This section generally describes my motivation and summarizes the final cost of the trip. I've also attached my personal bucket-list collected over the years.
The title of this blog, fivelastnames.com, is derived from our family each having different last names when we started living together. Over the course of our relationship, we have united as a single unit and it's what has made our children strong enough to take on the challenges associated with backpacking through Europe. In this section I go into detail regarding adopting my stepson and the challenges inherent with coparenting between several households.
A blended family will encounter many hardships when trying to obtain passports and this section describes the process involved in dealing with the bureaucracy inherent in adoption, name-changes, shared legal custody, and exigent circumstances.
Here I post a collection of links to forums I used when creating the itinerary for the trip. I also describe the difference between falling for an impulsive vacation marketed to you by an increasing surveillance state, and planning your own journey through constant research and local recommendations.
In this section I go into detail regarding the specific credit card bonuses I collected to make the trip affordable for a family of five. I describe the financial trouble I got into as a teenager and my methodology for juggling dozens of credit card bills. I also go into our savings plan and taking time-off from our careers.
This is our exact itinerary, broken down by date, time, and location.
The To-do List
In this section I describe the top three responsibilities we had to ensure a successful trip. These included losing weight, acquiring passports, and booking all planned activities. I also attached a list of personal household chores that needed to be completed prior to departure.
Why Take Children?
Anytime someone asks about our trip, they are always surprised that we would take an 8, 12, and 15 year old with us across Europe. In this section I explain our desire to rectify past mistakes with prior vacations and describe our parenting philosophies that led to us trusting that our kids could handle the challenges of worldwide travel.
The Journey Begins
In this section I describe my battle with the hot water heater the day before we left and explain my booking experiences with flights and parking. I describe the luggage we brought and also tell the story of how the entire trip almost got cancelled when I was nearly deported from Canada.
During our trip we stayed at five separate AirBnBs and in this section I describe each one in detail including price, size, location, and hospitality.
We utilized many methods of transportation during our journey and this section talks about our experiences with the Paris Metro, Italian bullet train, renting a vehicle, European highways, abundant city-walking, and our overall journey from Paris to Rome. I also describe how I was able to book five flights using credit card bonuses.
Here I write about our rules we used when trying to select a restaurant and describe the different cuisines we were fortunate enough to experience in each culture we visited. Complete with photos and menus, I reviewed each restaurant to determine which were my favorites, but as a very picky eater, you should take my recommendation with a grain of salt.
France in the City
I take you through Paris and the surrounding areas to show you an intimate view of Paris from an outsiders perspective. From The Louvre, Opera, and beautiful architecture of its many churches, to Disneyland, its street art, and political voice of its people, not to mention the numerous parks and playgrounds. I attempted to create a delicate balance of fun and culture while avoiding as many tourist traps as possible and in this section I describe the magical moments which made us never want to leave the city of lights.
France in the Country
We met many new challenges while driving through the country of France and in this section I describe our time in the Alps and the culture of its isolated mountain-population. I describe our climb up Mont Blanc and glacial train ride, plus our visit to The Fairy Tale Museum in the deep woods of Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe, which still gives me nightmares.
Italy in the City
We visited the cities of Riomaggiore, Pisa, Siena, and Rome during our trip across Italy and in this section I describe our experiences with gypsies, parking, beaches, stairs, the Vatican, and getting so caught up in a bucket-list mission that I forget what's truly important.
Italy in the Country
Most of our time in Italy was spent in the Tuscany region visiting cities such as Livernano and Radda in Chianti. In this section I share photos from a Tuscan thunderstorm in addition to giving advice on dress shopping and wine tasting in small-town Italian communes.
One of the best days of my life, here I describe the fortunate events that led to a day of military stories at the Guernica exhibit of the Picasso Museum, attending a guerrilla-rock concert tasting local craft pints, and sharing a champagne toast with my family at an authentic French cabaret theater built by Eiffel himself. Truly a day that I'll never forget.
One of the first experiences I ever added to my aforementioned bucket-list was the 14 km hike through the coastal towns of Cinque Terre, Italy. I never thought I would be so lucky to share the experience with my family, but this day was also a great challenge to us all. We sacrificed our blood, sweat, and tears on those cliffside stairs, and in return we conquered our fear and self-doubt.
Not everything went smoothly during our trip and this is where I describe our problems with Parisian traffic, parking tickets, haggling, pickpockets, unforeseen closures, and protests. A list of unexpected costs is included, in addition to our problems with United customer service, and airline travel with children in general.
I close with our layover in London and a final surprise for my wife, including the existential conversations I had with our late-night hosts and tour guides.
I describe my personal inspiration to write about this crazy adventure with the hope that I can inspire others as he inspired me.
Locations and Activities
This is a list of every activity I collected while researching the itinerary for the trip, sorted by location. These locations included Paris, Chamonix, Riomaggiore, Tuscany, Siena, Florence, and even some places that we were interested in, but were too far away for us to visit on this trip.
This section includes tips from locals regarding safe travel through France and Italy broken down by location.