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First trip to Europe - early 20s want to see the highlights

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Proposed trip -

Duration: 3-6 weeks
Budget: $5000-7000 AUD. [3250 - 4500 ish euros]. We live in Sydney, Australia and would like this to include plane tickets.
Must see: London, Paris, Spain, Berlin, Rome and/or Venice.
Wouldn't mind: Switzerland, Amsterdam, Sistine Chapel.

Want to see: Lot's of little things. The priority is seeing a little bit of a lot of things, not seeing a lot of a few things.
Why: My partner and I are prioritising getting a house/mortgage young. We plan to finish uni, trip of europe, house/mortgage, trip of usa/can/mex, children as the order of life events. So aside from maybe a one-off trip to Ireland (where he has family), this will probably be the only time we see Europe.

We've only begun discussing this, and would likely go mid 2015, end of 2015 or mid 2016. Right now our best idea is to do this tour: since our plane ticket would be $1800ish probably for return sydney to london, and spend a few days in london exploring ourselves before we start the tour.

We like that one because it's fairly low cost and takes us to the 5 must sees and lots of little places in between, since this is likely our only Europe trip. But at the same time, maybe we could plan a better one ourselves. We don't mind the 6 am starts, but we also like the idea of doing a very similar trip with a similar budget, but an extra day in amsterdam and an extra day in berlin. And we might be able to do this by cutting out places we don't mind not seeing, like maybe Austria and Hungary.

My questions are:

Given the 5 must see places, and the desire of the trip to be "seeing a little of a lot of places",
1. Would we be better off financially planning a trip very similar to that one ourselves?
2. Would be be better off in terms of time well spent (less coach time etc.) planning one ourselves? [We do want to see a lot of places though, so a lot of travel time either way]
3. If we did plan our own trip, is getting between our 5 must see locations by public transport easy? Is there a lot of airfare?
4. Which places would you recommend for the "seeing a little of a lot" portion? E.g. Sistine chapel - would a one-day vatican stop over be too difficult?

Thank you to anyone who took the time to read this and reply. It is very much appreciated.

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    I took a quick look at that tour you linked to. It looks like a lot of time on the bus. On the included driving tours in the cities you are unlikely to actually see much since the bus will have to go at the same pace as the rest of the traffic. The included walking tours will be better, but I doubt you'd be going inside any of the sights.

    Considering that you are a couple, did you notice that it's "accommodation in same gender multi-share rooms"? That sounds like hostels.

    Since you aren't planning to go until 2015 or 2016 it's impossible to really know what plane tickets will cost then. Public transport between some cities can be very cheap if you buy non-refundable tickets really early. There are also lots of cheap airlines in Europe, but you need to read their conditions very carefully since they charge extra for every little thing and frequently fly into airports a bit outside the cities you want to go to.

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    Since you aren't planning to go until 2015 or 2016 it's impossible to really know what plane tickets will cost then.

    More. They will cost more.

    The exchange rate will likely be different then too but let's assume for the purposes of this thread that 1 AUD = 0.65 Euro

    If your ticket is $1800, that leaves you with between $3200-5200 after buying your ticket. If the price of the tour stays the same (which it will not) and you choose the no-frills, bare-bones, this bed is uncomfortable, Ralph from Schenectady, New York kept me up all night with his snoring, why are we getting up at 5AM, me so hungry" option for $2265, then you will have $935-1135 left over which would break down as follows:

    3 weeks: $311-378 per week, or 202-245 Euro per week.
    4 weeks: $233-284 per week, or 151-185 Euro per week.
    5 weeks: $187-227 per week, or 122-147 Euro per week.
    6 weeks: $155-189 per week, or 100-123 Euro per week.

    I realize that you're traveling from the other side of the world and want to make the most of your time, but I would consider other methods which you have more control over. For example, backpacking and using train passes.

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    I think I might be getting your meaning: you actually DO want a whirlwind tour.

    And since you're young, that's possible. But I agree with “anyegr” that taking that group tour makes no sense. You would be stuck on a bus for eons, often with no knee space. And too often group tour accommodations are outside city centers, meaning you waste a lot of time getting to the very things you want to see.

    I think you can do quite well planning this yourself. You have time to plan, and you should print out a couple maps of Europe and start playing with possible itineraries. Your accommodations and actual transport bookings can come later.

    I also suggest that you list all the CITIES you want to visit (note,you did not list any in Spain) and then list the things you have been dreaming of seeing within the cities (you have only listed the Sistine Chapel. What else do you want to see in Rome?). That way, when you see that you only want to see one thing in a city, you can say, “We should just get this city off of our list." And you can also say about a city where you have been dreaming of five or six sites, "Gee, I guess we should spend more time here."

    Two rules in planning:
    I. Please always consider your time as money. As was pointed out, you may save money on that group tour because you’d be traveling by bus, but the time spent on the bus would just KILL you timewise.
    A huge time and probably money saver is to book an open jaw airfare; e.g., fly into London and out of Rome. What you don't want is to spend precious time and money getting back to where you started if that's not how you want to route yourselves. Most of the time, an open jaw flight is not more expensive than a simple roundtrip fare.

    II. Please remember that a train is not always better or cheaper than a plane.** And a plane is not always more efficient than a train. And a rail pass is not always cheaper than booking just point to point.
    Yes, many of your listed "desired" cities can be linked by train, and certainly, one of the joys of Europe is the rail system. But there's a caveat: we always say, "Check cheapo airfares between cities before you commit to trains". Sometimes you save both considerable time and money with flights by low cost carriers such as Ryan Air, EasyJet, etc.

    **For example, I once was going to take the high speed train from Paris to Nice--about 6.5 hours and around $115 per person. But a poster here said, "Check out flights before you commit." Gosh darn if I wasn't able to nail a flight for $65 pp. Yeah, there was the cost of our taxi to the airport and the added time of both the taxi and the security lines. Even so, we were ahead in cost and time by flying. We opted to fly.

    Ok, let's get a handle on a possible itinerary.

    Let's start you in London.
    --You could then go from there to Paris by the Eurostar or a lot of other transport methods in a little over two hours.
    --From Paris you could zip up to Amsterdam by train (3-4 hrs), and then…
    --Zip by train from Amsterdam over to Berlin (6+ hrs) or by cheapie air (less than 2 hrs).
    --A cheapie flight from Berlin to Venice would take less than two hours. The train is a haul.
    --Venice is easily linked to Rome by both train (5 or more hours) and cheapie flights (little more than one hr).
    --From Rome, you can fly by cheapie airfare to Barcelona in under 2 hrs.
    --If you want to see Madrid, that's 2.5 hours by train.
    --You could fly out of Barcelona or Madrid back to Sydney.

    This was sort of a "Captain Obvious" itinerary. To make things tougher, you could put Switzerland into the mix. The problem? Switzerland's large cities of Geneva and Zurich are not as attractive as the smaller towns, so you have to spend time and money getting around to see Heidi's Switzerland.

    Even so, it's possible to do a cheapie Berlin to Zurich flight and take a train to Interlaken to get into the Bernese Oberland. You could then return in a day or two to Zurich to take the night train from Zurich into Bologna, which is a spit by train from Venice.

    To refine your itinerary, do return to the question: What do we want to see in each city? For example, I have never been to Berlin because the only thing I've ever wanted to see was the Berlin Wall. If you can't come up with five things you want to see in Berlin, then take it off the route.

    Then Switzerland, if you want to see it, can become far more doable.

    Another idea would be to break up the Berlin/Venice segment by going from Berlin to Vienna and then onto Venice.

    You have time--play with maps! In the meantime, start checking out some airfares so you get a grip on what's good and bad.

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    Please remember that the first day and the last day of your trip will be non-productive, as is every day traveling to another city. Just using your basic itinerary, you're looking at 6 days not touring.
    Your wide variance of time in Europe needs to be narrowed down. Is it going to be 3 weeks? Or 6 weeks? Make a decision before you plan a trip.
    It's best if you fly in open jaw, flying out of another city.
    And it's always best if you travel to places that complement each other--in the same general vicinity.
    And in today's travel world, you should plan an itinerary to take advantage of budget European airlines.
    You should take a look at Spain and realize that it's a big place, and a separate journey to itself. Remove it from the list.
    And remember that you cannot see everything on one trip.
    I would tell you to start your odyssey in Paris and take a Eurostar fast train to London. From London, you can fly to virtually any European city cheaply on
    I would fly to Rome. After you've done your tourist thing there, take a fast train up to Venice.
    Then fly Air Berlin up to Berlin.
    If time and pocketbook permitted, take the train from Berlin to Amsterdam to finish your trip.

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    OK - I'm confused. You say "we" want the cost, including plane fare to be no more than 4500 euros. How many people is that for? Or is it 4500 euros per person? I have no idea of airfare from Australia to europe but a quick look makes it seem like the cheapest fare from Australia to London is going to be almost 2000 euros PER PERSON.

    So if the 4500 euros is for 2 people - then your entire budget is gone on airfare for 2 people. If it's 4500 euros per person you are left with 2500 euros - 119 euros per day for 3 weeks or 60 euros per day for 6 weeks.

    I think the latter budget is a VERY tight one if it has to include trains or discount flights between cities - beds in shared dorm rooms in hostels, lots of sandwiches sitting on park benches and not really any money for even basic student night life and certainly no shopping or expensive sights (which can easily run 20 euros up to 100 or more for ascending major mountains).

    I think you need to clarify this if people are going to be much help. And to get most for your money you should do all the planning and arrangements yourself - using student and backpacking guides. This will give you a lot more time actually seeing/doing things in europe - versus putting money in the pockets of tour companies that will give you the cheapest of everything and waste a huge amount of your time.

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    For traveling on the cheap, do consult these books with their websites:
    --Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring
    --Hostels European Cities, 5th: The Only Comprehensive, Unofficial, Opinionated Guide
    --The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget OR
    --The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe

    There are many others out there.

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    Good info from AZ. You have plenty of time to do lots of research. Also look at Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum:

    A lot of expense comes from travel. The more places you go the more it costs. Rail passes don't necessarily offer the cheapest travel. You may need to buy seat reservations to supplement the pass, and there may be a limited number of seat reservations available to pass holders, with nothing available at the last minute. Often point-to-point train tickets can be bought very cheaply if you buy 2 or 3 months ahead of time.

    We all favor independent travel here on Fodors because you can see more of what you're interested in. But maybe an introductory tour will be best for you. Instead of a drive-by through Europe, try to find a tour that spends more time at its stops. So you can get out on your own a little bit.

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