Where should I travel to?

I will be entering my fifth year at UCD this fall, and will soon close the college chapter in my life. During my four years here, I haven’t done much of the ‘typical college scene’. I haven’t gotten drunk. I haven’t gotten high. I haven’t done much, really.

So to make up for it, I want to plan an awesome backpacking trip to Europe/Asia next summer, after I graduate. I want to do the usual round of England, France and Spain, but where specifically should I go?

My brother told me to buy a Eurorail pass and hostel it up with other fellow travelers my age, but I’m kinda sketchy about that. He told me that he had so much fun taking the Eurorail with people he met in bars and staying with people that he met in the hostels and in clubs. My brother backpacked by himself and it turned out fine, but as a woman, I wouldn’t feel safe doing that. I’ll be going with the SO and maybe a friend or two, so I was wondering if anyone had any good or bad experiences with hostels and/or the people staying in them. And if I’m going with a couple of other people, would it just be better if we stayed at a hotel? I’m kinda skeptical about staying a hostel since you have to watch over your stuff all the time to make sure no one steals anything, but my brother insists that you get such a different and fun experience from staying with those people.

As for Asia, the SO and I will be going to Thailand to visit my relatives, but I don’t know if it would be a good idea to go anywhere else in Asia. A few years ago we spent 4 days in Singapore and we were bored by day 3. We would like to visit Japan, but Europe will already drain our pocketbooks. Now if you can find a way for us to visit Japan for a few days to a week without costing us thousands of dollars, we would be very grateful!

I’ll be borrowing 5-10k from various relatives since they all want me to do this once in a lifetime experience while I’m “young and stupid”. So I would like to make the most out of this money and have the most fun (and safe!) experience possible. My brother lived off of 8k in Europe for 3 months, but I’m not fond of going without food for days at a time to have enough money to visit a museum.

Advice on where to go, how to go about doing this and what I should avoid, would be much appreciated!

Hostels really aren’t as bad as you’re thinking. Many are actually pretty much like spartan hotels. If you’re in a group of four, you will often be able to get a room for your group (especially if you book ahead). You’ll certainly get to meet some interesting characters, there’s no doubt about that. But use common sense, take advantage of lockers etc., and you’ll be fine. (I’ve heard just as many stories about light-fingered hotel staff.)

I presume 8k means US$? If so, that should certainly be enough to live on for three months. Hell, that’s $80/day - of which less than half will be for accomodation. That’s far more money than I live on, and I certainly don’t skip meals!

There’s a lot of past threads discussion Eurail passes, and the various alternatives, with advice from people who’ve done this kind of thing. Very briefly - London is very expensive, Paris is quite expensive, most other places (apart from Scandinavia and Dublin) are reasonably-priced.

Prague is the most user-friendly, romantic, beautiful (though landlocked) place I’ve ever been. If you are travelling with SO you guys owe yourselves a romantic weekend. Because the Czechs are relatively passive folk, they promptly surrendered at the start of WWII. Result: they never got bombed. That means that today the city is still largely intact and gorgeous, not rebuilt and populated with horrible constructivist buildings on every block destroying the ambience (as in most of the rest of Europe). if you’re a typical american (like me) and grew up watching the disney channel - this is what you expect europe to look like. Also, cheap as hell and the world’s best beer.

Amsterdam is also a favorite, but outside of smoking dope, trying not to fall in the canals and seeing some classical art there’s not much to do past a day or two. Nice cows though.

Depending on the time of year, I’m a huge fan of Liguria - the Italian Riviera. The trains run along the coast and the scenery is spectacular. Lots of groovy little medieval coastal towns. Awesome food, greta swimming. Not as developed or haughty as the French riviera but certainly no less beautiful and generally cheaper. Go to Cinque Terra and Portefino. You won’t regret it.

I did the “bum around Europe” thing in '94.

LOVED: Prague, Budapest, Interlaken (Switzerland), and France.

Disliked: Austria.

I thought Austria was a rip-off.

When I went back to Europe with my wife last year we spent all of our time in Paris and Interlaken, and we want to go back to Interlaken in the future for a longer stay. If you like hiking and mountains, you simply can’t beat it.

And, ABSOLUTELY stay in Hostels. You’ll probably remember those accomodations and those people you meet more than you’ll remember anything you saw and did. I think the incidents of crime are overstated.

My European experience is limited to a 2-week jaunt through Italy, but I have to give another thumbs up to the hostels. I’d recommend small, family-run ones over the great big ones, though; the one I stayed in in Florence was well-located, and I met some cool people, but I felt like I was sleeping in a bus station.

I had some idea before I went that Hostelling International made up the bulk of the available hostels; at least in the parts of Italy I visited, this was not even close to true.

I fell in love with Rome; there was so much to see and do, and just wandering down any random street was likely to be a joy. The hostels I stayed in there were The Beehive and Casa Olmata, and I’d recommend either of them (for different reasons). The Cinque Terre is breathtaking, and I can’t imagine going back to Europe without visiting there. (I’ve been told that the hostels there are less than spectacular, though; that’s OK, since you can get a nice room for $30.)

If you’re staying in hostels, you could live large in Italy for $50/day.

I can’t speak to very many countries myself - but I second the Cinque Terre suggestion. It’s amazing, fun, gorgeous, and cheap. There are very cheap rooms you can get that aren’t part of a hostel (but generally speaking I like hostels). Go into butcher shops, fish shops, bakeries, etc - even bars - and ask if they know of any rooms available. That’s what I did and all of them have some they rent - it’s a matter of availability. But they’re nice and cheap - good way to go.

Florence and Lake Como are also good spots in Italy.

I loved Budapest, and I loved Prague. Wish I could be more helpful though…sorry!

Slight correction - There wasn’t much of Czechoslovakia left to surrender by the time the war began :wink: (And the Russians also deserve credit for preserving Prague far better than many other cities were treated post-war, both sides of the iron curtain.)

Listen to your brother!

I’ve backpacked around Europe as a single woman and was totally fine. The only place I felt a little unsafe was in Sicily, and that was largely because I wasn’t there during high tourist season. (Northern Italy is fine.) You will be missing out on SO MUCH if you don’t stay in hostels. You have the rest of your life to stay in comfortable hotels… :slight_smile: You will meet so many interesting people in hostels, and your trip will be infinitely more interesting, if maybe slightly less comfortable. Just pack light, bring a luggage lock for the hostel lockers and an inconspicuous money belt for your valuables (not a fanny pack) and you’ll be fine.

Go to Italy, definitely. You must see Venice. If you go there, see if you can stay at the Santa Fosca hostel–it’s more centrally located and more beautiful than the HI hostel, which is on another island accessible only by boat. Also see Cinque Terre–I had a great time staying in the hostel there in Manarola. If you have time, stop by Verona and see an opera and Juliet’s house. Verona has the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in in my life. It’s in a Renaissance villa with frescoes on the walls, and it’s very affordable. Also, Florence and Rome are must-sees, but lower on my list. The Amalfi Coast is also one of the most gorgeous places in Italy. The hostel in Atrani is really adorable (the town is built into the side of a cliff and you feel like you’re going underground) but very, very damp.

Go to Amsterdam and make up for your drug-free years! (Smoke, though, don’t eat, or you might really regret it) When I went, I didn’t do any drugs, but I had a wonderful time anyway just wandering around the city and seeing the museums. The Anne Frank House was moving beyond belief.

Go to the South of France, and to Paris. I feel like Paris is overrated–to me it felt like a city that would be more fun to live in than to visit–but it’s definitely worth seeing.

In general, when you’re planning your route, I think it’s worth making trips to small towns, even if it’s just for a day or so. You’ll have a much more unique and interesting experience than if you just hang out in all the big cities. If you stay in small towns, this might make a trip to Japan affordable!

For two-3 people traveling together, a lot of the time a small hotel is about the same price as the hostel, with much better amenities and they don’t kick you out half the day. The down side is, you don’t meet people as easily.

Just an example, in Florence I stayed in a small… hmm… I guess it was a pension but it was run more like a 8-room hotel (Pablo House, I recommend it, haggle on the price if you’re staying a few days). For the exact same price as the hostel I had a private room I could lounge in to my hearts content and a private bathroom with shower.

In Hungary (Szentendre) I stay in a similar kind of place, almost a B&B (they call them Panzios there) and was served breakfast in the owner’s cherry orchard. And they drove me to the ferry dock.

Check out the book “First Time Europe” by Rough Guides for lots of good tips.

I’m busily taking down notes as I plan out our adventure next year. Thank you all for your advice! It seems like you guys prefer the smaller towns rather than large cities. Were the large cities too boring, or are the smaller towns just cheaper? Just wondering what makes a town so memorable for different people.

Also, I know a bit of Spanish, but not much else other than English. How hard of a time will I have in Europe? I went to Europe with my mom a few years ago, but it was different because mommy was taking care of everything. This time, if I can’t communicate with the locals, then I’m stuck! Is getting a guide book with normal phrases the best way to go?

tiltypig, when I read “Listen to your brother!”, I had to laugh. I showed the SO and we both had a good chuckle over it. If my brother heard that, he’d get such a big head :slight_smile:

Any other things I should think about?

Well, I myself traveled to a mix of large cities and small towns. Small towns are less generic (in a way, all cities are the same – London and New York I find to be particularly similar) and you can see how the other half lives out in the country. If you need to just kick back and chill for a while, it’s cheaper to do that in the country. :slight_smile: Also some of the towns are known for something in particular (Szentendre in my example is an artists colony with lots of shopping opportunity for that kind of thing)

Another factor is that after a while, you get tired of doing standard on-the-beaten path tourist shit… truly, after The Prado and Uffizi none of the regional art museums are going to impress. Why not visit the Museum of Marzipan* instead?

Linguisticaly I think you’ll be fine throughout Spain, France and Italy – the languages are so similar you should be able to be understood on a very basic level. Other than that, I’ve found that if you make an effort people meet you more (way more) than halfway. a few standard phrases: hello, excuse me, I’m sorry I don’t speak [language]… go a long way.

*also in Szentendre. They have a life-size model of Michael Jackson all in marzipan (dressed as per the HIStory tour) And a truly delightful cafe. mmmmmarizpan.

Generally speaking, eurorail passes aren’t a good deal when compared with point to point tickets, except if you take the train very often and on long distances. I checked it myself several times. Tickets should also be bought diretly from the european railways companies or when you’re already in Europe, because if you buy them from US sites, you’ll end up paying a big fee (like 30% more). And besides, they generally don’t offer low cost tickets.
There’s an useful internet site out there where you can enter your temptative itinerary and that tells you what is the best deal, tickets or pass . Unfortunately, I cant remember its adress. However, you could ask the question on the europe boards (“talk” then “europe”) on www.fodors.com , where it is answered on a regular basis.
As for hostels, I still sometimes stay in hostels despite being now 40 (admitedly, I now generally pick a private room. They exist in many hostels, in case you wouln’t know). Personnally, I think hostels are great for people your age. Maybe you’ve to watch your stuff more closely and you don’t have a private shower, etc… But you meet plenty of people from plenty of countries to hang out with. And of course they’re cheap. Some are known for being party places, some are pretty quiet. Of course, since you’re not travelling alone, it might be less important to meet other people. I never had a bad experience in hostels, and plenty of good ones.
I would also advise you to visit backpacking sites. In particular www.eurorip.com , that caters mainly for young americans travelling in Europe. You’ll find there a lot of advices about packing, hostels, etc…

Another board you should visit :

The thorn tree on www.lonelyplanet.com . Much more so for Asia than for Europe, IMO.

The rail timetable site I find reliable is this - although it’s run by Deutsch Bahn, so only gives price information relevant to them. Also this is a useful guide to the labyrinth of low-cost airlines.

Mmmmm. Beg to differ on both counts. “Czechoslovakia” as such came into existence at the end of WWI. The split with the Slovaks (to which I assume you refer) came post 1938 invasion. Then, post WWII the country existed in a unified state until 1993.

As for architecture. I have rarely heard anyone credit the soviets for helping preserve classic european architecture. Certainly that was not the case in Russia itself (particularly with respect to eccliastical architecture).

In Prague, the commies built a beautiful, ground level freeway bisecting the historic middle of the city and leaving some of the most stunning buildings (the opera house and the museum to wit) literally stranded between its lanes.

I backpacked/hitchhiked through a good bit of the UK (plus a couple weeks in Northern Germany, Belgium & Holland) back in 1980. When on the continent I stayed in youth hostels exclusively (I was 18 and alone). I thought they were fine. In the UK I stayed in a few hostels but mostly used bed & breakfasts or just camped out. I really enjoyed the B&Bs over there. They weren’t very expensive and the breakfasts were typically excellent, by my 18 year old standards. I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking as a means of transportation but I would definitely recommend Hostels and B&Bs in the UK. If you’re into rugged scenery I highly recommend Scotland and Wales.