Congratulations on the graduation! You’ll have a great trip, I’m sure. And you’ve picked a good time to backpack, since all the huge throngs arrive June-August. I’ve been backpacking twice in the past few years, each time for 8 weeks, so here’s my 2 cents:
*Know your travel partners: Figure out what kind of traveler you (and co-travelers, if any) are. What are you looking to get out of the trip? There are all kinds of backpackers; those in search of partying, museums, big cities, small towns, churches, etc. Don’t be set on where you’ll see, and when you’ll be there. If you like a city, stay for another day.
*Talk to other backpackers: You’ll find out about all sorts of offbeat/interesting places. This is how I heard about Cinqueterre in Italy a few years back, before it became the backpacker haven it is now (though I’d still recommend it!).
*Talk to locals: Let’s Go, when you think about it, is just written by a bunch of just-as-helpless Harvard kids. Don’t treat what a guide has to say as gospel (I usually just use it for maps and hostel info), and don’t be afraid to check out hole in the wall bistros!
*Watch your stuff: This cannot be overemphasized! You’ll encounter thieves, pickpockets, gypsies, “easy friends” (fellow travelers or locals you’ll meet and who want to entice you into trusting them with your stuff), and who knows what else. Use a money belt, and keep important stuff in there (ATM/credit cards, passport, plane tickets, etc.) at all times, even when sleeping. Keep your stuff with you or a friend at all times; lock it up at all other times, even (actually especially) in hostels and on trains. I’ve seen many many backpackers get their stuff stolen when they were sleeping, not looking, at the beach, too drunk to notice. Sleep on your bag in trains if it’s not locked securely to something.
*Rent bikes in flat cities: Some good ones are Vienna, Dublin, and Zurich (you can rent them for free in Zurich, from a department store whose name escapes me at the moment). Don’t think about bikes in Amsterdam (where they’re stolen with impunity), Paris, or Rome.
*Pack all your clothes in plastic ziplock freezer bags: It’ll keep everything sorted and more compact. Smelly clothes won’t make everything else stink. And ROLL your clothes, don’t fold them – it’ll save you lots of space.
Stuff to bring:[ul]
[li]bike lock: the chain wrapped in plastic with a combination sort. Use it to lock up your bag whenever possible.[/li][li]luggage locks: to lock the zippers[/li][li]Swiss Army Knife: the corkscrew is a godsend when opening the $1-$2 bottles of wine you’ll be chugging![/li][li]A few feet of duct tape wrapped around a popsicle stick: in case of a baggage rip or other stuff[/li][li]A Pak-Towel is a good investment, since it dries quickly and saves you lugging around a wet towel.[/li][li]Sleep sheets: You can buy them or make em yourself, but many hostels require you to have one or pay them to rent sheets.[/li][li]Clothes: If you’re worried about such things, color coordinate the clothes you bring. This way, anything you wear goes with everything else. Bring a minimum of clothing.[/li][li]Disposable poncho[/li][li]Combination lock: For hostel lockers[/li][/ul]
Places to see: You didn’t specify at all what countries you have in mind, or what you’re interested in doing or seeing. What kind of museums? I’ve got lots of museum tips Europe-wide, and nightlife tips for Paris in particular.
Also, don’t hesitate to email me if you have any other questions…
I could answer specific questions you might have about France, Spain and England, but it’s difficult to answer such a general query. My best piece of advice, although I’ve been spending less and less time there and more and more here, is to check out www.eurotrip.com. Just browsing will give you some great ideas, and then you can go ahead and post your own specific questions to a group of people who have been through the same experience. Good luck! You’re going to have a great time!
I highly reccomend Rick Steve’s Europe through the Backdoor. It isn’t a tour guide as much as a guide to how to do the whole backpacking thing. The things I learned from it were used a lot during my trip. He has a lot of practical advice on how to travel.
As for my own hints: Packing: Pack light. I’m sure you know this. But still, it can’t be emphasized enough. Put your backpack on when it is fully packed. Then leave the room and have someone unpack and repack it with only the stuff that they think you really need. Come back in and put the backpack on. Then look at the pile of stuff that wasn’t included. Piece by piece, pick out the things that you think you can’t live without, and have your fried put them in your backpack. As you feel the physical weight of that stuff added, you’ll come to a sudden realization about what you need or don’t need. If you have any doubts, don’t take it. You can always buy stuff while you are there. Pack light. Pack light. Pack light.
Random When you visit a city that you don’t plan on returning to, tear out the relevent sections from your guidebook and carry the pages around in your pocket. This way, you don’t have to fumble around in your backpack every time you need to know something, you won’t identify yourself as a tourist by having your nose in a big books (and thus setting yourself up for crime) and it makes your guidebook lighter as the trip continues.
Eat stroopwaffels in Amsterdam. They are availible in any bakery and they are sooooo good. Better yet, get them hot from stands on the street. Ohmygod I want some.
Get two guide books, preferably ones that compliment each other. I personally used a Rick Steves and Let’s Go. Steves’ had a lot more in depth information (he’ll tell you, for example, if an audio tour in a museum is worth it or not- and if it isn’t he’ll write a tour in to the book for you) and Let’s Go has a mass of nuts and bolts where-is-the-nearest-hostel information (be warned, however, that it is often inaccurate- nothing like walking a mile in a sketchy neighborhood only to find the hostel that was supposed to be there no longer exists). Everyone has their own guidebook preferences, so go with the ones that seem to cover the same interests as you. Don’t carry more than two, it’ll just weigh you down. And remember they are guides, not bibles. You’ll discover all the really cool stuff on your own by exploring or talking to locals and fellow travelers. If there are places that you know there is no chance of your visiting, tear those pages out of your guidebook. There is no use carrying around one hundred pages of information about Afghanistan for two months. Paper is heavy and you can really cut down a lot of weight this way.
Know what days cities shut down. London is no fun on a Sunday. I believe that most of the stuff around Munch is closed on Wednesdays. You’ve got a decent amount of time, so it isn’t quite as big a worry, but still be aware that there are days that are bad for some cities. Also be aware that a lot of train-station bathrooms are pay. Have money around to do that, and be careful when at train stations during odd hours because the bathrooms might not be open!
Don’t wear sleeveless shirts or shorts in to churches. It is beyond disrespectful, especially if signs are posted to the effect. I carried around a very light long sleeved sweater in my day pack even on hot days that I could put on before going into churches.
Do wear cargo pants. Your pockets are going to fill up pretty fast with maps, subway tickets, sunglasses and guide book pages. Fumbling around with your backpack sucks because it causes you to lose attention of your surroundings, exposeing you to crime, and is a pain in general if your zippers are locked (and you should buy a lock for your zippers). It is way better to have things within easy reach.
Don’t worry too much about languages. But do have the courtesy to learn “hello”, “goodbye”,“excuse me”, “two tickets, please” and most importantly “thank you”. Most of these phrases can be picked up within five minutes of being in a country, and can get you through most interactions with no problems. Even in France, people are generally cool with people who are inept with the language (and they will often speak English to you) as long as you put in that minimal effort. Start every conversation with the native language. You’ll do fine.
Shower whenever you can, because who know when you’ll be able to shower next. Even if it is just a shower on the beach, get as clean as you can. If appropriate (like when you are near a beach), wear only your bathing suit when you wash your clothes so that you can get every thing you own clean. Even if you don’t go as extreme as lounging around the laudrymat in a bathing suit, do take off your socks and wash those. It is worth being sockless while your laundry get clean.
Goodness, there is so much I could say. Please let us know your particular concerns!
Oh wow…Congratulations! Having just finally graduated myself I can really appreciate where you are at.
It’s been a few years (like 7!) since I did the European experience but you are going to love it!
As was already stated, you picked a great time to go! Everyone else has already covered a lot of good pointers.
The best advise I can give is to talk to everyone else you meet who is doing the same thing you are. You will always meet someone to point you in a good direction or let you know about what to expect down the road.
I had the most fun in eastern Europe and you can spend more time there money-wise as well. But everywhere I’ve been was a great experience. The last trip I did, I packed and hosteled from London to Istanbul and I especially enjoyed Budapest and Istanbul.
The other thing I might suggest, (I don’t think anyone else mentioned this) is to get a Eurorail pass. Depending on how much time you’re planning on spending various places it can be a real lifesaver. The Eurorail pass is set up according to calendar days so you can use it as many times as you want during a single day. This came in handy for me when I went to a small town in Germany that had NO hotels or hostels open yet for the season. I would have been stuck in the middle of nowhere and they wouldn’t even let me sleep in the train station. Luckily I was able to get back on the last train to my next destination and just sleep overnight on the train without using another day of pass.
This also was good when there were places I wanted to stop on the way but not stay. I actually managed to time my trips just right to save myself 4 night’s worth of hostels
The downside is that the Eurorail passes are pretty much for Western Europe but you can still really use it to your advantage. Your local Automobile Club office should have a book with schedules and timetables and all that stuff that can help you get a feel for how and when to use it.
Where all are you planning on going? It sounds fun! I wish I could go again but it won’t be for a while before I can get out again.
Looks like other posters have covered most of the general tips, but here are a few more points:
– Be prepared for all sorts of weather, especially at that time of year. Do not, for instance, do what I did and arrive in London at the end of May with one long-sleeved sweater and a transparent camping poncho good for nothing but sending British schoolchildren into fits of unholy amusement. Umbrellas are good if you can manage not to lose them. Layerable clothes are even better.
– Don’t overschedule. Visiting fewer places for longer periods of time is almost ALWAYS the way to go – it’s both more enjoyable and easier on the budget. Also, check out some smaller cities and towns rather than rushing madly from one capital to another.
– A lot of luggage storage facilities have closed since Sept. 11, so don’t count on being able to stow your gear at the train station any more.
– Before you buy a railpass, work out exactly how you’re going to make it pay. Divide the price of the pass by the number of days, then figure out roughly where you’re going and what each day of travel is likely to cost. E.g., if the price of your ten longest journeys is LESS than the price of a ten-day railpass, you’re better off getting point-to-point tickets. I saved a bundle by figuring this out in advance.
As lurker_b said, let us know which countries you plan to visit and what your interests are, and you’ll probably get better advice about destinations and such – I’m hesitant to recommend anything without more information.
Thanks for all the help dopers! I really sis not expect so many replies, being as vague as I was. Had my last final today, now I am home free (ceremony on sat.).
Anyways, I will be a bit more specific about my plans, and a little more clear about my intentions.
On April 9th i fly into London.
Early June (I get to choose the date) I fly out of Paris.
I am only going to spend a couple/3 days in London and then probably jump ship off the UK and into France. Saving northern France for the end of the trip, I am going to to make my way towards Sevilla, Spain where I have a friend studying (approximation of miles between paris and Sevilla anyone?).
Should I make any stops along the way in Spain to Sevilla?
After Sevilla, I am going to head northeast to the southeastern coast of France where I hear there is world-class surfing. Any suggestions?
After that, head east and hit up Italy (I have no specific plans for Italy…I am wide open to suggestions). Then I am thinking that I will head north perhaps hitting up Budapest, Vienna, or Prague, or any combination of the three. What do you think?
I might have to hit those cities after I go to Amsterdam for the Queen’s Day festivities on April 30th (anyone been here for that holiday?)
Also, I want to go to Germany at some time.
As you can see, I am pretty wide open to anything and everything. It is all about how long my money lasts. I will be taking approximately $3000. I have a Eurorail pass for ten days in 2 months and I have a plane tickets that for only $25 I can change the return date (how sweet is that?). When I am there, I want to see as much as I can, and then if I ever come back, chill in a just a couple cities. Anyways, and suggestions you guys give me I am writing down into a notebook that I am taking, and I am heeding your travel advice. Much of it I had heard before.
A couple questions…
-What shall I expect the weather to be like in southern europe and northern europe (I hear northern europe is a bit like Saettle, my home town)?
-Any suggestions on how many clothing items to bring (like 1 pair jeans, 1 pair cargopants, 1 par shorts, 2 Tshirts, etc.)
-I am going to buy my pack in the nest week too, any suggestions on what pack to buy?
-Anyone wanna have a beer with me in Europe? heh.
thanks so much dopers for your help, I will really utilize it.
There are lots of excellent “travel” clothes available nowadays. What they all have in common is that they are lightweight, packable, wrinkle-resistant, and quick-drying. www.travelsmith.com has lots of information (and lots of great clothes.) Even if you don’t buy travel-specific clothes, the information on that site will help you make some choices among your own clothes.
Also check out www.eaglecreek.com. Eagle Creek makes some of the best bags and accessories out there, and they also have lots of information on their site.
Make sure you have a basic first-aid kit, including some American over-the-counter drugs, like Tylenol and Imodium. They have all that stuff in Europe, but it is often more expensive, and do you really want to try to describe your diarrhea to some Belgian druggist in sign language?
Where are you located? I might know of some stores in your area that could also help you.
You probably won’t have a choice. The train from Paris to Madrid is an overnight train, which in addition to your rail pass will cost you another $40 or so. Hang out a couple days in Madrid. Things to see: the Prado, Museo Thyssen-Borgemiza, and Plaza Major. Walk around the Royal Palace, but save your euros by not going in. Hang out in Retiro Park, and rent a boat for cheap. Visit every tapas bar in sight (in all of Spain), trying everything (even the scary lookin’ stuff). Especially tortilla espanola. Elsewhere in Spain: Toledo is a good day trip on the way to or from Seville. As mentioned, Granada is wonderful, worth just the Alhambra. If you have a couple extra days to kill, do a day trip to Morocco (if you’re new to backpacking, or on your own, go with a tour group); leave from Algeciras, which is a charming little port city that’s worth a night’s stay (Rick Steves says it sucks, but he’s wrong).
Certainly not world-class, but it’s there. Check out St. Tropez. Nice, of course, attracts huge hordes of backpackers. Hang out in the old part of town for the local nightlife, which is actually lots of Americans.
Well, suggestions are boundless. Since it’s on the way, hit up Cinqueterre (a remarkably beautiful and pristine set of villages on the Italian Riviera; you may have to go by way of La Spezia), but skip gritty Milan and grittier Genoa. Other Italian tips: Florence, Siena (for a beautifully medieval slice of Tuscany), and Lucca. Skip Pisa – but if you’re using Eurail, you can jump off there for an hour, look at the tower, and flee post haste. You could spend a lifetime in Rome. Naples is ho-hum (and boasts a high crime rate), and is usually visited as a base from which to see Pompeii (highly recommended). Since you’re keen on seeing Budapest, you’ll almost certainly go via Venice – my favorite place on Earth. Padua or Verona are worthy day trips from there.
I think you’ll have an amazing and cheap stay there. You’ll eat like a king for little money in Hungary. Budapest is noticeably gritty, but a cheap and exciting place to visit; go check out the graveyard of Communist statues outside of town. Let me also recommend Slovenia as a wonderful stopover on the way to Budapest (it’s not included on Eurail, but it’s cheap). Imagine Switzerland’s beauty on Hungary’s budget. Czech Republic (well, Prague) is another big backpacker haunt, and worth the visit. If you want to do some extreme sports, head into Interlaken in Switzerland. Vienna is a beautiful city, with endless cultural stuff to check out if you’re into it (the KHM Museum is one of the best in the world).
Berlin and Munich are worth hitting up. The former for an amazing club scene and endless tourist stuff to see (I recommend one of the all-day (9 hour!) walking tours that leave from the Circus Hostel; it only costs 8 bucks). Munich is beer hall after beer hall! Skip Frankfurt and Koln.
Northern Europe will be wet and still a bit chilly. Especially England and the Netherlands.
DON’T BRING JEANS! They take forever to dry and take up more room than khakis. A couple pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, 1 long-sleeve shirt, 2 t-shirts, as many socks 'n underwear as you need (this is what will determine how often you wash your stuff on the trip), a pair of sunglasses, a hat, a light coat (think waterproof windbreaker). One pair of shorts can double as swim trunks. If you’re planning on hitting up clubs anywhere: bring one pair of comfortable tennis shoes and one pair of nicer shoes (that’ll match your khakis, and in this case the longsleeve shirt you pack ought to be button-up).
It’s been mentioned, but make sure you try it on in the store (fill it with something heavy), and then try it again at home. Make sure it’s internal frame, and preferably with a detachable daypack. REI makes good ones, for relatively cheap.
Well, count me out unless you’re coming by way of Oxford. But don’t worry about finding drinking buddies – especially in Prague and Hungary, where the stuff only costs a quarter a pint! And watch out for the absinthe: hallucinations aren’t too common, but a killer hangover definitely is!
Good lord this went on really long again. Anyways, I breezed over what to see in lots of places (Florence, Siena, Slovenia, Rome and Paris nightlife, etc.). If you figure out what cities are on your itinerary before you leave, I’m sure Dopers can suggest stuff for lots of cities.
Rather, be sure you are fitted by an expert backpack fitter. All quality framepacks are highly adjustable, and getting the right fit is paramount. Any reputable outdoor store should be able to help. It might be a good idea to call ahead and see when one of their best fitters is around.
-Anyone wanna have a beer with me in Europe? heh.
I’d love to. I’m live in Paris, or just outside.
No one mentioned this, but it is very relevant.
Do not wear the following items (if possible), particularly in France:
Any clothing with USA flags, emblems, I (heart) NY, etc. Some people will not notice, others will find it offensive, and some people will ignore you. There are quite a few active terrorist networks in Paris, particularly, that I assume will target Americans, and giving yourself away like this is a no-no.
The State Dep’t issues travel warnings to expats living in France and this is one of the issues they addressed.
Avoid if possible wearing gear, with the name of your university on it. This one could annoy you more than be offensive to others. Do you really want ever American in Europe to come up and ask you the same series of questions?
Be very careful about pickpockets. Since 9/11, with tourism generally down in Europe, the pickpocketers have gotten even more cunning and tricky. Be careful.
Indeed; for this reason, Canadian backpackers very often make sure to sew a Canadian flag patch on their backpacks so as not to be mistaken for a Yank. Recently (post-9/11), I’ve seen increasing numbers of Americans sporting Canadian flag patches as well…you know, just in case. (for the full Canuck look, get your backpack from Mountain Equipment Co-op [MEC], which only our northerly neighbors sport)
This thread has inspired me to start saving up my money for a trip to Europe in the fall. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I greaduated from school 3 years ago…but I never seem to go through with it. Well, time’s startin to run out on my young days, so I’m doin it. Thanks for motivating me.
Wow, a lot has been covered, I agree with a lot of what Peepthis has said.
Yes, Barcelona is a great city you may want to spend some time in. It has a very relaxed attitude, the spaniards are all great and very nice. Anyway there is a lot of interesting architecture by Gaudi (if you are into that sort of thing) that you may want to check out (even if you are not into that sort of thing) it’s really cool stuff. The Sagrada Familia is definately something you want to see in Barcelona nd Park Guell is very cool also. Just hanging out on the streets is fun as well. As mentioned Granada is a good place to see also, make sure to go to the Alhambra.
In Southern France, San Tropez, Cannes, Nice and whatever any one else suggested. Its all veru nice, the weather should cooperate, but it can be on the pricey side.
Italy- Florence, Siena, are nice, Rome is great and you can and should spend some time there, on your way up north Venice is a good stop. definately go to Praha, this is one of my favorite cities, stay in the old town if you can, there are plenty of hostels and pensions around. It is magnificently restored and cleaned up, everything is cheap. After befriending some locals we went to this great little place where the beers were 14 cents and meals were about 2 dollars. Which is considerably cheaper from the 1 dolalr beers everywhere else. Absinthe…what is there to say, best in moderation or not at all. U’flecku is [sp?] a great old bar/restaurant from the 12th century (if my memory serves correctly) and worth a stop. I don’t remember the names of any other places, but the whole town is a blast. A short day trip from Prague is an interseting town in Kutna Hora where there is a Bone church. Everything inside is made of bone, the chandeliers, crests, altar, pretty wierd, but somehow strangley intruiging. Check it out here
Vienna is excellent, go to the Opera, you can get cheap day of tickets and it is worth it. I am definately not an Opera buff, but it was a nice place to go and see one.
Amsterdam is cool, Queens day is wild, you’ll have a good time.
Copenhagen is also a worthy place to visit in my opinion, nice town, free bikes you can rent, there is a squatters town, etc.
I’m sure other people here will have more to add, Have a GREAT time and Congrats on the graduation.
Oh I should mention, if you are somewhere and are enjoying it, don’t worry about any schedule you might have, stay and relax, soak in the culture and experience the poeple. Don’t rush it and you’ll have a much better experience. Enjoy!
I thought the idea for the Eurail passes is that they were PASSES!! why do you get charged more?? I know that it mentioned for the ferry rides in certain places that you will get discounts, but I thought for sure that all the rail’s were FREE with the pass?! They mentioned possibly reservation costs, but If you have to pay in addition to the Eurail pass, that kinda defeats the purpose somewhat, eh?
One thing that helped me enjoy my trip was learning the best pace for myself.
I was an 18 year old New Jersey kid hitching rides, mostly, so my method of travel was pretty labor intensive.
I started out in Southern Denmark after being dropped off by the band I was touring with (a wind ensemble). I spent maybe a week making my way south through Hamburg, Celle, Braunschweig, then decided I wanted to go to England, so I made a bee-line to Oostende, went to Dover, from Dover to London, from London to Cornwall, then back to London (Pink Floyd was playing!) then out to Bath. By the time I got to Bath I was starting to feel burned out. From Bath I went into Wales, bought a smaller pack, cut my load by a third and just started going from one town to the next one up the road, walking a lot, hiking up mountains, hitching rides, taking my time and enjoying the hell out of everything. I made my way up through the mountains of Wales and into Northern England then Scotland. One memory I have is hiking up Ben Nevis (the highest point in the British Isles) in really foul weather. I met a guy from California along the way, and when we got to the summit we piled into a rescue hut. Eventually a couple came from Portugul, some folks from other countries and we were all jammed into this little metal hut sharing food and having a good laugh. In the end I didn’t see everything I wanted to see, but by then it didn’t really matter.
Anyway, I guess my point is keep an eye on how you feel and maybe slow down a bit if necessary and try to spend time enjoying a place instead of feeling driven to fulfill an itinerary.
My favorite places, all told, were Northern Wales and Scotland. Green craggy mountains and wind and heather really did it for me. Too bad you won’t be heading up that way, although it’s not too late!
One advantage of jeans though is you can wear them for many days and not have to wash them. Is this still not worth it?
Well, cool, check this thread around the 8th-10th of April and i will post something and email you. My friend and I will are good people.
Now, I obviously have not gone yet, but I have been told by almost everyone that on an average trip expect to spend about$50 a day in europe. That includes everything (hostels, food, beer, etc.). I have also been told that one can do it for much cheaper if need be and much more expensive if wanted.
The only good thing I remember about Algeciras was the fried chicken. Best damn pollo I ever had. And jeans do suck for traveling, generally. Stick to nylon convertibles (pants AND shorts) and khakis. Unless you really, really like jeans.