posted: Feb. 2, 2005 @ 7:02p
I'd like to start a thread to help people traveling to Europe plan a reasonable trip. We have seen several proposed trips which are not feasible and rather than all of us responding to those posts, they can be directed here so they can get some guidance on how to do research for their trip. The intent of this message/thread is not to give advice on where to go, but rather, how to effectively plan and to do adequate research. I'd anticipate good websites, books, research experience, etc. would be part of this thread. Also, good advice on airfare, lodging, packing, Eurail travel passes, and any other important information on planning a trip to Europe.
This is not an all-inclusive summary as every trip is different. This is only intended to get folks started on the right foot. Don't ask FW members to do your research for you. If you want to have a great trip in Europe spend time doing your own research. You will be much better prepared for your trip and visiting the places you will go to.
The very first thing you need to do is decide how long your trip will be and then subtract two days for travel time to get there. Then decide where you want to go and then cut the list down by 80%. Americans are notorious for doing whirlwind tours and all they do is spend time on trains and buses rather than spending time visiting places. It's better to spend a lot of time in one place than a little time in lots of places. No matter where you are there are great things to do and see; don't worry about running out of things to do. At a minimum, you need to spend at least 3-6 days in major cities. You can often spend a day or so in small cities/villages, but there is nothing wrong with taking your time and traveling at a slow pace.
Below is some advice, various websites, and other places to go when researching the various aspects of your trip.
An excellent website to use is eurotrip.com. They have excellent advice on about every subject related to a trip to Europe, give city reviews, have a discussion forum, given airfare and lodging tips, etc. They also have a newsletter which is also nice for planning your trip.
If you do some thorough research, you can find affordable airfare. Be flexible in your flight destinations and you can save money. For example, if you are visiting Paris and S. Germany area, consider flying into CDG (Paris), Munich, or possibly Zurich (this might cause you to adjust your itinerary slightly though). Check all airports that are in or nearby cities you will be visiting. It may change the order of the places you will visit, but usually it doesn't matter, and who cares if you can save money?
First place to go is FAQ: How to find the best airfare deals!
Other relevant sources for investigating/purchasing airfare:
Your local newspaper often has travel agents advertising good deals.
Check into courier opportunities (do a Google search).
Check your travel guidebook. Sometimes they give good advice.
I highly recommend bed & breakfasts in Europe. They are often times cheaper, less crowded, and add to the overall European experience. Also consider hostels, but be careful and do your research. A good guidebook will help out tremendously when looking for lodging. Also, you don't need to have lodging pre-arranged when you arrive into a new city. Most cities have a travel office than can help arrange accommodations (they charge though), and lots of train stations have little phone kiosks which dial a B&B directly.
If you must have a hotel (most FW members probably don't) the first place to check is FAQ: How to find the best hotel deals!
Check your guidebook
Look for kiosks at train stations
Go to travel office at train stations and airports
For hotels, check websites listed above in airfare section.
Also, be cautious when people approach you unsolicited to stay at their place.
Getting around once you are there-
Decide how you will get around and have a plan. If it's by car first check the websites stated above. If it is by train, evaluate all the Europass/Eurailpass options. Don't buy more days than you need. For example, if you take a night train, you can travel for free for part of the next day. Rather than use another day, check the specifics of this option with your pass details. Also, consider buying point-to-point tickets versus using a day on your Eurailpass. It may be cheaper.
Eurail.com is a good site for researching train schedules, fares, departure/arrival times, routes, etc.
Public transportation is excellent in Europe. If you are going to be in a city for several days you will save money buying an all-city pass which will probably include subway, bus, and tram fares.
Taxis are also a good way to get around, although more expensive. Insist the meter is running though or you will be ripped off!
Traveling by plane may be an affordable option for covering long distances in shorter amounts of time. European discounters like ryanair (ryanair.com) have very affordable flights for intra-Europe travel. Be aware though, many airports they service are a little remote from the city center so you may need to make plans for getting into the city.
Don't leave home without one! They are invaluable for so many reasons (tips on airfare, lodging, places to visit, dining, currency exchange, etc.) including saving you lots of $$$. Spend time finding a good book that will meet your travel needs (countries you will visit, time, amount you can spend, etc.), and it will help you immensely on your trip. Don't buy a book covering all of Europe if you are only traveling to a couple of countries. Some good well-known guidebooks include:
Rick Steves Series
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides
Go to Barnes and Noble, find one you like, and then come back to FW to order it from one of the sites offering Cash Back.
If you are a student or recently graduated, take you ID care with you. Numerous places will give you a discount. Some places will only accept the international Student card which you have to send away for. Your guidebook will have an advertisement to order a card.
Other misc. thoughts-
Rick Steves has great shows on PBS (which can also be purchased) on many areas of Europe. Thorough research would include getting a Rick Steves video and watching it before you leave.
Always use a money belt in Europe. Tourists make easy targets for theft. Try and avoid getting on crowded buses, subways, trams. This is where a lot of theft occurs. Gypsies have a reputation in Europe for praying on tourists. Just be careful and be on the look out. If you are cautious, you will be fine.
Many Americans tourists are loud, rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, demanding, and a down right embarrassment to this country. Be respectful of others, don't expect the same level of customer service you get here, don't complain if you can't get a 32 oz. beverage with ice in it, don't climb on stuff that you shouldn't be on, and remember, you are visiting someone else's country and they don't have to speak English! If you have adequately prepared and are courteous, kind, respectful, and try and learn something, you will have the time of your life.
Never exchange money with the money changers roaming the streets. You will be ripped off!
When available, use lockers to hoard your stuff while you are sightseeing. If you are traveling with a partner, lock your stuff together. Eagle Creek has a nice lock that has a cable that can connect backpacks together.
Other comments welcome.
Also, feel free to refer folks to this message thread who ask for advice or suggestions on a Europe trip.
Some of the formatting and links didn't come through. I will fix those.Text