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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How We Chose Our Family Summer Vacation – 2019 Edition

Last year – I wrote a post about how we chose our summer vacation. It was a big hit on social media and prompted a lot of discussion about planning family vacations with a lot of people chiming in on what works best for them. So I thought I’d do it again this year. Back at the end of January, we started to seriously discuss where we wanted to travel this summer. We had our ill-fated New York City trip already planned, we knew we were going to Amelia Island for Spring Break, and while we penciled in trips to Williamsburg and Hershey Park and possible trips to see our parents in Lake Lanier and Wilmington, we had yet to narrow down our big summer trip. So one night at dinner, the four of us brainstormed possible vacation ideas.

Our kids were campaigning hard to go to Disney World this summer. We said no. But we are entertaining the idea of going there in November. Over Thanksgiving. Yes – we’re apparently masochists. As you can see, our list was all over the place. For as much as we’d love to travel to all of the places tossed around at dinner, our wallets and schedules say otherwise. So how did we narrow down our list?

First to be scratched off the list was a Caribbean cruise and any Caribbean island. We reasoned that because we’re going to Amelia Island for Spring Break and likely visiting Clay’s parents at their new place in Ocean Isle, North Carolina this summer, we will be able to get our beach fix at those places. We haven’t ruled out a cruise in the future but right now, it just doesn’t really appeal to us. This picture isn’t helping.

Truth be told, we researched traveling to Hawaii fairly extensively. We found some decent prices on airfare and hotels but most of the deals involved us staying on one island the entire time. When we added island hopping into the mix, the end result was more than we were comfortable paying. We also looked into Costa Rica, which actually appealed to us more than Hawaii and was cheaper. But since our desired travel time was smack dab in the middle of the rainy season there (hence the lower prices), we decided to save that trip for another year.

We also very briefly considered South Africa because we came across a fantastic deal on a vacation package but ultimately decided that we’d rather go when the kids are just a little bit older.

We then got a bee in our bonnet about taking a road trip throughout the eastern shore of Canada. We throughly enjoyed our New England road trip a few years back and thought it’d be a great way to save a few pennies while seeing some of the most remote areas of North America. Hahahahaha. When we started pricing car ferries to the various remote islands of Canada, we were met with sticker shock. Sorry Cape Breton Island, we won’t be seeing you this year!

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And then before we knew it, we were pricing flights to California. We sketched a rough itinerary of four days in Disneyland (we even reserved a hotel room!) and then taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway into Northern California. We told ourselves that California was the destination for our big summer trip and began to plan accordingly. But then the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we both wanted our next Disney-related trip to be Walt Disney World instead of Disneyland again. We don’t see ourselves going to either park multiple times over the next decade so we reasoned that it makes more financial sense to do our Walt Disney World trip in the near future, rather than spend money going to Disneyland again. So we cancelled our hotel reservation.

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We were eating lunch at Old Brogue in Great Falls when we seriously began discussing going to Ireland this summer. We loved Scotland and England so we had no doubt that we’d love Ireland too.

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Italy was also high on our list, as was Germany. The more we entertained the idea of going to Europe again, the more excited we became at the prospect. So few weeks ago, we became absolutely determined to make it happen within our budget. We were somewhat flexible with dates (a huge difference from last year due to Clay’s previous position) so we started looking at flights to almost every major European city in July. We were also flexible with the location. We spent a little time each night researching flights and tracking on a spreadsheet the price to fly to various European cities.

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And before long – we came across a fantastic deal on airfare that almost seemed too good to be true. So we bit the bullet and booked four airline tickets to Munich, Germany!

Yup – we’re going to spend almost two weeks in Germany this summer and we couldn’t be more excited. Both of our ancestors hail from Deutschland and beer and Bavarian pretzels are practically our love language so I have the feeling that we’re going to feel right at home in Germany. While we don’t have the details hammered out yet, we plan to visit Munich, Berlin, multiple Bavarian villages, the Alps, and more.

As you can see, our process for choosing a location this year that worked within our budget wasn’t exactly linear nor easy. Would we love to go on multiple trips throughout world this year? Of course! But that isn’t our reality. But with some flexibility and good ol’ fashioned research, we came up with a summer travel plan that has us excited.

Have you planned your summer travel yet? If so, where are you going?