How does one travel whilst vacationing in Europe?

This may be better suited for GQ, but I’m kind of asking for personal experiences here.

My sister is finishing graduate school this spring and we are planning a summer trip to Europe to celebrate. We have a kind of vague and scattered bucket list that will take cast us far afield, but at the moment will certainly involve Austria, Germany, Poland, and hopefully a detour into the Czech Republic.

Part of this will be Holocaust tourism. Part of this will be beer drinking. Part of this will be other stuff.

So… how does this work? In America, I could just rent a car, go do stuff, and drop off the vehicle pretty much anywhere.

I know that it’s relatively easy to cross international borders within the EU, but how easy? Do I need to be pretty precise in regards to planning out bus/train routes beforehand?

I am a complete neophyte when it comes to international travel. Help me.

My Wife and I spent 3 weeks in Bavaria (southern Germany) a few years ago. We visited about a dozen cities by train, and took the train into Austria. It was a snap.

My BIG recommendation is to travel light.

Yeah, we’re planning on only taking what will fit into a pair of backpacks.

It was quite some time ago, but I got a Eurail pass. That worked great from Paris to Venice, almost to Prague - it was new years and we were heading that way and cleverly called ahead and found all hostels were full. So we turned around and went back to Paris.

And, yes, travel light.

Look at where you’re going to be going, price out individual tickets and then a eurorail pass. There is a break even point on them duration/places visited and you should check each trip to ensure you’re making the best decision.

That said, travel by train is the default option for me for Europe. Many of the city centers are difficult to park/drive in and I’ve found rental cars are both more expensive and have more hidden fees than in North America. Given you’re travelling with backpacks only train is easy and usually the stations are in the city centres. Night trains are an interesting experience too and given your list of countries it’s a decent way to get from country to country without losing a day to travel.

The biggest factor in how to travel to the places you mention is: time. (second is cost - how much can you spend).
If you have “enough” time, then certainly renting a car to visit those places would be a fine way to go. You’d get to see a lot of country in between, and have the ability to stop in at little towns along the way (some of the real gems of travelling by car). Having a car also allows easy mobility around where you’ll be visiting (but you are probably better off just walking or taking public transit in the bigger cities anyway). Be warned, though, that gas is expensive. And then there are (annoying) toll roads all over, and those can be expensive as well.
Europe is relatively “dense”, and you’ll be surprized how close things are. The length of Germany is roughly the same length as California.

If you don’t have quite as much time, then the trains would work well. You’ll need to account for the various schedules to maximize your time sightseeing and visiting. And you’ll also need to factor in hiking your bags to your hotel (or hiring a cab) once you get to each city.

And if you only have minimal time, then domestic flights are available. Easyjet appears to be the Southwest airlines in europe: cheap and goes a lot of places. (if you read reviews, travelling across oceans get horrible reviews, but most intra-continental travel gets good reviews). There is typically some form of mass transit (trains) from the airports to the cities.
If you do have minimal time, then I would recommend limiting the number of cities you want to visit and spend more time at just a few.

Lastly, Prague is great. I’d highly recommend visiting there !

Nearly all hostels can now be booked online, so if you expect them to be full (in high season, they often are), just book ahead a couple of days. It’s also nice to know, when you arrive in town, exactly where the hostel is.

I haven’t been in western Europe in decades, but last July I found it very easy to get around in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.

Traveling between countries in Europe by train is incredibly easy and the border crossings are almost not worth noting, sometimes not even a document check.

Travel within cities is also very easy by public transportation and many signs are in English. As others have said, travel light. You’ll be able to find laundromats to do laundry when you stay the night somewhere. Have fun.

Trains are the way to go; most of them are relatively inexpensive, have good views of the countryside and are fairly relaxing after lots of intense sightseeing/touristy stuff, and get you there in a reasonable amount of time. No security, no hassles about electronic devices, no seat belts, etc…

Plus, most train stations in European cities are smack-dab in the city centers, so it’s not like airports where you have to then arrange some kind of ride (usu. some kind of train) into the city center.

And, if you’re in a hurry or have plenty of cash, a big piece of Europe is served by high-speed trains which have all the advantages listed above, plus are competitive with air travel in terms of time. And they’re usually cheaper or comparable to air travel in cost.

I haven’t found that to be the case (with the rental costs.) It depends on the exchange rates, but I rented a tiny little hatchback in Germany for a week for about $16 a day, which I think ended up being pretty much what I paid. I think the only big difference is that in North America doing one-way rentals usually aren’t too bad, whereas in Europe they’re massively expensive. But if you’re flying in and out of the same city and can do a big loop, it’s not too bad.

If you are doing it by car, you usually want to find places to stay that are sort of on the periphery of the city centers, so you can find a place to stash the car and take public transit into the city. That’s where a lot of the vacation rental apartments are located anyways.

Trains and backpacks and hostels is certainly the classic Europe experiance, but doing it by car is a perfectly viable option too, especially if you’re travelling with multiple people since your expenses don’t stack with the car and rental flats. And like cormac262 mentioned, you get to see the whole rural part of the continent that you really don’t doing it by train.

Oh, although I suppose the one “hidden fee” that applies to many Americans is that it’s usually pretty expensive to rent a car with an automatic. But I think that’s getting a little easier than it has historically been because now midsize and up cars with automatics are getting more common over there.

I spent three weeks in Europe a year ago. I didn’t really have a plan and assumed I’d buy some type of rail pass. I didn’t - flying was WAY cheaper. I mostly flew EasyJet. Compared to flying, the trains were almost twice as expensive. Within cities I used public transportation or Uber.

Rick Steve’s “Europe through the Back Door” is the classic “how-to” on traveling in Europe, and any backpacker-oriented guidebook is going to have ample practical information on how to get from place to place, etc. Grab a Lonely Planet and read all the stuff that is around the reviews and city guides, and that will give you pretty much all the information you need.

It’s been a while since I’ve travelled in Europe, but my travel style is pretty loosely planned. I like to be able to stay in a place as long as I like, and move on when I get bored. This doesn’t work if you have an extremely tight timeline. But if you have enough time to wander a bit, it’s a great way to travel.

So I typically book the first and last night of a trip (you want to know where you are sleeping before you fly out!), and play it by ear from there, using or hostelworld to book a day or two out. I’ll usually only book a night at a time, so that I can move to a different hostel if I don’t like the one in in. Most hostels will let you tell them in the morning if you plan to stay another night.

I pretty much do the same with transportation, buying tickets as I go along. The nice thing about Eurail passes is you don’t have to book (unless things have changed). You just hop on. I do a lot of night trains because it saves on accommodations and gives you more time, but that works because I sleep well on trains.

My biggest suggestion is to keep your ambitions modest in terms of the number of places you go. Have a deep experience in a smaller number of cities rather than a superficial one in many. Train stations, checking in and out of hotels, packing and unpacking, etc. are all stressful and not fun. Do less of that, and you have more time to do what you actually came to do.

Once you get to your destination city, there will be a well-run metro system to ride on: buses, trams, trains, subways. Some cities have different classes of cars, so make sure you are in the proper class or you can get a ticket that requires you to pay the cop writing it. Prague has a very good subway and tram system that will take you anywhere in the city.

My husband and I went to Europe for the first time last spring, and rambled around with just Eurail passes and backpacks. It was shockingly easy to get around, and we didn’t do much planning ahead either. We started in Munich and went to Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. We used Trip Advisor to find hotels as we went along. Every time we got to a new city, we’d go to the tourist information center in the train station and they were incredibly helpful, especially in regards to getting around. And I don’t think we even met anyone who didn’t speak English. :slight_smile:

Yeah, no. Flights between European countries are now almost as bad as domestic flights in the US, while intercontinental air travel at least makes a token effort to provide a comfortable experience.

I wouldn’t travel between the big cities in different countries by car, you’re going to see a lot of highways and then be shocked at how narrow the streets in the old city centers are, with pretty much no parking. (Of course it’s different if you want to see the countryside and stay away from major cities.)

Trains are a good option, although the high speed ones cost more and usually require booking/reserving in advance. There’s also cheap bus services between many big cities.

Flying is good for longer distances, you don’t want to spend entire days in a train (unless that’s your thing). Easyjet is affordable and decent, stay away from Ryanair.

You do know that you can almost always arrive from the US in one city and fly back from another without any extra cost, right?

Yeah… over the course of 5 European trips, my general rule of thumb is to basically leave a travel day between days in each city, and plan on no less than 3-4 days in each city (with nearby day trips, if the city is relatively boring like Brussels).

So if you’re there for two weeks, 3 cities is about the most you ought to expect to really see.

Beyond that, I’d say the single best piece of advice I can give is that once you land in Europe, STAY UP until your normal bedtime in whatever time zone you’re in. You’ll be obscenely sleep-deprived that first day, but you’ll adjust a whole lot faster than if you take naps when you’re tired, and then wake up at weird hours in the early morning unable to go back to sleep. Don’t do anything you really want to remember that first day that you land though; it’s always kind of hazy due to the lack of sleep and excitement.

I highly recommend the Rick Steves books; if only for the restaurant recommendations. He rarely recommends highly touristy places, and at least in our experience, the places are almost always very good.

I’ve done it three ways.

Eurail pass - awesome - you’ll need a Britrail pass to do Great Britian, but if you are staying on the continent, a Eurail pass is sufficient. You MAY need to suppliment with buses if you go to out of the way locations or within towns or cities (plus you’ll used the subway systems most European cities have), and you’ll do a lot of walking.

Tour bus - also awesome, but a completely different type of experience. This is for someone who doesn’t want to bother with planning and wants someone to take them by the hand and make most of their decisions for them. We had a great tour bus experience when our kids were in elementary school - and I’d say the target tour bus experience involves kids (including high school students traveling as a student group) or people who want something low planning (often retirees).

Car - needed if your plan is to spend a week visiting small towns in Ireland on your own schedule. A complete hinderance if you are going to be going into big cities - most of which were founded 1500 years ago before cars - and when the average person walked.

I prefer the whirlwind tour. When we did the college thing we’d sleep on trains (cheaper than hostels if you are young and can sleep anywhere) and wake up in a new city. You can always take the train back into that city on another day. That let me know that I’ll never return to Italy (other people love it), but I wanted to go back to Germany (which is where we did the bus tour with kids). I’d like to revisit Paris sometime, but it isn’t nearly as high on my list as spending a whole week in London. I get the depth not breadth idea, but I really liked the breadth not depth for my first trip.

I loved traveling with a Eurailpass. All first class, which is comfortable. Can’t find a hotel? Get on a train and rent a couchette. Best way to go. I used it before there were TGV trains, which might require a supplement, but they covered TEE trains, which were extra comfortable (and all first class).

My wife and I actually used a travel agent. Odd today I know. But it did work great. They recommended a great trip and it was. We did trains all the way. We spent 2-3 days in each (mostly) small towns. Did our own plans once at a town.

Traveled light as I said before, at 3 night stops we would rinse out socks and stuff. Had a hotel do our laundry once. It was a 3 week trip, all trains. I’m a big guy, 3 weeks of cloths would have taken way more luggage than I would want to carry.

We did buy special travel clothes from Travel Smith. The convertible pants/shorts worked great. And looked good even after days in them. Also used Eagle river luggage. Backpacks that also have wheels for rolling.