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First back packing trip through Europe

Travel Forums Europe First back packing trip through Europe

1. Posted by tbui3 (Budding Member 3 posts) 6y

Hi, I'm basically looking for some advice on what to do, where to go, the do and don't of back packing. I'm from the U.S. and I have never been out of the country so I'm hoping this trip goes well. I'm a 22 y/o male who just graduated so I'm taking the time to enjoy myself before I start working. I'll be in Europe from mid January to mid February so about 3-4 weeks. I would like to go to Madrid/Barcelona, Rome, Athens, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, but I know that is way too much to do in that time frame. I plan on traveling by train so any suggestions to go about with that?

1. So my first question is for the my first time in Europe are these good cities to visit? I'm really going to experience the culture and food. I really don't have any interest in art so I doubt I'll be going to museums very much. I'm not really dead set on these countries so I'm open to other options. My main worry is that I'll be spending quite a large amount of time on the trains since some of these countries are pretty far apart.

2. I know Summer is a popular time for travelers, but since I'm going in the Winter is there any must do or see sites during this time? I imagine the sun sets pretty early so what is the night life in some of these countries?

3. I'm also worried about the language barrier since I only really speak English. So any tips on getting by or MUST KNOW phrases.

4. Currency issues? I've read using the dollar isn't very wise cause of the exchange rate, so should I just use my credit card or debit card?

5. Are there a lot of other tourist at this time? I'm traveling by myself so I'm pretty sure it's going to be lonely at times. I am staying in hostels though, I've never done such a thing so I was wondering what it is like?

6. I've been hearing about some kind of youth or student discount that can be used so is there any where I can go to find out more about this item?

7. Expenses are a concern to me as well. I don't want to focus to much on saving cause then I won't have fun, but I also don't want to over spend. I was wondering for those who have gone back packing how much did you spend and for how long did you travel? I figure I probably won't have the luxury of eating out at restaurants that much so are there tips on cheap foods that are good?

2. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 6y

1. Within 3-4 weeks you can reasonably cover 4-5 bigger cities or one big country and one big city or two smaller countries.

I would like to go to Madrid/Barcelona, Rome, Athens, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, but I know that is way too much to do in that time frame.

Consider flying into Frankfurt, Germany and out of Rome or vice versa. With that strategy you could easily cover 5 cities out of the following list: Berlin, Munich, Prague, Salzburg, Vienna, Venice, Florence and Rome. It should not be too hard to get those into a logical order, adding in a stop or skipping one, as you like it and depending upon your interests.

2. Winter is a great time for some fun in the snow, so Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and Northern Italy are a good choice for travelling in winter. The bigger cities do have some great nightlife (Berlin especially).

3. So do the Brits. To the exparation of all fellow Europeans they never bother learning another European language because almost all other Europeans learn English in school. So you should be fine. If you are worried check out

http://www.travellerspoint.com/guide/Languages/

4. Use your credit or debit card to withdraw cash in EUR from ATMs. Gives the best exchange rate. Depending upon the country you are in expect to pay in cash far more often than you are used to in the USA. (Credit card use is rare in Germany for example.) Ask your bank how to avoid fees. Withdraw large amounts to minimise withdrawing fees.

5. Things are going to be very slow, so unless you are a very social person expect to be by yourself most of the time. You can always try to hit it up with somebody at the hostel, but chances are not nearly as good as in summer.

6. Sounds like the ISIC card.

7. Expect to spend 65+ EUR per day and a lot more if you party the night away in clubs. Good news is that winter is low season, so you generally have no problem finding cheap beds in hostels. This lowers costs of the trip to a certain extend.

I figure I probably won't have the luxury of eating out at restaurants that much so are there tips on cheap foods that are good?

Rice and veggies, pasta and veggies, potatoes and veggies - pick hostels with a kitchen and cook yourself. Bring a small, watertight plastic box to store (leftover) food and silverware to make yourself sandwiches whereever you are. Veggies are expensive in winter, but it is easy to pick up frozen, pre-seasoned packages that go well with either rice, pasta or potatoes. If your hostel has a microwave you'll be spoiled for choice: it is easy to pick up microwaveable food for 1-4 EUR per meal in supermarkets.

Feel free to ask more questions.

3. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 6y

One more thing: Watch out for Carneval, which will be 11th to 16th Feb in 2010. It is a big event in certain cities, Venice and Mainz (a city very close to Frankfurt) among them.

4. Posted by tbui3 (Budding Member 3 posts) 6y

First off THANK YOU for the reply and advice. Right now my major dilemma is that I'm thinking of dropping Vienna or Budapest, because I won't to stay in each city for at least 3-4 days to get a general feel for it. So I was wondering if you had an opinion on which city to drop. Keep in mind I'm visiting for culture, food, architecture and a little night life. I actually didn't think about Germany I'll keep that in mind if things change. As of right now my trip is looking like flying into Prague from the U.S. Next I'm debating either flying from Prague to Athens for about 230USD OR take a train from Prague to Vienna or Budapest. Then from either one of those two countries fly to Athens which I think cost about 170USD. From Athens I'm flying to Rome for about 90USD. Next up is Barcelona by train (haven't checked cost yet) and lastly Barcelona to Madrid. How does that all sound?

5. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 6y

As of right now my trip is looking like flying into Prague from the U.S. Next I'm debating either flying from Prague to Athens for about 230USD OR take a train from Prague to Vienna or Budapest. Then from either one of those two countries fly to Athens which I think cost about 170USD. From Athens I'm flying to Rome for about 90USD. Next up is Barcelona by train (haven't checked cost yet) and lastly Barcelona to Madrid. How does that all sound?

Like a waste of time and money.

The whole trip could be better organised. You are missing out some of the top spots and some of the great deals available when travelling in Europe. All in all the cities in your collection are a bit odd for a first-time visitor to Europe. Any particular reason you are going there?

Instead of flying into Prague I would fly into Vienna or Frankfurt, because chances are high you are going to get better deals to these places. Unless you got a specific reason to go there I would skip Athens and save it for later when you can combine it with a trip around the Greek islands and a visit to the West Coast of Turkey. It is out of the way of the regular travel routes and you could save some serious money if you went (Budapest-)Vienna-Italy.

BW, if you are visiting Italy you should definitely check out Venice, Naples and Florence. Part of the charm of Europe is not just the big cities but seeing how people in the inidividual countries differ. You'll get this much better if you focus a little bit on the countries you are visiting too.

And instead of just going to visit Barcelona or Madrid I would take a trip down to Andalusia and visit Seville, Cordoba and Granada. http://looklex.com/spain/index.htm

Should you be determined to stick to your initiary I strongly recommend that you fly Rome to Barcelona. It is a very very long train ride (19-26 hrs) and several changes otherwise.

6. Posted by tbui3 (Budding Member 3 posts) 6y

I pretty much wanted to visit Prague and Rome cause of the architecture and I've been told that both are fun filled cities. Athens cause I've always been into mythology. As for Madrid/Barcelona I'm meeting a family member there.

I do want to visit Budapest and Vienna, but I'm still thinking about that. If time permits I would most definitely visit the smaller towns in Italy.

As for Rome to Barcelona I've actually been trying to figure out how long the train ride would be, but if it is as long as you say I probably will fly there.

7. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 6y

I pretty much wanted to visit Prague and Rome cause of the architecture and I've been told that both are fun filled cities. Athens cause I've always been into mythology. As for Madrid/Barcelona I'm meeting a family member there.

Then maybe you should fly into Athens instead of Prague, see some other spots in Greece and then go Greece-Italy-Spain. That would make more sense and be more manageable time-wise.

Personally I find that Prague is overrated as a party city. The vibe of the city is ok in summer, but in winter you can really see the ugly side. The crime, the drugs, the prostitution, the streets that quickly turn into no-go areas after dark. Prague is Europe's version of Tijuana - a place with a magic name that promises everything but turns out to be a complete hellhole when you are actually there. There are probably more backpackers robbed and beaten up in Prague after a night at a club than in any other European city. In summer you can find safety in numbers, but in winter you have no such luck. I've been to Prague many times over the years and the early 90's blossom is long over. There is nothing left of it but a legend among backpackers that draws them in droves and turns it into a self-fullfilling promise in summer.

Rome - I liked Rome, but I found the vibe there not to be that great. Great architecture I admit, but the city sort of makes me yawn. The nightlife is ok for a city that size, but nothing really exceptional. Out of the many European capitals I have been to I really prefer London and Berlin for nightlife and a cool vibe.

I do want to visit Budapest and Vienna, but I'm still thinking about that. If time permits I would most definitely visit the smaller towns in Italy.

If you will be in Italy during Carneval/Mardi Gras season I can strongly recommend hitting Venice during that time. Just be warned that Venice is very expensive year-round and that all the cheap hostels have been completely booked for Carneval since September.

If you are undecided between Vienna and Budapest: Budapest can be great in winter thanks to its many hot spas. If you are not used to the cold and need to escape the dreary winter weather go for a long soak there. Vienna however has the better art and history. You should definitely visit the Hofburg and Schönbrunn Castle if you go there.

8. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 6y

The places that you want to go are quite scattered geographically. If you want to visit the cities you've listed, you'll need a good 4 weeks of travelling time, not 3 weeks.

A reasonable and rough itinerary would be something like the following:
Day 1-4 (4 days): Prague, evening train to Vienna
Day 5-8 (4 days): Vienna, direct overnight train to Rome
Day 9-14 (6 days): Rome and Naples/Pompeii
Day 15-19 (5 days): fly to Athens, Athens
Day 20-24 (5 days): fly to Barcelona, Barcelona
Day 25-28 (4 days): train to Madrid, Madrid

If you want to go to Venise for the Carnevale (in 2010, it's on Feb 6 to 16), there's is also direct overnight train from Vienna to Venice, so you can play around with the suggested itinerary above, by placing Venice after Vienna, spend a couple of days there, then take another train from Venice to Rome.

A "greedy" itinerary to fit everything that you've listed (and Venice) would be:
Day 1-4 (4 days): Prague, direct overnight train to Budapest
Day 5-7 (3 days): Budapest, evening train to Prague
Day 8-11 (4 days): Prague, direct overnight train to Venice
Day 12-13 (2 days): Venice, evening train to Rome
Day 14-17 (4 days): Rome
Day 18-21 (4 days): fly to Athens, Athens
Day 22-25 (4 days): fly to Barcelona, Barcelona
Day 26-28 (3 days): train to Madrid, Madrid

Travel by train in evenings saves time on the otherwise daylight period that you can use for sightseeing. Travel by direct overnight train means you're on the move while you sleep, not to mention saving some accommodation costs. On overnight trains, while it's cheapest just to book for a seat, you're better off booking for sleeper couchette. It's cheaper on 6-couchette car, and my personal preference is for the top bunk despite the very limited head space (mind the ceiling!) because it means I can stash my personal belongings to the inside and it's high up so just that bit more difficult for anyone trying to sneak anything off. I'm sure if someone really intent on getting away with your things they'll probably find a way to, but at least you won't make it easy for them.

It can get lonely travelling on your own, and given it's winter it's going to be cold and dark. Staying at hostels does mean you'll get to meet a few people, which you can organise to maybe do some sight seeing together during the day. Some hostels may also organise special evenings for its residents to socialise or have dinner together or go out together, so check their notice board or ask the receptions for details of such events.

The ISIC (international student indentity card) is meant for student and now that you've graduated I don't think you'll be able to still get one. However, since you're under 26, I believe there is a similar card called International Youth Card or something like that. I'm not sure how widely they're accepted though, so you'll have to decide yourself if it's worth getting one.

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