on my past experiences having studied, lived and worked abroad for five years. “I can do this”, I confidently declared to my brood. “We will do it our way, and save some Euros”. When I moved back to the USA 25 years ago (oops! did I just give away my age?), I promised myself  I wouldn’t go back to the old continent on any budget, but our  meager savings have been appropriated by the stock market and left us no choice but to grab the latest edition of Let’s Go Europe, and start with their suggestions for low cost travel.

It’s been over three months of constantly visiting poorly translated hotel websites, travel blogs, well-known budget travel book sites, and e-mailing reservation desks ’till the wee hours of the morning attempting to secure reasonable rates for rooms no larger than a walk-in closet. Let me tell you, I have new-found admiration for travel agents. Accents, time differences and decidedly different notions of customer service are just some of the obstacles I’ve confronted while self-planning our trip over the pond.

On this little jaunt, I’ll be undertaking several other endeavors while on the road: tour guide, translator, peace-keeper and rolling-eye-tamer. I’m sure I’ll be just fine as long as I have my coffee, right? And I don’t mean those delicious European brews awaiting me outside my hotel. Pas moi! I’ll be enjoying my morning Starbucks right in my room thanks to Starbucks’ new VIA Ready Brew, instant coffee. Yup, Starbucks instant coffee! Can’t leave home without it. And the wonderful  people at Starbucks will be supplying me with my cup-o-joy during our trip. Merci beau coup!

In case you’re considering organizing your own trip soon, I plan to share all of my new-found knowledge with you, and hope to enlighten you about traveling to Europe with teenagers while keeping some sort of a budget. I’ll be listing hotels, flights, sights, trains, and tips about pre-purchasing travel tickets as well as getting admission tickets to popular attractions before heading to the airport to avoid the lines once there.

It will all be so much fun: the tiny hotel rooms with European bathrooms, the hot subways, wonderful market places, crazy Italian drivers, the long lines to climb the Eiffel Tower or see Michelangelo’s David … bring it on! Starbucks and I are ready for you.

So, the countdown begins. Only 12 days before take off and counting … Got advise?

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