I have never been outside of North America. I have decided to go to Europe for 10 days for my first international trip in late May with a few friends. I want to hit Germany and France on my trip, but other than that I have no idea how to plan it, where I should go, how to have a great experience without it being too pricey. Any tips on what I should do and how I should prepare for it? Thanks!
Definitely start out with Rick's books...ETBD is a good first one to read...also you can watch his videos on hulu and see what interests you. Do you have your flight yet?
Get a guidebook or two suitable for your age group and budget level and start reading. Most of the regulars on this website will automatically point you to Rick Steves' books, but depending on your age, income level and interests, these may or may not be your best source, and some of his books are better than others (his UK and France books are excellent, Germany and Belgium/Netherlands books suck). Let's Go is good for college students on a threadbare budget, Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide for slightly older travelers with a little more money, Rick Steves, Eye Witness Guides for people with a moderate, steady income but with limited vacation time, Fodor's and Frommer's for travelers with even less time but more money. Take you pick and read up.
Wow, thank you for the quick responses. I will definitely look into those guides you both suggested. Terry, I have not gotten my flights yet. I live in the LA area and am trying to figure out where to start and where to end before I buy my tickets. Tom, thank you for the guide suggestions. I and my friends are in our early 30's and some of us are on a tight budget. We were definitely thinking of Germany, so if Rick Steve's guides are not the best for that, I will look at your other guides. Any other tips I should keep in mind? Is it better to stay in hotels or hostels? What mode of transportation would be a good mix of enjoyable and economical if we plan to hit 2 or 3 different countries? Thanks!
"What mode of transportation would be a good mix of enjoyable and economical if we plan to hit 2 or 3 different countries?" Unanswerable until you decide where you want to visit... but usually, if you're hitting mostly large cities, trains. If you can nail down an itinerary, you can get significant discounts with advanced purchases.
I'd go ahead and check out some guidebooks. Hit your local bookstore, buy a cup of coffee, and grab a pile of them. See which one suits your fancy, then buy it. Rick's books have a lot of good practical info for planning your first trip, but so do some of the others. Most of them will have some sort of sample itineraries in them.
"Europe for 10 days"... "first international trip in late May with a few friends"... "Germany and France"..."how to have a great experience without it being too pricey." To keep costs, down, and to make your trip doable in this short period of time, you and your friends should limit your area of travel. I imagine Paris is on your list. Pencil in 4+ days? To get to Germany, look at http://reiseaukunft.bahn.de for prices from Paris; going to Koblenz, for example, a city not far from the French border, you'll find that cheap advance-sale tickets can be had for around 40 Euros each on some trains, a bit more on others if the cheapies are sold out. (I found such prices on a random date of May 25.) Koblenz, where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet, or thereabouts is a good destination for people with different interests. It's easy to reach big-city Cologne or Frankfurt, or Trier (former Roman city) from there, to tour medieval castles and check out old-world villages, to hike and bike in the nearby surroundings, to cruise the rivers, and to do some wine tasting. 4-5 days here would give you a good intro to Germany. To explore this area, 2-5 people can travel by train on a daypass known as the "Rheinland-Pfalz Ticket", which gets you to Bonn in the north, Karlsruhe in the south, and west to the French and Luxembourg borders. It's only about 30 Euros per day for your group. It'll cost a few Euros more to reach Cologne or Frankfurt. Vacation apartments are fairly numerous in this area, very cheap, and a great way to save on meals and have extra room. Many of them offer bicycles at no charge with their accommodations. We stayed at this place south of Koblenz, where rates are under 50 Euros/night, and had a great time. http://www.loreley-apartments.de/die_4_wohnungen_en.php
10 days, IF that doesn't include travel days, is about 3 cities. After all of you have poured over the guidebooks, try to come together on your common interests...Good Luck! I'm guessing something like...Paris, Brugge, Colmar, Salzburg, Munich, Rhine River (St Goar/Bacharach)...places along those lines. But maybe you'll surprise me! Battlefields, Formula 1 racetracks, etc. LOL! Are you shopping fanatics? for what? Into history, or art? Appreciate beer or wine? Want to go-go-go, or more of the 'lie-on-a-beach-while-someone-brings-me-yummy-drinks' kind of people? THINK long and hard on these kinds of questions... DEFINITELY get - and read! - "ETBD" for starters... Do you watch RS' travel series? They're available on his channel on YouTube. Very good for inspiration. In short, less moving around means more seeing and doing...and you don't have that much time there. Paris>Munich might mean a flight to save time, for instance. And congrats for NOT purchasing airline tickets before you have a clue where you're going LOL! If you knew how often THAT happens...
With May being your travel month I would definitely get on those flights... they really appear to be going up daily. While I like big cities, I can only do a few days before I need to get to the countryside or the sea, so i typically have a car so I can do as I please. If I am going to Rome of Florence or Paris I will get rid of the car or find a hotel outside of the city and take the train in. Sometimes its cheaper to keep the car for a week. I don't do hostels, but with a few of you to share hotel costs as well as the car rental you will have to figure out which is cheaper. I would watch those videos and try to choose which of the wonderful locations you want to visit. If budget becomes the huge issue you might want to look at some cheaper countries... Maybe Eastern europe (Poland, Hungary, Romania) but get on those flights and maybe try a number of different scenarios and see which flights work out the cheapest. In one city and out of another can help...but I have done in and out of the same airport because it was cheaper and then just done a loop with my trip. You don't have to backtrack.
If you're in your 30s with varying incomes, I'd go with Lonely Planet and the Rough Guides.
Wow, so much good information. I can't tell you how appreciative I am of all your input. You've given me and my friends a lot to consider. Thank you!
Logan, The others have provided some great suggestions, so that's a good start to your planning! As someone else mentioned, since this is your first trip to Europe, reading Europe Through The Back Door would be a really good idea. That will provide with lots of good information on "how" to travel in Europe. Could you elaborate on why you chose those two countries? With a very short 10-day time frame, you probably won't have time for any more than France and Germany. I'd suggest using open-jaw flights (into Germany / out of France or vice versa). Keep in mind that you'll lose the first day (you'll arrive the day AFTER you depart the U.S.) and the last day will be spent on the flight home. You'll be jet-lagged for a day or two, so won't be up to full "touring speed" for a day or two. I'd suggest having a look at some of the country or city-specific Guidebooks at your local Library, to get some idea on which cities you might like to visit. I agree with Tom that it would be a good idea to check several different Guidebooks, but I disagree that Rick's Germany book "sucks". I use that book for planning my trips in Germany, and it's been great. It depends to a large extent on one's "travel preferences". One route you might consider would be to start in Munich and work your way towards Paris. That will provide numerous possibilities to fit a 10-day trip. Regarding transportation, rail is the quickest and most efficient method. Which type of accommodation to use will depend on your preferences. I'm older but tend to use a combination of budget Hotels and occasionally Hostels. As you'll be travelling in May, it would be a good idea to start getting flights and Hotels booked NOW! Happy travels!
Definitely plan on your flights arriving in one city, then leaving from the other, and plan as much of a straight line between these. I agree, budget for 4 nights in Paris. For example, landing in Paris, but leaving from Berlin, or vice-versa. My suggestion to you: 4 nights in Paris and 3 nights in Berlin + one more city in between.
AL, you're right, Berlin is far but it's very worth it and has incredible appeal for young adults. Air Berlin, Transvia, EasyJet, RyanAir, etc. all have cheap flights that will cut down on the travel time - the "in-between" city stop can be picked from wherever the cheap flights go to/from Berlin: Munich, Cologne, Amsterdam, London, etc....
Logan. Something else to consider/ask yourself is what kind of trip do you want. How many museums can you handle? If you want the "highlights" of Germany and France then you will likely spend most of your time in the major cities. If however you have particular interests such as WWII history, architecture, food, etc. you might find that you choose to modify your trip accordingly. My suggestion might be to fly into Munich/(Paris or Amsterdam) and then fly out of the other.
Definitely read ETBD! Can seriously help with itinerary. Notice that Italy is not on your list...my absolute favorite country in Europe. Save it for another trip, I suppose. Paris is a must, a bit pricey but, well worth it. Make sure you look into market days for all of the cities you plan to visit. They are such a wonderful experience and can provide provisions for picnics...fresh produce is a must but, the experience alone is awesome. Try to fit in at least a little bit of countryside and villages. Gives you a much better feel for the local culture and cuisine. We so enjoyed Zell-am-Ziller and Achensee (spelling?) in Germany. The Alsace region on the border of France and Germany is quite beautiful and unique. What a great trip! Enjoy.
I remember decades ago when 10 days was the length of my first trip to Europe. I did Paris, Munich, Milan and Rome...And saw virtually nothing because it seemed like all I was doing was running from train to train and standing in line to change money (you obviously don't ahve to do that any more)! Someone already said that three cities would be the maximum and I tend to agree. Perhaps Paris and then onto Munich and finally Berlin? You could also skip Berlin (although it is well worth the trip), leave Paris and take a nice cruise along Rhine River and then visit Munich.
Logan, Since this is your first trip and England is not included in the itinerary, then I would have picked Germany and France too, exactly as you, to spend the ten days. As for reading where to go (if you haven't decided that already), I heartily suggest Rough Guide and Let's Go...the only two I use...as suggested above, very readable with valuable needed information. Both tend to pitch to a certain audience. Let's Go focuses on the more budget-minded traveller, regardless of age. Rough Guide covers a greater range from budget to moderate and has more depth in coverage. Regardless of where you land in Germany or France, focus the trip on Paris, Berlin, and a possible third place: Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt or Strasboug. I focus more on cities. But if you decide on only Berlin and Paris, a wise choice as to not zip back and forth, unless you intend to the take the Paris-Berlin night train, be sure to include a day-trip in Potsdam, (take the S-Bahn from Berlin), or Versailles; better still, see Fontainebleau (train from Gare de Lyon). As regards to accomodations, Berlin is most likely the cheapest major city or capital in Europe.
In Germany you might want to consider some of the college town, given your ages... I know you are older than college, but they still have a different feel than some other places. My daughter especially enjoyed Wurzburg, and of course Munich felt young and exciting to her.