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First time to Europe- Need advice!

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Hello, world travelers!
My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer, and are looking for advice from experienced European travelers. We haven't traveled pretty much at all, so we're nervous to try to do this on our own. We are open to both guided and independent tours, or trying to do it on our own, but don't know which one would be better for us. We are hoping to spend 10 to 14 days on our trip. We are hoping to spend under $7,000 (including airfare). Here are our requirements/wants:

1. We want to see multiple cities, probably 3-4. We are interested in Western Europe. The "must sees" are London and Paris, but we are open to any other cities beyond those two. The "guided tours" that sound most interesting to us usually involve London, Paris, and Rome.

2. We are not the "party" types, and don't drink...BUT we still want to be with a "youngish" crowd if we were to do a tour. We are both 27.

3. We want to do this in the most economical way possible (doesn't everybody??), but we don't want to stay in gross hotels, and we don't want to share rooms with other people.

4. We want to see the "highlights," since this is our first trip (which is why we are open to tours).

We have heard mixed reviews from friends regarding guided tours, but that's what we're leaning towards, since we're "travel virgins," so to speak. Any advice that people could give would be great. We specifically want to know what tours people have gone on, or if they've done it alone and how they went about that. Where should we start? What sites are good resources? And anything else people would like to impart. Thanks in advance!

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    Welcome to this community of world travelers!

    First step: DEEP breath! YOU can DO this! NO need to take a guided tour unless that is what you WANT to do. Most of us have traveled independently to all sorts of places -- including those you mention -- and have done so easily.

    Second step: Get yourself a good guide book or two. Go to your local library or bookstore and look through a few to see which seem most useful. It might seem like you can get all the info you need on line, but (a) a guide book will include information about things you would otherwise never even think to ask and (b) NONE of us can say what will most interest YOU, so you need to do your own research.

    Third step: Balance your time against your wish list. Your wish list will ALWAYS be longer than your time allows! A critical factor here is the time it takes to get from place A to place B. Do NOT make the mistake of assuming that the time that the train or bus takes is the time it will take YOU to take! Add at least 2 hours if not more. Here's what you need to consider: You will need to pack, check out, get to the train/bus/air station in PLENTY of time for your transit, actually make the trip, then retrieve your luggage, get oriented to your new location, reach your lodging, check in, unpack ....

    That might all seem a bit daunting, but it is quite doable ... assuming you expect it. Just be sure to expect a few rough moments (which will become great stories) and make sure you plan for about 1/2 day for each change of location.

    With 10 to 14 days, and a commitment to London and Paris, you might consider spending about 5 days in each of those cities and just a day or so in a few nearby locations. Just a thought!

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    $7000 (presuming USD by your vernacular) for EVERYTHING for 10-14 days is a tight budget.

    You don't mention your origin airport (or travel month), but assuming an East Coast major City, you should be able to get into FRA or CDG for as low as $1150 per person. That eats up $2300 of your $7000 budget, leaving $4700 which is approximately 3470 Euro. That is absolute best case scenario. Your airfare might be much more.

    For your 10-14 days, for lodging, food, transportation, etc. that comes out to 347 Euros per day for 10 days or 247 Euro per day for 14 days. That's very doable.

    How do you plan to get from city to city? Fly? Bus? Train? Rent a car?

    London is very expensive. The most expensive city in Europe if you don't count Moscow as part of Europe. Your 247-347 Euro per day would be 200-285 GBP in London. The Travelodge London Central Aldgate East is inexpensive and in a good location and not terribly expensive.

    I would suggest grabbing some city guidebooks (Lonely Planet is my favorite series but check out Rick Steves, Fodors, and the rest too) to get a feel for lodging prices and what there is to see that you want to see.

    I feel that given your modest budget that a tour would not be a good choice.

    London is expensive. Very expensive. F

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    Good advice above.

    Chain hotels like Travelodge in the UK and Ibis elsewhere are relatively soulless, but quaint and charming cost a lot. The exception in London may be the Russell Square area where a lot of academics stay at relatively low prices in small hotels and guest houses at reasonable prices in a safe and convenient area.

    I would cut back to two cities, London and Paris, and get to know them reasonably well. You can fly into London and home from Paris on many airlines. If you don't mind a stop in Dublin, Aer Lingus, while utterly without charm, has had good prices to the US East Coast.

    We dump on Rick Steves here, but there is a lot of good budget advice in his books. Just focus on his recommendations on _how_ to travel rather than his places you _have_ to travel. So many people follow his t hat many places have become cliches.

    If you spent a full week in Paris, you could rent a studio apartment. It will be cheaper than a hotel, and by using markets and grocery stores, you will get a sense of real life in Paris. That could shorten your time in London, but London is more expensive, so it could help hold down the total cost of your trip.

    In the cities, prefer the bus to the subway. That way you see something instead of just getting somewhere.

    Food is more expensive than in the US, but restaurant food is cheaper than it seems because it already includes tax and tip, unless you want to leave change to round up. Menus are always posted outside, so you can figure out what they have and if you can afford it. You will save money by eating your big meal at lunch. Most places have a special or two that will give you a couple of courses for the price of a main dish. Bakeries sell sandwiches, and various delis sell things like rotisserie chickens. Skip McDonalds, which will be horrendously expensive, the food will taste weird, and where thieves may target Americans.

    Watch your valuables. Never leave your phone, tablet, camera, daypack or purse on a table top. Be extremely polite to people who serve you in stores or elsewhere, prepare to be rude to anyone who approaches you on the street to get you to sign a petition or tie a string around your finger or return a ring you "lost." But there is no reason to be paranoid if you have any street smarts at all.

    You are lucky to be able to go at your age. We were too poor until our 40's, but we have had a wonderful time nice then!

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    A review of a book like Rick Steves "Europe Through The Back Door" or "The Rough Guide to First Time Europe" would be a very good start to help you think about how to approach all your choices. Buy it or check out from your public library. (Or look at Amazon used books, which can be very cheap and a general guide like this doesn't have to be the most recent edition as you aren't relying on it for hotel or restaurant suggetions or anything.)

    If you really have only 10 days on the ground consider limiting your trip to just those two cities London and Paris. You could still easily do a day trip or two from either to get more variety in your trip. If you have more like 14 days you could add a third city such as Amsterdam. But do not underestimate the time and stress of getting from one place to another, especially on your first trip.

    But all this you can easily do on your own.

    A good complement to a trip planned on your own is a private or group tour by a local guide for a day or a part of a day in your destination. A couple good websites to see what is possible and the basic idea of cost are www.viator.com and www.toursbylocals.com.

    When you get to more detailed planning post back here with specific questions (and also check Lonely Planet's the Thorn Tree forum which focuses more on younger and budget travelers, although not exclusively).

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    Let me chime in to again recommend not joining any tours. Half the fun is research and planning! And support for tourism is very easy to find.

    For your 10 days, I would suggest:
    4 nights - London (culture shock is less, and take it easy for a couple days for your jet lag)
    3 nights - Paris (via Eurostar train)
    3 nights - Rome (via Thello overnight train)
    fly home from Rome

    This gives you 3 different cultures. If you do highlights, English will be fine everywhere. I like overnight trains because it is time-efficient, plus you travel from city center to city center.

    You could do just London and Paris, with side trips. But Rome is absolutely spectacular, and (like Paris) a fabulous city to walk around in. Oh, and youth culture is alive and well in all three places!

    By the way, you can definitely find un-gross, reasonably priced lodging in London. Look on Tripadvisor. There are numerous places on Gower Street for around 100 GBP/night that are not fancy but are clean and quiet. I stay at this very nice apartment for 130 GBP/night: http://www.homeaway.co.uk/p406189

    Tripadvisor for Paris hotels too.

    The advice others have given is really good. Let me give one other tip: if $ is a concern, book as early as you possibly can. Trains (esp Eurostar) have best prices early on, and inexpensive, good hotels fill up early as well.

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    As others have said, the real fun is planning the trip. Avoid guided tours. Whether you are staying at hotels, bed and breakfast places, etc., once your reservations are in place, email the inn keepers, tell them how you are arriving in town and ask them for specific instructions to their establishments.

    On our last trip, we spent sixteen days moving thru several countries and I had my written instructions of which train line to use, how to get from the boat, airport etc, directly to the door. I can tell you that it relieves stress to have those basic laid out in advance before you encounter culture shock.

    Also make sure your credit card has the chip in the front or you could have some issues at some of the ATM or automated train ticket machines, depending on where your travels take you.

    Additionally, once you get in Europe, their are several cheap airlines to fly you to other countries more quickly. I like SAS airlines where I recently priced a flight from Dublin to Paris at $116.

    https://www.flysas.com/en/us/

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    Two of your preferred cities are worthy of 7 days. But I understand that you want to see as much as you can.
    Fly directly into Paris, and spend 5 nights.
    Take the Eurostar to London and spend 5 nights.
    Fly from Gatwick to Rome on EasyJet.com and spend the balance of your trip there.

    Rooms: I use Booking.com, the world's largest source for rooms. I'll filter my search low-high price and then start looking low price rooms with very high customer ratings. I'll also check with TripAdvisor.com to see what people say about the hotels (if listed.) I've yet to be disappointed. AirBnB.com is another great source for small B&B's and apartments.

    Flights: Fly open jaw into one city and out of another to avoid expensive and inefficient backtracking. If you could leave in May or September, you'll save on airfares.

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    London hotels are SO EXPENSIVE <<< I had the worst time finding something I wanted in our price range for this summer. No problem with Dublin, no problem with Majorrca, no problem with Paris.. but sheesh London was very difficult.. ( will the Queen be buttering my toast in the breakfast room?) Eventually found something, but both are slightly over the 100 GBP I wanted to keep it to..

    Booking tickets in advance will get you lowest price for Eurostar. I am booking tomorrow for a July 21 st ticket,, its the first day they will be available( for that date) .. and cost for a ticket should run me about 39 GBP.. they only go up from there .

    I would fly Rome to Paris, frankly its usually cheaper.. I flew one way on Vueling for 80 euros all in.. includling paying to check a bag and seat reservation. Plus its only 1.5 hours. even with commute to and from airports is much faster then trains. I stick to taking trains for journeys of less then 6 hrs. If however you can afford a private two berth cabin it may be ok.. but sleeping with strangers in the 4 or 6 person bunks rooms would not do it for me.. and sharing the lovely washroom down the hall.

    We all started out inexperienced.. and most of us did not start out taking tours. You CAN do this... London and Paris are easy cities too.. its not like you are planning on southeast asia or africa.. lol

    I would get cracking on some bookings. have you settled on your dates yet.. hotel rates dip slightly mid to late July in PAris.

    I can suggest the Hotel St Pierre in Paris, cheap, clean, and EXCELLENT central location.. rooms are tiny though, but it has a/c a must in summer ( usually)

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    You have gotten a lot of great advice above. You can do this on your own for less money an a better experience than a tour.

    London is expensive but it's not THAT expensive. First of all, the Travelodge hotel chain is decent and reasonably priced. I like the one at Waterloo, it's convenient to walk to places in central London. Second, the museums are all free - and there are many and they are wonderful even if you are not 'museum people'. Being free means you can just pop into one for an hour or two and not feel you've wasted your money by not staying longer. Third, London ( and all of England) has great pre-made sandwiches. I would never buy a pre-made sandwich at a grocery or convenience store in the US but over there I do it all the time. Plenty of parks, benches along the Thames, etc to sit and have a picnic lunch. Also pre-made salads and sides. Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer. Unless you want sit down meals with table cloths and waitservice you can east quite reasonably in London.

    I think you'll find flying into London and home from Paris (or Rome) cheaper than the other way around. Something about a tax the airlines have to charge for flights from the UK to the US. Also, starting in an English speaking country is usually a bit easier, don't have the language barrier to contend with (not that it's much of a barrier really in the cities you are considering but still).

    In Paris I recommend Hotel Marignan - fabulous location just steps away from Notre Dame, the Cluny, etc. It's high season prices are 84-115€ depending on if you want the toilet/shower in the room. But I've stayed there and done the shared toilet and it was not bad, you only share with one other room and it's very clean, right next door to your room. You may have read of shared toilets way down a hall shared with the whole floor, this is nothing like that. Plus the price includes breakfast which is worth about 10€ for a couple and is not included in most Paris hotels. I have also stayed at Hotel St Pierre which is quite good.

    If you decide to fly to either Paris or Rome look at easyjet.com Much cheaper to book as soon as possible than to wait.

    If you price out your flight and hotel options and decide you can afford 14 days rather than 10 I recommend that you do this. You'll just be 'getting started' after 10 days and won't want to come home so quickly. Also, the airfare is going to be the same so those extra days are 'cheaper' if you figure it out over the whole trip.

    For 10 days just do London and Paris. Many day trip options from both but with only five days each you really don't have time. If you have 14 days you could still just do the two but include a couple days trips or add in Rome and do a 5-5-4 split.

    Have fun planning.

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    A few quick tips to add to the above:

    Start in London. Jet lag is easier if you speak the language.

    Get oriented to your new city by taking a bus tour that takes you past the highlights. That will connect your guidebook map knowledge to the real world. There are hop on hop off plans, or more formal narrated drive-by tours available through any hotel.

    Take a few minutes to walk around the neighborhood of your hotel. It will be nice to know where to find the cafe, the bus and subway stops, the local stores, the pharmacy, and just to get a feeling for your new place.

    Do not try an apartment to save money on a first trip. Unpredictably you will need the handy services of the front desk for basic and specific information. If you don't speak the local language, they can make your reservations for you.

    Getting a tour for a day trip means a welcome break from do-it-yourself planning.

    Organized walking tours are fun and informative. Options also include do-it-yourself walking tours with a guidebook and a map, but a knowledgeable guided walk can be more fun if you flunked Boy Scout map orienteering.

    Pack light. You can buy anything you forgot to pack.

    Changing cities loses a day. Sundays are good travel days, less to do in your city, less traffic while driving or in a cab. Same applies for local holidays -- look them up.

    Have alternative plans for sightseeing days depending on the weather: Sunny days for day trips and stained glass, museums for rain. And note closure days for your targeted sights.

    When you are overwhelmed by trying to fit everything into this trip, sit back and say: "My first trip is not my only trip."

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    I would do it on your own (not join a tour). I would stick to only 10 days to give you more money per day from your set budget of $7000. I would simply pick 2 cities, fly into one and out of the other. Make 2 hotels reservations. Buy a guidebook... and you're good to go!

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    My husband and I took our first trip to Europe together when we were 24 and 26. We flew into Frankfurt, took the train immediately to Rothenburg, spent one night there, then went to Munich for 3 nights and then Paris for 4 nights. Then we spent our last night on the train from Paris to Munich, and then back to Frankfurt to fly back home. That was such a huge waste of time, and I think I must have done that because I found cheap tickets round trip to Frankfurt. If only I had consulted with the Fodors experts back then!

    We are planning our second trip to Europe now (in our early thirties) and these are the things I am doing differently:

    Flying into the city we are staying in first (Munich) and out of our last city (Bologna). This was a bit more expensive than flying round rip from Munich, but our time is limited and I feel it's totally worth it. I'm really looking forward to waking up on our departure day and catching a taxi to the airport.

    Spending more time in one place. This is super tough, but I'm trying to fight the urge to do too much. On our last trip we were always leaving the city just when we were starting to feel comfortable. It was very stressful for us to arrive in a new city, where we don't speak the language, and find our way around at first.

    Staying in a location where we want to spend time. We were on a tight budget last time, and my mother in law talked me into staying in an Etap(?) hotel in Paris because it was cheap and clean and close to transportation. It was fine, but not at all memorable. I have literally no recollection of what our room looked like there. Every day we got up, headed straight to the subway, and didn't return until the evening. The staff there was nice enough, but it was all very impersonal. We left Paris feeling pretty lukewarm about the city. I think our lodging had a bit to do with this, as well as the short amount of time we had and the amount of things we packed into it. In Munich and Rothenburg we stayed in small family-run hotels, and the owners were very warm and took great pride in the hotel and their town or city.

    Cutting back on museums, palaces, and "must sees." This is a more personal decision. I would be happy in museums all day, but my husband isn't crazy about them. I didn't realize this until after the trip. On this trip we are planning more free time.

    Making some restaurant reservations ahead of time. It was really stressful at times finding a place to eat, even though I had a list of possible places. I am one that gets "hangry" and there were some really intense exchanges at meal times when we couldn't find a place to eat. I ate a lot of creeps in Paris.

    Packing light. We are doing carry on only this time. Hauling luggage around is not fun at all, and neither is finding out your bags have been lost when you arrive in Europe. This happened to us and it was not a great way to start. We are getting an apartment in Bologna with a washer so we can do laundry half way through.

    Making a real effort to learn some of the language before we travel. Yes, lots of people speak English, but they always appreciate it when you try to speak their language. At the very least learn numbers and some basic phrases very well. I though I had a handle on French numbers, but when people were actually speaking to me it was so hard to understand.

    Looking for opportunities to connect with people. Our most memorable experiences from our trip were not the "must sees" but the intersections and connections we made with people.

    Getting to know the places you are going before you visit. Read both fiction and non fiction books set in the locations you will visit. It makes the sights you see so much more meaningful, rather than just thinking, yeah I remember hearing that name in history class.

    One word of warning from Paris. We did a Fat tire bike tour on Saturday night and it was absolutely the worst experience of the trip. Our guide was terrible, yelling and making gestures at the French people in their cars when they honked at us for riding in the road (with our neon reflective safety vests on.) everyone was out in Paris on Saturday night and we were stuck on this tour. I'm pretty sure this Saturday night in romantic Paris with gorgeous weather could have been the highlight of our whole trip, but instead we were stuck being herded around on this tour. It had a lot of good reviews, but it wasn't great for us.

    So from my very limited experience, I would say with 10 days split it only between Paris and London. If you have more like 14 you might enjoy adding a bit of time in someplace smaller and possibly more personal. We really enjoyed our very short time in the very touristy Rothenburg because we felt like we got to know it.

    Enjoy planning your own trip. It is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling for me!

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    In my humble opinion I would opt for London, Paris, Rome. You will get just enough of a taste to decide where you want to go back next time.

    I would start at my research at EuropeanDestinations.com and put in those three cities to see what the air and hotels would total up to.

    Remember that the airports in all three cities are a long way from downtown so you have to factor in transportation to and from airports. Now add your best educated guesses for the Food and Fun (admissions) portions of the vacation. Add in souvineers and your budget should be done.

    Happy planning. This is the fun part where you get to dream.

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