Things We Learned: Traveling to Germany and Austria With Kids

We’re back from our amazing 11-day trip to Bavaria and settling back into our summer routine. While on the early-morning train to the Munich Airport, our little guy exclaimed, “I don’t want to go home, I wish we lived here.” And Clay and I shared a look and responded in unison, “Me too.” Baby girl was too preoccupied with complaining about a stomach-ache (foreshadowing the events on our 9-hour flight back to the States) to contribute anything to the conversation beyond, “I liked the pretzels and riding bikes.

city view of Old Salzburg

I’ll talk to a wall about my desire to live overseas and while Clay is totally onboard with the idea, the Army keeps giving him his best career-advancing assignments stateside. Waiting until after he retires to live overseas is a realistic goal but we’d prefer to live the expat life sooner rather than later. But such is life in the military, I suppose. And as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards so delicately wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.” So until it’s our turn, it will be my lot in life to roll my eyes extra hard whenever I hear/read about someone complaining about receiving an overseas assignment. And keep to keep traveling internationally for as long as our wallets and schedules can afford.

Neuschwanstein castle from Queen Mary's bridge

I plan to recap our trip by breaking it down into posts about our time in Munich, Salzburg, and Garmisch Partenkirchen but I wanted to address a few things before diving into itineraries, recommendations, and highlights – a lessons-learned of sorts.

Flexibility is crucial. When we go on our big trips (big meaning anything over 5 days and 1000+ miles away from home), we choose to operate with a rough itinerary rather than meticulously planned out days. Of course we book anything that requires advanced notice but we try our hardest to take each day as it comes. There is little we like more than wandering foreign streets not knowing what is around the corner and gathering recommendations from locals. In fact, some of our most treasured vacation memories have been moments that we weren’t even planning on experiencing.

little girl in Munich street

When your child breaks a bottle of wine in a train station grocery store, fess up and accept responsibility. Prior to boarding our train back into Germany from Salzburg, we popped into the super nice grocery store in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (the station) for some snacks because our train ride to Garmisch Partenkirchen would be 3+ hours. Violet accidentally kicked a bottle of wine from the bottom shelf and it shattered all over the floor. My instinct was to get the hell out of dodge but because my husband is a better human than I am, he flagged down an employee and offered to pay for the (extremely cheap) bottle of wine. The employee rolled his eyes and mumbled something about Americans under his breath but when he alerted his supervisor, we were told not to worry about it and thanked for bringing it to their attention.

The Bayern-Ticket is the way to go when traveling between/throughout Germany and Austria. We did not research enough and grossly overpaid for our train tickets from Munich to Salzburg. When on the train, we met an extremely nice family from Chicago on vacation with two children similar ages to ours. She is a German teacher and her and her husband met in Vienna when studying abroad so they were very well-versed in travel between Germany and Austria. They explained the Bayern-Ticket to us and because of them, we saved significantly more money on our train ticket from Salzburg to Garmisch Partenkirchen. When we inevitably go back, we will be sure to take advantage of the Bayern-Ticket.

father son in Munich

Google Maps isn’t always right. Traveling internationally in the 21st century is a million times easier that it used to be due to smartphones. Having a personal handheld computer that can translate phrases, book last-minute tickets, give us access to restaurant reviews, and tell us where to go is nothing short of amazing. But yes, even Google Maps can be wrong. We ran into a few situations when what Google Maps was telling us contradicted the directions from local sources – we always yielded to local and successfully made it to our destination.

Don’t assume your debit card will work in rural ATMs. Cash is still king in Germany and Austria. We used our American Express whenever we could (points, points, points!) but we made our fair share of ATM withdrawals during our trip, especially in the rural areas. We learned the hard way not to assume that our debit card will work in an ATM. When we arrived in the outskirts of Salzburg, we were famished and in desperate need of cash. We struggled to find an ATM and ended up digging through our pockets and backpacks for enough Euros to purchase lunch. Thankfully we emerged victorious (5 euro coins FTW!) and after eating delicious pizza (yes – Austria has fantastic Italian food), we eventually found an ATM in Old Town Salzburg that worked with our card.

Attempting key phrases in German is better than just speaking English. This is a no brainer – whenever you travel to country that speaks a different language, it is always best to try and not be an ‘ugly American’ by assuming everyone speaks English. We had our kids say at least please and thank you in German everywhere we went and it earned them quite a few cheek pinches from proprietors.

Eat vegetables whenever you can! When Clay and I traveled to Scotland a few years ago, we learned the hard way that fresh vegetables weren’t a given when dining out, especially at pubs. We found the same to be true in Germany and Austria – meat and carbs are king. Tasty but not the greatest for the digestive tract. I wasn’t always successful but I tried to order at least one green item each day. Pictured is the salad I ordered outside of Neuschwanstein Castle. It interestingly came with a baked potato, potato salad, kidney beans, and corn…the joys of ordering food when you don’t speak German! 🙂

And finally if you’re debating about whether to go or not – JUST GO! Travel somewhere new with your kids. It doesn’t have to be internationally or even across the country. But do not underestimate the power of traveling to a new place together as a family. Obviously don’t put yourself in debt to do so but investing in travel and adventure as a family is never a bad thing. You learn so much about each other. There will be times of frustration, there will be moments of pure wonder, there will be belly laughs, and there may even be a few tears. But most importantly, there will be memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life. And who doesn’t love a good “Hey – remember when we …….” family conversation around the dinner table?

family view from Hohensalzburg Fortress
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Germany and Austria – Our {Rough} Itinerary

I can count on two hands the number of days left before we board our flight to Munich. To say that we’re excited is an understatement. Eeeeek. Earlier this year, I wrote about how we chose our big summer vacation. And last year, I really enjoyed writing about how we chose our adventure and our rough itinerary, and recapping our time in the Cotswolds, London, and Paris. So I figured I’d give a brief overview of what we plan to accomplish during our time in Germany and Austria and how we plan to incorporate lessons learned from our trip to Europe last summer.

Munich. We scored an amazing deal on roundtrip tickets to Munich so we’re bookending our trip in the capital city of Bavaria. We initially considered incorporating Berlin into this trip but ultimately chose to focus on southern Germany and Austria in order to really experience the scenery and culture. Yes – we will be sure to visit Hofbrauhaus, Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, and more but we’re just really looking forward to wandering around the city and seeing where each day takes us.

Salzburg. After our initial stay in Munich, we’re renting a car and driving to a villa on the outskirts of Salzburg. We will stay there for a few days and explore both the city and countryside. Yes, we will be doing a Sound of Music bike tour and will have no shame singing Do-Re-Mi in Mirabell Gardens. We hope to visit a lake or two, we’re looking forward to hiking Untersberg, and of course eating our way throughout the city!

Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. We had already pretty much mapped out our trip when we received news that Edelweiss Lodge & Resort changed the eligibility requirements back to those stationed outside of EUCOM. We were able to score a few nights at the resort so we will be heading back into Germany after our time in Salzburg. We plan to relax during this portion of our trip and leisurely explore the countryside and visit Neuschwanstein Castle and other famed Bavarian sites. And I am almost positive we will fall in love with Garmisch-Partenkirchen and will never want to leave. We will also be in town for Garmischer Fest so we will be able to experience a true German festival.

Munich. We are ending our trip back in Munich and will have a couple of days to explore more of the city before flying back home.

What We Are Doing Different This Year

More time. Due to Clay being an aide-de-camp at the time, he was only able to take a week of leave. We made the most of our 7 days in the United Kingdom and France but because of our tight schedule, our days were packed and we were exhausted by the end of the trip. This year, we will have more time and we will have more opportunities for rest and relaxation.

Less guilt. This ties into the previous point but we are not going to let ourselves feel guilty if we want to have a quieter day that doesn’t involve running from landmark to landmark in order to maximize our time. Clay and I have trouble relaxing but we are going to force ourselves to have a few hours of down time built into each day – even if it means eating a leisurely meal or sitting in a park and letting the kids play while we sip drinks.

Listen to Rick Steves. We love watching his show and reading his books so we have no reason not to follow his advice. His travel philosophy is simple and we will be sure to be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic during our trip.

Those of you who have been to Munich, Salzburg, and/or Garmisch-Partenkirchen, what do you recommend?