Three months in Europe with three kids: One family's incredible adventure
4 December 2023
Three months exploring Europe, with three children under the age of 15. Some parents might find the idea daunting – but Gustavo, a microbiology professor in Chile, said the memories from his family’s experience travelling by train will last a lifetime.
During his sabbatical, Gustavo, his wife Katherine and their three young daughters “had this incredible opportunity to spend three whole months in Europe”.
“Because of my work, I have travelled to Europe some times before,” he said, “and I wanted my kids to experience the trains.”
Along the way, Gustavo’s family learned valuable lessons – from luggage management on the train to the importance of flexibility while travelling. Most significant of all, they had time to grow together as a family as they journeyed from Edinburgh to Palermo.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better, to make strong connections and bonds between you and your spouse and your kids,” he said.
Gustavo’s family started their adventure with a month’s stay in Edinburgh, where they visited friends. They were instantly won over by the city’s beauty and charm. “Edinburgh is just ‘wow,’” Gustavo said. “Edinburgh was amazing.”
When their month in Edinburgh came to an end, it was time to begin their Eurail adventure, using a Global Pass valid for 10 travel days in two months.
The family ventured south to Cambridge – where Gustavo attended a course – and London to visit more friends. Next, they took the Eurostar through the undersea Channel Tunnel and up to Amsterdam to explore for a few days before travelling to Frankfurt and Marburg.
Early train journeys provoked some feelings of nervousness – especially for Gustavo’s daughters.
“They were very stressed about losing a piece of luggage or their stuffed animals that they were travelling with,” Gustavo said.“We didn't get reservations for every trip…so on some trains, we had to sit apart from each other.”
On the bright side, this challenge gave Gustavo’s family the opportunity to problem-solve together, he said.
“We decided to make a routine,” he explained. 15 minutes before arriving at their destination, Gustavo would give every family member a heads-up to collect each piece of luggage they were entrusted to carry. “Everyone knew where everything was put.”
He would exit the train first and stand at the door, while his daughters and Katherine would hand him their luggage to place on the platform before exiting the train themselves.
“It was a coordinated way to move around trains,” Gustavo said. “When we got this routine…they could relax a lot more in the trains.”
After the family’s time in Germany, they discovered one of their favourite destinations – almost by accident.
Originally, Gustavo said, his family had planned to travel south to Sicily in one long journey. “We were so innocent about that. But when we were in Marburg with our friends, we realised that it was very far away.”
By adjusting their schedule and embracing a bit of spontaneity, they had the opportunity to spend time in the Swiss Alps and fall in love with Milan, an unexpected hit for the whole family.
“It was wonderful to see Milano. The cathedral and everything. My girls loved it,” he said.
Katherine, a nurse and designer, took charge of the family’s itinerary in Milan. “She knew about the architecture and these fabulous places that she really wanted to see,” Gustavo said. “She was like a guide for us.”
Their time in Milan served as a reminder to everyone last-minute changes in plan can yield beautiful results. “I'm very organised. I like to have control of everything,” he explained. “But during the middle part of this trip, I learned to be more flexible.”
“The world is not going to end if you decide to change things at the last moment,” he continued, reflecting on lessons learned in Milan. “We’re here to have fun.”
Towards the end of the adventure, Gustavo’s family encountered one of the marvels of train-riding in Europe: crossing the Strait of Messina from mainland Italy to Sicily.
During the crossing, the train is rolled onto a ferry and shuttled across the strait, an impressive feat of engineering.
“Two of my children, they were very scared to see what was going on outside because it was very shocking for them,” Gustavo said. “But the middle one, she wanted to go with us [to see the process].”
“She couldn't believe it, that we were moving inside that big boat.”
Their crossing coincided with the sunset, making the experience especially memorable. “The landscape was absolutely amazing,” Gustavo said, a fitting start to the last leg of the adventure.
After his family’s time in Sicily, Gustavo notes that his daughters returned to Chile feeling more assured in their own ability to navigate the world.
“That was part of our intention with this trip,” he said. “They are now more confident with their own capacities…because they were on the other side of the world travelling.”
He advises other parents, even if their children are relatively young, to take the leap and try travelling by train in Europe.
“At times you will be stressed because you may have to make quick decisions – where to go, where to stop. Or maybe you will get angry because you miss some train or whatever,” he said. “But don't forget that the main reason that you're travelling is that you want to spend time with your family.”
It’s important, he said, to balance planning ahead while leaving room for spontaneity and last-minute detours. “Be flexible…make plans and organise things in advance, but also be open to changes.”
And, if you get lost or confused in a new destination, don’t be afraid to ask locals and train station staff for guidance. “People were very willing to help us when we were lost, they were happy to give us some directions,” he said.
Thinking back on their journey from Edinburgh to Palermo, Gustavo said, “the most important thing, I think, is to enjoy every moment.”
“This was the adventure of our lives.”
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