2-week travel in Europe - need help!

Hello Hello! It's 3 a.m. right now and my 5 friends and I are up wracking our brains over how to plan our upcoming trip. Only 1 of us is a seasoned traveler so it's pretty hard navigating through this all online.

So, we've come to get some help from y'all. Here's the thing:

Our trip is coming in under 3 weeks (Aug. 17th to Aug. 31st). The places we want to go are -

Madrid, Spain ->
Barcelona, Spain ->
Paris, France->
Amsterdam, Netherlands ->
Rome, Italy

We've been meeting up for 4-5 hours the last 2 nights trying to figure things out. Here's some stuff we know:

We want AT LEAST 2 full days in each country, some will be 3.
We're trying to stay within the $1,000 range for budget for transportation and housing.

So, how should we go about this? Buy Eurail passes right now online? Reserve single-ride tickets? Wait 'til we get there and do p2p? Fly to some places? Bus? What would be the most efficient route to hit up all 5 cities?

As it's late, our brains are fried and those are some questions we can think of for now. When I wake up, I'll see if there is anything else to add. But for now, can y'all help some young first-time travelers out? Thanks much!

ps - i know we're cutting it very close to our trip without anything concrete yet. the 1 traveler was in malaysia for a month and another has been out of town until recently. Your help will be greatly appreciated!

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7670 posts

As first-time travelers, I would really suggest cutting your list of places to visit. Every time you move from place to place you lose sightseeing time and add expense. Have you estimated the travel time needed between cities? I'm assuming your $1000 budget doesn't include your airfare to Europe and back, but even so, you're allowing less than $75/day for travel and housing. I'm not sure that's possible, particularly if you're buying bus/train/air tickets every couple of days. Does that include your food/activities, too?

Travel in a foreign country can be difficult and stressful, even for experienced travelers. Trying to do all of these cities in two weeks will result in a trip that is just one big blur. With your budget and timing, you'd be better off to choose no more than three cities, and assume you'll be back to visit the others.

Posted by Kate
Winnipeg
590 posts

What city(ies) are you flying in and out of? I would cut at least one of those cities out. If you are looking to go out clubbing alot I would stick with Spain for sure. If you want to make it to Paris/Amsterdam I would cut out Rome. If you are flying out of Rome I would cut out Amsterdam. Think about flying the low cost air carriers to cut down on prices or take overnight trains. Staying in a 6 bed couchette would be a cheaper option, however reserving a whole couchette this late in the game may be difficult, especially if you want to all be together.

Posted by Chris
Puyallup, WA, USA
881 posts

I'd be one for cutting out Rome too. The rest are pretty much on a strait train or bus shot, or you could even drive some of it. Rome would add a full day of travel time each way to the trip. You could add a day in Belgium or Germany without too much trouble though.

That budget is probably pushing it, price it out now, and see what you can find. Unfortunately, Paris and Amsterdam are both very busy in August.

As for rail passes, do yo qualify for student discounts, etc? If not, most people on this board will tell you p2p tickets are cheaper.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2628 posts

Heed the voices of experience! You've got way to much on your plate.

Your plan is a tour of airports and trains. You spend more time there than at any of your many magnificent destinations. At any of which, by the way, you could easily spend more than three days without getting bored.

This is also an expensive itinerary, with all that travel.

I am not going to tell you what to cut out, but successful trips are built on soul-searching and setting of priorities.

Finally, regardless of age, a group like yours (six people, last-minute, one absent) is not exactly nimble, so I suggest that making all these connections will take more time than you think.

Good luck!

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8637 posts

I assume you've already bought your plane tickets. Am I right in assuming that you will be flying into Madrid and flying home from Rome? We need to know that for sure before we can give you route and means of transportation suggestions--and suggestions on what to cut from your itinerary. (I agree with the others who say you will need to eliminate at least one destination.)

Posted by tin
san jose, california, USA
4 posts

Yes - we got an incredible online deal for $300 r/t - in&out of Madrid. We had already thought that this would be a lot to do initially - I guess y'all have just confirmed it.

I agree that we have to cut one and yes, Rome just makes more sense to cut since it's SO out of the way compared to everything else. Cutting that out allows us more time up north to even venture through Belgium/Germany etc....

As for student discounts - I'm not sure. What are the requirements? We all just graduated this year actually. We're all under 25 though?

And last night we just booked our first and last nights in Madrid at some hostels, so that's covered. We can't really book much else without knowing what to do.

Thanks!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17719 posts

tin,

Given the circumstances and limitations imposed by your budget, you'll have to plan this very precisely to make it work (especially as you'll be travelling in PEAK season).

You might consider something along these lines:

  • Day 1: Flight to Madrid

  • Day 2: Arrive Madrid, check into Hotel. Light touring as you'll be jet lagged.

  • Days 3 & 4: Madrid touring

  • Day 5: Train to Barcelona, about 5 hours via AVE

  • Days 6 - 8: Barcelona touring. I'd highly recommend taking the Spain Guidebook along as an "information resource".

  • Day 9: Train to Paris. The quickest time I could find was 9H:12M, departing Barcelona Sants at 08:37, arriving Paris Lyon at 17:49, reservations compulsory.

  • Days 10-14: Tour Paris. There's LOTS to see so plan your touring carefully, The Paris Guide book would be a good idea! At least a two-day Museum Pass is advisable if you plan on touring any of the major sites. You'll also have to decide which part of Paris you'd like to stay. You could also take a day trip to Versailles or Normandy if desired.

  • Day 14: Train to Amsterdam (about 4 H - reservations required if you use a Thalys train)

  • Days 15-18: Tour Amsterdam & area. You have a bit of leeway here, so you could add a day or two for Brussels and especially Bruges if you want.

  • Day 19: Train to Paris / CDG and Flight to Madrid (it's a bit late for August, but you might check EasyJet from CDG to MAD - lowest prices I could find were about €70 (incl. taxes & fees) but the price will depend on when you book and which day you fly. Be sure you're CLEAR on the terms and PACK LIGHT!

  • Day 20: Madrid

  • Day 21: Flight back home

There are numerous ways this could be arranged, but this is one suggestion. I'd suggest downloading the free PDF Rail Guide from this website, since only one of you is a "seasoned traveller".

Good luck!

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8637 posts

You can take a direct night train from Madrid to Barcelona for about the same price as the bus--and you get to sleep in a bunk in a couchette.

You could take Intercity trains from Amsterdam to Brugge. Spend a few hours in Brugge. Take Intercity and/or regional trains from Brugge to Lille and connect there to a TGV to Paris. The only train on which a seat reservation is required is the Lille-Paris TGV and the reservation is included in the price of the ticket.

Posted by tin
san jose, california, USA
4 posts

Hey Ken, you just got a schedule for us for 3 weeks :P we'll be there for only 2, leaving on the 31st.

So my friends and I discussed it and we have decided to cut out Rome. So we'll be going to Madrid, barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam. This is what we're thinking:

17th) US -> paris (layover)

18th) paris -> madrid (we booked a hostel already)

19th) Full day in Madrid

20th) Full day in Madrid (found a bus to Barcelona around midnight for $43 per person)

21st) Arrive in Barcelona around 8am, full day

22nd) Full day Barcelona

23rd) Barcelona to Amsterdam (11am flight for about $165us)

24-25) 2 days in Amsterdam

26th) Amsterdam to paris (looking for a stop in belgium for a few hours midday, arriving in Paris in the evening)

27-29) 3 days in Paris

30th) Paris to Madrid at 7am (about $103us flight) = Full day Madrid and we already booked a hostel in Madrid for the night

31st) Fly home at 11am

Does that look doable? Would you suggest different modes of transportation? Is what we have down pretty cost-efficient or do you have something else in mind?

So looking at our prices, we have about $300us for travels so far, with the transit from Amsterdam -> belgium -> Paris not included since we're thinking of booking it at the station.

We're also saving one night of housing since there's an 8hr bus ride from Madrid to Barcelona (after midnight to 9am).

I think we're going to try to book everything tonight (few hours from now). So not sure if we'll get any feedback from y'all in time. Crossing fingers!

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4754 posts

You know, you might look at some Ryan Air flights. They do fly out of Barcelona.

If you fly into Germany, you can use Laender tickets on the trains for a huge savings. Think travel for all 5 of you through all of Bavaria for 28 euro - total. Make your way to Cologne or Strasbourg and then on to Paris or Amsterdam.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17719 posts

tin,

When I first read your Post, the part "Our trip is coming in under 3 weeks" must have stuck in my mind, so that's what I based my planning on.

It sounds like you've got it reasonably well sorted. I assumed you were flying into Madrid directly, but it appears you have a short layover in Paris.

Spending all night on a Bus would not be my preferred travel method, but if cost is a factor I suppose that's the best option.

Since you're flying into Paris to begin with, it's unfortunate that you couldn't start your trip in that area (Paris, Amsterdam, Belgium), as it would save some transportation time back and forth to Spain. Which airline is your flight from Paris to Madrid with? Most of the "budgets" have VERY tight baggage limits so be sure to pack light or you'll be paying a surcharge!

Happy travels!

Posted by Angela
Chicago/Rural WI
809 posts

Just a slight correction to Jo's post (above), Ryan Air actually flies out of either Reus or Girona, Spain, which are around 75 and 95 km outside of Barcelona respectively. They do not fly out of Barcelona's main airport.

Just didn't want there to be any surprises if you went that route!

Posted by tin
san jose, california, USA
4 posts

Jo - i think we researched RyanAir, edreams, and easyjey. I'll have to look again to see which airline that flight was from. And I don't think we'll be having much time to go to Germany. We're gonna try to limit to what we have already and not venture out farther (just stay within our chosen spots and if there's something in between, we might visit a bit).

Ken - yeah, the layover is pretty unfortunate. 1 friend bought his ticket first and chose a flight with no layover, and the next one I guess didn't see it. She told the remaining 4 people which one she bought and we all joined her. Didn't realize it til after ._. i know..silly mistake. oh well. And i heard about those extra fees for barely going over luggage limits. we'll be extra careful.

Tim - where can I find the direct train from M->B? And the intercity trains sound nice.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

If you're arriving on the 17th and flying out on the 31st, that essentially gives you 12 days on the ground to tour. That means less than 2 1/2 days in each city....cities which in some cases are so widely separated that it will take you most of a day to travel between them. The distance between Barcelona and Paris, for example, is 650 miles.....from Amsterdam to Rome, it's a thousand miles. While discount airlines cover SOME of those routes (getting cheap flights out of Amsterdam is not easy), you will still spend hours lining up at security, flying, waiting for baggage, and getting into the center of the city.
As an earlier poster has suggested, Spain is a great place for young people. May I suggest that, since you're flying into/out of Madrid, you do Madrid and Barcelona, then take a discount airline flight to Rome, then back to Madrid the day before your flight leaves. Or Madrid-Barcelona-Paris...then back to Madrid the night before you leave. But you'll have to hustle to see if there are any discount fares left this late. Check whichbudget.com.

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8637 posts

tin,

You can find the Madrid-Barcelona night train on the Spanish Rail site, www.renfe.es. While you can get the home page to change from Spanish to English, when you get into the booking process the site reverts to Spanish. Fortunately, Norm, the man whose post precedes this one, is an expert on booking on the RENFE site. Send him a PM and I'm sure he'll be happy to help you.

To see detailed timetables for Amsterdam-Brugge and Brugge-Paris, go to www.bahn.de. Click on the drop-down flag menu for English. When you do your Brugge-Paris search be sure that you are routed through Lille rather than Bruxelles. (The route via Lille is cheaper than the route via Bruxelles because you can avoid the pricey Thalys trains that run from Bruxelles to Paris.) Click on "More options" and then enter Lille in the "Via" field. After you get summary timetables, click on the arrow to the left of each departure time to see the connecting points.