You Don’t Need to be Rich to Take Kids to Europe

We are getting ready to travel to Italy in a couple of months and when I tell people about our trip, they give me that look. The look that says, oh, it must be nice to be rich and go to Europe on vacation. Either that or it is the look of confusion or horror of why I would want to take kids to Europe in the first place. Yet many times those same people think it is a family rite of passage, if not an annual pilgrimage, to bring the family to Disney World.

I’m not knocking family trips to Disney. They are amazing…magical even. But why do we think going to Disney World is an expected part of the American dream but European vacations are more for the jet set? Is it intimidation, the belief that kids wouldn’t enjoy a trip abroad, or a myth that you need to be rich to take your kids to Europe?

I’d like to break some of those myths down.

1. Intimidation – I get that. When I went to Paris I was so intimidated by French waitstaff that I spent my days ordering from bakeries (I could easily live on pain au chocolat for a few days) and crepe trucks. But I firmly believe that a little preparation overcomes intimidation. Research where you want to go and familiarize yourself with the attractions, history, architecture, and culture. Pick up a few phrases (there IS an app for that.) Read my post on tips for taking the kids to Europe.

2. Getting Kids Excited – A European vacation may not be for everyone (it didn’t work out too well for the Griswalds), but I can attest that it absolutely is for kids. Not only that, but kids will get something out of the trip that you just can’t accomplish in the U.S. Again, it takes preparation. Make sure kids are involved in the planning. Look at pictures together and explain to them what they are going to see. Print out an itinerary and every night discuss what the plan for the next day is. Build in plenty of down time and some kid fun like playing in parks with local kids or a visit to the beach or zoo. Check out my post on preparing kids for vacation for more ideas about what to do before you leave.

3. Cost – Now for the big one. We all know Disney is expensive and not possible for many American families. When I grew up our family vacations consisted of a trip to Vermont to stay at my grandmother’s house and maybe one or two day trips to the beach. My one trip to Disney when I was 12 consisted of driving from NJ to FL in an unairconditioned Ford Escort in the sweltering August heat (the knots didn’t come out of my hair for days) and eating at cafeterias but somehow my mom pulled it off for a week in FL for four people for $1000 (granted, it was over 30 years ago.)

Cost of the Average Disney Vacation

Let’s look at how much a trip to Disney World costs today. I’m taking airfare out of the equation because I believe that with planning, and a good credit card reward program, you can earn enough points to cover a trip to either place if you save long enough.

Here is our scenario: a family of four (2 adults, 2 kids ages 11 and 9) are visiting Disney World for seven days, six nights and are planning on spending five days in the parks in mid-July. They are staying on property to save on a rental car and for convenience, but they are staying in a middle of the road resort (let’s say Port Orleans as it is one of their “moderate” resorts in one double room.) They will purchase the meal plan since they are staying on property but given that, they will also want to utilize the Park Hopper add-on to provide more dining options and park flexibility. Here is what it will cost:

Hotel: $196.00 per night + tax and fees
Tickets: Add 5 day ticket with hotel to get some magical extras
Dining Plan: Select a middle-of-the-road plan that includes 1 snack, 1 quick service meal, 1 sit-down meal per night and 1 refillable mug per person.

Subtotal: $4,437

Snacks: I would add $10 per day per person for additional snacks (think how hot it will be, you will want to cool off with something besides using your refillable mug. So $10×4=$40×5=$200.
Additional meal: Now let’s add in meals for your travel days, assuming two meals on the go per person. $20×4=$80×2=$160

Total = approximately $4800 before you have bought one souvenir.

Cost of Average European Vacation

Here is an version of my Italy budget (adjusted to reflect a family of four). I’ve also not included airfare as, again, with either trip I would use credit card reward points for air travel.

Hotel – we are renting a three bedroom apartment (versus squeezing 4 people into one double room!) in Rome steps from the Colosseum for $334 per night x 6 nights = $2004

Transportation – including taxi to and from airport, along with some public transportation and plenty of walking (not like you aren’t walking a lot in Disney!) – $200

Food – based on our experience in Spain and looking at some menus, I’m budgeting $250 per day, assuming we are eating most breakfasts in the apartment, and $100 a day for travel days = $1450

Tours and attractions – assuming we will visit the Colosseum, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s, The Vatican Museum, The Borghese Gallery, and take one food tour = $525

Total = $4179

So, what do you think? If you can afford Disney World, you can afford Europe. Does this make it seem more accessible?


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Publish Date: April 27, 2014

7 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to be Rich to Take Kids to Europe”

  1. Totally agree ! We travel to Europe every year and to Florida too. We have family in Florida and even though we are close by we do not visit Disney every year. It is not that Disney is bad is just that we rather want to see the rest of the world. So we spend less on amusement parks so we can explore the world

    1. I’m like you Kari, we are in Florida at least once a year and have gone to Disney once and now, 8 years later we are going to universal. There is just so much else to see.

  2. You are completely right. European airfare costs can be prohibitive and you will have put off the trip longer while building up the points.

  3. Lance | Trips By Lance

    We took our 5-year-old son to France and the U.K. a couple of years ago and would happily do it again. I have no desire to ever step foot in Disney; I went when I was 7 and that was enough for me. I don’t get where parents think they have to only take their kids to amusement parks. I have a friend who loves amusement parks, so I get it with him. But don’t go just because you think it’s the only way you can travel with children.

    1. Lance, absolutely! Or at least balance it with other experiences. We took my daughter to Disney at 3 and it was magical. So was Hawaii at 6 and Spain at 8, Costa Rica at 9…but as you can tell I am not a yearly pilgrimage gal but someone that always wants to see something new.

  4. I agree with you that travel to Europe is not as cost prohibitive as it might initially seem. Though, for those who don’t have points for air travel, a European vacation will cost an additional $2000 at a minimum. (I launched my blog after taking our family of 5 to Paris, including airfare, for less than $7,000. I agree that Europe can be affordable, or at least more affordable than people think.)

    You do need to add in the cost of food during travel to Europe. Yes, airlines still include basic meals for international travel, but that’s usually not enough for most people. A stop at the coffee or bagel shop is often necessary to stave off hunger on those long flights — especially if you have a domestic layover.

    I disagree with your pricing for Disney, though. Most Disney packages are less than $4,000 for a family of four — even during prime time. Also, with the Disney Dining Plan you listed, we used it on our trip this past December. Even with TWO teenage boys (16 and 19), we did not use everything on our dining plan and ended up using snack credits to buy snack foods from the hotel gift shop. Also, the parks don’t allow use of the refillable mugs. Those are only for use at the resorts. You can, however, get free water from any restaurant (snack kiosks not included since they don’t have running water).

    AGAIN, I appreciate your point. Disney is not the be all and end all of the universe. With careful budgeting and planning, Europe is not that much more expensive… And there’s nothing like walking the hallowed halls of centuries old churches and museums to appreciate history!

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