14 Mistakes We Made On Our Summer Europe Trip

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Embarking on a 4-week summer escapade across Europe was a dream come true for our family and a journey filled with unforgettable memories.

Little did we know that behind the dazzling Instagram photos of flawless moments, our Euro trip was sprinkled with several mistakes and hair-pulling moments.

man and woman standing around wine barrel
Wine tasting in Tuscany

There is nothing like a painful lesson – one that causes you a loss of money or time. I only wish we had the power of hindsight, so they never happened.

We’re offering that hindsight power to you, by sharing our mistakes, so you can avoid them.

I’d say it’s rare to travel and NOT have something go wrong – we’re travel professionals with 25 years of travel in all its forms and styles across 50+ countries – and we still make mistakes!

So buckle up, fellow travelers, as we unravel the tales of our mishaps and unveil the lessons we learned in the most unexpected corners of Europe. It’s often in the missteps that the most valuable travel wisdom is gained.

Note: On our summer family European vacation we visited Paris, Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Cinque Terre, Verona with a day trip to Venice, an 8-day Danube River cruise, and ending in the Loire Valley France before flying back out from Paris.

Mistakes To Avoid When Travelling Around Europe

1. Catching the Red Eye to Europe from the USA

Mom and two daughters on a plane
Paris here we come

For those who are unfamiliar with the term “red eye flight”, it’s used to describe a flight that leaves in the evening and lands the following morning. Sounds convenient? Wrong.

Unfortunately, there is no real way to avoid a red eye if flying from the East Coast. They’re all overnight flights plonking you in Paris at 8am, which is 2am East Coast time.

As it’s only a 6-hour flight, and a challenge to sleep on planes, it means you arrive in Paris early in the morning exhausted and you have an entire day before you go to sleep.

You also cannot check into your hotel until 3pm usually, so you have to store your luggage somewhere until then (make sure your hotel has luggage storage).

We don’t advise that you nap as it will mess up your time adjustment and can make jet lag worse over the next few days.

It’s especially difficult if traveling to Europe with kids. All families know a tired kid can destroy a family trip! If you have younger kids or are traveling with babies, it might not be so bad, as they can sleep in the stroller during the day and should recover quite well.

If your only option is to fly overnight like this, plan for a light day of exploration at your arrival city.

In Paris, we wandered the streets, ate in cafes, rested in the parks, and did a Seine River cruise.

Expect to feel like a Zombie on that first day and plan for an early night.

2. Getting a Taxi from Paris Airport

Cars driving down a tree lined street in Paris
Paris traffic is intense – this is a quiet example

The traffic in Paris is one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. We were not expecting this and after arriving at Charles De Gaulle airport.

Doing the math for all four of us on the train into Montparnasse vs a taxi, the taxi was slightly more expensive, but appeared quicker.

WRONG! It took two and a half hours to get into the city!! After a red eye from the US that was one of the worst taxi rides of our life!

At least the girls got some sleep (none of us did on the flight over) before we went out exploring.

Apparently, this is the Paris norm. So, forget the taxi – especially if you have to cut across the city center or go on the ring road. You are much better off getting that train!

3. Hiring a Car in Paris

two girls walking up to Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau Loire Valley

We had a car rental booked from Charles de Gaulle to drive to the Loire Valley after flying in from  at the end of our trip. Again, this was all booked before we knew what Paris traffic was like.

We were caught in Paris traffic for another two hours trying to get OUT of the city! It wasn’t as bad coming back into Paris to fly home though.

If you need to rent a car to go outside of Paris. If you must drive anywhere near the ring road around Paris, you are best to take a train outside of the city and hire a rental car from there.

In hindsight, we’d have jumped on a train to Montparnasse (south of the city center) and taken a rental car from there down to the Loire Valley.

Read more things to know before traveling to Paris and if you need a rental car, we found the best rates and customer service on DiscoverCars.com and here are some tips on finding cheap car rental.

4. Possibly Cut France from Itinerary

kayakers on cher river
Cher River, Loire Valley

While we all loved Paris and the Loire Valley, we feel it may have been a better decision to save it for another trip and focus just on Italy and our river cruise.

It was quite a distance from our other destinations and Paris was an exhausting stop after a red eye flight.

It would have reduced our flying time – something you want to do for a European summer vacation – and given us more time in places we adored like Rome, Tuscany, and Cinque Terre.

We could have fit in another Italian destination as well.

It’s a hard call as the girls both loved Paris as there’s so many things to do for teens, so is something we won’t regret. But, the lesson for you is to plan carefully and maybe reduce countries in our European trip, especially if they are further apart.

We have a 2-week Italy itinerary from Rome to Verona outlining what did do and would have added in, had we spent more time in Italy.

5. Not Coming Home After the Danube River Cruise

Lady sitting on couch on a river cruise
Loved the relaxing nature of the cruise

We’re used to traveling for extended periods of time as a family. We did an 18-month road trip around Australia in a tiny travel trailer when the girls were 6 and 2, and 11 months in a bigger travel trailer across the USA.

4 weeks is really nothing for us.

But now our girls are in the tween and teen stage, and traveling with teens and life is quite different. PLUS, the previous trips involved slow travel.

Our 4-week Europe trip was rapid pace and included many different top attractions and experiences, heavy on the history and the walking.

In Paris and Rome, we walked 12- 15 miles a day! Combined with moving every couple of days to a new destination (except for the blissful river cruise) and having to capture a ton of footage thanks to our travel blogging career (without which we’d never have been able to do this trip) meant 4 weeks was a tiring time.

chain bridge crossing danube river budapest
The Chain Bridge, Budapest

We loved the Loire Valley, but it was an extra four days of quite a tiring detour. We were so exhausted we didn’t even do any wine tasting! It would have been better (and cheaper) for us to fly straight home from Budapest.

The biggest reason though was for the girls. We learned on this European trip that family vacations beyond 2-3 weeks no longer work for them.

They want to be with their friends, so their school break needs to be filled with more friend time. We either bring friends with us from now on, or just make our trips shorter.

To be honest, spending that much time away from our business – especially our growing Raleigh site – is quite detrimental and costs us even more time upon return catching up.

If you’re considering a European river cruise (it’s a travel trend), you’ll want to read our guides on reasons we loved our European river cruise, why our girls loved river cruises and why river cruises are good for families, and our Danube River cruise itinerary with Avalon Waterways. It was one of the smartest decisions of our Europe vacation. We loved the relaxing nature of it, getting to visit unknown places across four countries, and having everything taken care of!

6. Possibly Doing the Versailles Palace Tour First Thing

Mom and daughter outside a palace in France

This may not have been a bad choice as we did the first palace tour of the day which meant we could race to the front for the Hall of Mirrors and have it to ourselves.

Many have told me hundreds have been in at the same time. So, we got awesome photos with no one else in it.

This may not matter to you. If not – and you still could get lucky with lower crowds – I’d recommend doing the Versailles tour first IF you want to bike around the Versailles grounds and have a picnic.

caz and girls having a picnic in front of queens hamlet versaille
Picnic in Versailles

The reason being is you can’t take food and drink into the palace. But you can go into the park grounds. You can then pick up picnic supplies from the Versailles markets and bring them in.

We had to rent the bikes then ride back out to Versailles town and back again with our picnic gear – an exhausting detour of an hour on our jet lagged bodies. Versailles completely wrecked us! It’s gigantic!

I loved riding the bikes, but I’d also possibly have rented a golf cart instead. Just because we were so tired already and the bike rental was expensive and tired us out more. The girls would have enjoyed the golf cart more.

As you can see, there are a lot of IFs and variables when visiting to Versailles. You want to plan carefully. We’ve laid it all out for you in this in-depth guide on how to spend one day in the Palace of Versailles. We outline all the different ways to do it and which may be best for you depending all those ifs!

7. Not Staying in Monterosso el Mare, Cinque Terre

caz and craig standing at view overlooking beach
Finding joy in Moterosso

In all the content I read on visiting Cinque Terre before our trip, none really described Monterosso as more than a place with a beach if you need a swim. 

We were blown away by its beauty upon arrival and wish we knew in advance.

What sets Monterosso al Mare apart is that it’s the only Cinque Terre village with a beach, but it still has narrow winding streets, colorful buildings, and quaint squares like the other towns, except not perched on the hillsides.

looking at monterosso beach and colored buildings from the ocean
Monterosso

We stayed in the nearby town of La Spezia and caught the train in each day. We really didn’t like La Spezia much and didn’t even spend a lot of time there.

We would have definitely based ourselves here to explore Cinque Terre and taken advantage of a relaxing beach experience. it may have cost us a little more in accommodation, but it would have saved us time and elevated our experience more.

8. Not Checking Reservation Dates Properly

looking at colored buldings of vernazza from shore
Boat tour views

If you’re traveling for multiple weeks in multiple destinations, the likelihood of something going wrong is high. Especially in a destination like Europe, where you have to book almost everything in advance.

You’ll be tired and frustrated, as you try to find the perfect hotel, tour, or transport at the best price, date, and time. All those important details will become like mushy green pea soup in your brain.

It’s easy to mess it up.

We almost missed what ended up being our favorite experience in Cinque Terre. I had booked a Cinque Terre boat tour last minute, after hearing it was one of the top things to do in Cinque Terre.

Thankfully, they had space on their afternoon tour for the June 24th. I mentioned that date to them in two emails; then when they asked me to for final date confirmation for my booking, I brain farted and said July 24th.

I did not catch that error until we arrived at the meeting point in Manarola and checked in with Daniele. I could tell he was nervous, and something was wrong when he asked to see the email thread and then showed me the error – we were a month early!

I was shattered! He was wonderful and told us to hold steady in case he had a no-show, but unfortunately luck was not in our favor.

But not to worry, as we found a miracle solution not long after in Manarola when I wandered past a shop front in Manarola advertising a boat tour.

Luckily, they had space for their boat tour the next day. It cost €45 more than Daniele’s price, but we were all thrilled to get out on the water.

savannah on boat smiling with riomaggiore in background

Be sure to check your booking details carefully, have someone else look over them for you, and record them all in a spreadsheet. And don’t give up hope if you make a mistake – everything is figureoutable – and keep your eyes and ears open for solutions.

P.S. It turned out that Daniele later had a last-minute cancellation of four for his sunset boat tour, but because we did not have Wi-Fi (see that mistake below), I missed his email until we were in Riomaggiore when it was too late!

9. Booking the Wrong Hotel in Verona… sort of

sap on rooftop with views of Verona arena
Best hotel views in Verona

Another, not checking details properly…. or was it? We still don’t know whether this was our mistake, Chase Ultimate Rewards, the Hotel Milano and Spa in Verona, or a combination of all of them.

We booked this hotel using points –  our one splurge on our 4 week Europe trip – because of these incredible roof top (with spa) views of Verona Arena.

Imagine the tears when we checked in and were told our room was not booked here, but at their sister property, an eight minute walk away! WTF?

We thought we reserved a four-person room at Hotel Milano and Spa as that’s where we made our booking. At no point, did the hotel stipulate we’d actually booked an apartment at another property…. well not that we can recall.

The Hotel Milano and Spa does not have a 4-person room, so if you book that you will be booking a room at the Verona House. It was still a fantastic suite, with loads of space, and located right next to Castelvecchio on the Adige River. 

caz looking at view of castelvecchio from apartment window
Not bad views from Verona House

We had views of the castle from our room, could walk everywhere, and had free bike rentals, but still it was not the same as what we had envisioned.

 We wanted to be able to duck up to the rooftop terrace late at night or early in the morning when the girls were sleeping. Much harder to do an 8-minute walk away and of course it didn’t happen. 

10. Not Doing a Guided Tour of the Colosseum

caz and the girls smiling at camera inside colosseum

Our biggest mistake on month long Europe trip was not doing a guided tour of the Colosseum, the Seventh Wonder of the World.

It would have been a much better experience, and sadly it was the most disappointing thing we did in Rome – possibly the entire trip.

It shouldn’t have been that way, and many people have told us the Colosseum was their favorite thing to do in Rome.

We had a Rome Go City Pass which included a ticket to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially for you, as you get to benefit from our mistakes!

While the Go City Rome Pass can save you money, the inclusion of the Colosseum on the pass is just an entry ticket.

Two kids looking at ancient ruins in Rome
The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum part of it was not too bad, as we had more space to roam about and take our time exploring. The Colosseum part was a timed ticket and it was absolute bedlam when we arrived.

We got swept up into the crowd not knowing where we were going or what we were seeing and ended up getting shuffled out the exit 15 minutes later. We completely missed half of the ancient arena and they would not let us go back.

A guide would have steered us through the crowd, ensuring we did nt miss anything important, AND letting us know the significance of what we were seeing, along with some great stories along the way.

Sometimes it’s best to fork out a little bit extra – it was a missed opportunity.

We’ve outlined a guide to visiting the Colosseum and Roman Forum so you have the best experience ever. We also have many more tips on things to know before visiting Rome with Kids. We did do a guided tour of the Vatican though which was super smart. So was our Rome street food tour!

11. Not Getting a Train Ticket in Budapest

Mom and daughter standing on a balcony of a church in Budapest, Hungary
View from St Stephen’s Basilica

Do you want to learn how we turned a €4 train trip in Budapest into a €130 trip?

You always hear how people save money on travel, but what about how badly they mess up?

Yep. That’s us. Seasoned professional travelers with decades of experience still making mistakes.

We were in Budapest for a day, had no Hungarian money, and tried to buy a train ticket. The lady said, “Go to the next station where you can use a card.”

We walked five minutes to the station entrance – an elevator in the middle of the park that took us directly down to the station.

No ticket booth anywhere. No signs. No one to help us. And we looked far and wide, walking up and down a series of different platforms.

So, we decided to jump on the train and pay at the other end, or the ticket person on the train.

There was no ticket person on the train or any of the stations we passed. But there was one at our station – the gate to the biggest tourist destination in Budapest – the thermal baths.

woman and two daughters posing in thermal baths
Thermal Baths in Budapest

We explained what happened, but he was having none of it and dished out a hefty €32 fine each. We weren’t the only tourists caught! We asked if he could at least let the kids go, but nope, anyone over the age of 6 had to pay.

I get it. I take full responsibility for the decision. I think a €30 fine for a €1 ticket is OBSCENE. It’s a definite tourist trap.

So now you can learn from our mistake, and I can feel like it was an investment!!

I was so mad at myself for the rest of the day. I didn’t really like the thermal baths much and I don’t know if it was because of this experience, or they really were underwhelming. A bit of both perhaps.

On the other hand, a great decision I made in Budapest was to go wine tasting in the countryside and skip the city tour to hike up to the Citadel and Buda Castle. You can read more about that in our 8 Day Danube River itinerary. Here are more things to do in Budapest.

12. Trying to Do Too Much in Tuscany

caz and craig cheersing on patio with tuscany views
Relax more in Tuscany

Probably the most common travel mistake anyone can make is trying to do too much! I get it – you’re investing all this time and money into your dream Europe trip; you want to make it worthwhile and do as much as you can.

But often that being too rushed experience won’t be as fulfilling as a slower pace where you dive deeper.

We did this leaving Rome for Tuscany. This was one of those times when not having internet on our phone exacerbated this mistake. I couldn’t do a proper search while driving to verify drive times etc.

We had heard great things about Civita di Bagnoregio and the Bagni San Filppio thermal hot springs in the Tuscan countryside? Who wouldn’t want to do that?

tuscan village perched on hilltop
Civita di Bagnoregio

Well, I had my detour driving times all wrong. We arrived at Civita di Bagnoregio and had beautiful views of this hilltop village in the distance and realized that taking the 30-minute walk just to get over there (the only way in) AND walk around the town, would get us into our Tuscan farm stay quite late.

It also meant we’d have no time to go to the hot springs. So, we decided to forego exploring Civita di Bagnoregio AND then realized it was probably going to be too rushed to go to the hot springs as well (also involved a little hike).

After four hectic days in Paris (while experiencing jet lag) and three hectic days in Rome, we just wanted to get to our agritourismo retreat, relax by the pool and drink their incredible wine. That really was the Tuscan experience we hoped for.

swimming pool surrounded by trees
More of this please

It meant that what should have been an easy three-hour drive from Rome, turned into a wasted five and a half hours, where we didn’t even do anything!

We could have explored the nearby medieval town of San Gimignano instead, which is meant to be as beautiful as Siena, which we did explore the following day and loved.

We learned this lesson by the time we got to the Loire Valley and reduced our castle hopping down to just three extraordinary ones. It was an awesome move!

Tuscany is quite an expansive area that requires careful planning. Use these guides to help you: Best places to visit in Tuscany, a guide to driving the Chianti region of Tuscany, these restaurants not to miss in Tuscany, how to spend a day in Siena, our beautiful Tuscan farm stay, and if you here are all our posts on Florence, the capital of Tuscany.

13. Getting Our Itinerary Order Wrong in Italy

cypress tree off to the side of view of florence
Florence view from Boboli Gardens Oltrarno

A small mistake for our Europe trip was planning the destination order of our Italy Itinerary incorrectly.

We had booked all the accommodation, before we contemplated getting around. So it was too late to change it.

It’s a good idea to consider researching getting around before you start booking things in. (Here is a step by step travel planning guide if you need it.)

After adding up the cost of train travel (for four of us) versus car (plus taking into account convenience and saving time) we decided to rent a car in Rome and dropped it off upon arrival in Verona.

Then we used it to travel between destinations. We really only needed the car for exploring Tuscany.

landscaped gardens in front of villa
Giusti Gardens Verona

We held onto it for the remainder of the trip because getting from Cinque Terre to Verona would have taken up an entire day by train, as you had to backtrack to Milan first to get a connecting train to Verona.

We didn’t want to waste time so held onto the car. It meant we were paying a daily fee for a car we were barely using.

Although almost balanced out when you took into account train fares for a family of four.

We got free parking in Cinque Terre but had to pay extra for parking in Florence.

We also encountered traffic between Florence and Cinque Terre, which we would have avoided if we were on a train.

In hindsight we could have visited Cinque Terre after Tuscany, dropped the car off there, and then caught the train to Florence. From there we could have caught the train to Verona easily.

As you can see planning a trip to Europe involves many moving parts!

14. Not Having at Least One Phone with a Data Plan

Mom taking a selfie photo with two daughters on a river cruise

Ugh. I really despise our ATT phone plan. We’re on a payment plan, and they lock all phones that are on payment plans. Verizon and other carriers don’t do this.

Having your phone locked means you can’t use very affordable eSim cards, your only option being the ATT international roaming, which is a very steep $10 a day. We used it in London for one of our phones and it barely even worked. So we weren’t making that mistake again.

So we chose to just use free Wi-Fi (which is pretty easy to access in Europe) However, it was quite challenging for us traveling and not being connected – with at least one phone – for the trip.

I loved not having the constant connection, but since we are professional travel bloggers, it would have saved us time and stress being about to do some work easily while waiting in line on public transport etc.

Man working on a computer with a view of the river
Free Wi-Fi on our river crise was a blessing!

If you don’t need it for work, you can probably get by on free Wi-Fi.

I also had our days planned out on google maps, and I could never access them. Even if I download the maps, it was still a glitchy nightmare.

So, it meant we missed some of the things I had planned as I forgot what was in my itinerary or what I had marked on the map. It was also difficult to search for places to eat etc. while exploring.

Let’s face it, our connected mobile just makes travel so much easier. It’s hard to go back to 1997 getting lost in the jungle for months kind of style. Even though I miss it.

We could have just bought a low-priced unlocked phone so we could have connected via an eSim OR a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect all our phones.

The other BS thing they do, is turn on your international roaming, even when you don’t give permission.

As soon as we get out of this contract, ATT is so long farewell. Frequent travelers are better off using Google FI or T Mobile that comes with international roaming at no extra charge.

If you have an unlocked phone, Airalo have the best rates for eSim. You’ll be connected as soon as you land! Check out this guide for using a VPN when you travel if you want extra security.

In Summary

Family of four standing on Juliet's balcony in Verona
On Juliet’s Balcony, Verona

Embarking on a summer Europe trip can be an exhilarating adventure, but it’s not without its pitfalls.

From underestimating the importance of pre-trip planning and overlooking cultural nuances to mismanaging budgets and succumbing to overambitious itineraries, these missteps, did not impact our travel too much, but would have made a near-perfect European vacation if we did not make them.

We hope our travel mistakes serve as a valuable lessons for you and can serve as a guide to navigate the complexities of a summer European sojourn with greater ease and enjoyment.

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