I'm 27y/o male and I've never been out of States/Canada. I've been planning lately on doing a 8-day solo backpacking trip to Spain and France in late July or August. After researching a bit, I'm pushing for late July (as I've read that August is a vacation month of Europe and the atmosphere and environment is not the same). I've put together a basic itinerary, however...I wanted to get some opinions on whether 8 days would be enough for it. Also had some other first timer questions so i appreciate any help you guys can provide me...
My basic itinerary is to leave US for Madrid..
-Spend 2 days in Mardid
-Leave Madrid for Barcelona
-Spend 2 days in Barcelona
-Leave Barcelona for Paris (question here...it seems that a direct train will take 12 hours to Paris, should I take a flight over to Paris or stick with the train? Will it be worth the extra dough to save some time?)
-Spend 3 days in Paris
-Leave for US
I've picked places I want to visit in each of these cities, but nothing is set to stone. Just wanted to have a basic idea of where I wanted to go once I get there.
Questions I have right now...
- Should I take one of the cities out of the itinerary and just visit two due to time constraints?
- I know I'm planning this for July, and I haven't made any reservations...should I postpone it for August? Will I miss out on a lot if I do postpone it for August? I think I wasted too much time planning this and leaving it for last minute.
- If you guys have any budget tips for this itinerary, feel free to give me a shout.
- Lastly, based on my vacation time being accepted at work, I'm planning on getting ready for this as soon as possible. I downloaded this app on my iPhone that helps translate basic sentences into Spanish, Catalan and French. Should I take the phone along with me? I know I can get the international data plan which in turn can help the phone become somewhat of a guide. What do you guys think?
I know this is a lot of questions, and I'm continuously researching for answers. Thank you for any help you guys can provide.
I would reccommend you to take one of the cities out of your itinerary. Normally I would say if you don´t mind getting tired and just want to see the highlights 2 days could be just enough but here you also have to count in the travel time. Even between Barcelona and Madrid you will spend half the day travelling leaving you with only 1,5 to see the city.
If I were you I would go to Barcelona and Paris. This way you will get two different cultures and I think both are nicer then Madrid.
For this part of travel I would definitely check the prices of low cost flights because it will save you about 9 hours of travel and in cities like these, you can spend those hours on much better things then sitting in a train! Check the prices for Vueling, clickair (not 100% sure if this one flies to Paris but I think so), easyjet and Ryan air (although preferably one of the others because this company does not fly on the big airports so you will need extra time again travelling from the airport to the cities). They are usually quite cheap, if you are lucky even cheaper then the train (for example, I booked a ticket Barcelona-Amsterdam with Vueling for only 80 euro and that is even further then Paris).
I would reccommend you to go in July for the reason you already gave yourself. In both cities it is holiday time in August and especially in Barcelona this means that most locals leave for the beach towns to escape the heat in the city and spend time at the beach. This means that yes, it is quiter in the city but as well you might find quite a lot of smaller restaurants, bars and shops closed the main things will be open though.
Budget tips: Sleep in hostels or look at www.couchsurfing.com where people in cities all over the world offer their couch (usually acutally a bed/matress) for free. Don´t sit down on a terrace next to the main sights but walk one or two streets away to find the more local and much cheaper bars. This also goes for diner and if you really want to save, don´t eat in restaurants (all the time) but get some take-away and just find a spot in a beautiful park. In Paris you can find some local bars with real good atmosphere that serve free food (usually cous-cous) after a certain hour, more info on this and other Paris info:
About taking the iPhone: In both cities the locals appreciate it if you at least try to speak some words in their language. Not everyone speaks English but usually enough to get around. Maybe you should consider bringing a small tourist guide with dictionary in it instead of your phone because both cities, especially Barcelona, are infamous for pick-pockets. I have never experienced anything bad (visited Paris before and living in Barcelona already for some time now) and if you keep your mind to it you should be safe but unfortunately it does happen that people get robbed, so you might want to keep your most expensive things save. Don´t get scared by this, pick-pockets are in every big city, just keep your senses to it, don´t bring too much valuables and avoid dodgy streets/areas at night.
Pfoeh, lot of information so I am going to stop for now but if you have any more questions, just ask!
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July and August are both hot in Madrid (even now it's already hot.) But in August it will be pretty quiet here as well. I second the remarks that OHannemari made already. 8 days for 3 cities, and needing two half days in travelling is too much.
If you can get a good deal for a ticket in July I would go in July, but if the difference is really big, you can still consider August. For Madrid, if possible I would rather consider delaying the trip until September, but that of course depends on your employer.
I don't like the iphone idea, I think that with some basic words, and sometimes some pointing you can get there as well. I also think that most people will start laughing, when you use it. And the french will probably not amused at all, they like it when somebody at least does the effort to speak their language. By the way, does it also tell you, what the people are telling you?
A flight will be better for the trip to Paris. Even for Madrid to Barcelona it can be an option. The highspeed trains are quicker but in general more expensive. In your case it's a hard call, as you will lose some time, that is precious, but on the other hand you can save some money, your call. Just don't book with Ryanair for either Barcelona or Paris, as it will cost you a lot of extra time. Ryanair uses Girona and Beauvais as their airports "in" Barcelona and Paris, but these are pretty far away from the cities. You can check Vueling, Clickair, Spanair, AirEuropa, and even Iberia has some good prices, on routes where there is a lot of competition. (although usually on returns.)
[ Edit: Edited on 15-Jun-2009, at 10:42 by Herr Bert ]
Thank you guys. This is exactly the kind of advice I wanted to receive. I started doing searches for hostels and seems like the good rated hostels still have shared rooms vacant. I hope to have everything booked by end of this week. The flights are a little expensive from Paris, but pretty cheap going to Spain.
I'm taking the advice about leaving the phone behind and sticking with city guides. I can speak little Spanish, but I will need to do some crash courses on basic sentences for Catalan and French.
I'm skeptical about this, but I will try to see if I can get an extra two days added to my vacation time. Maybe that will allow me to add an extra city for the trip. If not, then I will just stick to Barcelona and Paris.
I would love to go a little bit later in the year, but I'm starting school in September and will probably not have a chance for a break until winter or next spring.
I'm sure to have more questions as I move along this plan. Thank you again for all the help and advice.
No problem, that is what we are here for right?!
Just a little addition, a crash course in Catalan sentences can be nice but is not even really necessary, everyone in Barcelona speaks Castellian Spanish as well so with your knowledge of that you will be fine. Of course, it is appreciated when you know some sentences in Catalan but don´t worry about it that much.