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First trip to Europe

I'm 70 years old but in good physical condition (I can do squats at the gym) and wishing to take a trip to Europe. I've been to England back in the 80's but never to the continent. This is a trip I'd rather be taking with my wife. Unfortunately I lost her last September.
I have a debate taking place in my head between two ways of making this trip. The adventurous and frugal part of me says " You'll probably only do this once so I need to see as much as I can and go wherever I choose when I choose rather than being in a tour group and having everything set beforehand. I suspect it might also be cheaper".
On the other hand the careful more conservative side of me says "Max, you're an idiot. You're 70 y/o. You have no business galivanting over the European continent without more of a plan than that. Just take a RS or Trafalgar tour with someone who knows what they're doing. Just play it safe."
What do you folks think?

Posted by
2544 posts

Do you have the time and money to do both. You could take a RS tour, maybe best of Europe, then after your tour with a little confidence, you could go to other cities/counties not on the tour on your own.

Posted by
21 posts

That's a great idea. I do have the time and money but considerably more of the former so the second trip may have to be a good bit later. Thank you.

Posted by
6511 posts

Well, at 69 I spent 5 weeks touring independently from Brussels to Budapest by train and bus. I was basically healthy and physically able to get around without any issues but hardly as physically fit as you appear to be. For me the frugal and adventurous won out without much of a fight. Financially, to take a RS tour (or other group tour) would have forced me to shorten the tour by at least a couple of weeks and I wasn't willing to do that. That and the fact there wasn't any tour that went to all the far flung places I wanted to see. The only issue I had on the whole trip was sometimes wishing I had someone with me - not lonely, just wanting to share the wonderful experiences with someone else.

And, whatever your age, galavanting around the Continent is an exhilarating experience, nothing idiotic about it.

Posted by
4370 posts

Max, I am so very sorry for your loss.
I think you need to ask yourself some questions. Are you a social person? Have you taken any short trips recently on your own? If so, did you feel confident and did you have a pleasant time? When I've traveled in Europe with my husband, I usually stay a few extra days on my own. I was always fine and had fun, but it gets easier every time in that you know what might trigger some loneliness or you develop some strategies. One thing I've done is to take a couple hour group tour to an area of a city that I was interested in. One time, a few people extended the time by grabbing a glass of wine together.
If you like company, you should consider a tour and you might think about doing a tour combined with some added independent travel days. Obviously, tours are going to be more expensive than traveling on your own. I like the idea of arriving a day or two in advance of a tour to have a buffer in case of logistical problems but more so to do a little adjusting prior to the start of the tour. Then add as much independent travel time as you can to the end of the tour when you've gained some experience.
Max, you are not an idiot! Do what makes you happy! I would urge you to check into things like travel cancellation insurance and whether your health insurance would cover you in Europe. I always REALLY plan our trips. For me, that's part of the fun. I'm always watching travel shows and reading about Europe. Also, the more you plan, the more comfortable you will be. This forum can be a great help for planning. Keep in mind, that in most trips, there are things that just don't go perfectly. Trains are cancelled, planes are late, you might have a disappointing meal, many things. They can feel overwhelming at the time, but they don't need to be. We had an issue with a pickpocket once, and a dropped camera another time. In the end, those things are minor. You are in Europe!

Posted by
4370 posts

Max, if you have the time, you wouldn't need to end your trip after the tour. You've already paid for the airfare, just extend your time and see some things on your own.

Posted by
1678 posts

Max, I'd like to second Jules' comments - especially that you are not an idiot! Do what makes you happy! It seems from what you describe that you could do a combination of tour and solo travel. I personally think the solo part at the end will be more comfortable - you'll be in the groove with being in an unfamiliar environment and not jet lagged, which I find complicates enjoyment of solo travel.

So sorry for your loss. I have zero experience with this, but will offer a bit of advice based on meeting a fellow solo traveler (on a RS tour) who had recently lost her spouse. Though she enjoyed the tourmate company during the day, she needed a lot of alone time in the evenings to process her feelings - which was hard because we were matched to share a room. So if you go the tour route, consider paying the solo supplement to get some personal space.

RS tours are great, but there are many options out there. Find something that suits you, your interests, and budget. If you are game, solo independent travel planning is fun (at least I think so). Whatever you choose, it is never, ever too late.

Posted by
6797 posts

Max, if you were my neighbor or a close friend I would say take a tour since you've never been . Having to plan and figure out the logistics would take away from the enjoyment of a trip. You said "I need to see as much as I can ". A good tour (like an RS tour) will let you see more, and in more depth, than you can yourself, and there's plenty of free time in which to follow your own interests. Yes you will spend less money traveling independently, but its a false economy if you have to waste that precious time figuring out how to get around, or which place to eat. But stick with a good tour company, like RS, OATS, Road Scholar, etc., or you'll be wasting time and money. Adding time on your own before and after a tour is a great compromise.

Posted by
1220 posts

I'm sorry for your loss.
If you're thinking tour, I'd look into both RS and Road Scholars (the former Elderhostel rebranded for the baby boom generation). We crossed paths with a lot of tour companies last summer in Utah and th Road Scholar folks seemed to be having a lot more fun and doing more interesting things than the Trafalgar busses.

Posted by
996 posts

First off, I am very sorry for your loss.

Second, I think you should go to Europe. If it were me, I'd find a good tour - and I mean a good one that hits the places I always wanted to see/experience - and then make sure to arrive a little early (best way to get over jet lag + it gives you spare time before the tour in case there's a flight issue) and then stay a little after the tour.

I'm sure you could travel just fine on your own, but I find it easier to let someone else deal with making my transportation and hotel arrangements in other countries for the most part.

Which places in Europe are calling to you?

Posted by
3789 posts

Max, please accept my condolences on your loss. And, no, not idiot. Since I am a solo traveller, I consider Europe a great DIY place, but also as a solo traveler, I know it can get tiring and sometimes lonely. I take tours when logistically too complicated for my interests - but that is Peru, Galapagos Islands, or would be India or China.
If I may, let's not base it on money, but look at things about you and your interests,preferences and experience.

- I assume you traveled at times with your wife - if so, who did the planning? If not you, did the planning interest you at all? If so, then DIY
- Are you an extrovert feeding off other people for energy? If so, perhaps tour is better
- Does it matter to hear historical facts, or are you interested in eye candy that you can look at for hours? If you have a limited interest/attention span but want more in depth information, then a tour. If you want hours at your pace, then DIY with a day or museum tour
If this is indeed your one trip, then you may not want to compromise it all for the conservative side. Me, I think you have the adventurous desire to do more than just 'play it safe', and would normally suggest taking a tour as a confidence builder and then strike out on your own adventure.....but you say budget may dictate that. As a travel forum, we might be able to help with that.
Why not give us a list of the places you want to see, and we can suggest tools that would help you plan it? Add how much time you want to be away, and/or a budget. Even if it is just the basic logistical tools, you don't have to commit to every day organized, but we can perhaps help you decide what is realistic or not.
While that is happening, why not get a guidebook? As it sounds like you want to travel a broad range, I suggest 'Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoe String'.....it isn't just for young backpacker hostel types. But it will give you a sense of how long or far you can go on a budget and whether the planning is what you want. If it gets you excited, DIY, otherwise, start looking at tours.
On the subject of tours, some of us are actually happy with cheaper simple tours if it hits a wide range of places without a lot of information feeding. As long as they aren't shopping tours with just photo ops of the Eiffel Tower or Pantheon. There seem to be a whole lot of Americans quite satisfied with Gate 1 and other budget tours. It just needs to suit you rather than looking at the price point. You could consider that as your first leg of a tour/diy combo.

Posted by
1107 posts

Max, I'm so sorry for your loss. There is so much good information and insight in the above postings... I'll just add my two cents. As someone (who turns 65 next month!) on limited income who still manages to travel to Europe once or twice a year (for a couple of weeks each time, often on my own), I've found that a very significant part of the cost is certainly the airfare. If you travel at "shoulder season" costs will be less, and certain countries - and even areas of some countries - will cost less than other areas (think room in Venice vs. room in small town in Sicily). You might consider taking a RS or OAT or other well-regarded tour for the first couple of weeks, to get the lay of the land, then striking out on your own for another 2-3 weeks. If you are willing to live SIMPLY (like single room in a hostel; monastery stay; simple b&b, etc), and to eat simply (take out from grocery store deli 1 x day; pizza for lunch, etc.), it is possible to keep total costs down to approx. $100/day (or $140/day if you really want an ensuite bathroom and air conditioning in summer). Take a look at costs in various countries (Portugal, parts of Italy will be cheaper than Scandinavia, for example), as you figure out how to make this amazing trip work. Finally: I play the "points game" with my Chase United credit card, and it gets me to - and sometimes home from - Europe at least once a year. You're not an idiot, dear Max! You've got wonderful new adventures ahead! Galivant away!

Posted by
2002 posts

Lot's of good advice here. Only thing I have to add is, without giving away my age, is don't count out that you will not be taking trips abroad after the age of 70! If you are healthy, no reason not to!

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you SO much for the many great suggestions. You've given me a lot to consider which is exactly why one doesn't make a decision like this in haste. I don't know if I can respond to all the points that were raised.
The idea of combining a tour with some free time on my own afterwards is appealing to me since it will satisfy the two competing parts of my personality.
I know I'm okay to travel solo because I did go on a cruise since my wife passed. One stop was in Nassau where I was able to reconnect with my brother and sister who still live there. I was born there and lived there until I was 27.
My wife and I usually planned our trips together. I wanted to take her to Switzerland when she retired. Although we didn't get to do that together I'm confident that she would still want me to go as long as I have the capability to do so. So that's one of the countries on my list. Someone asked which countries I wanted to visit. In the past I've always thought of the common ones such as France, Germany etc. but the more I investigate I see that many of the other less popular ones also have something to offer and since it appears to be relatively easy to get around they should also be considered.

Posted by
21 posts

Didn't mean to stop so abruptly but I got hung up and wasn't able to continue. On a lighter note I guess it's been confirmed by a census of opinion that I'm not an idiot so I'm feeling better already.
As someone mentioned the cost of getting there by air is the largest single expense. I've seen some ridiculously low fares at times like $200 or so round trip. Are these scams or are they legit?

Posted by
21 posts

Also wanted to thank you for the many condolences. Much appreciated.

Posted by
519 posts

Max,
Sorry for your loss.
If you decide to do it on your own, remember that there are many good independent guides available to help you get the feel of a place. RS lists a few in his books. Many of them even modify their tour to suit your interest. Have fun.

Posted by
11292 posts

Glad to see you realize that you are not an idiot! Seriously, there is no right or wrong way to travel. Everyone has their own tastes in this arena. Some people travel on their own, some use tours, and many here use both. Also, don't discount the idea of traveling on your own after a tour. As several others have said above, not only does it save on airfare, but after a tour you will gain confidence and travel skills, so it will be easier to go places on your own.

Do start by getting Rick Steves Europe Through The Back Door and reading the first half. You don't need the most recent edition - a library copy or used copy will work, as long as it's not more than a few years old. This book has the "nuts and bolts" of travel - booking hotels, getting food, transportation in Europe, etc. You should also watch Rick's Travel Skills specials, here (scroll down to find them): https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show

Once you see what's involved in traveling on your own, you can decide if it's for you. But if you're still unsure, take a shorter solo trip to a North American city where there's lots of mass transit and lots to do. Some good choices would be Chicago, New York, Montreal, New Orleans, Boston; there are more. See if you like navigating a city on your own, figuring out what to see and where to eat, etc. This will give you a good sense of whether you'd like to see a place like Rome or Venice on your own, or would prefer a tour.

Posted by
3789 posts

Glad you came back. Protocol does not require you to reply to each individually. We would be happier if we knew you were searching out this new adventure.
One thing I have noticed is how many people say they are exhausted after a Rick Steves' tour, so ensure you take an ho est assesment of their rewuirements and your abilities and perhaps plan a day or more of 'no plans' before embarking on a solo trip. There are p,enty of places with where sitting over a book and a glass of wine is almost culturally mandatory.
Don't hesitate to come back for aid.

Posted by
1236 posts

Another tour company for older people is Road Scholar tours. They used to be for seniors only but my 70 year old parents took a Spain tour with them and there were all different ages. These tours have a slower pace then RS tours and give you more educational reading and information.

Posted by
6511 posts

Another tour company for older people is Road Scholar tours. They used to be for seniors only

Back when they were Elderhostel, they were for seniors only. That changed when they became Road Scholars. Their philosophy and style of travel has not changed though and a good percentage of the tour participants will be over 65. They are good tours.

Posted by
4370 posts

My parents very much enjoyed the Elderhostels they took. They would have been in their early to mid 60s. They enjoyed the people they met.

Posted by
12998 posts

Hi,

The views expressed by your conservative side I reject totally, all the more so since your health is good, you're in good physical shape, etc. "You're 70 y/o" I'm one year your below you, I go over solo and I also go with the Mrs...all depends.

If you don't want to do a solo trip to London, then I would suggest Berlin if you really want to go over to the continent. If not, go to London...super interesting and very easy, stay in a B&B, use the Tube and buses to get around and explore.

You can easily do likewise in Berlin using a public transport.

Posted by
1649 posts

Hi max,

My sympathies about your wife.

I vote up! Today, "70" is not old. Many have a youthful spirit. If you're relatively healthy and in decent shape, go for it. Whether you take a guided tour or decide to explore on your own, or, a combo of both, just know your limits.

I appreciate your thinking this may be your only big trip. But, you never know. Plan out what you think you'd really enjoy; not what a book or a friend may say. If your heart is set on a particular country, active or slow activities, start to read up on it, get ideas. For me, I like to plan some activities combining a free spirit attitude. You just never know what little surprises await.

You mentioned you wanted to take your wife on a trip in the past. Plan an activity with her in mind; something she really favored. Of course you don't need to tell anyone your private thoughts. It can provide the encouragement needed to persevere and honor her spirit. I'm sure there will be smiles.

Posted by
470 posts

Having spent the last two years traveling with my father who is an elderly widow. I have to say that you CAN go on your own. The question is do you WANT to? I am not sure if I or my father either one would enjoy traveling without someone. And while you will still be by yourself on a tour you will have a boy 24 other travelers for the duration of the trip (more for most no RS tours)

You have my condolences also. I know how hard losing my mother was on my father. They were married almost 61 years when he lost her rather suddenly and he views that as being cut tragically short.

A few points I would like to make. If you are traveling on your own (or by yourself but on a tour) you need to take extra precautions. Make a basic agenda listing at least your hotels and dates at them and leave it where friends and family can get to it,
Leave a copy of your passport also as well as any other important documents.
Get yourself good travel insurance and keep a copy of its basics on your person at all times remember if something happens to you you may not be able to tell people who you are or what your important info is.
Make a list of medical conditions and medicine (generic names) and keep that on you as well.
And include emergency contact info. If you have a smart phone fill in the info on your phone for emergencies if it has it.

If traveling alone I would also suggest that you email or text or call someone pretty much everyday. Even if this is just calling your home phone and leaving a brief msg. This way if something does happen to you anyone looking for you can find out the last time you made contact and start from there.

I used to travel extensively for work by myself and made sure I had basic health info as well as contact info was available. I know we hate to consider something happening to use especially on vacation but it is better to plan for the worst and hope for the best then be caught off guard.

Just a few things to think about.

Posted by
1649 posts

Make a list of medical conditions and medicine (generic names) and keep that on you as well.
And include emergency contact info. If you have a smart phone fill in the info on your phone for emergencies if it has it.

Max, yeah, what Doug wrote.

I also carry an index card with basic med info, any allergies, OTC's or scripts I may take, blood type, doc's name, etc. I put it with my passport. My last two trips, I ended up solo, so, if "something happened to me," I'd want the Italian docs to know my immediate med info so they can treat properly.

Posted by
3656 posts

Perfectly understandable and wise that you seek advice about such a trip. At 70 years of age you're entitled to do what you please, where you please, when you please, and how you please. You don't have to justify anything to anybody. Guess what I'm trying to say is follow your gut do whatever you think will bring you the most happiness. Feel free to pick our collective brains about specifics.

Posted by
4370 posts

Doug makes good points. I will add one. I always let the State Department know my plans thru the SMART traveler program. However, I take everything with a grain of salt. My purpose is so that if something "big" happens, my country knows my approximate location and will attempt to locate me. Secondly, they provide warnings. Many are not relevant are a bit overly cautious but the info is helpful. For example, when I was in Sevilla, Spain, I got a warning about Barcelona. Barcelona is a LONG way from Sevilla. Another example might be the warnings regarding Paris planned demonstrations. They are helpful in terms of planning your day and where you might not want to be, specific metro stops, for example, but not something to get all wigged out about. I also like to know where the nearest U.S. embassy/consulate is. This can be used for many purposes including loss/theft of passport. I'm not saying all this to scare you. I have felt safer in every place I've visited in Europe, than I do in some places in the U.S, and I have been on my own in Paris, Madrid and Iceland. I also traveled for 5 weeks with my two daughters in their teens.

Posted by
1955 posts

The other respondents have already given some good advice and perspectives, so I will try not to repeat anything that has already been said.

I would suggest starting with a list of key goals of the trip might be (understanding one could could conflict with another goal). Thing such as:

Enjoy the company of others.
Not having to eat by myself for every meal.
Not be overwhelmed with others.
See what I want to see, when I want to see it, how I want to see it.
Enjoy not having to worry how I will get to point a from point b.
I do not want to be stuck on a bus with people I might not like...or even just one irritating person...for a week.
Learn a little bit of the local languages.
Go somewhere where the language will not be challenging.
Make new friends..maybe one or two with whom I could stay in touch and travel with in the future.
I want to travel when it is not super hot and crowded.
I must have air conditioning at night (in the summer).
I want to be more active (hike/swim/climb).
I would rather take it easy, have lots of down time for rest.
..................and on and on.

Then take a look at various packaged tours, Rick Steves, Tauck Tours, Odesseys Unlimited, etc. See what each tour takes in, where it stays, what it does. You can build your own tour around those ideas, or you might decide to just go on a tour and then allow some days for self-exploration (maybe in English-speaking countries) afterward. Or you might decide to take one of the tours....each company is different and travels at a different level (Tauck offering the highest level of service).

If your budget allows, fly business class or at least the comfort class economy. If a/c is a must for humid, hot nights, stay only in hotels that offer that (Rick Steves' tours do not guarantee air conditioned rooms). If you do not want to rent a car in a country where you could have to drive on the wrong side of the road or figure out signs in another language, do a combination of trains or hired drivers (for just the days you might need them). Do not make decisions that might make you miserable and want to never travel again.

Have you traveled by yourself in the US (for several days at a time) since your wife died? Might be a good to do a trial run, just to see if prolonged days on the road in different cities might make you even more lonely or if you would find it acceptable.

Do you strike up conversations easily with stranger.s..such as if you sat at the counter in a pub for a meal.....or do you even want to strike up conversations with strangers? A tour can offer a comfortable, somewhat self-selecting group of similar people.

We do not know you....only you really know yourself and what you might enjoy or what might make you miserable. To lose a life partner is very altering, and I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife. But, as you go forward, ask yourself what SHE would have advised you to do on this very first trip.........afterall, sometimes long-time spouses really do know us better than we know ourselves.

But, definitely take the trip!! It is the very rare trip that does not have some little something go wrong, or some little something that disappoints or that we might do differently the next time. But, you are interested and you are moving forward with life..........you are to be admired for that.

Let us all know what you decide. We'll be with you in spirit. Godspeed to you, and may many happy days be found in your future!!

Posted by
3789 posts

To tag onto the 'air conditioning' band wagon, to determine travel dates, it helps to know some weather patterns and that electricity is costly in Europe. The government strictly controls when heat or a/c can be used so we love to recommend traveling in shoulder season, but that might leave you without either heat or AC and if there is a cold or hot snap, you'll have to accept that. At least in high or low season, one or the other will be available - if listed. If it isn't there in print, then don't assume it is there. Same with elevators if you decide to use an apartment for a longer stay.
For historical weather, I like wunderground website. Click the 'calendar' view, and then change to the month of travel and look at the past 5 years. I like Wunderground as it also records precipitation as well as temperatures. The averages on some travel sites or guides are not always relevant anymore. Southern Spain has really heated up and can make an unpleasant trip if you aren't prepared for it.

Posted by
21311 posts

Yes, the temperature averages on city's Wikipedia pages--while quick to access and thus very handy, are typically for periods ending in 2010. Lots of extreme weather since then is not reflected in those averages.

Posted by
11973 posts

I personally can't stand tours because I know the sights I want to see - and those are rarely the sights any tour will to take me to see. The hours wasted on sights I don't want to see bothers me more than the extra cost incurred taking a tour versus planning my own trip.

That said, a tour may help you get your feet wet on traveling in Europe. They take care of lodging and some food - and plan all the sights. The guide can help orient you to the cities you visit.

On the tour brochure watch for words like "visit", "tour", "see" etc. You may think of them as synonyms, but they aren't in the tour industry. If the brochure says "see", for example, expect to drive by in the bus and have the guide point it out as you pass - you get to "see" it.

Another idea is to take a cruise. I don't especially like visiting a big city in only eight hours but I did enjoy a Baltic cruise. The cities are small and we had two days in St. Petersburg, which was perfect to see the major sights with a local guide. The nice thing about a cruise for an inexperienced traveler is you don't have to think a lot about transportation, lodging or food. You can essentially hop off the ship in the morning, visit one or two sights, then head back to the ship in time for dinner. My 12 night cruise went out of Copenhagen. I flew into Copenhagen three nights before the cruise and stayed an additional three nights after the cruise.

I've seen some ads for cruises that tour the coast of Portugal. I think that may be a good one. The big Mediterranean ports aren't ideal for your first, and perhaps only, visit. Also, watch out for cities that are a long train ride from the port (London, Berlin, Rome are examples).

Posted by
21311 posts

You're right that there's much to enjoy in some of the "less popular" countries--though these days there are highly popular destinations in most European countries, places where you might wish a few of the other tourists had stayed home! So feel free to cast your net wide; just don't try to do everything on one trip. I didn't travel that way when I was in my 20s and 30s, so you better believe I don't attempt that at 67. I like to spend a good bit of time in each area I go to. I love to get to smaller towns where I don't hear English as I'm walking down the street, so I look for clusters of places I'd like to visit that can be managed from a single base. Changing hotels is not my favorite part of traveling.

I look at tour itineraries and always think there isn't enough time at each stop. That feeling is most intense when the destinations are major cities with lots of museums or historical sites I know I'd enjoy. So if I were going to take a tour, it would be one focusing on smaller destinations (I like the idea of the Village Italy tour), where I would be less likely to feel shortchanged when I had to leave town after just a day or two. As it is, I still enjoy the challenge of finding my own way around; my slow-paced itineraries allow for an occasional slip-up without a fear that the entire trip will unravel.

I've never seen a $200 airfare (even one-way) at a time of year I'd want to travel. I hate cold weather and short days. Some folks have snagged some great deals, even recently, for round-trips under $500. I don't know that you'll find something so good if you're flying from an Ohio airport, but it's great to browse flights on a website like Google Flights to see what is available from your origin. If you have an idea of several (even vaguely defined) trips you'd consider taking, you can watch for great deals that would fit one of them and grab something great if it comes along. It's hard to know what's great if you haven't been monitoring costs for awhile.

Click on "Explore options" on Google flights, pick a month, pick a duration of two weeks (this is just for research; you'd probably plan a longer trip), and enter "Europe" as your destination. As you zoom in on the resulting fare map, more and more airports and their fares will appear. It's interesting to see what airports are comparatively less expensive, though that can change from month to month.

Posted by
12998 posts

Health and physical issues aside, the salient question to oppose your "conservative side" is, "Why can't you do it alone?" If not now, then why not and when? "...no business...." Why not?

Posted by
2333 posts

One option would be to find a travel partner. There are websites which are "match-makers". I don't do that, as my wife is still here, but you might consider looking for a travel partner. If you went on those sites, you might find someone interested in "tutoring" you on travel, and showing you the ropes. In fact, right here on RS, there's a travel partner site:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/travel-partners

It's not hugely active, but you don't seem to have a timeline, so that's a thought.

Posted by
21 posts

Fred, I'm glad you asked the question as to why I have some doubt being able to do this on my own. The two questions that come immediately to mind are 1) Will I have difficulty with the language barrier in non English speaking countries and 2) Will I be able to figure out which trains to take and when? If I go on my own my idea was to go armed with a Eurail pass so I could go wherever. I know that nowadays almost everyone has smartphones with apps. for whatever information they need. There's one area where I'm a little behind. I do have a smartphone but so far have only used it for calls and texts.
If I were to find myself in say Barcelona would I have any difficulty finding someone to answer whatever question I may have? I'm probably making a mountain out of a molehill. But, thats why I needed to have this discussion.

Posted by
21 posts

So many great suggestions. Almost overwhelming but much appreciated.

Posted by
12998 posts

@ Max...Your points are well taken. Age-wise you and I are in the same bracket...lol. And, obviously health and physical issues, if any, can be a problem or worse a deterrent. But neither you nor I (fortunately) are at that point yet, so if the finances are more or less ample/sufficient, and health is good, ie, the doc didn't tell you to avoid long flights, etc, then it's time to go...period, solo or with a buddy or in a group....but go! At that point it's not health-wise or physical or finances but mental.

I can't answer about Barcelona, never was there, can't help you there.

If you were to choose Vienna or Berlin, no real problems regarding language. The only problem you would have is not being able to read the language, the signs and explanations, etc. The taxi drivers know English, at least enough to communicate with you.

Chances are in Vienna and Berlin, I would guess more in Vienna, you can ask almost anyone in English, they would at least know a smattering of English. Your hotel and the Tourist Office (I know of 3 in Berlin) will provide all the needed info and answer your questions in English.

There are tons of international tourists in Berlin and Vienna, I've seen them "operate." If they don't know German well, they use English, the lingua franca, which is expected. A few know German but the vast majority ask their queries in English, use English at check-in, buy a train ticket, buy groceries, sign up for guided tour in a palace taking the English tour instead of the German say, if their native language is Spanish, Japanese, Russian, etc.

Posted by
12998 posts

On the issue of getting rail Pass, that depends on your travel style and the duration of your trip and where. If you're trip is say 5-7 weeks, mostly in central Europe with long and short rides, Germany, Poland, Austria, Budapest, Czechia, then I would suggest a Pass.

If you plan on taking ferries and/or night trains, get the rail pass in case you want to go from Cologne to Warsaw, or Berlin to Vienna, or Vienna to Gdansk. Lots of routes, all part of digging out the pertinent info.

It is all up to your own level of comfort zone, what you are willing to cope with or not, ie how much you're willing to" rough it" and basically, travel style. I mean, how well do you know yourself and what "risks" (obviously, nothing stupid, dangerous, illegal, etc) are you willing to go in traveling?

If saving on expenses is paramount, then forget the rail pass, since you're willing to commit to a specific date of travel and departure time in order to get the savings, basically, you've sacrificed flexibility over savings. I use a rail pass and use the adv booking 92 days out discount tickets...all depends on the ride, since you can't deviate with such a ticket.

Traveling in Germany and Austria I don't use a smartphone with apps...wouldn't know how anyway. The language issue there, as I've said, is literally the least of your problems/concerns, etc.

Posted by
9921 posts

I agree with much of the advice here. I’ll add that I’m currently in Paris on my own for a week or so and will meet up with my 11th Rick Steves tour next week. I’ve also done 10 Road Scholar tours. I prefer Rick’s tours as the guides do work on teaching travel skills which has helped with my confidence on solo travel. I did the 21 Best of Europe in 2014 and that remains at the top of my list of all time favorites. I pick the Road Scholar tours if they have an itinerary Rick doesn’t offer.

As someone mentioned the cost of getting there by air is the largest single expense. I've seen some ridiculously low fares at times like $200 or so round trip. Are these scams or are they legit?

I don’t think anyone responded to this question. No not legit. Book directly with an airline of choice so if something goes south you’ll be able to deal directly with the airline instead of a shonky 3rd party online travel agency. The ones that offer “cheep, cheep” deals are not giving you live quotes for airfares. There ARE some fare sales with the major airlines sometimes but whether you can get something from your departure city is unknown. For my backwoods departure airport there is rarely a deal!!

An excellent point about the solo supplement. I always get that just because I need some alone time. With Rick’s tours you get a $50 credit the next year for being a tour alum. That’s $50 for every tour you’ve taken so now my life’s goal is to go on enough so I get a single supplement! 😆😆

BTW...the 21 day Best of Europe spends 2 nights in Switzerland!!

Posted by
1263 posts

Max, I can not tell you to take a tour or not, I lean heavily towards independent travel.

I am so sorry for your loss. I can tell you thatc for me, travel has a way of triggering emotions. I’ve done a trip after the death of my closest friend and I definitely had a few emotional moments on that trip. He’d helped me with my very first trip to Europe and we used to text close to 100 times a day, everything from what’s for lunch to solving peace in the Middle East.

Posted by
3789 posts

Max, you mentioned trains and I thought I would give a few websites to help with planning independent travel.
seat61 dot com This guy (Man in Seat 61) is pretty much the train guru particularly for Europe.

As mentioned, you sacrifice last minute decisions for the budget when it comes to long haul train fares. But, short trips may have no impact from booking early (and are a waste of money to use with a train pass). Most train companies offer senior's discounts, but they aren't always added to the lowest fare booked in advance, so you want to read the fine print. The RS Transportation forum can help with train details, and also may help you with the countries/cities that offer free bus travel for those over 70.

rome2rio dot com First layer map plotting of different locations. If you want to see whether your multi-city trip involves a lot of back tracking, or 'how to I get from A to B' then this website gives the backtracking visual, but also numerous transport options between cities. It is improving, but you want to know it isn't necessarily the most accurate prices or schedules (and does occasionally miss some local airlines like Air Dalmanti)....but for a first layer plan, at least you can see whether it is better to fly an hour or train for 10 and the cost differences. Could help you with your overall budget as well.
google translate - this is an app you download and will help with your language concerns. Supposedly, you can take a photo of a sign or menu (or hold the phone in the app over a menu) and it will translate it for you. A frequent poster on another travel site recently had a heart attack in Japan on her solo trip. The nurses used a translate app to communicate with her. Satisfactory outcomes. So, even if you struggle with the translation, many in the tourist industry are well conversant with translation apps.
https://matrix.itasoftware.com/#search:research=YMQMIL-MILYMQ Matrix ITA software or Google Flights These are flight planning websites - you can't buy tickets from them - and they offer more flight options than the 3rd party sales websites like Expedia. When you decide on a flight, then go to the airline website to book the flight. If things go wrong, booking directly usually means help from the airline rather than trying to deal with a company on the web who no longer cares whether you get an alternate flight or not.
Speaking of flights.....you may want to sign up with airlines to receive their sales promotions by email. I'm not sure where you are from, but I envy the folks from NYC who can get return flights to Europe for $500.....so 'cheap', not 'cheep' flights are possible.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks Maria. A ton of information on the sites you suggested. Very helpful.
Here's what I'm thinking of doing. Fly into Amsterdam and spend 5-7 days in the Benelux countries. Bicycling, canals and windmills in the Netherlands, Belgium waffles, chocolate and beer in Belgium and time permitting a peak into Luxemburg. Take the train to Paris and link up with 14 day ' Best of Europe' RS tour. Tour ends in Rome. Return home.
If I don't make it back to Europe I will have gotten a pretty good overview with the tour but also some experience on my own.
One question: Would I need to book the train trip to Paris before flying to Amsterdam or can it just be done when I get there?

Posted by
21 posts

I felt that Amsterdam would be a good place to start since most people speak English there.
I see that bus service would be a good bit cheaper to Paris but takes longer. Plus I want to get the feel and experience of train travel.

Posted by
11292 posts

"Would I need to book the train trip to Paris before flying to Amsterdam or can it just be done when I get there?"

The train that goes from Amsterdam to Paris is the Thalys: https://www.thalys.com/nl/en. If you book it in advance it's much cheaper (as low as €35). If you wait until you get to Amsterdam to book it, the price can be as high as €135, and some trains can sell out.

A great trick to quickly see the price spread on a particular route: look at trains for tomorrow, then for 3 months out. This way, you can see what a last minute ticket costs, and what the advance purchase discount is. (That's what I just did to find the prices I quoted you).

Note that the cheapest tickets not only require advance purchase, but will also be non-refundable and non-exchangeable (or, have severe restrictions on these actions). So, while you want to buy ahead for best prices, you also want to wait until you are sure of your plans.

More info about this train here: https://www.seat61.com/thalys.htm

"I see that bus service would be a good bit cheaper to Paris but takes longer. "

The big advantage of buses are that, if bought last minute, they are much cheaper than trains bought at the last minute. But with advance purchase, the price gap narrows. The bus will take about twice as long as the train, and is less comfortable (still perfectly acceptable).

Posted by
3789 posts

Thanks for coming back to let us know your plans. Sounds like a good compromise. I would mention, however, that 5-7 days may be a little short to fit in the 3 Benelux countries. If you could add 2 more, you have some time to deal with jet lag and culture adjustment. As much as tours and Rs suggested itineraries cover a lot of ground in a few days, tours have all the logistics down to a fine art, and the itineraries are u realistic for the times needed to get from point a to b. Every move should be a half day scheduled; packking, getting to train, transit time, finding your lodgings, unpacking. Over estimating what you can do that day....or packing in an itinerary with every hour scheduled can be stressful and unpleasant. You have some relaxing and enjoyable experiences on your list. Give yourself time to enjoy them.
Something my friends in Belgium told me was the increased costs on French trains when crossing borders. They would drive from Mons, Belgium to Lille France, and board the train there. You may want to look at bus to a town in France on a rail line, then rail into Paris. More complicated than a one ticket ride, but helps with the budget and spontaneity.
May I make a suggestion? If your budget allows, would you consider spending an extra day or two in Rome after the trip? There are always places missed on a tour and you might just enjoy a bike ride on the Appian Way, a visit to Ostia Antica and another chance to try your DIY. Compare it to your skills learned along the way and travel home grounded in yourself rather than right after a tour when life it a little disjointed.

Posted by
21 posts

More useful suggestions. Thanks to Harold and Maria. So glad I joined this blog. It's obvious I'm talking to people that have actually done what I'm thinking of doing rather than a AAA agent that has never even been to Europe. That is exactly the situation I was in about a month ago when I was on the verge of signing up for a Trafalgar tour which is one that she suggested. It probably would have been okay but I've come to see that there are better options.
Actually I had initially thought of staying in and around Rome another day or two then thought it might be too much or that I will have worn out by then. But, I'll reconsider. If I recall I think I've heard Rick say that Italy was his favorite country so considering all the places he's been that's quite a complement. Just this morning I met someone at a coffee shop that worked for an Italian company and has made many trips over there. He had nice things to say about the people.
Its puzzling to me that train fares can vary that much depending on the time they're purchased but good information to have. Also helps to know that crossing a border makes a difference.

Posted by
3789 posts

There is a lot to learn either by reading these forum regularly, reading books, info videos, and our own personal trial and errors. One can still have a good trip taking a tour, or doing a simple safe trop that isn't the cheapest, but it is nice to decide knowing the options.
As to too tired after a tour, well,even if you are tired, why not be tired over an espresso in the Plaza Navona with a smile on your face reminiscing and absorbing all uou have just experienced. Slowing down a bit and starting to rest up rather than sitting exhausted in a desiccated tin can. You stoll need to experience the tin can, but I think a day or two down time to catch up on things missed in the city, or just to let everything sink in isn't a bad thing.
As well as Rick, I think many of us find Italy holds a special place. It deserves any spare time you have.

Posted by
21 posts

Maria, your points are well taken. An expresso in the plaza sounds pretty good. Time in the tin can not so good.

Posted by
374 posts

Tons of great advice here. All I can add is another vote for extra days in Rome. We spent 8 nights there two years ago and thought it was amazing.

Posted by
21 posts

I agree with your "tons of great advice" Barbara. I can't comply with all of it but I'll remember it; some of it for future trips which I hope I get to take.