I should have kept a running list, because I know I've thought to myself numerous times throughout this trip, 'Oh we'll, lesson learned!" I'll try to remember some of them as we sit in the train from Prague back to Munich.
1.) Our Eurail Pass was probably a waste of money. A year ago, as we began to plan this trip, I actually divided a piece of paper in half and listed the train routes we were planning, comparing the cost of individual first class tickets to a first class Eurail Pass. (We skimped on the plane ticket, thinking that putting the money towards first class train travel would be better.) Buying a Eurail Pass won out by a thin margin, but seemed to allow us more flexibility. WRONG! As it turned out, once we paid for reservations (and changed reservations), overnight trips, and other unexpected rail-related expenses, we paid much more for the Eurail passes than we would have paid for regular tickets.
2.) Making and paying for reservations on trains from the States was unnecessary and a big waste of money. I made three sets of reservations months ago and not only paid between $12 and $24 for each of them, I paid $18 in shipping costs for Rail America to send me the piece of paper that said we had reserved seats - quite a few of which we ended up forfeiting due to last minute changes in plans and paying about $2 per reservation at the station at the last minute. Just dumb.
3.) Traveling first class rail wasn't the luxury I expected - by any means, especially in Hungary and Czech Republic! I think the only real difference is the little towelettes on the seat headrest that says "First Class"! Someone zips by every now and then, offering to sell sandwiches and water, but I'm pretty sure they do that on second class too. In Austria, traveling first class was wonderful, with Internet and extremely comfortable seats and compartments, but all in all, paying extra for first class rail was pretty dumb.
4.) Hostels are great for young people traveling alone or otherwise so open to meeting other travelers that they're willing to share a room, a sink, and a toilet with complete strangers. And, from what I've heard, the night life offered at hostels often make up for the inconveniences, but if you want to have a hot shower that lasts longer than three minutes, want to dress in private, and want to get pretty much any sleep at all, going the hostel route might not be for you - even if you are under thirty. The EuroHostel in Munich is beloved by all our kids and they're looking forward to having that experience tonight and tomorrow again before we fly home on Sunday. But the hostel situation (not the hostels themselves; just staying in any hostel) in Budapest and Prague pretty much sucked. Tom and I found a hotel on the second night in Budapest, allowing the kids to "spread out" at the hostel, and in Prague we decided to just ditch the hostel all together for all of us, cutting our losses and just doing what it took to assure a good trip and good memories for everyone.
5.) There are some things that can be planned from afar ahead of time, but trying to plan every detail ahead of time is probably not the wisest way to go. That said, my stress level would have sky-rocketed if the trip was the "wing-it" sort. That just doesn't work for a family of adults traveling together! And that said, I'm not sure I regret the attempt, at least, to assure a smooth trip, at least as far as logistics are concerned.
6.) Don't rely on an Internet connection for your travel information! Tom threw some Rick Steves and other random books into his pack at the last minute and we used them non-stop! There's just something about actually holding a book in your hands, especially as you're standing on a street trying to find that museum or hotel.
7.) A related note: Buying expensive Internet and digital connections isn't necessary. I spent $60 to make sure my iPad has a 3G connection, but there's wi-fi (usually free) just about everywhere. (Except on this train going through Czech Republic right now...)
8.) Another related note (Elisabeth is adament that I include this): when you do have wi-fi, open a map on your phone in Google Maps. This saves the map to your cookies (?). Later, when you're walking around, you can call up this map because your phone uses GPS at this point, not wi-fi or 3G. (A note from me: old fogies might want to still have a paper map! Phone batteries die.)
9.) Bring drugs. You know, things like melatonin, Ibuprofin, Benadryl, NyQuil/DayQuil. Sure, you can buy this stuff abroad, but it's much easier and more convenient (especially when you're in pain) to just have it right there.
10.) Regarding family relationships, patience is definitely a virtue. Hard as it is at times, try not to revert back to potentially destructive family roles. This goes for everyone, siblings, parents, and any combination thereof. Use the expressions "hangry" ("I'm angry, but food will fix it") and "grumphee" ("I'm grumpy but coffee will fix it") liberally and with humor, as needed. Treat each other as you would a good friend. With twenty-something "kids," we're peers at this point more than parents and kids. Forgetting this can cause issues.
I'll add to this as more lessons learned occur to me - or as Tom or any of the kids insist on additions.