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Old 07-25-2013, 02:05 PM   #1
ashley0139
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Backpacking/traveling Europe

I have been wanting to go to Europe for many years now, and I have finally found someone who is willing to go with me (I will do almost anything alone, but traveling around foreign countries by myself is not one of those things). We are looking at possibly going in May 2014. This is still in the very, very early planning stages (not even remotely definite yet), but mostly I am just very excited to research, read, and plan. We would want to go cheaply, so staying in hostels and sleeping on trains. I would love to go for 3 weeks, but I have a job that I don't think will much appreciate that, so I don't know how long we will go for. The cities that are on the top of my list are London, Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, and Munich (I've never been to Europe, so these are just my very top). But I would be open to going to literally (literally in this context is actually accurate) any city in Europe. I want to go EVERYWHERE. I know the amount of time I probably have is not nearly enough, but I do want to do at least some backpacking before I don't want to do hostels and backpacks anymore. I would spend a year traveling the world if I could. Mostly, I would just love to hear your experiences and tips about backpacking Europe. Anyone know of any good blogs about their backpacking experience? I'm really into reading anything about it right now, so tell me anything.
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Old 07-25-2013, 03:20 PM   #2
lolainkent
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I backpacked in Europe twice before settling down in London, and I continue to travel on the continent (I went to Italy and Slovenia in May!).

Tips:
- If you can take an overnight train, do it. I took a sleeper from Paris to Rome saving a nights accomadation.

- Use Let's Go Europe, rather than Lonely Planet books. I use Lonely Planet now that I don't use hostels anymore, but they're not good for budget travel. Let's Go was fantastic for hostel recommendations.

- You can do A LOT in 2-3 weeks, or a little. The cities you mention are pretty far apart so you'd be looking a fair bit of train time, or EasyJet flights (which then adds time to get to the airport and check-in). The first time I went, I did Paris, Rome, Rome to Ancona, Ancona to Patras, Athens, Ios, Santorini, Athens and Corinth in 6 weeks. It's worth seeing what exactly you want to do in each city and figure out how much time you need.

- To go with ^, consider what kind of tourist you are. I can spend 4 hours in one small museum, while others would run into a place like the Louvre, look at the Mona Lisa and run out within 30min.

- I can come up with a TON of packing tips, PM if you'd like those

I feel like I have so much more to type but can't think at the moment!
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Old 07-25-2013, 03:28 PM   #3
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I backpacked across Europe.... But it was 20 years ago. I still say it was one of the most life changing experiences ever. Some rules for travel that might still ring true:

1-
Be flexible with your itinerary--- some of our best experiences were when we diverted from the plans. One day we finished in Munich early, so we hopped on the next train and ended up touring Budapest.

2-
Make a decision that its ok to trade breadth for depth. If you really want to see multiple places, decide that it's ok just to hit a few big things in each city and then set some time aside to sit at a cafe and soak in "being in France". A day or two will never really give you an opportunity to fully understand a culture, but you'll get a flavor sample and know where you might like to come back for future vacations.

3-
Be open to meeting and traveling with others you meet along the way. Hostels are great places to share travel stories and meet new folks. I met some great people along the way, many who I still keep in touch with.

4-Keep to a budget, be willing to spend some. I hit Paris at the end and didn't want to pay to go up in the Eiffel Tower, so we took pictures at the bottom. I wish I hadn't been so cheap.

5-Try to speak the language....even if you sound like a fool, the effort is appreciated and you get a new understanding of how your ways are not the only ways!

Other thoughts:
In those days, we did it all with a Eurail pass. Now flights are much cheaper (ie. Ryan Air) within Europe--so that might be a good option.

Technology is also so much better that you'll have apps to guide you and can download English guides etc. I got by on my dog eared "Lets Go Europe"

Madrid! You left off Madrid and its a fascinating city!
Salzburg is quite interesting too... And the Swiss/German alps are a site to behold!
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Old 07-25-2013, 04:29 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lolainkent View Post
I backpacked in Europe twice before settling down in London, and I continue to travel on the continent (I went to Italy and Slovenia in May!).

Tips:
- If you can take an overnight train, do it. I took a sleeper from Paris to Rome saving a nights accomadation.

- Use Let's Go Europe, rather than Lonely Planet books. I use Lonely Planet now that I don't use hostels anymore, but they're not good for budget travel. Let's Go was fantastic for hostel recommendations.

- You can do A LOT in 2-3 weeks, or a little. The cities you mention are pretty far apart so you'd be looking a fair bit of train time, or EasyJet flights (which then adds time to get to the airport and check-in). The first time I went, I did Paris, Rome, Rome to Ancona, Ancona to Patras, Athens, Ios, Santorini, Athens and Corinth in 6 weeks. It's worth seeing what exactly you want to do in each city and figure out how much time you need.

- To go with ^, consider what kind of tourist you are. I can spend 4 hours in one small museum, while others would run into a place like the Louvre, look at the Mona Lisa and run out within 30min.

- I can come up with a TON of packing tips, PM if you'd like those

I feel like I have so much more to type but can't think at the moment!
I would love your packing tips, and would love to hear any more ideas you can think of! I just love hearing about people's Europe trips. Thanks for the book recommendations. I will definitely look into the Let's Go one. I'm in the middle regarding museums. I like to see all there is to see, but I'm not one to linger for too long. In general, I'm more interested in soaking up the ambience of the country/city than spending the day inside a building (though I'd definitely have to do the Louvre).

Quote:
Originally Posted by emma'smom View Post
I backpacked across Europe.... But it was 20 years ago. I still say it was one of the most life changing experiences ever. Some rules for travel that might still ring true:

1-
Be flexible with your itinerary--- some of our best experiences were when we diverted from the plans. One day we finished in Munich early, so we hopped on the next train and ended up touring Budapest.

2-
Make a decision that its ok to trade breadth for depth. If you really want to see multiple places, decide that it's ok just to hit a few big things in each city and then set some time aside to sit at a cafe and soak in "being in France". A day or two will never really give you an opportunity to fully understand a culture, but you'll get a flavor sample and know where you might like to come back for future vacations.

3-
Be open to meeting and traveling with others you meet along the way. Hostels are great places to share travel stories and meet new folks. I met some great people along the way, many who I still keep in touch with.

4-Keep to a budget, be willing to spend some. I hit Paris at the end and didn't want to pay to go up in the Eiffel Tower, so we took pictures at the bottom. I wish I hadn't been so cheap.

5-Try to speak the language....even if you sound like a fool, the effort is appreciated and you get a new understanding of how your ways are not the only ways!

Other thoughts:
In those days, we did it all with a Eurail pass. Now flights are much cheaper (ie. Ryan Air) within Europe--so that might be a good option.

Technology is also so much better that you'll have apps to guide you and can download English guides etc. I got by on my dog eared "Lets Go Europe"

Madrid! You left off Madrid and its a fascinating city!
Salzburg is quite interesting too... And the Swiss/German alps are a site to behold!
Oh, I left off a lot. My original list of cities/countries topped 25, I believe. And those were just the ones I am dying to visit.

I love the idea of being flexible and changing plans at the last minute. Part of the appeal of backpacking and staying in hostels, as opposed to pre-booking hotels and flights.

Thanks for your thoughts!
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Trip Report 2011:http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2867080
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Old 07-25-2013, 05:39 PM   #5
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I backpacked for a month in Europe in my 20s. Agree with another poster about Let's Go Europe. I used it exclusively and it didn't lead me wrong at all. I went primarily by bus, ferry, and train with two flights to side trips in Turkey and Greece. You make a lot of friends on the bus, ferry and train and get a lot of great info from your fellow travelers that way. Plane not so much.

I recommend adding Prague to your list if you can. It's a beautiful city and affordable. Also agree with the PP about being flexible. We planned two nights in Prague and wound up staying 5 because we enjoyed it so much.

Have fun!
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Old 07-25-2013, 08:36 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaliBear View Post
I backpacked for a month in Europe in my 20s. Agree with another poster about Let's Go Europe. I used it exclusively and it didn't lead me wrong at all. I went primarily by bus, ferry, and train with two flights to side trips in Turkey and Greece. You make a lot of friends on the bus, ferry and train and get a lot of great info from your fellow travelers that way. Plane not so much.

I recommend adding Prague to your list if you can. It's a beautiful city and affordable. Also agree with the PP about being flexible. We planned two nights in Prague and wound up staying 5 because we enjoyed it so much.

Have fun!
Oh yes... Prague too! Definitely....
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Old 07-25-2013, 09:21 PM   #7
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Brussels and Stockholm too
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Old 07-25-2013, 11:00 PM   #8
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Dh and I did this too before kids. We went with his friend who planned virtually everything for us. We had a strict budget too and about 14 days.

We went to Amsterdam,Stockholm, Copenhagen, ran in and out of Cologne and Bruges (these were between trains), and Oslo, Bergen, Miradal/Flam and cruised Geiranger Fjord in Norway.

I think we hit the wall one day and stayed overnight at another of dhś friends relatives house in Malmo, Sweeden because we were exhausted and did nothing that day but walked around that town.

We slept on the trains a lot. We stayed at a few cheap hotels. It was exhausting. I cant remember how much our backpacks weighed. But we practiced for weeks before we left. Hiking up cobblestone streets with a full pack and also trying to squeeze on trolleys with them is challenging.

We got a eurail pass and also city passes for the major cities.

It was a great experience. Just make sure you have a well thought out plan. Sorry I am not so spontaneous. We wanted to make the most of every minute and see as much as we could.

If you go during the summer I dont know if they still require reservations on some of the busy/popular trains. So that might affect the planning too etc.

Its fun doing what the locals do. In Norway we went to the forest/lake. We were with more relatives of dh friends. They told us we were welcome to take our clothes off and go in the lake as other people were doing. We said, no thank you. It was fun and interesting. Seeing that the little Mermaid Statue is so teeny tiny was funny too. I said, we wasted all our time getting here to see that etc.

You will have so many stories to tell when you get back!

Happy planning and enjoy your trip.
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Old 07-26-2013, 02:32 AM   #9
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I am sorry. I apparently came across as condescending and full of myself when suggeting limiting travel to one region of Europe with 3 big cities and some smaller cities and towns in between. I did not mean to be and am retracting all of my comments.
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Old 07-26-2013, 04:25 AM   #10
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I agree with the PP who said that if she wants breadth instead of depth, she should do so without feeling guilty. "Backpacking across Europe" usually means a buffet-style whirlwind tour across the region, and the on-the-go, hitting up many spots in a short time nature of it is part of the fun. Going on an in-depth tour of one country is also nice, but it is a different choice. Nothing wrong with either, but unless she says otherwise, it sounds like the OP wants the multi-city trek. I don't know why anyone would discourage her from that fabulous experience.
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Old 07-26-2013, 04:34 AM   #11
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Old 07-26-2013, 05:52 AM   #12
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Hadley, I know it is your opinion because it is you posting, and of course I know this is a discussion board. You did say our suggestions were making you cringe so I was trying to point out that there is nothing wrong with doing a multi-city trek. And there is nothing wrong with a three city tour either.

I agree with you about regional trains. I should have said that in my initial post. I traveled on what was then called the Eurobus. I'm not sure it still exists in that form. It's been a long time. You hopped on and off at set locations. Very cheap and you were given a schedule so you knew when the bus would be in the region you were in so you could jump back on. I then used regional trains to get around from the drop off points. Using a Eurorail pass would have been much more expensive, even back in the 90s.

I've been in a mood lately, if you know what I mean, so I am sorry if I offended you.
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Old 07-26-2013, 06:07 AM   #13
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Old 07-26-2013, 08:17 AM   #14
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There are cities I only spent a day in. You get to see the main things and move on. It's still a great experience.
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Old 07-26-2013, 10:07 AM   #15
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I think the amazing thing about backpacking is that there isn't really a right or wrong way to do it, just different ways different people would do it. My DH did a Contiki Tour with his ex years before we met and that kind of trip sounds awful to me but they're in good business (a dear friend works for them!) so some people must be enjoying them!

When I started planning my first backpacking trip in 2003, my list included Spain and Switzerland plus more time in France. Once I realised that including Spain and Bordeaux would cut Greece out, I had to make choices.

OP: where does your friend want to go? Their choice cities/places will dictate yours too. That's the only downside to traveling with someone - you either have to agree on everything or you have to be willing to split up here and there. I met lots of people unhappy with their travel partner(s), so lay some ground rules before you leave (ie: if one of you is a museum geek, and the other likes to sit in cafes with coffee then maybe you split up in the day and meet for dinner; or if you MUST go to Venice and your friend MUST go to Florence, then split somewhere for 1-2 days to make that work).
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