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College students back packing in Europe.

My 19yr old daughter will be in an overseas study program in Leicester, England starting in January, 2008. They have a 5 week spring break around the end of March. She is planning to backpack Europe the 5 weeks, in a group of no more than four, all college students. She has zero overseas travel experience and presumably the same for her companions. They plan to stay at youth hostels and use a railpass to get around. My questions are many, but in general I'd like to hear some travel tips for a person her age and budget. Budget means lower the better but I want her to be safe and have acceptable sanitary conditions. We know that she will have to "rough it" in some spots. What's the best way to handle money, eating tips, packing, weather, etc, etc. Any guidebook recommendations? I appreciate all responses, and hearing from other college age kids(or their parents)who have done this already would be great. Sorry for the load of verbage....

Posted by
505 posts

The Let's Go series is by far the best for the 20 something crowd - no other series comes close.

Your daughter should get an ISIC student card - it's £7-12 very well spent because student discounts are very common in Europe. (Sometimes to avoid fraud, will only accept an ISIC card as proof of being a student).

She should also invest in a Young Person's/Student Railcard when she gets to the UK. It cost about £20, but pays for itself very quickly because you can get up to 30% off of most train tickets in the UK (excepting the Tube and some already discounted tickets).

My advice is for her to plan - the UK isn't cheap, but places in continental Europe can be even more expensive, so it's important to make sure she will have enough cash to get her through the trip. Roughing it is fun, but there's a limit. And since lots of students will have breaks then, she probably should book ahead for hostels - with four people they can get a room to themselves if they want.

Kate

Posted by
800 posts

Steve - your daughter might just want to wait until she gets there and starts meeting people to make definite plans. My 20 year old daughter has been in France for about 7 weeks and will stay for the year. She has already been to one new friend's hometown and has plans to visit others 2nd semester. She plans to go to Poland and Czech Republic because that is where her best friends (so far) are from. I also gave her Rick's best of Europe book before she left and she has already used it to go on one long weekend trip to Switzerland (with friend from the States). Bottom line is that your daughter will end up with LOTS of other young people who will all be able to really help her as far as where to go, how to go cheaply because that is what they all are doing as well. I'm not saying don't plan at all, because I am very much a planner, but I'll bet much of it will fall into place once she is actually there.

Posted by
4686 posts

I agree with the other recommendations on Let's Go and reading Europe Through the Backdoor. I used Let's Go almost exclusively when I was in my 20s. I would also recommend that your daughter and her friends buy a membership for Hostelling International. Here is the website http://www.hiusa.org/. This will entitle her to stay at HI hostels at member rates. HI has a large network of hostels around the world.

Posted by
18 posts

I went this last summer with my cousin who is the same age as your daughter, and I'm just a few years older...

If she is traveling with four people, they can book ahead and get 4-person rooms at hostels for decent prices. When we went, it was just the two of us but we spent a tiny bit more for 2-person rooms with shared bathrooms. It was worth having privacy at night, but a hotel or private bathroom wasn't necessary. If she wants a flexible schedule, I would still recommend pre-booking hostels in popular spots like Paris.

I bought the ISIC card for myself. It's cheap, but it definitely was not a necessity. I think I might have used it twice. My cousin's student card from her highschool was fine whenever she used it.

As far as handling money goes, I brought a money belt but rarely used it. I made sure my purse fit right under my arm with the closed zipper in the front near my hand. I've done this every time I went to Europe, no casualties yet and never worry at all.

Posted by
11450 posts

Hi, as for handling money I would do same for adult. Take money out of ATM account as you go, every three or four days. I tend to think a money belt would be for travel days, keeping passport etc in it, back packs are just so pocket pickable, LOL For day touring just keep in a purse close to body. I did a trip like this at 23 and we tended to stay in cheap hotels as we were not real " hostel " material,, so we often kept stuff in hotel safe while out for day, I don't think you have that option at hostels.
UK IS more expensive then anywhere on continental Europe south of Netherlands.
The POUND kills,, the euros is comparatively easier. Yes, we know the dollar is low, but I would advice getting into France, Italy, Portugual etc to save money.

Posted by
658 posts

You don't say where exactly your daughter will be studying but I'll assume it's somewhere like De Montfort. If it is an accredited place of study it will have the full technical support of the Students Union. The SU has a wonderful travel agency and advice centre. It can offer discounts on travel and accommodation packages most of us can only dream about. It will also give information packages about SAFE travel for girls. Your daughter must register with them at the earliest opportunity. Even if, as an exchange student, she is not eligible for the full discounts the SU is still an invaluable source for planning and logistics.

The rest is about following simple rules

Always keep your passport with you
Use a money belt 24/7
Keep your cards and passport in that money belt
Use Internet cafes to stay in touch
Always let someone know where you are

The rest you're just going to have to let her learn for herself.

Posted by
25 posts

23F here. Just finished traveling Europe for 10weeks w/ 2 other 22F's. We had a blast and had a budget of ZERO dollars. :o) Here's what we did.
Have her read the first section of RS Europe Thru The Back Door. It really helped. He wasn't our style travel guide so we generally skipped the end and did not take the book with us. We did pack MTV Europe. It has loads of information on Grocery Stores and good hostels. We also researched our butts off on the internet beforehand. We bought tickets to the theater and shows all online before we left, it helped.
We stayed at Youth Hostels that we found online at HostelWorld.com and Hostels.com. You can check the cleanliness rating. Um HighFive there, it worked for our whole trip!
Saving Money...
Do not eat out. Period. Ever. Check the amenities of the Hostels online and find one with a kitchen. Ask around for the grocery store and cook. A lot of places offer a basic breakfast, make sandwiches for lunch and pasta or something cheap for dinner.

Posted by
25 posts

Thanks to the uncle who gifted the book, also gave the Moneybelt. Big help. Have her pack a lock for lockers in the hostels. She WILL use and NEED it. Use an ATM machine for cash it beats any exchange rate.
We packed 1 pack each. 3 pairs of pants, 6-10 shirts, 1 nice outfit and pair of shoes, shower flip flops, sneakers and as many pairs of socks and underwear as would fit in the bag. I can handle dirty jeans but underwear...no way. haha. We also took 1 queen sheet and a pillowcase and a towel. We never had to borrow or buy linens and a towel b/c of that, thank goodness.
Everywhere she goes she'll have access to the internet at some point. Never leave home without your umbrella, even weather.com is wrong sometimes.
That shop at grocery stores thing is not a joke. Oh and take a knife and small cuttinboard. Cheese and a loaf of bread with salami or pepperoni is an amazing meal with a soda/h2o and super cheap.
There is more but as usual i talk too much! message w/ q's.

Posted by
505 posts

Just remember that if you take a knife, someone in the group will have to check luggage on planes. And be careful - in some European countries (the UK for one), they are very strict about knife laws.

Kate

Posted by
932 posts

I can't imagine going to Europe and not eating out AT ALL. You have to eat out at least once in each city -- but it doesn't have to be an expensive restaurant. Part of the whole experience is the cuisine! If you're budget is so tight that you can't afford to eat out just once in a city, then your budget is too tight. For the price of a few beers, you could eat a meal instead. If EMarie is referring to not eating out while LIVING there (while studying abroad), then I can understand that point. When I studied abroad, I cooked in the dorm and if I ate out, it was McD's or a gyro. I was a poor student. But I did eat out a few times while I was there (in Germany). I can't imagine going to Germany and not trying a schnitzel, or going to Italy and not having gnocchi! The trick to eating out for cheap is to go at lunchtime and have a lunch special. The Let's Go guidebooks are good like Kate said. There are good websites online to find hostels, and many of them have user's reviews/ratings.

Posted by
3 posts

I want to extend a big thank you to all who have replied to this question. Everything is interesting to read and I want to quickly add to Please Keep It Coming!!! I think tips and advice from regular folks who have "been there done that" are invaluable and the best. I especially like the "meat and potatoes" advice about what to expect when using a hostel, sleeping, packing clothes, eating, etc. Also, thanks for the guidebook suggestions.
That said, some main areas of question: what is the best way to communicate back home?? Cell phones? Internet? Are any phone calling cards worth buying?? Everyone mentions debit/ATM cards, but what banks are considered the best?? I read Capital One and Chase are good, yes/no?? For hostels, do you need one of those "sleep sacks" or a packable sleeping bag?? Thanks again to all.

Posted by
505 posts

Greetings
Best way to communicate with mum & dad is by e-mail or via Skype. Skype should work on her internet connection at the University. And if she wants, she can buy a cheap mobile phone to use for calls within the UK, and then top it up with minutes & texts as needed.

As to banks - I think your daughter will only be able to open a bank account in the UK if she's staying at least 6 months, possibly a year. The school will have information on that because foreign nationals, especially students, are limited to specific accounts due to strict banking regulations. If she's there for less than 6 months, she'll probably need to rely on taking money out of a US account. There's no better or worse bank in the UK for that, but always use ATMs affiliated with a bank because they don't charge a fee. The ones in pubs & shops usually do. Avoid traveller's checks and the 'travelex' type exchange places because the rates are terrible.

Posted by
505 posts

I would also suggest that she get a US credit card - even if it's just a card linked to your account. Having a credit card is a great back up in an emergency. Also for reserving rooms and buying more expensive items, you want to have some security - you can't get cash back, but credit card companies generally are very helpful if you get in a bad situation with fraud etc. Also, there are many credit cards that earn you frequent flier miles on each purchase - very useful when you live abroad and have to fly home. I've paid for more than one plane ticket via my frequent flier miles.

One tip - your daughter should find out about her courses before making any plans for that break. Often the spring 'break' is actually meant to be - at least partially - a study period for spring semester exams. Thus, she may have assignments that are due right after break or exams right after, and thus not want to travel the entire time.

Kate