Sunday, January 18, 2009

Family Goal: Europe!

Where my dreams take me...

On New Year's Eve, 1993 Dee and I sat in a restaurant day-dreaming about the New Year. "Let's go to Europe with the kids," I said recklessly. It was actually out of the question. We knew how much a trip would cost, and adding the expense of the four teenagers we still had at home made the numbers even crazier to contemplate. But, knowing it was just a whim, we played it out.

Pros: It had always been our dream to show our kids Salzburg; it would be our 25th anniversary; our older three kids had already left the nest and we knew how fast it would happen with the others; if we left it another year or so they might not be able to (or want to) go with us; we had tons of experience both planning trips and traveling in Europe, and we knew we'd be their best tour guides; it would be a family bonding experience. And, we wanted to go.

Con: Money. On a napkin we did the math. Ridiculous to even think about. But still...

The next day, January 1, 1994, we presented the idea to the kids. What if we set a family goal to save $1,000 a month for nine months? We could go to Europe in September for three weeks. Would it be worth it to them? The maps came out and and we sat around the table discussing it all morning. Our kids were 18, 15, 14 and 12. There were lots of concerns: going in September would be less expensive and we'd be likely to have nice weather, but they'd be in school. Could they miss that much? The oldest was in college--should she skip that semester? Jobs, projects, roommates, commitments... And how would we save enough money??

Obviously these kids had been raised by Dee and I. At noon we took a vote and it was unanimous: We would go for it. All aboard!
Europe '94 Scrapbook
Everyone agreed that we'd each contribute whatever we could. Of course an 18-year-old could earn more than a 12-year-old, but the actual amounts weren't relevant. "One for all and all forone" was the attitude. There would be sacrifices for everyone: we cut out music lessons, Little League, haircuts, Easter dresses, basketball shoes, restaurants--we made a long list. The next day we all went to the bank together and each of us opened special savings accounts for our trip funds.

Over the next few months we notified everyone about our goal and numerous opportunities to work rolled in. The kids babysat, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, chauffeured kids, cleaned houses and businesses and yards, hauled trees, helped people move, organized basements, weeded gardens...and all the earnings went into the bank.

Whenever we skipped a pizza or a movie we made a contribution to the account. But by July I realized we couldn't make it. We had fallen short. The nine months was actually only eight months (because we'd be gone the ninth,) and we'd had unexpected expenses during the summer. I was sick about it.

Out of the blue one day my dad called and said he had some miles on Delta he wanted to donate to our cause. They were enough to buy one and a half airfares, and Dee had just enough miles to combine for the second fare. The folks at Delta made it work. With that incentive, we redoubled our efforts.

Dee and I had purchased Eurail passes many times, so I knew approximately what they cost. I had forgotten that people under 26 got a cheaper rate. I also found a family saver pass that was cheaper still, if we all were traveling together the whole time. Suddenly we were in better shape than I'd thought.

We made some adjustments to our itinerary so we could cut some expenses by using our train passes to capacity. Knowing there were so many awesome places the train pass would take us, we eliminated any countries and regions where they weren't accepted. Other changes involved staying in expensive cities (like Paris) for only two days, and staying an extra day in quaint villages (like Feldkirch, Austria) where the hotel rooms were half the price and twice the size. A little tweaking made a big difference and when we counted our money in August, we were ready to go.

Someone in the neighborhood asked if it was true that our son Peter had to pay to go on our family vacation. I guess it might have seemed that way to an onlooker. To us it was much more than a vacation. While the three-week trip was an incredible experience, the best part of it was setting a goal and working together to achieve it.

I'm convinced that it doesn't matter what you're trying to accomplish: finishing the basement, getting a new TV, buying a trampoline, or going back to school. With the support of a family, you can do it. Sit down together and make some plans. Let everyone contribute ideas, and then let everyone contribute over a period of time by working towards it--don't just provide it. I guarantee this strategy will strengthen your family and create awesome memories. Let 2009 be the year for it!

Looking Ahead:
I've been asked several times recently how to plan a trip to Europe. Another person wondered what we do there. Someone else wanted a list of budget hotels. My next several blog posts will give TravelinOma's Travel Tips. (I see life lessons in everything, so I think they will be good tips even if you're not planning a trip to Europe soon.


allison said...

Such an awesome, inspiring, economical post. Cheers to saving money!

Linsey said...

We went to Europe as a family roughly the same time. I was 17 but my youngest brother was 10. We used an organization called Servas and stayed with strangers in cities and suburbs all over the continent -- Servas still exists and bills itself as the "oldest hospitality exchange organization." My parents still have contact with some of our hosts. It was an unparalleled trip and "living" with locals made it all the more memorable. I'm looking forward to your travel tip posts. People need to travel. Period.

Jenibelle said...

You totally fascinate me. I can't wait to read your travel tips. Someday....this has always been a dream for me also.