Please sign in to post.

Traveling Eastern Europe Solo

Hello,

I am taking a trip to Eastern Europe this summer (June/July). At first I was looking at tour groups but then considered doing it on my own so that I can take in my surroundings without distraction. I found Rick Steves 22 day itinerary of Eastern Europe, which sounds great. I would have to adjust the time somewhat as I only have 18 days. I am worried about getting from here to there and worried that I will be limited in the help I can receive due to language barriers. I would like to start in Krakow and make my way through Eastern Europe. I am traveling alone, so feeling like I know where I am going and how I am getting there is important to me. Is English common in Eastern Europe and if so, do you find the people there helpful? I am wondering how safe hostels are and if there are any you can recommend. This is my first traveling experience out of the US, so any information or helpful hints would be appreciated.

Posted by
6181 posts

Is English common in Eastern Europe and if so, do you find the people there helpful?

You haven't named any countries yet, so I would say the answer is highly variable and almost always differs in large cities or university towns (where there are a lot of English speaking students and young people) versus villages where you won't find a soul speaking English. The first thing to keep in mind is Eastern Europe is not a unanimous land mass, it's a set of very different individual countries with totally different histories (some will feel more "western" than others). I think I can safely say that in many places (especially off the beaten path), the tourism sector is not as robust and the service people may be a lot less service-oriented than you're used to. Better to always try a young person for help if you can't get it elsewhere. Also, be very cautious of how realistic Rick's 22 day trip is - is it geared toward a solo traveler or a tour group where the bus whisks you away every morning and you have nothing to plan?

You're going to have a blast traveling around, but you need to nail down only a few countries/areas to travel to. Then get a book like Lonely Planet and start reading all about that country/area and you'll really gain the confidence to get around there. A few countries like Ukraine and Serbia don't use the Roman alphabet (they use Cyrillic) so those would be a bit more challenging.

I can vouch that Krakow will be a piece of cake...very tourist friendly, university town, and lots of English/ Irish tourists so you'll get around there just fine.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you for the information! I am looking at Krakow, Prague and Vienna for sure. Are there any other stops that are must sees? I am just starting my research, so I am not sure of what places to visit in between. Would a Eurorail pass be my best means of transportation? I definitely want to see historical sites like Auschwitz. Right now my travel plans are open, but like you pointed out, I don't want to be in a rush. I want time to take in the culture and history of every place I visit.

Posted by
1706 posts

Is the 18 days including transit from the US, leaving you 16 days? Prague, Krakow and Vienna are all great choices. You definitely have time for at least one more city, possibly two. You can give 3 nights to your bigger cities and 2 nights to a smaller "charming but smaller" town. You're correct in your statement about "getting from here to there". It's totally doable but that's where good planning comes in. No need to buy a Eurail, but you would do well to choose your cities in advance and buy your train tickets in advance. This will help you keep a reasonable budget.

You should do a little looking around on a map for other city ideas that aren't too far. Transiting takes longer than you think, but cities you might consider adding are Berlin or Budapest for a big city. Cesky Krumlov for smaller town.

There's no problem not speaking English - I've traveled around most of those cities and I had no trouble. There was a lot of English spoken in restaurants and hotels etc.

Come back here with a roughed out list of cities and I'm sure you'll get some help with transit connections.

Posted by
6047 posts

Krakow, Vienna, Prague is a common trio for travelers to central Europe. With 18 days you could add Budapest. I traveled solo to the four of them in 16 days a couple of years ago so you should have plenty of time to do them justice. Loved all four of them, especially Krakow and Budapest - they were my favorites. I had no problems with language issues in any of them. All of them were easy to get around in by myself and people were very helpful when necessary. Most of the staff in the hotels/apartments that I stayed in spoke some English and the same at the tourist sights I visited. I visited Cesky Krumlov from Prague and Szentendre from Budapest, these are smaller towns but definitely tourist oriented so no language problems there either.

As for getting from here to there, it really was a breeze. I asked lots of questions here on the forum, did lots of research online and in guidebooks regarding the transportation between them. I actually started my trip in Belgium (before the central Europe cities) so I flew in to Brussels and home from Budapest where I ended my trip. Between the cities I used the trains which, with a little advance research, was easy to do. I did not get a rail pass because my dates of travel were set before going so I could get advance purchase tickets ahead of time at a deep discount, much cheaper that way. I did have to buy one ticket at full price the day before traveling and that was from Krakow to Vienna, that was because I didn't know before I went whether I was going to use train or bus. I had no problem getting the ticket at the Krakow main train station using a US credit card.

I didn't use any hostels because I'm older and those days are behind me - not that you can't stay in hostels if you're a senior but I just prefer ensuite bathrooms, just can't share a bathroom any more. So I can't help you with those. I'm sure you'll get advice here from those who do use hostels. If this is your first time traveling solo you might prefer the camaraderie of other like travelers in the hostels. I like staying by myself so I use hotels and apartments, they are very reasonably priced in those cities so with a bit of research you can find them almost as cheap as hostels.

Keep asking questions here as they come up in your planning. Everyone here is happy to help out.

Posted by
170 posts

Jamie,

Hello.

I was in Eastern Europe in May and June last year. It was a superb trip! I had a great time. Like you plan to do, I began in Krakow. I passed through the Czech and Slovak republics on my way to Hungary. Then I ended in Austria.

Is English common in Eastern Europe and if so, do you find the people there helpful?

I don't speak any of the languages in the countries I visited. I found that was no barrier to understanding. However, it's always polite to learn some phrases in the local language. Some try to learn 50 phrases, some just wing it without learning any. I always try to learn a bit of the local languages. People see you've made an effort to learn their language, even if it's just a couple of phrases. If you feel uncomfortable with just a couple of phrases, then buy phrase books, such as those Rick Steves or Lonely Planet produce.

Do you find the people there helpful?

I find the people of Eastern Europe to be very friendly, even a bit more open than people in Western Europe.

As far as sites for Krakow, I'd strongly recommend the Oskar Schindler factory, the Kazimierz area, the Wieliczka Salt Mines, the Wawel sites and Auschwitz.

You didn't mention Hungary, but you should consider it. Of the three countries I visited, Hungary was my favorite. I could move to Budapest tomorrow. It's become one of my three favorite European cities.

Also, schedule time to visit smaller towns with a gentler pace than big cities. Look for Rick's section on Pecs, Hungary, in his book. He also lists some great small towns in the Poland, the Czech Rep., Slovak Republic and other countries.

Have a great time.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you all so much! I can't wait! I hear it's a life changing experience if you go to the right places. Thanks for all the information and patience. I am doing more research as I go. Thank you again, for the suggestions on places to visit. Very much appreciated.

Posted by
170 posts

Jamie,

Some addenda:

If you go to Budapest, go to the public baths. The Szechenyi baths are the best. Most Americans think it's just like going to a pool, but it's a totally different atmosphere. It's incredibly indulgent, and I loved every second of it! Here is what Rick wrote on them: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/taking-the-plunge-in-budapest

In Vienna (or Budapest), go to the opera, the Wiener Staatsoper. It was an incredible cultural experience, even if you don't listen to a lot of classical music.

Finally, take a bicycle tour in any one (or more, if you want) of the cities you go to. Bicycle tours are a blast.

Cheers.

Posted by
10 posts

That's exactly the kind of stuff I am looking to do. I was even looking for some sort of classical music in Krakow. I saw that they do Chopin concerts in Warsaw. Thank you so much!

Posted by
12103 posts

Hi,

You need not worry about the language factor at all traveling in Warsaw, Vienna or Prague. There are lots of other nationalities traveling around speaking only English as their foreign language. You hang around the hostel reception desk to see where the guests come from, East Asians, Indians, South America, US, other Europeans, what language are they addressed in or use...English, if you don't use the local language. Only one place in Poland, ie, at the Hotel-Pension in Gdansk where I experienced the reception desk (run by these two older Polish women) not willing to speak English. They preferred Polish, Russian or German...no problem. In Krakow and Torun no problems at all when using English at the hotel.

Krakow has one of the best hostels, highly rated in all of Europe, the Greg and Tom at the main train station. The only time you would feel the language barrier exist is those times you want want to read the signs, advertisement, etc. If you should run into a train station staff member who doesn't speak English, they 'll get someone to assist you. I saw that in Krakow. But that was in 2001. I would assume it's different now. Super helpful people in Poland, and you'll notice many of them young or older are multi-lingual.

Posted by
2092 posts

I'm a solo female traveller and I've been to Estonia, Poland, Czech republic, Austria and Hungary and did not encounter any difficulty with finding English speaking people when I needed them. If you get far outside the city center or to smaller towns there's a bit less English. I found the people in Hungary and Poland to be exceedingly kind and helpful, other places about normal. I felt safer walking around alone than I do at home in the SF bay area, I can tell you that!

Posted by
16770 posts

I first did that route as a solo traveler in 1996, buying bus and train tickets as I went and booking cheap rooms through the local TI. NO issues to report, despite my worries before departing. If an older lady renting a room did not speak any English, she was already well versed in using sign language to point out what I needed to know. If you're buying a train ticket at the window, it helps to write down the destination city, date, time, and class of service that you prefer. I found it much like traveling in other parts of Europe. Since you don't have that same experience to make you feel more comfortable, read up on general travel strategies in our Travel Tips section on this site, excerpted from the book Europe Through the Back Door.

The European East Pass is the cheapest rail pass to cover Austria, Czech Rep, Slovakia, and Hungary, but it unfortunately no longer includes Poland, so you'd need a separate ticket from Krakow to the border. Prices start from $210 in 2nd class for 5 travel days within a month; seat reservations not required on most trains.

Rick's tour also makes a few stops in Croatia and Slovenia, but that might be the part that you cut, since your trip is shorter. If you do choose Rick's tour, I think you'll find the guided portions of the visit to be more informative than distracting.

Posted by
12103 posts

"...safer...than...in the SF bay area...." That's for sure, especially in the east bay.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks again everyone! I think I figured out that I am going to fly into Frankfurt (it's cheaper and nonstop, Added Bonus: I can see some of Germany by train), take the train to Munich and spend a day. From there it would be trains to Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, and finally, Prague. I figured I could spend 4 days in or around each city, with intentions of immersing myself in the city for a day or two then venture out of town depending on what I find.

Although I would love to go where the wind takes me, I feel much better booking my trains and rooms before hand. Even though I am in my 30's and feel silly staying in hostels, I did some researching and found that there are many hostels that are low key and would be fine. I also like the idea of getting to know other travelers and think a hostel will help with that. Though I am not shy, I am not very outgoing either, so I'll need to throw myself into the mix. Thanks everyone for the ideas! My days in Krakow are already booked in my head! The Salt Mines, Schindler's Museum, A Castle, and of course Auschwitz. I am looking at Opera's and Orchestra's in the other city's with other ideas like the Baths in Budapest. I am buying a copy of Rick Steve's travel guide to pick out the most interesting places to me, though I don't want to go overboard. I would like at least a day in each city to just relax and see where my feet take me.

I am sure this will be an awesome experience. Now to try to get the train schedule down...

Posted by
6181 posts

Someone on another thread asked about transportation between Krakow and Budapest, so I am posting this here as well, in case it's helpful to you.

As an alternative to a train, you can also travel very inexpensively by Polski Bus (modern, long distance bus). It looks like the trip from Budapest to Krakow takes about 7 hours and is a direct trip.
http://www.polskibus.com/en/bus-stop.htm
Here is the timetable for the P6 route:
http://www.polskibus.com/en/timetables.htm

As a caveat, I don't know which would be faster or more convenient (train or bus) - you'll have to confirm.

Posted by
12103 posts

@ Jamie....some comments here to reassure you on staying at hostels. I always stay once or twice per trip in a hostel, at a private independent hostel, dorm or private room. Keep in mind that the private room is a double, ie if you're traveling solo, you pay for both beds in a private room. These do not belong to Hosteling International. You'll will find all ages at the hostel, definitely people in their 30s, all nationalities, solo travelers including women. People communicate in the common language...English. It depends on the city, the time of year, location and name of the hostel, etc. I travel mainly in early summer to July. Since your trip is in the summer, you'll see lots of young travelers in their 20s. The only place on your itinerary I've stayed in a hostel is Vienna, at Wombats, across from the Westbahnhof train station.

Posted by
2 posts

@Jamie
I agree - you don't have to worry about hostels in Cracow. You will be safe there. You can try airbnb.com as well, nowadays it's getting extremely popular in Poland. And I guess it would be nice to learn more about Polish culture from your hosts. :)

If you want to catch a coach from Cracow to other places, except for polskibus you could try http://www.luxexpress.eu. Their prices are a little bit higher but they offer some much better quality.

Posted by
11613 posts

Have you considered Berlin? Perhaps instead of Frankfurt? A couple of years ago I flew into Berlin and then went to Warsaw, Krakow, Vienna, before heading to Croatia. Berlin is an amazing city.