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Suggestions For My First Trip To Europe Please!!

Hi...

My two friends and i are planning a european trip this summer. this will be the first time for all of us so any suggestions or tips for the trains or hotels would be greatly welcomed!! We are flying from Los Angeles (June 30)to London and then leaving from Rome (July 26) back to Los Angeles. Our tentative itinerary is as follows...

London, England 7/1-7/6
Amsterdam, Netherlands 7/6-7/7
Paris, France 7/7-7/9
Barcelona, Spain 7/9-7/13
Nice, France 7/13-7/14
Venice, Italy 7/14-7/18
Florence, Italy 7/18-7/19
Lamezia, Italy 7/19-7/23
Rome, Italy 7/23-7/26

Since this is unfamiliar territory for all of us...we're all a bit hesitant to just go without a plan or hotel reservations. I did research on the rail system and i'm really confused now and don't know whether a pass is something we should purchase or just buy tickets point to point. Which way would save us more money? And i found the ibis hotel website through this website and was wondering if that hotel chain would be a good idea?? thank u to everyone taking the time to read this and any suggestions or tips would be greatly, greatly appreciated! Thanks Everyone!!

Posted by
10238 posts

First, get yourself a copy of "Europe Through the BAck Door" and read it. Many of your basic questions will be answered in that book.

Next go to DB Babn and get an idea of train travel times. I don't think you calculated this very well ad some of your times in cities is too short to really see anything.

A few good Europe guidebooks would also help you plan a great trip and give you suggestions for hotels, sightseeing, restaurants, etc.

Posted by
3036 posts

The Best of Europe 2009 book will give you information about hotel options, sites to see in each city and travel distances between cities. For example, on page 11 there is a map titled "Europe by Rail: Dollars and Hours" that is a good planning tool.

Usually July is a busy travel time so you might consider booking hotels in advance to get the best budget options.

Planning the specifics of your itinerary is a rewarding and fun part of your travel adventure.

Posted by
8293 posts

Since there are three of you going, maybe each of you could research a different part of the trip. Someone could do London & Amsterdam, another France & Spain and the third Italy. You do need to read some guide books, at the very least, all of you.

The Ibis hotel chain would work well for you in France, but for less expensive options in Paris, go to www.parisinfo.com. This is an official Paris Tourist Information site. Click on the upper right corner for English and then look at the hotels on offer. There is also a listing of hotels for "youth" should you fall into that category.

You need to get cracking ! Summer is almost here !

Posted by
8403 posts

Hi Anita - How exciting for you and your friends. I know you probably want to see as much as you can, but I feel you are trying to see too much. I think you have plenty of time in London and Amsterdam, but you are shortchanging Paris. Two full days there isn't much. I have not been to the other destinations you have listed (yet!) so I will leave it to others to comment on them. The temptation is to try to see as much as possible, but in doing that I think you sacrifice really seeing the places you are going to. Traveling is going to eat up a lot of your time, plus the time to find your hotel, etc. You might consider dropping Barcelona and using that time for Paris and extra days somewhere else. That time of year you definitely need reservations, especially with 3 people. The hotels in Europe are not like here. You rarely, if ever, find a room with 2 double or queen beds. Many hotels have triple rooms, but the sooner you start looking the better. It's almost May already so you really don't have that much time.

Posted by
31318 posts

Anita,

I'd like to "second" the suggestion that Frank II made - you need to read Europe Through The Back Door as it provides an enormous amount of information which is especially relevant to "first time travellers".

In reading your proposed Itinerary, one point that really stands out is that I don't see much allowance for travel time between cities. That's something you'll definitely need to consider in your planning.

I agree with Andrea in that dropping one of your destinations would be a good idea, as you've only got about a month. I'm curious on your choice of Lamezia, Italy - why was that added to the list (especially for a first visit)? I also agree that adding a few more days in Paris would be a good idea.

Regarding the Rail Pass, once you have a somewhat finalized Itinerary and "order of cities", type these into www.railsaver.com and the site will "suggest" the best combination of Pass & P-P tickets.

If you keep Barcelona on the list, using budget airlines from Paris would be a good idea, as it's a LONG trip by rail. Try to find flights from Orly or CDG, not Beauvais.

As you'll be traveling in peak season, it would be a good idea to pre-book accommodations. Check your local Library or book store to find a copy of Rick's England/France/Spain/Italy guidebooks, as there are listings of great lodgings in different price ranges. I'm assuming you've decided not to stay in Hostels? I usually pack the country guidebooks along with me for reference during the trip.

Given the short time until your trip, you'll have to accelerate your planning as some Hotels, etc. will already be booking up, as will the budget airlines.

You might want to download Rick's free PDF Rail Guide from this website. Don't forget to use Money Belts, especially in Barcelona, Paris and Rome.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
1003 posts

My first "big trip" to Europe two years ago was very similar to yours (I flew from LA to London and out of Rome). The difference is that I stayed at least 4 nights every city I went, and I think that helped a lot. Yes I lost a lot of time traveling, but since I had a good amount of time in each place, it was no big deal. For example, like you, I originally had Barcelona to Nice on my itinerary, but then I started looking at transportation and, at the time 2 years ago, there were no low-cost airlines flying that route, so I was looking at a 12+ hour train ride just to go to Nice for 2 nights. I personally didn't want to see Nice THAT badly, so I just skipped it and altered my itinerary completely. You might face the same problem from Barcelona or Nice to Venice(/Treviso). I found it pretty tiring to go to a new country every 5 days or so, i can't imagine what it would be like moving around every 2-3 days like that.
A good site for seeing what low-cost flights are available between two cities is this one, you can search by route, etc. It's really helpful. I agree with previous posters, you have 2 days (if that's 2 nights, one day) in Florence, but 4 days in Lamezia? Florence is easily worth 4 days, actually more in my opinion.You are right to be hesitant to go without reservations. Listen to the advice of the experienced people here, make your reservations and start making them now. Otherwise, it seems fairly logically laid out. You and your friends will have an amazing time. I think you should get together (soon) and really decide what you hope to get out of the trip, the things and places that really really mean a lot to you to see, and that might help you pin down your itinerary and how long you'll really want to stay in each place. As for ibis hotels, I often found small homey B&Bs and other places that had more character than ibis hotels and that were cheaper! that was my experience, check around.

Posted by
11450 posts

I first think there are many good posts on this thread, heed them, they really are making some very valid points.

I will compress my post.

Too many places, not enough time.

Triples are ALOT harder to book then doubles, so make reservations, at least in main cities, or prepare to WASTE one of your two days allowed in each city to finding a bed. Wasteful.

Get a guide book or two.

Anita, I did the backpacking through Europe trip for a few months with friend, decades ago,, and let me tell you, two nights in each spot are going to kill you. Make it at least three in most, and four in places like Rome or Paris. Venice only "needs" two days , but places like Nice, well , beach and downtime can easily take 4 days.

Have fun, but do some editing.

Posted by
158 posts

I have been to Italy twice but never been to Lamezia? With so many other great places on your list I would cut this out and add the days to Florence and Paris. Venice could also be shortened to 2 nights unless you are planning a day to see Burano and Murano.

Make sure the days you are staying in museum cities (like Paris and Florence) aren't one of the days the museums are closed, especially since you only planned two days each.

I will third the recommendation for Europe Through the Back Door. I've read it 3 times to prepare for my trip and it is incredibly helpful.

Posted by
345 posts

Ditto Frank and Pat and everyone.

  1. Too many destinations, not enough time in some, & you've underestimated travel times. We understand everyone does this on their first trip, but summer is almost here and you need to convert your dreams and wish list into a practical itinerary very quickly.

  2. You have A LOT of research to do. I too was astonished at how much research my first trip to Europe was and I only went to one country. But, I started 17 months ahead of time. You're behind and you can't plan your trip from scratch on the helpline. You need carefully researched, comprehensive information organized in a structured useful format: that's a guidebook. It's more than a list of hotels. So, buy those books on Amazon.com tonight and then create checklists of tasks you need to do before you leave while you read them. (So, you don't have to go through the book again.) I double-ditto the poster who said you divide the work and research for different countries, especially for booking rooms.

  3. You're traveling in high season so you don't want to leave your accomodations to chance. You need reservations, especially as others have said for triple rooms. I can't speak for all of Europe, but in many places a hotel will squeeze a rollaway cot into a room to accomodate your request, but Americans tend to think a triple implies a bigger room. Not so. Your room may be very crowded. That's OK as long as you know what you're getting into.

Finally, do have a great time and come back to the helpline if you have more questions on your updated itinerary.

Posted by
6 posts

wow! first can i just say that all of u are amazing for posting so much helpful information and i just want to say a big big thank u!!! okay...answers to some of your questions...

nancy...our ages are 24, 25, and 32
frank II and everyone else suggesting the europe through the backdoor book...i am going to purchase that asap! i had bought 2 books...europe by rail by frommer's and europe by eurail
sharon...best of europe 2009 will probably be another one of my book purchases and yes...since i know i will be traveling during peak season...i figured it was smarter to plan ahead which is why i'm asking everyone. thanks!!!
norma...thanks for the paris hotel tip!! i will look that up! and we are splitting the research since all of us have different points of interests...we're all focusing on our own
andrea...upon researching i did kind of think that maybe we were trying to pack too much in but since this would be a first time trip to europe for all of us...we're just so excited and want to see as much as we could possibly see...ya know?? but maybe we do need to cut down on some places. the reason we cut paris to 2 days is because i've heard from a good number of our friends that it's not necessary to stay that long...but i will look into it. thanks!!
ken...the reason lamezia is there is because one of the girls has a friend that lives there and we will be visting and stay with them. i know...seems like an odd choice. as far flying...i've hesitated because so many sites have said it's far more convenient to go by train rather than plane because of airport locations and time as compared to train station locations. what do u think??

Posted by
6 posts

debra...we will be getting together mon to really start the booking of hotels. i think nice might also be cut out too. florence was cut to 2 days because we had heard that u don't need that much time there and lamezia is because one of my friends has a friend there so we would be staying and visitng with them.i'm sure it'll be tiring but i guess we were just so excited and thought that we would try to see as much as we could! but now many of u are saying it's too much...so i'm sure we'll need some revising.
pat...thinking about cutting places as i'm typing these responses. and i will definitely book hotels in advance and will reconsider at least 3 days in each destination
linda...i'm realizing everything now. i've been researching alot from about a week ago and had no idea it would be this complicated! i know it's crunch time so i'm scrambling but wow...17 months? i am really behind. i just didn't know...ya know??

Posted by
10238 posts

Regarding Paris and Florence and listening to friends say there's not much to see....you need to decide that. And that's why a good guidebook is necessary. (Look at it this way, Rick Steves offers one week tours in each of those cities by themselves. Is it because there isn't much to see? I think not.)

Next, a Eurail guidebook is going to tell you to travel by train instead of air because it's a eurail guidebook. Flying in Europe has become very cheap and can be a time savor. Unless you are dying to see the scenery, if a train journey takes more than 6 or 7 hours, you might consider flying instead. Some discount airlines fly to out of the way airports, others to closer ones. Remember to factor in the cost of getting to these out of the way airports into the total cost of flying. Sometimes those cheap fares aren't that cheap when ground transportation is thrown in.

I have no problem with you staying in Lamezia. By that time, you will be exhausted and will need the break.

As someone else mentioned, you need to look at train times. Some of your journeys are longer than you think.

There's lots more to mention but most of it will be answered in "Europe Through the Back Door" which is why so many of us have recommended it. And your friends should read it as well. Plus, use this website, not just the helpline, to get lots of great info and tips. Clilck on "Plan Your Trip" above and enjoy.

Posted by
8403 posts

Hi again Anita. I just wanted to make a comment about Paris. My husband and I just took our 20 year old daughter there for New Years. Actually, it was her idea to spend New Years there. It was her first trip to Europe and after a few days elsewhere we spent 10 nights In Paris. She absolutely loved it and was never bored. There is so much to do and see there. One of the things I love most about Paris is just walking around, sitting at the sidewalk cafe and watching the people go by, taking the boat (or batobus, a great way to get around) down the river. The city at night is fabulous. Do some reading about the places you want to see. That might help you decide if you need more time somewhere or if you are willing to pass it up for this trip. Remember, you can and probably will go back. My first trip to Europe was in the summer of 2006. I didn't expect to go back until 2010, but we went this last winter. Now my husband and are leaving this coming Thursday for Ireland. I know you are young and you feel like you need to see it all. Trust me, it will all still be there later. You will enjoy your trip more if you are not constantly traveling.

Posted by
251 posts

Figure in travel times. It can take half a day or more to get from one city to the next, find your hotel, and get checked in. Since travel days (for me) are the most stressful and tiring days, once you get to that city, sometimes all you want to do is just hang out at a sidewalk cafe for a while.

Last summer was my first trip to Europe. My best piece of advice is for travel days, have very clear directions how to get to train/bus stations or airports and then from there to your hotel in the next city. Have a Google map with everything you need to know marked on it--station location, hotel location, bus/metro stops to get to/from there. A walking plan or which mode of transportation is best to use in your situation (good info to ask here or in a guidebook).

Example---from Rick's book, we knew we were to go by bus to the metro at the Opera metro stop. The bus let us off at the Opera (huge building that took up a block). We walked around it twice and never found the Opera metro station and no one we asked was able to tell us where it was. It turns out it's there but not noticeable at all. If I had had a map showing exactly where it was, we would have been a lot better off. Same for other cities.

I've had people say, well, that's just part of traveling but more than once, it wasted hours that we could have used sightseeing, not to mention the mental and physical stress it would have relieved.

I find guidebooks don't give you this kind of detailed info. We will be happy to help you when you are ready.

Posted by
668 posts

Connie has great advice. We had Google maps printed up for lodging and still had a few times that we felt turned around, especially in finding sites. I would almost recommend a little compass, because even with a map, it is hard to figure out which direction is which. Our GPS could be set for pedestrian, but it almost never worked on-foot in the cities.

Posted by
345 posts

Oh, my goodness! Not much to see in Paris and Florence!! I am so shocked. I would seriously question that travel advice.

But Frank said it well: you have to read the travel guides and decide for yourself which destinations speak to you and how much time is right for you. But, a general rule of thumb is you don't have nearly enough time in either Florence or Paris. (Remember two nights in a city equals only one full day.)

Yeah. I hear you Anita. I didn't know there would be so much to learn and do ahead of time regarding money, credit cards, calling my bank, understanding how different hotels are, how to validate a bus ticket, What's a Tabacci? etc. etc. The whole money belt thing confused me at first (do I really pull cash out of my pants everytime I buy something? Um, no.) There's a lot; the more you prepare ahead of time, the more fun you will have when you get there. Have fun reading. You can get good deals on travel guides on Amazon.com.

Posted by
31318 posts

Anita,

Thanks for the clarification.

I suppose it depends on what kind of sights you're interested in, but I would have to strongly disagree with your friends that have suggested only a few days in either Paris or Florence. As someone else mentioned, there's a good reason Rick offers one-week tours in major cities, as there's LOTS to see and do!

I still feel that at least one of your destinations should be dropped, unless you can add some time to the trip. Allowing for adequate travel times between cities is crucial! The most significant transportation issue that I see is the trip to Lamezia, which is well south of Naples and Salerno. The transportation options in Calbria are not as "developed" as in the rest of the country, so you'll need to allow for that in your travel times.

To help the group here offer informed suggestions, you might post a list of the cities you want to see in your 25-day trip, ranked in order of most important to least important.

Cheers!

Posted by
6 posts

hi everyone!!

okay...so i know everyone is saying to cut some cities out...it's just so hard and we can't really decide. but so far...here is our revised itinerary...

London,England 7/1-7/6
Paris, France 7/6-7/9
Barcelona, Spain 7/9-7/13
Venice, Italy 7/13-7/7/17
Florence, Italy 7/17-7/19
Lamezia, Italy 7/19-7/22
Rome, Italy 7/22-26

So we cut Amsterdam and thinking of just making a day trip of it from maybe London?? not sure yet. and we cut Nice. I don't know if this is much better?? what do u guys think??

Frank II- i understand what u r saying and it does make complete sense. trust me when i say u have been a big help. I have looked at almost every nook and cranny of this website for info. it was very helpful! i've even watch some of rick steve's videos on youtube! Also, I went on the DB dabn website to try to figure out travel times but i really don't understand how to utilize that site. i've a several other people try too and they couldn't figure it out. sorry...i feel really dumb.

Andrea- i've talked to more people and there are also a lot of people saying that Paris is wonderful and that i need to stay longer so i've extended the stay a little longer. we just don't know what to cut and what not to cut ya know?? but i guess if i don't get to see and do everything that i want to when i'm there...i guess there's always next time like u said. we're just so excited and want to see as much as we can...even if it's just a little taste! lol!

Connie- yes...i've realized that i really do need to take into account travel times. and i agree...i wouldn't want to waste time when it could've been avoided. i'm trying to research all that now...and can i just say...it's difficult! lol! i can't seem to figure out that website Frank II suggested also!! i already do have some guidebooks and are reading thrgouh them

Cate- ur right...Connie does have some great advice. i will definitely be taking them

Posted by
6 posts

Linda- yeah...i guess different people are going to have different opinions so i will take that into consideration. Paris is extended and although it's not extended that much longer...at least i'll have 2 full days to roam around. Florence is not one of the places that we must go so i guess if i love it there...there's always next time. again...i had no idea planning this trip would be so mind boggling! but i'm sure it'll all be worth it in the end. i'm doing lots of research and reading lots of books so i'm somewhat getting the hang of certain things but there's so much more to do. i'm exhausted!! lol!!

Ken- didn't know about the train situation in that area so thank u very much for that info! i did revise the itinerary so let me know what u think. i don't even know how to rank the cities because i want to see everything...but london and rome are a must because we are flying into and out of europe from them. (plane tickets are already purchased) between the 3 of us...paris, barcelona and venice are a must. and i guess lamezia is a must since we're visiting a friend. so florence is the only one we're not all dying to visit but figure it's on the way so why not see it??

Posted by
6 posts

i have another question for u guys. do u think reservations for hotels are a must?? we kind of want the freedom of not having a completely set schedule in case we end up loving a certain city and want to stay longer. i know we're going during peak season so it's probably not a good idea?? and is it really difficult to find hotels if u don't have reservations?? just a thought...

Posted by
345 posts

Finding accomodations for three people in peak season at an affordable price? Think about how much time that will take out of your day and how stressful that will be. The best values are already gone (like RS recommended accomodations) and pickin's will be slim by summer. So, I can't advise it, given the popular destinations you have chosen but I hope others jump in who have tried to do this and know more about this.

Posted by
2000 posts

Anita -- I think your last itinerary is pretty good. And yes, I would definitely book all of your hotels now. If you were going in late November through the winter months... I'd say you could wing it more. But you will have to compromise on being free-wheeling on this trip which is during peak tourist season. Even though European tourism may be down a bit this year, I wouldn't chance it -- particularly if you want to get budget accommodations. You will like all of the cities and want to stay longer, that's pretty much a given - not sure if there's much you can do about it, if you are set on seeing several cities. But you have a good, basic first trip and will see a lot. Good luck with it!

Posted by
11450 posts

Am I reading your revised iternerary correctly? FOUR days in Venice. Venice is expensive, and you can do it easily in two days.

Posted by
31318 posts

Anita,

I have to agree with Pat on the duration of your stay in Venice. Two or perhaps three days would be more than enough. You might add a day to Florence.

I also found Venice to be noticeably more expensive than other locations in Italy, although it's such a unique place it's definitely worthwhile to spend a few days there.

Cheers!