Del Mar family settles in after 9-month travel adventure

The Milligan family at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Mike and Beth Milligan of Del Mar moved 47 times over nine months as they traveled with their three young children through Europe on their “trip of a lifetime.”

Along with their home, family and friends, what did they miss most? Peanut butter.

The family returned from their travels in August, after visiting 60 towns and cities across Europe, and accumulating wonderful memories. They carried two suitcases, backpacks and a portable crib for their youngest, Brecken, who was a year old when they began the trip in November 2017.

The two oldest, Reghan and Hank, who were 7 and 5 when the trip began, are back in school. And their parents are already planning their next adventure, a six-week trip to Thailand.

“I feel like you can talk about the world with your kids, but it’s so much cooler to show them,” said Beth, a stay-at-home mom.

The trip came together after an insurance business that Mike co-owned was sold in September 2017, and a non-compete agreement kept him from going back into business until 2019. The couple talked about taking a trip, which coalesced into a long-term excursion around more than a dozen European countries.

“I was more the instigator, probably,” Mike conceded.

“It was kind of a dream,” said Beth. “It all just fell into place.”

The Milligan family in Prague.

The couple talked to the principal of their kids’ school, Del Mar Heights Elementary, who told them, “The kids are going to learn more from traveling with you guys than they ever will in school,” said Beth, and so they decided to turn Europe into one large classroom, for lessons on history, art, and many other topics.

They packed up their personal belongings and rented their Del Mar home to close friends, and took off for a trip that began in Amsterdam, and wound through Switzerland (where they spent Christmas and New Year’s), Munich, Vienna, Prague, Scotland, England, Ireland, Croatia, Greece, Italy, France and Portugal.

Mike celebrated his 40th birthday in April at Castle Ashford in Ireland.

Considering the size of their family, the Milligans traveled light — each family member had a small, zip-up bag of clothes, each of which was a different color so they could tell them apart. The clothing bags were stashed inside two large suitcases when they traveled. Rather than carrying bulky camera equipment, they took photos with their cell phones and posted them to a private Facebook page they set up for friends and family.

They used their travels to create impromptu learning experiences for their children, said Beth, such as having them read street signs or menus. And they also brought along book for reading practice, although the lessons sometimes led to grumbling.

The family stayed mostly in Airbnb rentals, but mixed in a few hotel stays along the way. Rather than planning out the entire trip in advance, they planned several weeks out as they went. Mike would stay up at night as Beth watched a show on TV, scribbling in the spiral notebook he kept to plan their itinerary, accommodations and transportation.

Whenever possible, they would let the children have a say in what they would see or do in each place, and along with museums and famous sights, they spent time at toy stores, parks and zoos. Among the children’s favorites, said the couple, were a circus in Berlin, and the Edinburgh coffee shop and hotel room where J.K. Rowling wrote her Harry Potter books. Another family favorite was a parade in Prague, featuring marching bands and colorful masks.

They also programmed in plenty of down time, including naps for Brecken, their youngest.

The pace of the family’s travel was much slower than if the adults had been traveling alone, said Beth. “We had to do something for the kids every day.”

One of their few mishaps came when a man approached Mike in Prague, asking to trade smaller denomination notes for a larger bill in Czech money that Mike had withdrawn from an ATM. It turned out the man’s bank notes were Belarussian currency and virtually worthless. Mike said the lesson cost him about $96.

But in general, said Beth, “We felt very safe everywhere we went.”

While Mike says he would “leave tomorrow” on a repeat adventure, Beth said she is grateful they had the opportunity to travel for an extended period, but would prefer to take shorter family trips in the future. Would she consider another 9-month trip?

“Maybe when the kids are in college,” she said.