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3 Week - 1 Month Backpack Trip in Europe. Help?

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Hello all:

This may be a frequently asked question on this website. In fact, I found a topic or two along the lines of this discussion. However, I was really hoping for a more personalized answer from some Fodor's members!

I am about to graduate college and I start my first job on January 20th. I haven't had the chance to travel abroad yet (partly my fault, partly financial). I was hoping to do either a 3 week, or 1 month backpacking trip. I have to go because I feel if I don't go now, I won't go ever.

I have family in Paris, in which I was planning on visiting first OR on NYE (so I don't spend NYE alone). I would like to visit Berlin, Munich, Prague, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice, Rome, Florence (and of course, Paris). Those are my top destinations.

I will be traveling in the winter time and yes, I realize it will be cold. Trust me, I would much rather have the option of traveling in the Spring or Summer. But I will be slaving away in the corporate life for at LEAST two years.

Things I would really like to have the answer to:

1.) I understand hostels are cheap. Everyone I've talked to that has had traveling experience in Europe recommend hostels. Can someone give me a personal opinion on hostels? Are they safe, do you split rooms, are they really THAT much cheaper? Would I be better off on finding cheap hotels?

2.) Train or Airplane: I'm traveling on a budget. I need the cheapest form of transportation. Given my destinations, would train or plane be more efficient? I'm willing to toss out a little more cash if it means I get 8 extra hours backpack time.

3.) Are my destinations too far-fetched? Will I have time to do a little sight-seeing, visiting a few bars, eat at a few cafes, and still get a decent trip out of it? Or, should I consolidate my city choices and spend more time in the places I visit?

4.) I'm backpacking by myself. I don't know anyone who wants to shell out the cash for a 3-4 week stay in Europe. Anyone have any advice for backpacking by yourself? I would REALLY appreciate any.

5.) I'll be traveling with about $13-14,000 in my bank. I don't plan on blowing all of it on a 3-4 week trip. Can anyone estimate a budget that would allow me to backpack a little more comfortable than a homeless person?

I would really appreciate ANY answers. Thank you so much for reading this.

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