Iíve written so much about this trip. I only met Jane because I used to
write and direct plays for children. I keep telling myself that this story has
to have some kind of climax. The Sheppard family should stumble across a cure
for disease, or solve the strained relations between France and the US.
Is just returning home safely enough? I guess it has to be.
We learned some things that I want to remember when I travel abroad again.
Here they are in no particular orderÖ
1. Save and travel with cash instead of credit if you can. We saved $50.00
per week for six years. We did use our credit cards for convenience, but when
the bills came in it was great to be able to write a check and pay them in
full. It sounds like a long time to save, but we wanted to take five people
along. Do the math, and it is easy to adjust.
2. Buy Travel Insurance. It is cheap and it protects you in ways that you
wouldnít expect. We paid less than $100 per person. Donít put a major amount
of money out on plane or cruise tickets without getting travel insurance. We
purchased ours from Travelguard at
3. Never trust a travel agent with cash or a check. If you are going to use
an agency, pay via credit card. This protects you if you donít get what you
paid for. When the MinOtel agent demanded a check, I should have cut her off
right there and we would have eliminated a major source of stress on this
4. Apartments. If you are traveling with kids, consider renting a private
apartment rather than getting two hotel rooms. Ours in Rome cost only Ä130.00
per night, and was big enough for five people. We had our own kitchen and
bought some groceries for breakfast and light meals rather than spending money
three times a day in restaurants. We rented our apartment from a website at
http://www.rentalinrome.com. They accept credit card payments via
5. Make reservations to see major attractions if they are available. In
some cases it allowed us to not stand in line, in others without a reservation
we would not have been able to see certain attractions.
6. Get a Eurail Pass. It allows you to jump on any train and go virtually
anywhere in first class (if available). There are a lot of options and
different passes available. The site we bought ours from was RailEurope.
You MUST purchase your pass BEFORE leaving home! They do not sell them
7. Pack light. Before going we read tips from a website for people going to
Europe. The guy writing it said that nobody comes back from Europe saying that
they wish they had packed more stuff. If you are going to be mobile like we
were, think about a backpack. We had larger rolling cases that we bought at
Costco that could be put on our backs, but they were so packed it would kill
you if you tried. Consider doing laundry more often so you can carry less,
itís actually kind of fun and you end up meeting people you would not
otherwise. Donít take a bunch of gadgets. Absolutely do not take your laptop.
Access to the Internet and computers is cheap and easy to find. One
experienced Europe traveler told me that he would rather take extra money to
buy stuff he might need than take stuff he might not use.
8. Cell Phone. I just said to forget the gadgets, but having a cell phone
saved us several times. Your phone from the US will probably not work in
Europe. But, your cell provider may have a rental solution. I have
I was able to rent a phone that rang in Europe by simply calling my L.A.
number. Nobody ever called me on it, but it was handy in a pinch when we were
lost on dark rainy nights and needed a cab. If anything, I'd rent two of
them so if Jane and I got separated (like on the train in Paris) we could find
9. Spend at least two nights at each location. Except for Milan, we wished
we had not booked one day stays in any of the towns. You usually donít get
into town before noon. Then you have to find the hotel, unpack, and find food.
By that time itís afternoon and you are in a rush to see things before night.
Then you have to get up in the morning and leave for the next destination.
Iíll never book one night stays again.
10. Read travel logs like this one, or reviews from regular people before
you go. Travel agents, books and magazines all want to sell you something. I
have nothing to sell. Iím just telling you my experience. When I have
hyperlinked a site, it's because that product or service worked well for me as
a consumer. There are a lot of
websites out there where people will give you their honest opinion. You might
not agree. The most helpful things I learned in advance were from reading
things that regular people wrote on the net.
11. Write about your travel experience and publish it somewhere online. You
may not write like a pro, but what you learned will help someone else. If you
learned anything from what Iíve written, return the favor and write about your
12. At least try to speak some of the local language. Learn basic
word and phrases like: Please, Thank You, Pardon Me, You're Welcome, Sir,
Miss, Yes, No, etc. It's not that hard and when they see you are trying
will become more helpful. Do not demand that service people speak to you
in English. Be flexible, and remember you are a guest. Imagine how
you would feel if someone came up to you in your home town and started barking
orders to you in a foreign language, and got mad when you didn't instantly
13. If something goes wrong, donít take ďNOĒ for an answer. The way MinOtel
responded to our problem with the agent stealing our money was unacceptable. I
pushed them until they did the right thing. As of this writing, I have been
generously compensated for what happened. They paid all the cost of the
rooms I didn't get, plus all of the extra expense that we incurred when we had
to get new rooms at the last minute. They also kicked in some extra
money for our inconvenience, and have offered us free rooms at their hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland next time we go to Europe.
I would like to thank the following:
My Daughter Casey (10). We never traveled abroad when I was a kid. Casey is
our ďbonus babyĒ. We thought we were finished having kids, and she came along
by surprise. She is sixteen years younger than her brother, and ten years
younger than her sister. She had nobody her age on the trip. She kept up with
us and had a really great time. I know that she will never forget this trip.
My Daughter Erin (20). She turned 20 on this trip while we were in Venice.
Itís hard to be this age and traveling with Mom and Dad, plus helping with her
younger sister. Erin jumped in and had a good time regardless. Iím sorry that
she lost her masques on the train. Iím still looking for a way to replace
them. Now she says she would rather wait until she returns to Verona.
My Son, Christian (26). Christian is Janeís son from her first marriage. He
was born in Verona, Italy. I met him when he was about 10 months old after
Jane returned to the US after breaking up with his father. I adopted Christian
when he was still a little boy. Now he is a grown man. He had to quit his job
in order to get enough time off to do this trip. Luckily, he was hired back
when we returned. But, it was a real sacrifice in order to spend this time
with his parents and siblings. This trip would not have been the same without
My Wife, Jane. I would have never left North America had it not been for
her. In 26 years, she never once gave up encouraging me to go to Europe. We
planned this many times, and for different reasons put it off. Most recently,
9-11. If it had been up to me, after 9-11, I would have definitely never
gotten on a plane to Europe. She never surrendered. I only took this trip to
make her happy. I felt I owed it to her. In return, I received much more than
I ever dreamed. Something I didn't really cover in my story is that she and I
were on vastly different trips. I was on a vacation, seeing these things for
the first time. When Jane lived in Europe 26 years ago, she was a member
of a religious cult. Of course, she had no idea she was in a cult at the
time, she believed that the group she joined was a legitimate Christian
missionary organization. For Jane, the return to Europe had some good
memories, and some painful ones. Few people realize how damaging these groups are to
the people who get involved with them. For Jane, I believe this trip
provided some healing and closure on the situation that she found herself in
over a quarter of a century ago, when she was about the age Erin is now.
Jane is an amazing woman. Her accomplishments include climbing Mount
Whitney, up and down, in less than 24 hours, and completing the grueling
Tevis Cup cross-country endurance horse race (100 miles in less than 24
hours). You can read about Jane's adventures on her website at
Soon after the trip ended, so did we as a five-member family unit. We all
held it together long enough to accomplish our dream vacation together. Itís not likely that we will have the
opportunity to travel like this again as Mom and Dad, Sisters and Brother. We
couldn't do this trip when they were all kids, because they weren't kids at
the same time. Six weeks from the day we arrived in Fougeres, Erin moved
out into her own apartment. Christian had been on his own for years, and
only moved back temporarily.
When I think back to my time at home, growing up, the memories I hold most
fond are the ones when we traveled together. I asked Casey a year
or two ago what she liked the most. Without hesitation she said, "When
we go on vacations together".
It was an adventure, and though it was a long time coming, we did it
together as a family. Iíll never forget it, and either will they. This
trip changed our lives at a time when our lives were just about to change.
our youngest child, Casey at the age of sixty, in Europe with her
grandchildren. She is tells them stories about how she came here back in
'04. Where they climbed things like Mount Vesuvius, The Leaning
Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower. And, how their great grandfather, on his first trip to
France, hopped on the RER to Paris just before the door slammed, and
ended up disappearing in a blur, as she yelled out ďDADDY!Ē