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That’s a wrap…the takeaways #FranciscosGoneEurope4

I’m about to end my Europe 4 blog, but before I do, I’ve gotta share my takeaways. Three weeks is a long time. But the takeaways are not only from the nearly three weeks that we vacationed all over Europe. The takeaways include everything I’ve learned from the planning stages all the way through post-vacation. I started blogging about my takeaways when we went to Maui in 2014. I have since gone through quite a few places in and out of the US and here’s a collection of my takeaways. Click on the destination for details:
Here now are my Takeaways from #FranciscosGoneEurope4. Our vacation by the numbers:
  • 4 travelers (2 adults, 2 kids)
  • 3 Carry On luggage (Ricardo Beverly Hills)
  • 1 Regular sized luggage (Ricardo Beverly Hills)
  • 2 backpacks (Ikea and Nautica)
  • 2 smartphones (iPhone 6 Plus)
  • 1 MacBook Air
  • 1 GoPro
  • 3 countries – Portugal, Spain, France
  • 6 cities – Lisbon, Cascais, Barcelona, Sitges, Madrid, Paris
  • 7 Airports (LAX, Heathrow, Lisbon Int’l, Madrid Int’l, Paris-Beauvais, Charles de Gaulle, Munich Int’l)
  • 6 plane rides – United, TAP Portugal (2x), Ryanair, Lufthansa (2x)
  • 14,214 airline miles
  • 240,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Used
  • $528 Total Airline Fees
  • 500 high speed train miles (Barcelona to Madrid)
  • 5 hotels (4 and 5 star hotels)
  • 17 Hotel night stays
  • $0 (as in ZERO) Hotel costs
  • 19 travel days
  • 100 miles of walking (avg 5-7 miles per day for 19 days)
  • Countless rides with the Metro, Buses, Uber, Taxis, Trams
  • Dozens of Facebook Live videos
  • European memories….PRICELESS

Let’s revisit our goals. During the very first blog entry for this trip, what were the goals and how did we do?

Goal # 1 – Minimize paying out of pocket cash expenses

Our airfare and hotel stays would’ve cost us $20,000 but we only paid $528 total for the 4 of us. We are talking about all our flights from LA to Lisbon, Lisbon to Barcelona, and Paris to LA. The flights alone were valued at over $14,000. Our hotel stays for nearly three weeks were all FREE. The total value on our hotel stays? $5,000.

  • Lisbon – Doubletree by Hilton Fontana Park
  • Barcelona – Four Points Sheraton Diagonal
  • Madrid – Hotel Indigo
  • Paris – Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and Radisson Blu Hotel Champs-Elysees

Goal # 2 – Maximize our stay by picking the best of the best properties

While I’m not opposed to staying at 2 or 3 star hotels, thanks to my hotel points, I was able to take advantage of finding the best properties that suited our needs (mostly 4 and 5 star hotels, and they were located close to the city center). I also checked on the promotions offered by the hotels, for instance, Sheraton and Hilton brand hotels (Doubletree) offered the 5th night for free. So our 5-night stays in Lisbon and Barcelona, the 5th nights were free. In Paris, we could’ve splurged and stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome for 4 nights. Each night was valued at $1,000 USD. But I had 3 other free nights with Club Carlson (Radisson brand 5 star hotel), and the 3 free nights were due to expire at the end of August. Solution? We used them all in Paris.

Goal #3 – Utilize the airline routing and stopover rules Before I got in to earning points, I already knew I loved to travel.  However, it was very cost-prohibitive especially since we have 4 kids. I also did not know all the insider tricks. Prior to this, I probably would’ve just flown to Lisbon and fly back to LA out of Lisbon. But I learned the following…connecting flights vs. stopovers vs open-jaw. When booking a roundtrip ticket with United Airlines, they allow 1 stopover (Barcelona), and 2 open-jaws, Paris to LA. How the heck does that work?

Screen Shot 2016-12-01 at 10.41.03 AM.png
a & b. To get to Lisbon, we flew from LA to London (via United Airlines) and took a connecting flight from London to Lisbon (via TAP Portugal). In my past life, I thought that was a stopover. But I learned that Lisbon was my stopover. But it does not mean that I’m only stopping over for a few hours. For a stopover, I’m allowed to stay there for days or weeks.
 c. Then we spent 6 days in Lisbon, and on the same roundtrip ticket, we flew from Lisbon to Barcelona (via TAP Portugal) – Barcelona was my destination. Again, we stayed there for 6 days.

d. The 4th part of our trip was our flight to go back home from Paris back to LA. This leg was called “open-jaw” – it means I flew in to one city, and flew back home from another city. In this case, I stopped over in Lisbon, flew in to Barcelona (destination), and flew out of Paris via Lufthansa (open-jaw), connected through Munich, back to LA.

It was up to me to take care of my own travel arrangements in between, I somehow needed to find my way to Paris. I can walk, take a cab, fly, hitchhike, drive, take a bus, swim, ride a train….it didn’t matter as long as I get to Paris. So in our case, from Barcelona, on our own dime, we added a separate leg to our trip, Madrid (shown in red dotted lines). This was NOT part of the airline ticket deal. Instead of flying to Madrid, we took a 3-hour high-speed train ride, and stayed in Madrid for 3.5 days. So how did we get to Paris? I booked us on a flight with a low-cost no-frills airline, Ryanair. For four of us, we paid $83 USD per person to get us  from Madrid to Paris That’s how we got to Paris where we stayed for 4 nights. We could’ve easily just gone straight from Barcelona to Paris….but we took a side trip to Madrid….why not?

Goal # 4 –  Go somewhere new, somewhere different 
If you’ve read my blog in the past, Nancy has this thing about going somewhere new. During our trip to Maui last summer, it wasn’t really our first choice since we’ve been to Maui and all of the other Hawaiian islands quite a few times. So it was imperative that we go somewhere new for this European trip. We’ve been to Paris, Rome, London, Budapest, Prague, Milan, Lake Como, Venice, Florence, and Pisa.
So the new places we went to were:
    1. Portugal – Lisbon and a beach town outside Lisbon (Cascais)
    2. Spain – Madrid, Barcelona and a beach town outside Barcelona (Sitges)

Goal #5 – Visit/Revisit a dream destination by request

Of the four times we’ve been to Europe, we’ve now visited Paris three times. The first time was just me and Nancy back in 2007. In April 2015, we took Ethan and Madison to different cities in Italy and to Paris, France. Now in 2016, Caitlin, our 10-year old requested Paris. Whenever we talked about Europe, Paris came to her mind. So yes, we visited and revisited a dream destination by request….Paris. As Audrey Hepburn once said,  “Paris is always a good idea. 
Cell Phone vs Wi-Fi Only

Back in 2007, when Nancy and I went to Europe for the 1st time (Paris and Rome), we struggled with communicating back home. We didn’t bring our cell phones (calling plans were absurd). We had to use “phone cards” to call back home, and with the time change and all, it was difficult to get in touch with everyone. Fast forward to April 2015 during our trip to various cities in Italy and Paris, we used Facetime to get in touch with family in the US. In November 2015, when Nancy and I went to London, Budapest, and Prague, we used Facetime and Viber to call home, but we could only do so whenever we had access to Wi-Fi. Using a cell phone plan with international coverage was something that I just didn’t plan for. Well, not this time. After careful research and advise from different members of Tripadvisor, I subscribed to T-Mobile’s pay-as-you-go plan that offered Unlimited High Speed Data, Calls, and Text back to the US. If you’re on the Wi-Fi, you can call and received calls at no extra charge. If you’re not on the Wi-Fi, the rate was as low as $0.20 cents per minute. I had to get a T-mobile SIM card and used my unlocked iPhone 6 Plus. The SIM was $20 but I got it for free by using their promo code. The actual coverage fee that I paid was for 6gb at $80, and that got me through the 3 weeks in Europe. The basic plan starts at $40. I was able to get LTE speeds 95% of the time. Without hesitation, I used Facebook Live and was able to share my experience..LIVE. I flagged Uber cars as needed. I did not have to look for the nearest Wi-Fi area, I had access everywhere. Why the epiphany just now? This was especially important knowing that we had 2 little kids with us. It was just much more convenient to have access to the internet and the phone whenever it was needed. Now that I’m back home, all I did was call T-Mobile to “suspend” the service. I have another upcoming trip later this year, and will most likely take advantage of this Unlimited Global Data and Text plan.

The Weather

I kept referring to “the weather” during my Facebook Live videos. We had temperatures in the high 90’s to low 100s plus humidity. It was EXTREMELY hot, uncomfortably hot and humid. I had no idea it was going to be like that. Hawaii could be in the high 80’s into the 90’s, but there’s the ocean breeze that compensates for the heat. Europe was tough. I could only compare it to the humidity whenever we travel back to the Philippines.

This was our first time to go to Europe in the summertime. I’m not sure I’ll plan another summer visit, UNLESS we plan something coastal, laid back. For instance, I’ve been meaning to go Croatia, Cinque Terre in Italy, Santorini in Greece. The weather was a huge factor during our exploration. We resorted to taking breaks during the day by heading back to our hotel to rest, relax in an air-conditioned room, and come back out in the evening. Then again, in the evening, it was still quite warm in the low 90s minus the sun. The weather was another reason why we escaped Lisbon to go to Cascais beach, and Barcelona to go to Sitges and swam in the Mediterranean Sea.If not summer, then when? I’d consider going back to Europe during the Fall or Spring, that might work out best weather-wise.

Public Transportation

I stuck with the plan of taking public transportation in Europe. We used the Metro (subway), buses, trams, and cabs. I also have a newfound appreciation for Uber. I liked the fact that I knew what we were getting in to when we flagged an Uber car. No second guessing. All the payment was made via our credit card. No handing off payment to the
driver. We used Uber in Lisbon and Paris. In Barcelona and Madrid, Uber did not work. I downloaded the HAILO app in Barcelona and used that to hail a cab. In Madrid, it was easier to get a cab so there was no app needed. BTW, we only used cabs or Uber as needed. But in between, we walked and walked and took the local public transportation.

We walked and walked and walked   I knew that we’d be walking a lot. I didn’t know how the kids were going to deal with it but they hung in there. In the nearly 3 weeks in Europe, we walked an average of 5-7 miles per day. That was close to 100 miles of walking during our entire trip. It was insane from my perspective.

I don’t even get to walk that much when I’m in the US. The only time I walked that much is whenever I’m in NYC. But when I’m at home, I’ve got my car. You will see in the picture the # of miles we walked prior to the trip (Aug 8 and 9), and you’ll see how it doubled/tripled beginning Aug 10 (day one of our trip). Days before our trip, I did not even walk 2 miles.  That number dropped again on the day that we left to head back to the US.

What shoes did we wear

This one’s a biggie. I learned from my last trip in November to wear comfortable shoes. I became a fan of Skecher’s Go Walk3 shoes. For this summer trip, I bought another Skechers that I occasionally used in Europe, but for the most part, I used my new Nike Free 5.0 Running shoes. These Nikes were my best friend. Nancy on the other hand bought a new Skechers Go Walks as well. I kept telling her about it and she gave in and got herself a pair. Evan also wore Nike and Caitlin wore Skechers as well…Skechers Sport. None of us…and I mean none of us complained about our legs hurting or had issues with our footwear.

Don’t be a tourist. Plan less. Go slowly. I traveled in the most inefficient way possible and it took me exactly where I wanted to go.National Geographic’s Andrew Evans

It wasn’t about crossing things off our checklist. Typically, when we go on vacation, we have this goal of visiting all the famous spots. It wasn’t the case with this trip. We went with whatever made sense, or whatever we had access to. We didn’t pack our days with dozens of locations. We gave ourselves lots of breaks in between. It was all about what was livable that our kids could do, and once we noticed that they were getting tired or bored, we’d stop and find a place to rest, recharge, or eat.

The Golden Arches
I’m not here to advocate going to McDonald’s on your next vacation. But, I have a new found appreciation for McDonald’s. It’s so global. It was “home” to Evan and Caitlin. Since they have lots of allergies, getting their fries and ice cream sundaes at Mickey D’s worked out just fine. Thankfully, their chicken nuggets were not the type we get in the US. They were actual chicken wings. Oh and I also liked the ATM/Kiosk type ordering system in Europe. Once I placed my order, I just went directly to the line to pick up my food.

Stopping at McD’s also allowed me to plug-in, and connect to their Wi-Fi. It gave me a chance to charge my phone or Go Pro. I can’t say anything bad about the Golden Arches other than many thanks for being in all of the places we went to.

Traveling with a 7 and 10 year old

We’ve traveled many times with our 4 kids. This was our first time to bring our youngest kids to Europe. They’ve never been to Europe ever. They’ve never taken heavy public transportation. They’ve never walked so much in their lives. And you know what? They did perfectly fine. Of course there were times when they’d rather just stay in the hotel room. But we took a lot of little breaks. Visited toy stores, candy stores, libraries, places with free Wi-Fi…that allowed them to do something in between our hops from one tourist attraction to another.

We gave ourselves a break by taking the Hop On, Hop Off tour bus in Barcelona, we went to a couple of beaches, one of our hotels had a rooftop swimming pool…we did everything we could to incorporate things they liked to do and we all survived.

Facebook Live   Prior to our trip to Europe, I’ve used Facebook Live a few times in Hawaii, but I used it to show the beauty of Hawaii. In Europe, I had a crazy good time using Facebook Live. I started with my Pastel de Nata where I referred to my segment as my attempt in having my own Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but I’m no professional by any means. But with my love for food, I used the Live posts to share what we were about eat. I shared how it looked, and tasted. I also used FB Live and shared a few key tourist spots. It was a whole lot of fun. I laughed at my own videos. I cracked myself up. That’s just me!

Google Maps  I have to give props to technology. Once I had an idea where we’d go for the day, to go from one place to another, I used Google Maps. It gave me an idea regarding my transportation options. It specifically stated which train or bus # I should take, what time they’re expected to arrive, the amount of walking required, and if I changed my mind, it also gave me an alternative to use Uber or a cab which also gave me an idea as to how much the fare would cost. There was no second guessing. For the most part, it was on point. When we chose to walk instead of riding public transportation, the app gave us verbal instructions to turn right or left. I really love this app. There’s another app that Nancy used and will give it a try during our next trip.

iTranslate   I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese, nor was my French close to being admissible. My Spanish? Well since Spanish is somewhat close to Tagalog, I got by. But it was also mostly thanks to iTranslate, an app I downloaded. I entered a word or phrase in English, and it gave me the equivalent Spanish, French, or Portuguese. It also had a button for me to press and listen to the spoken sound of the phrase. When it was too difficult say, I just showed my phone to the person I was talking to, and case solved!

Fighting Jet Lag  

We arrived on US soil around 3pm on Sunday afternoon. We got home by 5:30pm. Caitlin and I did not have the energy to stay up so she and I went straight to bed. I woke up a few times after 2am…4am…6am. I was perfectly fine all day Monday. I did find myself sleeping early again on Monday evening, which then led me to waking up at 3am and 5 am. Still not bad.

As far as jet lag effects from this Euro trip, it wasn’t as bad. I think the jet lag whenever we came back from a Euro trip has been in our favor. It’s the trips to Asia that gets us the most. I haven’t been to Asia since 2007, we’ll see what happens when I go back to that side of the world.

So did we beat jet lag from this trip? We just slept as early as we could right when we got home. The kids especially, they did perfectly fine when they started their first day of school last Tuesday.

Gained weight? No, I gained perspective. 
I love to eat good, interesting food and I shared a lot of those during my Facebook Live posts. But as I had mentioned, we walked close to 7 miles per day. When I got home, I checked my weight, and I actually lost 1 pound. Go figure! With all the walking, and the sweat….I can see why.

But it’s not the weight I gained or lost…it’s the perspective, the enrichment gained from traveling. The priceless moments I spent with the family. The appreciation gained from looking at various city lives, their architecture…that’s what I gained.

And now for my final takeaway….

Don’t be terrorized
When I came back to work this week, one of my co-workers asked me if I had to look over my shoulders while in Europe. Interesting because in those three weeks, not once did I fear for our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I am very sensitive to all the wrong doings regarding all the many terror attacks, but it wasn’t until I came back to the US soil when I started to think about it again. I told him that I felt extremely safe while in Europe. There were a couple of places that caught my attention when I saw a presence from the local military, they carried guns with them. Other than that, not once did I observe any kind of concern for our safety.

I had very many reasons not to go if I let fear prevent us from traveling. Just a few weeks prior to our trip, there was a terror attack in Nice, France. Last year, a few days before we flew to London, there was a terror attack in Paris during a concert. But not once did I think of canceling our trip. I didn’t want to be terrorized and be stuck at home. If we stayed home and canceled our plans, we just allowed the terrorists to win. But we didn’t. Now, here I am sitting with my laptop, reminiscing, reliving all the fun things that took place on our vacation.

So I’ll end with that note, with a quote from Rick Steves, a quote I used from one of my previous takeaway blogs…”keep on traveling.” It doesn’t have to be a trip to far off places. It could be a trip within your own city, or state. Find new adventures that will allow you to leave your comfort zone, and hopefully, you’ll find appreciation with the place that you’ve visited and an appreciation for the things that you have back home.


This is Jason aka DaddyTravels signing off…until my next trip.








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