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Undecided newbie looking for a destination...

Hi All:

I have minimal travel experience, but have decided that I must change that before my 30th birthday. I'd like to make my first trip out of the USA sometime between February and May, but am unsure of where to go!

I'm open to visiting anywhere but am especially intrigued by Venice, London, Paris, Marrakech, Berlin, and Madrid.

My question is - which destination would be most highly recommended for a shy American who only speaks English?

Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

Posted by
1317 posts

London for obvious reasons. Berlin would also probably be good, followed by Venice and Paris. Marrakech and Madrid would probably be the most challenging.

However, depending on what type of experience you are looking for, you might consider signing up for a tour. I am also fairly shy and don't really speak anything except English (though I am working on that!), but I really wanted to go to Rome for my 25th birthday. I signed up for the 7-day RS Rome tour, firmly told myself that I would be social and not a wallflower, and had an amazing time.

The benefits of the tour are 1) you've got someone else (25 someone elses in my case) watching your back, 2) the tour operator knows all the ins and outs, no having to sort it out on your own, and 3) you'll probably cover more ground, more effectively, than you could on your own.

You certainly CAN do it on your own, but I found the tour to be a good way to 'get my feet wet' and not worry quite so much about the shyness/language issues.

Posted by
8454 posts

London. Great sites, polite people, plus history, theatre, museums, easy public transport, beautiful countryside and a familiar language. As the previous poster noted consider taking a Rick Steves tour. You can also meet people and explore the city by taking some of the wonderful London Walks( Stay at a B & B where your hosts will help you feel at home and can be helpful in
answering your questions and allaying your fears.

Posted by
6515 posts

Generally speaking, the further north you stay, the greater the chances of communicating with others in English (although you might have better luck in Venice than in Paris.)

Posted by
1283 posts

Given the time of year you want to go, you might want to consider more southern destinations. Northern Europe is like the Northern US- slow to warm up in the Spring. While you can never predict weather, you can go by past history. Wherever you go, I would try to aim more for April or May. The plane fares will still be good, but you will have a better chance for nicer weather.

Posted by
14573 posts

Taking a tour is a good idea. Besides the RS tour, Trafalgar has tours geared toward people 21-35. Yes, these are the big bus tours that many people on this board hate--even though they've never been on one.

I took one of these on my first trip to Europe. I loved it so much, I switched careers and became a tour director.

You will travel with English speakears from all over the world.

Posted by
7279 posts

First, do not worry about language barriers, you will be fine, and to be honest, for a first trip, go someplace where English is not the main language, it adds to the experience. That said, forget London. Yes it is an easy destination, but live a little and the normally dreary weather will dampen your time. Marrakech would be exotic, certainly warmer, but maybe edgier for a first trip than advised. Madrid; a good destination, but really not spectacular, for Spain, Barcelona, the Coast or other areas may be better. Berlin; good possibilities, but highly dependent on what you want out of the trip. That leaves Venice and Paris, and I would choose Paris. Exotic enough that you would know you are in a foreign country, absolutely stellar attractions, great mix of history and art, so many things that are almost classic travel experiences. Weather in Spring will generally be great, plus great food and great people watching. Added to that, it is easy to get to (probably direct from Atlanta on Delta/Air France) and can be done economically. What more can you ask for?

Posted by
582 posts

I LOVED Berlin! Very easy to get around,interesting but sad history. Today it's a young hip place and endless things to do. However, don't go there in the winter. I was there in November and was very cold, but I still enjoyed myself. Other posters suggested London, and that's a great first trip! But again, cold in the winter. If you can go in May, that would be great!
Where ever you decide where to go, you can't go wrong in Europe! You will have the time of your life!

Posted by
175 posts

Well the first trip that I took to Europe was Spain and Portugal and I have to say that I loved Madrid. The Prado is one of the greatest art museums in Europe. The Food/tapa/bar scene is a ton of fun. And the Spanish people are very full of life. For a person your age, I think this is an ideal place to go for your first trip. But then again, Paris is my favorite city of all that I have visited.

Posted by
9363 posts

International travel can be challenging in many ways. I would suggest you go to London, mostly because you will be confused and unsure enough about the whole experience without fighting a language barrier. I love Berlin and Madrid, too, but even Rick Steves suggests that you start with a country that is less "culturally challenging", and work your way up to a more exotic experience. If you choose a place where you are too far out of your element, and have a bad experience as a result, it might put you off further travel.

Posted by
191 posts

I am also a female in my early 20's and just got back from my second trip to Europe. My first was 5 weeks and this past one almost 2 months.

First I would suggest to start out in London, everyone speaks english, there is a ton to see, and its an easy city to ease into traveling. From there I would suggest Paris, and then heading down to Switzerland/Italy. As others have said do not worry too much about the language barrier, I find a simple hello or thank you in the local language is good enough.

I would suggest to stay away from Marrakech! I spent 4 days in June as a single female, and while I was expecting exotic, Marrakech was the one city I just didn't like. Its too difficult to travel there as a female alone, and I think there are many other more wonderful places in Europe.

Also try not to do too much, leave about 1 day for each week you travel as a down day to relax, read a book or do laundry.

I think you should start with London and Paris if you have alittle more than a week. Two or more weeks add Venice and Rome. Three weeks add Florence or Cinque Terre and four weeks maybe a stop in Switzerland.

If your concerned about the language barrier Switzerland is ideal, as almost everyone I met spoke english!

Good Luck

Posted by
2 posts

Wow! Thank you all so much!

Right now I'm leaning towards the R. Steves' Paris/London, Barcelona/Madrid, or Venice/Florence/Rome tour as my introduction, likely in April or early May.

Posted by
4 posts


My wife and I took our first trip to Europe 25 years ago using a tour, which was a month long. We extend the tail end by renting a car for a few days. We're now planning our 9th trip for 2009. Except for the 1st trip we've traveled indepentdently either renting a car or using Eurail passes. We feel that a tour is a good way start. Although we haven't taken on of Ricks's tours, they sound very much like our 1st trip. Basically a tour with an intro to the new city and then time to explore on your own. We've been to all of the cities you mentioned, except Marrakech and have had only a few minor clitches. Try to get feedback or questions answered by younger people. Some of the old folks don't understand English and may seem curt or rude, but for the most part they will try to help. Rick's books are good. We don't agree with some of his reccomendations, but they have been extremely helpful in planning our trips. We always start and/or end in London or Paris because like many of the earlier posters havs commented; There's so much to do.

Go forth and enjoy!!!!

Van & Nancy

Posted by
12154 posts

I haven't been to Madrid yet so can't tell you too much about it.

Enough Berliners speak English well and can help you get around.

Enough Londoners understand American to help too.

Venice is used to tourists so English will be widely understood and spoken.

I'd probably pick London for a first trip. It has great museums and history and is easy to absorb. After that you can plan to visit the others.

Posted by
430 posts

Doing a tour is a great way to go, and a Rick Steves tour would certainly train you in the right vein.

I agree completely with the first poster who said: "London for obvious reasons. Berlin would also probably be good, followed by Venice and Paris. Marrakech and Madrid would probably be the most challenging."

Even on a tour, I would save Italy or Spain destinations until you are a more experienced traveler. With more experience you will have a greater capacity to enjoy the contrasts in culture those countries bring. The tour including London/Paris is a superb starting place, and are great destinations for the early springtime when you are thinking of traveling.

Posted by
2030 posts

Grace -- I think any one of the RS tours you choose will be fabulous. You can't beat London and Paris, but Venice particularly (& Flo and Rome) will be unbelievable!

Posted by
32152 posts


I have a few comments to add to the others. Since this is your first trip, one approach you might consider is to combine some self-guided travel with a RS tour. This would allow you to not only become familiar with travelling in Europe on your own, but also the experience of travelling with a group. Having an experienced Guide is a definite benefit, as you'll learn far more about the places you're visiting than going on your own.

One possibility to look at (depending on your time and budget situation) would be to begin in London for several days, and then travel to Paris to join the RS Best of Europe in 14 days tour (I didn't suggest the 21 day version, due to the cost). This would provide you with a good overview of several countries in Europe and give you an idea of which countries you might like to return to. Beginning in London will be the least "culture shock" (use the RS "London" book to plan sightseeing). I'd suggest leaving Madrid and especially Marrakech for a future visit for various reasons. IMO, beginning the trip about mid-to-late April would be perfect!

The fact that you only speak English is not too much of a concern. You'll probably find (as most of us have) that many Europeans speak at least some English. Of course, there will always be a few occasions when communication might be difficult, but those are sometimes the most memorable travel experiences. Having a Guide for the non-English speaking countries will also provide you with some familiarization with travel in those areas. Learning a few common words in each language is a good idea (please, thank you, hello, etc.).

The fact that you're "shy" is another good reason to try a RS tour. You won't be shy at the end of the tour!

Good luck with your decision!

Posted by
360 posts

Like Ken, I suggest you combine a tour with a few days on your own, but I suggest you just stay in either the city you begin in or end in. That would be the easiest on you. My first trip 25 yrs ago was a tour of England. When I got home, I told myself I could do it on my own, see less, but see it better, so I went back the next year. Moving around is the most difficult part of travel, but going from London to Paris(as I think Ken suggested) would be easy enough & Paris is wonderful & worth learning a few of the polite phrases. The RS Paris guidebook will give you all the info you need. Wish I was going again for the first time.

Posted by
2030 posts

I agree with Rose. My first trip to Europe I spent 3 days in London by myself (and my trusty RS guidebook). It was great. I took the Eurostar train into Paris and met up with the RS tour there, and then spent a day after the tour on my own. It was a fabulous, easy, exciting, unforgettable introduction to Europe.

Posted by
3112 posts

A tour is a great way to get your sea legs for european travel. Tours aren't intended to teach you how to travel, but you'll quickly see how easy it is and learn by chatting with others. If you do a tour, definitely include an extra day or two at the end to explore on your own.