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First Time Backpacker Trying to Plan First Trip-- Help!

Hi everyone, I am a 22 year old female college student graduating in May and I want to spend 3-4 weeks in Europe from the end of May to June. I have tried to start planning my trip, but have become increasingly overwhelmed since there is SO much information out there. First of all, do you think that I could travel by myself, or should I only plan the trip if I definitely have someone coming with me? Also, I have a general ideas of cities and countries I want to visit (London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, possibly Warsaw, Venice, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, Paris), but I am unsure of exactly how long I need to spend in each place to make it worthwhile. For the few weeks I am planning on being in Europe, what is a realistic amount of time to spend in each city, and should I even consider visiting all of those places in that amount of time? Finally, does anyone have any general recommendations of places that I definitely need to visit while I am over there? I know I asked quite a few questions, but I would definitely be so appreciative of any help you have to offer. Thanks!

Posted by
1806 posts

Don't feel you can't plan a trip if you don't find someone to go with you. I took a year to travel around the world on my own and it was great. I met lots of locals and fellow solo travelers from around the world that I still keep in touch with. For info and advice on solo female travel, check out www.journeywoman.com.

While going with a friend can be nice because you have a built-in companion and someone to share costs with, if you go this route I would suggest it be someone with whom you have travelled before and that your travel style/budget is extremely compatible and you are willing to give each other adequate space when needed (even if it is your best friend, you can get on each other's nerves pretty easily after a week or so).

10 cities/7 countries in 3-4 weeks is insane to me, but to each his own. Factor in your travel time, with 2-3 nights in a city like Paris you only cover a few of the tourist highlights. Slow down and you get to know a place and its people.

Posted by
2779 posts

Carly, keep in mind that the beauty of Europe not only lies in its cities but also in the towns and villages in between. Check the websites of the low cost airlines for a possible itinerary: ryanair.com, easyjet.com, skyeurope.com, germanwings.com, tuifly.com, airberlin.com, etc.

Posted by
37 posts

I am planning a solo trip from late June to early August (6 weeks) and I too have been overwhelmed with planning! There is so much information out there. My trip is 6 weeks and I am limiting myself to 4 countries (and even that might be pushing it). My suggestion to you is to first to prioritize where you want to go.

Without knowing your budget, I would suggest flying into London (Rick Steves suggests this as well since it is more familiar) and I think it is "cheaper." I know, I know, all you Europhiles out there are saying that London is one of the most expensive cities! Then let that dictate where you go from there. Allow, ON AVERAGE, 2-3 nights in each city (London and Paris probably longer). And don't forget to factor in travel time.

In short, were I in your shoes my itinerary would be London, fly to Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, fly home from Berlin. But I don't know, everybody is different and I've never even been before so maybe I should keep my mouth shut!

Posted by
7 posts

I have decided to fly into London, and have found airfare for $571, which I think is pretty good. Now it is just a matter of trying to decide where to go, since I want to have the best experience possible without over-doing it. I appreciate all of the suggestions so far, and am trying to continue to narrow down what I can reasonably see and enjoy. I think 4 weeks would be a better amount of time for me, but money is an issue for me-- especially when I think about everything I will need to buy before I even leave! I am planning on spending about $50 a day while over there, do you think that is a good estimation for housing, food, and entertainment? Thanks again to everyone providing suggestions!

Posted by
37 posts

Don't forget about exchange rates! $50=25 GBP=35 Euros

In my opinion, even with hostels you should probably count on spending double your budget or stay with family or people you know (thank god for my cousins!).

Posted by
7 posts

Oops, I meant to say 50 euro/day! $50 would be pretty unreasonable, huh?

Posted by
2779 posts

Carly, you're saving the transportation cost of at least one intra-European flight if you book an open jaw, e.g. in to London, out from Paris, Berlin or Rome.

Posted by
1167 posts

Take a look at Rick's "Best of Europe" tour. His 21 day itinerary would be a good place to start planning from.

Posted by
2779 posts

In addition to my friend Kent's post: Everything we consume depends on oil as it needs to be transported. Since the oil price has skyrocketed so have prices for groceries in Western Europe. The same pound of Italian pasta I bought from my local Aldi store last year at 29 cents now costs 55 cents, which is almost twice the price!! So in addition to the rate of exchange of $1.5 buying just €1 you also need to take into consideration that the prices for food in Western Europe have gone up as well.

Posted by
10344 posts

Here's a question for you numbers/economist folks out there, professional and amateur alike are welcome to tackle this question: Let's say Al of Nottingham wants to buy Andreas of Frankfurt a beer, Al gets to Frankfurt and gets 100 euros out of an ATM, which at today's exchange rate results in Al's bank account being charged about 76 GBP (British pounds) because these days 1 pound buys about 1.36 euros. Okay, now I forget what my question was--oh yeah, does 76GBP buy an equivalent amount of beer in England as 100 euros buys in Germany? I realize the most controversial part of this is, how does German beer stack up, liter for liter, against English beer?

Posted by
2779 posts

People who buy me beers are more than welcome! On totally roughly avarage the price of a pint of beer in Germany (including all the rural areas that outweigh urban Germany) is €3.00. Of course that doesn't get you a beer in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf or Munich where the price would be more in the €5 range...

Posted by
31521 posts

Carly,

To begin with, I'd strongly suggest you read Rick's "Europe Through The Back Door" to get your planning off to a good start. This contains not only Itinerary planning suggestions, but lots of other details that are especially useful for first time travelers.

As the others have suggested, trying to fit 10 cities into a 3-4 week trip is just not realistic. The larger cities (London, Paris, Rome) need more time than the others - allow at least 4-5 days in each of those if possible.

You might also check out some Guidebooks at your local Library, to get some idea on which sites you want to see in each city. There are lots of choices, but it's difficult to make any suggestions without knowing your interests.

I'd also suggest using open-jaw flights for best efficiency, especially for such a short trip.

You shouldn't have any problems traveling by yourself, as long as you're aware of the hazards. Be sure to wear a Money Belt!

Happy travels!

Posted by
7 posts

Would you recommend searching for flights or getting a Eurail pass? I was originally planning on Eurail, but after more research, it might be cheaper and also save me some time to look for point to point flights.

I do have a few guidebooks and do have some ideas in mind of where I want to go, but still feel overwhelmed-- it is hard to know how much to plan per day!

I do appreciate all of the help and suggestions-- and if I find myself in Frankfurt I will buy someone a beer! :)

Posted by
488 posts

Carly-We are am planning our first trip to Europe this summer, and it is a stressful and time consuming process. As far as the planning goes, we have a mix of both flights and rail travel in Europe (we are flying Paris to Stockholm for family visit and then down to Switzerland). Cost of our flights were both under $100 each one way, but the time saved was a big factor in flying. 4-5 hours going to the airport, flight, and getting into town from airport was worth any additional cost (I doubt rail is much cheaper) and at least double the time spent on the train.

I have spent countless hours looking at the national train sites and with a vast amount of help from people on this board have figured out if we buy point to point train tickets(many advance purchase specials) we'll easily save $200-$400 off buying rail passes. I think the old adage, time is money definitely fits the bill. Spending time researching can save a lot of $, which with your limited budget would be a huge benefit!

Posted by
48 posts

From the time I spent in backpacker hostels in Switzerland.
As you are under 26, buy a Eurail pass which gives you a lot of flexibility, even the x-days in a month ones, to change your plans as you travel. My experience is that you will change your plans, either on a destination or travel date basis, many times.

Part of the backpacking experience is the people you meet on the way. They will give you ideas you may not have considered, or you may click with them to the extent you will travel with them for a while. It seemed to happen to the majority of the backpackers I met over the couple of years I was around that scene.

Locking yourself into fixed dates/destinations can be good, but lock in maybe 2 or 3 during the month, and let yourself take the rest as they come.

I used to see people who arrived at Gimmelwald hostel for a day and left 2 weeks later. Some people couldn't handle the way it was run (years ago, previous owners) and wouldn't stay the night they arrived.

Posted by
48 posts

Each person is going to be different in what they want/need/expect from a specific place, so it is hard to predict what will be best for you.

Travelling alone.
Yes, it does have a slightly higher risk profile, but it can be minimied by being prepared (don't overload yourself with material possessions), but from my experience and observation, after the first few hours at a hostel you will know people heading in the same direction you intend to go who will be happy for you to tag along.

Multiple Countries/Cities
If you think this will be your one ond only ever trip to Europe, back it down to 3-5 days per city to give yourself time to get into them - not just hit the big tourist draws. If it is likely to be the first of many trips over the next 50 years :) it is fine to rush through the cities getting initial impressions and travel ideas for the future(and it works while you are still young with stamina to deal with 4 hours sleep on a night train).

Bottom line 'You can do it!'

Posted by
990 posts

Assume that you will be back, so you don't feel compelled to see everything in this one trip. I know, you think that you won't be able to go back, but honestly, your trip will be better if you don't think you have to keep moving constantly.

My first trip to Europe was a solo backbacking trip the year after I graduated from college--it was fine. I met lots of people in hostels and ended up traveling for a while with 2 other women I met up with. At first I was frenetic, going to every tourist hotspot and zooming through every museum. But I quickly realized that relaxing a bit and letting Europe soak in was more satisfying. I ended up spending four days in most major cities in the end and also spent some time just hanging out in the Greek Islands. When I didn't care much for a city (Brussels, Athens) I just moved on more quickly.

Besides reading Europe Through the Back Door, you might want to check out the Rick Steves videos of some of the places you're thinking about.