My parents have been hoarding the classical Indian dream of a ‘Euro Trip’ since the age of dinosaurs, probably even before Yash Raj made it fashionable. Every few months, I would find my dad scouring the internet for package deals or talking to local vendors about upcoming group trips to Switzerland. Call it enlightenment or my influence, they figured that it is a whole lot more fun to see Europe the way the ‘kids see it’ instead of the group tours that in his own words are stricter than schools.
With most of their life behind them and my desire to be a “good son” (something I’ve not been very inept at given my radical career decisions), I agreed to the plan. To take them on a ‘Paris Switzerland Tour’ – the two mainstays in their European dream. As I began researching and preparing for this, I figured that taking parents on a do-it-yourself trip to a different part of the world is a HUGE challenge.
After careful planning and preparation, we took them on a 10-day self-driven road trip to Switzerland and came back unscathed. Considering the number of people who pinged us asking how we went about this, without any tour operators, we have put together a ready reckoner for you to take your own parents (or children – potato potahto, same difference) on a DIY holiday to Paris & Switzerland, without breaking the bank.
Laying The Foundation
Together, my parents have gone through angioplasty, cataract surgeries, suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, and dilated blood vessels among other things. Clearly, they aren’t at the peak of their health and the best of their age is behind them (Dad’s hitting 70!).
This was a critical factor in how we went about planning this, as we wanted to ensure their health safety is of paramount importance. The only other key factor was budget. As a middle-class Indian family, we did not have the luxury of booking out big hotels or boutique tour companies. So, we did what we do best – jugaad.
As slow travelers ourselves, we stuck to the same game with our parents and strayed away from packing too much in a day, skipped places frequented by mass tourists, and spent a lot more time on the countryside. A quick summary of the itinerary we followed is below:
Day 1 & 2 – Paris
On the first two days, we explored the French capital enough to get a sense of the city, taking plenty of park breaks in between.
What We Recommend
- Surroundings of Eiffel Tower – Avoid standing in a queue and going inside. The Eiffel looks far more convincing from outside the tower than from inside it.
- Montmartre – A modern neighbourhood with loads happening. The toy train ride here covers most of the area. Sit down and get yourself a drink, while your folks go on a little joyride.
- Belleville – A unique, unpopular neighbourhood bubbling with simple markets, has affordable restaurants with world cuisine (including Indian), and the lovely St. Martin Canal.
- Luxembourg Gardens – These central Paris gardens are perfect for a picnic and to get a good glimpse of Parisian life.
What We Don’t Recommend
- The Louvre – Extremely overrated, unless you/ parents are serious art aficionados. Expensive, really poor audio guide, and tires you out.
- Notre Dame Cathedral – Huge long queues to enter to admire a church, not something your parents would want?
- Entering The Eiffel Tower
- River Cruise on Seine – Pricey, crowded, and same views as what you get along the banks of the river.
Day 3 & 4 – Zurich & Surroundings
After taking the train over to Zurich, we enjoyed quiet 2 days to calm down, explore the sleepy city, walk through the old town, sit by the river, and visit the nearby Rhine Falls.
Day 5 & 6 – Emmetten
Instead of going to the popular tourist town of Lucerne, that is teeming with hordes of tourists descending from tourist buses, we went 30 km outside the town to the village of Emmetten. From up here, you can thoroughly take in the fresh air of Switzerland, admire a bird’s eye view of the Lucerne lake, cook homely meals, and take a quick day trip on one of the days to the town of Lucerne.
If your parents can walk it, this walking tour of Lucerne is tips-only and the most affordable way to enjoy the town. Do not forget to visit Rathaus Brewery to have one of the oldest brews in the world!
Day 7 & 8 – Adelboden
The true essence of Swiss villages can be found in Adelboden. Just the view from outside their rooms warmed my parent’s heart. We walked around the sleepy village admiring the lush greenery, cooked a few community meals, went on a short waterfall hike, made friends with locals, and visited the stunning lake Blausee nearby.
Day 9 – Gruyeres
On a relatively tough day, we went to the Le Cailler Chocolate factory where my mother recalled her 10-year-old self, sampled cheese in the town of Gruyeres, tried original fondue, and shopped for special souvenirs, before driving down to Bern to settle for the night. At night, we went for a meal at the square and my parents thoroughly enjoyed the youthfulness of the city.
Day 10 – Return to Zurich/ Paris
We drove to Zurich, hopped on a train back to Paris, rested up in a hotel, sampled macaroons, and retired for the day.
Day 11 – Flight Home. Phew!
Note: Even if you’re traveling by yourselves, this itinerary is one we recommend. We would have probably added Wengen (before Adelboden), Zermatt, and Gstaad if we had the time/ freedom.
We are ardent lovers of self-driven road trips, no matter where we go. It provides a lot of freedom to move at your pace, stop off when you are fascinated by a sight, and throw up comfortably if someone needs to (Ya, that happened). With parents, it was incredibly important as it ensured that we’re not being driven around by careless bus drivers or hopping from one vehicle to another. Most importantly, they would have never seen Switzerland as closely as they did had they been moving around in a van or public transport.
- Do not rent a car in Paris. Use UBER to move around. They come in less than two minutes and is extremely hassle-free. We wanted to use the metro/subway to save money, but it proved a task too much for our parents.
- Rent out your car upon arrival in Zurich via Europcar. We found Europcar to have the best deals in all of Europe, especially Switzerland. If you have not driven automatic regularly, be sure to specifically ask for a manual.
- Keep the car up until your return to Zurich, giving you plenty of flexibility should anyone fall sick or feel tired to move to new destinations. For eg, we had planned to go to Zermatt but my dad felt a bit exhausted and we chose to just stay back at Adelboden and alter our itinerary, thanks to having a car and no pre-booked tickets.
- A midsize car should be comfortable for four people and luggage, considering each of you is carrying a piece. Do check cargo space as this varies significantly among various midsize cars.
For the large part of the trip, we stayed in apartments with access to a kitchen. This was critical since the parents craved comfort food very regularly. In addition, it also helped to lower the costs as two hotel rooms would’ve been significantly more expensive.
Things To Keep In Mind:
- Parking is a must as finding a parking on the street will be close to impossible. Be sure to clarify this beforehand.
- Choose apartments that are either stand-alone or feature an elevator in case it is above the first floor.
- We opted for apartments with stunning views so that parents can admire the natural beauty without having to visit a tourist site. In Emmetten particularly, they fell in love with the place.
Note: If you’ve never used AirBnB to book a stay, click here to sign up and get INR 2100 (30 USD) off. Also, if you’re new to booking.com, registering via this link will give you INR 700 (10 USD) off.
The Food Conundrum
Although their bodies and minds traveled along to Switzerland, my parents’ palette stayed back home in Kerala. Considering both of them have traveled before to Asian countries, we presumed that they’d be fairly comfortable with local food as long as we didn’t go far out to experiment. But, we were in for a serious test when it came to food.
Whenever we ate out, we went to two separate restaurants. One, for our parents to eat Indian food. Two, for the two of us to eat more budget-friendly local food. In a few days, Divya and I were tearing our hair apart in frustration as this was everything we stood against (When in Rome, you’ve got to be a Roman). Frustration aside, we quickly had to think on our feet to ensure that the holiday didn’t go south.
Key (Survival) Tips:
- Pack “ready to eat” mixes of MTR Foods, available in most Indian grocery stores.
- For breakfast, get bread/ butter/ eggs/ milk/ fruits from the nearby supermarket and whip up a simple healthy morning meal.
- Other items to carry: Muesli, Rice, Dal, Ghee, Basic Masalas; If your parents are more adjusting to international cuisine, you’ve less to worry about this.
- Mark all Indian restaurants close to where you are staying on the ‘saved places’ in Google Maps, for ease of navigation.
Ever heard of that vadapav shop at Europe’s highest point? That Lion monument every family member of yours seems to have on their FB profiles? The pictures of the elderly braving the snow to be on the icy mountain of Titlis? Well, not only had we seen it, our parents had too. Even so, we stuck to our guns and convinced them to not travel to these spots but instead focus on the side where they’re likely to meet more locals than their fellow countrymen.
Thankfully, the parents had a run-in with a ‘tour group’ when they walked to the Lion monument themselves and saw the complete chaos that was reigning supreme. Eventually, they began to embrace the trip, the way we’d planned it and had a whale of a time.
Offbeat Experiences We Recommend
- The crystal clear waters of Lake Blausee
- A picnic in the port town of Spiez
- Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen (This is heavily touristed, but probably worth it given its relative ease)
- A homestay in Adelboden
- Le Cailler Chocolate Factory, Gruyeres (Not many ‘tour buses’ come around here)
Experiences To Avoid
- Mt. Titlis Ice Flyer
- A Trip to Jungfraujoch
- Lucerne Sightseeing
- Lausanne/ Lake Geneva
Other Important Information
- NEVER travel without a travel insurance. For your parents, RELIGARE has the better schemes especially if they’re over 60. It is easy to get online in a few clicks.
- If your parents take medicines regularly, please carry prescription with you for the same as carrying medicines into France/ Switzerland may not be allowed.
- For any regular emergencies that may encounter, carry some prescriptions and use them to buy fresh medicines off the pharmacy. In France, no medicine is given without a prescription.
- Irrespective of which season you’re traveling in (We recommend Mid April-May for its mild weather), carry warm clothes as temperatures can fall anytime.
- We spent close to INR 1,10,000 per person (ALL INCLUSIVE) on the trip. (No wonder, we are still broke!)This covers flights, visas, local transport, car rental, food, groceries, and tickets. We will share a detailed budget guide in another post.
At the end of the 10-day trip, Divya and I were completely worn out, our tempers were flying, and we were desperate to just sit down and enjoy a local meal by ourselves. In spite of all this, the moment we dropped them at the airport for their flight back home (we stayed back to explore Portugal), we missed them.
Such is family – delightful and painful, all at once.