European vacation: 4 countries in 2.5 weeks

I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel as part of my job. While it’s not always glamorous or easy to be away from home and family, traveling abroad has been a very enriching experience for me and it’s something that I wanted to share with my family. Our oldest graduated from high school this year so it seemed like a good excuse to plan a trip to Europe.

Our itinerary

We asked the kids where they most wanted to go and the list included London, Paris, and Rome. We couldn’t choose between those, so under the “when are we going to get a chance to visit Europe again?”, we decided to include them all.

I had a trip to Vienna, Austria already set for June for a conference so we worked backwards from there to plan visits to the other cities. Our itinerary was perhaps a little too ambitious, or at least it felt that way at times while we were planning things, but we jumped in and it all worked out. While I won’t say that traveling from London to Paris to Rome to Vienna and back home in about 2 and a half weeks was relaxing, it was a great trip.

Packing light

Over the last few years as I have become a frequent traveler, I’ve made huge progress in packing light. I’m not the lightest packer in the world, but I have drastically reduced how much stuff I bring with me. There’s a sweet spot in limiting how much stuff you bring and feeling comfortable while you’re traveling – bring too little and you maybe you feel you are missing things you need or would like to have, bring too much and you’re stuck lugging it around and keeping track of all of your stuff. This year, I’m on a quest to pack all carry-on for every trip. I’m traveling roughly one week out of every month (not including this vacation trip) and so far, so good. But that’s a post for another time. 🙂

When I told my family that they needed to fit everything for our trip in a carry-on and backpack, they were skeptical, particularly my husband. At 6′ 4″ and a size 14 shoe, I can understand why he doubted he would be able to fit everything into a small bag. But he did it. Below is all of the luggage we took for the four of us for 18 days of travel across a variety of weather conditions and temperatures. Not too shabby!


We booked Airbnbs in each city and made sure they all had a washing machine. We did laundry pretty regularly, but it was worth it not to have to wrestle large bags on and off planes, trains, and public transportation and to be able to easily get to and from airports and train stations to our apartments. And since we relocated to a new country about every 4 days, less stuff made packing a breeze.

Security concerns

Before we left, I had quite a few friends and family express concern about our safety, specifically the threat of terrorism, while we were in Europe. Our stay in Paris coincided with the 2016 UEFA soccer tournament, which prompted the US State Department to issue  a travel advisory. Given that I’m naturally a worrier, I was relieved (and a little pleased) to find that I wasn’t really worried. When I mentioned these concerns to my European colleagues, they generally responded the same way: their sense is that Americans have a greater chance of being killed by “American gun violence” than a European terror attack, and they are likely right. It’s interesting to see the different perspectives and a predisposition to view “home” as safer than “away”, no matter which side of the pond you live on.

On our second day in England, we heard the devastating news of the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, which is very close to where we live. I can’t really explain how surreal it felt to be so far from home and hear about this attack basically in our own backyard. It served to reinforce my thinking that in general, we are no more or less safe at home versus abroad. Violence can happen anywhere – we have to do our best to just live our lives and not to give in to fears.

Of course, as I write this, Nice is reeling from the latest attack and Turkey is recovering from another devastating round of violence. In the US, violence has erupted in multiple cities related to protests. I don’t want to stray too far into this topic, but I felt it was worth mentioning in the context of travel. Take reasonable precautions, but don’t give in to anxieties and fears that would keep you at home out of the false sense of safety.

Intertwined history

One of the coolest things about this trip was seeing how connected the histories of these countries are. In England, we learned about the Tudors and the Hanoverians (ah, poor King George III, forever known as “that guy the American colonists couldn’t stand”) and the flight of Charles II to live in exile in France while Cromwell ruled the land. Then in Paris, we learned about the Bourbons and their often-strained relations with the English – and Marie Antoinette’s heritage as a Hapsburg princess . Moving on to Rome, of course who could forget Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic church? And in Vienna, we circled back to France and England with ties to the Austrian Hapsburg empire.

Coming Soon!

Stay tuned for a few more posts with pictures and a few highlights from each country.

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