How (not) to Plan a Trip to Europe

Italy 2008 009

Last summer, at about this time, I was on the internet browsing housing and travel opportunities to Europe for this summer.  We had just returned from a trip to Denmark and France, and I was already looking forward to returning this year.  Summer is our time to go back to our European roots where we lived as a family until our move to the U.S. 2 years ago.  In the summer, we have the luxury of time on our side with a long school holiday, the conveniences of telecommuting, and, luckily, many friends in numerous countries with guest bedrooms.  As I browsed the internet, I drooled over beautiful pictures of villas and imagined sitting by their pools, exploring the grounds, indulging in delicious meals and exploring nearby medievel villages.  I also figured I should start investing in some lottery tickets.

A requisite for the next trip would be a stop in Copenhagen.  It’s important for us to keep our connection with friends and our family life there.  However, if we were traveling all the distance to Europe, we hoped to arrange another trip – within our trip – to take advantage of setting foot on the European continent.  We would find that villa, that restaurant, that village.  But where?  It was easy to let the imagination run wild; we had many months to finalize our plans and dreaming is free.  Would we take our usual detour to the south of France or Tuscany?  Should we do something different and stay north, heading east to Stockholm or even St. Petersburg?  What about traveling back to where the children were born near Geneva?  Or, how about England, where we also lived – should we visit our old town and house, and stop by Stonehenge to check that it was still there?  The possibilities were endless.  Half the fun of travel is thinking and planning; there was plenty of time on our side.  I relished organizing our trip and made a mental note to purchase those lottery tickets. 

Then the new school year started.  Life became busy and scheduled.  And, as things go, my back went out (all that flying didn’t help.)  Any future travel plans were relegated to the back burner while my back healed and we focused on local life.  Fall turned to winter.  School marched on with kids, commitments, and goodness-knows the myriad things that need doing during the school year.  Christmas passed and spring arrived.  New job opportunities presented themselves.  (FYI: opportunity is a euphimism for “unforeseen change, stressful uncertainties, potential risks and/or possibilities.”)  Europe suddenly seemed far away while our present life teemed with houseguests, homework, school plays, work responsibilities and potential life changes.  Travel focused on local destinations: Tahoe for skiing, Carmel for beach, L.A. for American Girl Doll Store (ok, ok, but we are living in the U.S. for the first time ever in my daughter’s life.)  Before we knew it, school graduation was approaching, summer activities beckoned, and we still had not organized our trip – at all.  We tentatively waited, keeping options open while we were teased with the promise of  work commitments requiring travel to Europe (but where?)  In an attempt to wield some control over the situation, we purchased tickets to Denmark for 3 weeks in August, seemingly late enough in the summer for everything to sort itself out.

And suddenly the end of July arrived.  While we had a ticket to Copenhagen, we had a week wide open in our trip with no guest bedroom to borrow, during which we had hoped to travel elsewhere – our holiday in the holiday.  In a moment of wistful nostalgia, I went back to my well-perused vacation websites from last autumn, and lo and behold, I discover a pleasant surprise.  There are some specials out there for the (very) last minute traveler.  For those spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventurers who are loathe to plan ahead, guess what?  Houses that haven’t rented are offering big discounts!  That beautiful villa I admired last September actually had a last minute vacancy … next week!  Not only that, instead of paying a king’s ransom for the whole caboodle for a week, we could have two en-suite bedrooms for 5 nights for less than the going rate at a local hotel – breakfast included, so I could over-indulge in Italian espressos.  Things are looking up!  So, as we pack and prepare for our trip, I realize that there is a whole world of last minute travel opportunities out there for the taking.  I shall remember this for our next trip next summer – which I hope to book in September.