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7 wk trip, questions on eurail/hostels/itinerary

7 wk trip, questions on eurail/hostels/itinerary

Jun 30th, 2011, 01:00 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 29
7 wk trip, questions on eurail/hostels/itinerary

Hello all,

I'm a 25 year old female- fresh out of law school, and traveling to Europe in Aug/Sept before I start work at a law firm in October (I've noticed a LOT of attorneys posting in this forum!). The only set details for my trip thus far are that I fly into Paris and out of Madrid. I've already been to London and Rome, so I'm skipping them this time around (I've also been to Paris, but only for a very short time- so I've decided to return.)

I have a few questions:

1) Should I plan my accommodations in advance? I intend to stay in hostels because I'd like to meet people and keep costs somewhat low. I'm concerned about finding lodging in big cities in busy August, but I'm also attracted to the flexibility of figuring it out as I go along. Does anyone have experience, one way or the other, that they could share?

2) Debating between Eurail passes. I'm considering three options. I could buy the 15 day flexi ($789), the one month consecutive ($809), or the two month consecutive ($1145). Choosing 15 day flexi or one month consecutive would force me to buy additional tickets for point-to-point. Two month consecutive gives me the luxury of not really having to worry about "spending" days, but it's more time than I need.

3) Can anyone speak to the safety and comfort of night trains, especially for a young female traveling solo?

I should mention that I am not comfortable without having *some* sort of itinerary in place before I go. While I'd enjoy the flexibility of being able to add an extra day here or there, I am the type of person who needs to have at least a rough outline of where I'll be, and when.

Here's my tentative (and open to suggestion) itinerary:
Days 1-4: Paris
Day 5: travel to Bruges
Day 6: Bruges
Day 7: morning travel to Amsterdam
Days 8/9: Amsterdam
Day 10: evening flight (or night train) to Prague
Days 11-14: Prague (night train to Munich)
Days 15-17: Munich (incl. day trip to Dachau)
Days 18/19: Salzburg
Day 20: travel to Lucerne
Days 21/22: Lucerne
Day 23: travel to Interlaken
Days 24-26: Interlaken and surrounding area
Day 27: travel to Venice
Days 28/29: Venice
Days 30/31: Florence
Days 32-34: Siena and surrounding area
Days 35-37: Cinque Terre (suggestions on which village to stay in?)
Days 38/39: Nice
Days 40/41: Provence (suggestions on which city to stay in? Arles? Aix en Provence? Avignon? other?)
Day 42: travel to Barcelona
Days 43-46: Barcelona
Day 47: travel to Madrid
Days 48-51: Madrid (incl. day trip to Toledo)
Day 52: return flight to the US

Again, in addition to the questions I posed above, I'm also open to itinerary suggestions (and good day trips from these locations). My main priorities on this trip are seeing various scenery and landscapes, meeting people, trying different foods, and having a good balance between relaxation and sightseeing. I'm more into history than art, and I'd rather see the landscapes that inspired French artists (for example) than their works in museums.

I'm truly grateful for your opinions and feedback as I've found this forum to be such a great help so far. Thanks again, in advance!
azhawk08 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:09 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 5,740
Wow, I'm tired just reading your itinerary. Are you sure you want to spend so little time in each place? Think of all the time you'll spend packing/unpacking. And the amount of wasted time sitting on trains.

I don't think the itinerary is bad, but I would cut out a number of cities and concentrate on perhaps five or six.

I can highly recommend both Venice and Florence. I would consider making Venice at least 5 days and Florence 3. And possibly consider one hotel in Florence for 4-5 days and do day trip to Siena (just over an hour by bus). You could also do day trip to Pisa, etc. from Florence. Just a thought.

I cannot offer advice on any other cities, but you are correct that this is a very late time to try to be booking accommodations for August of this year. I would not delay long in getting this finalized.

Good luck and have a wonderful trip! What a delightful way to reward yourself! Congratulations on your degree and, if you haven't taken it yet, good luck on your bar exam!!!
sarge56 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:20 PM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 4,248
I actually disagree with sarge somewhat (though not on the booking accommodations part!). As a first-year associate, I'm guessing you won't get much vacation for awhile, so I get the moving around. On the other hand, for such a long trip, you may want to add a couple of "long stays" just to give yourself a few built-in down days. I think Venice would be great for that.

As far as what to cut - I wasn't that thrilled with Lucerne when I went (though that's been ten years ago, it was in December and I wasn't there to ski or anything). Just my opinion, though, and not terribly well informed at that!

As far as the safety on the night trains, I'm a 30-year-old single woman and I probably wouldn't do it by myself. I don't think you'd automatically be in danger on one, but between the comfort factor and the "being asleep and not able to watch myself or my stuff" factor, I'd rather fly. My one experience on them was less than pleasant (we were in the cheap seats). There are several recent threads about night trains, though, so you might check those out to see what your options are and decide for yourself.
jent103 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:37 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 12,269
Congrats on your trip...

Looks fine as long as you are wanting lots of traveling.

seat61.com excellent site for training pass discussion

for me point to point train works best almost always

pass is expensive with lots of surcharges and you have

to train EVERY DAY just to break even on pass cost per day

from 25 euros so you have to train a lot.

hostelworld.com hostelbookers.com for each of your areas

Solo females do fine there I prefer day trains to see more

Night Trains more theft couchettes uncomfortable

beds uncomfortable expenive stick with regional intercity

trains and a real bed to get some sleep after.

If at night or dodgy areas for a couple of euro more

will book first class lots nicer and safer and uncrowded

hang with the conductors on dodgy trains u will be fine.

insuremytrip.com wise travel.state.gov for a heads up

Overall safe if careful... journeywoman.com great site.

onebag.com excellent packing site...

Happy Travels!
qwovadis is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:38 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 12,269
eurocheapo.com good budget guides cheap hotels for cities

if u elect to go that routs...
qwovadis is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:40 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 12,269
lecalendal.com Arles my fav in Provence

hostel5terre.com only decent Hostel in the CT

in Manarola
qwovadis is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:43 PM
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Posts: 11,212
I certainly wouldn't take a night train without at least booking a couchette. I think night trains are quite safe, even in couchettes. The doors lock; you can store your luggage behind the ladder. You keep all your valuables on your person while you sleep. There is a wagon lit conductor who takes your ticket and passport for border crossings so there is someone to go to for help in case you need it but I've never had a problem. If you do book a couchette (6 person compartment) you can request same sex compartments and I would advise booking an upper berth.

You do have a good mix of cities although far too many for a seven-week trip.

I would book accommodations right away, at least for the initial part of your trip. If you're taking an ipad or netbook with you, you can always book hostels a week or so in advance to give yourself some flexibility.

My niece stayed in the Aloha Hostel in Paris (Montparnasse) a couple of times and liked it. It's convenient to many sights either walking or a short metro ride.

You should go to the Thorn Tree site where there are more people backpacking and staying in hostels for further info.

adrienne is offline  
Jun 30th, 2011, 01:53 PM
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With your itinerary some kind of railpass is a no brainer IMO - and since you are under 26 you can buy the bargain Eurail Youthpass - check out these fab IMO sites for help on choosing a pass and planning a rail trip - www.budgeteuropetravel.com; www.seat61.com; www.ricksteves.com. For schedules for all trains in Europe I always use the Wunderbar IMO German Railway web site - www.bahn.de.

whether a flexipass - 10 or 15 days of unlimited travel to use as you wish within a 2-month period or a consecutive day or month pass is better is hard to tell - note if taking overnight trains you only use one day on a railpass - so you can relocate quickly say from Munich to Rome and use only one day on a flexipass.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 08:48 AM
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Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 29
thanks, everyone, for your advice!

I'm leaning toward the 15 day flexi pass, and using it for the more expensive travel days, then taking a budget flight from amsterdam to prague, and just paying point-to-point in italy and on shorter day trips.

I also learned that there's no night train from prague to munich, so I'll need to set aside another day for train travel.

I'm thinking I'll book hostels for the cities that are more set in stone (toward the beginning and end of my trip- paris, bruges, amsterdam, barcelona, madrid; as well as cities that might be harder to book on-the-fly) and figure out the rest as I go along. I like the idea of bringing a shortlist along for the cities that I haven't booked in advance.

as far as being rushed, I understand your comments, sarge and adrienne. if I ultimately decide NOT to book hostels in advance, that'll give me the flexibility to stay a little while longer some places, or skip a city or two that I'd been planning to visit. if you have any suggestions on what to skip, or where I should spend more time, let me know!
azhawk08 is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 09:50 AM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 356
My only advice is there is a lot of moving around with pretty long train connections. I think the time you are staying in most cities is okay but they are all pretty spread out (I think I counted 11 countries!). I would look into seeing more of fewer countries, I always recommend at least a week per country.

I also agree with somewhere, probably a few weeks into the trip and a few weeks later, to have a longer stay of 5ish nights to recharge. I personally think Munich or Venice would be good for that.
lindy27 is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 10:33 AM
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I would cut out Austria and Switzerland. That gives you an extra 8 days. You need to consider what a city has to offer and give it an appropriate amount of time. Not all cities/places deserve equal time.

As an example, you have allocated 3 days (or 3.5 days) to see Paris (I don't count day 1 as it will take half a day to get to your lodging and get settled in after a flight) and 1.5 days to Brugge. Brugge is lovely but it does not have the wealth of sightseeing and culture that you find in Paris. This itinerary is giving you a disproportionate amount of time in Paris.

I know you're only 25 but travel fatigue occurs at any age - it has nothing to do with energy level. You can also develop what I call "sensory overload" from too many sights/places too close together. You trip will become a blur.

- Add 2 days to Paris
- Add 2 days to Venice - you're in your 4th week and Venice is an ideal place to relax. You'll then have time to go to the lagoon islands (Burano, Torcello, Murano) and if you get tired of wandering around Venice, gaping incessantly at its beauty (hard to believe this could happen), you can take a day trip some place else close by.
- Add some time to Nice. Your 2 days there include travel time from CT so you don't have 2 days. Nice is a great place from which to explore the surrounding area by train or by bus. You can explore Antibes, Cannes, Monaco by train and take a bus to some hill towns such as St-Paul-de-Vence or Vence (and see the Matisse Chapel).
- I would save western Provence for another trip as you should have a car there to explore the delightful small towns.
- Fly from Nice to Barcelona and finish your trip in Spain.
adrienne is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 10:55 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Have no idea about train passes we drive. But you should know a couple of things about night trains:

1) many have no seats - only berths
2)berths aren't covered by passes and can be quite a lot
3)shared berths means trusting the srangers you are sharing with (maybe good - or not)
4) You never allow your valuables to leav your person (if sleeping put underneath you - where they can't be taken)
5)some people can sleep on trains and some can't

In August the better hostels can be fully booked in adance - so traveling with o reservations is a calculated risk (you might have to spend much more for a hotel or you might have to move on to another town)

One of my step-daughters went last summer with a couple of friends - room all reserved. A couple of times they met other american girls desperate for a place to stay - since hostels were either full or awful and they couldn;t afford a hotel.

Your trip is uber crowded and uber fst-paed but obviously yuo want it that way. One more thing I would consider is the weather. In Aug and early Sept Spain and Italy can be incredibly hot (upper 90s to 100 or more)- you need to be sure the hostels you find have good AC.
nytraveler is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 09:12 PM
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Posts: 212
I would encourage you to price out flying between cities instead of taking the train. Europe has many low cost carriers and many times their prices are shockingly low. My best friend lived in Madrid for a time, so I would fly there and we would use that as a base for exploring much of Europe. We were budget travelers and every time flights priced out less than a train.

I know many times trains are encouraged over flying, because you need to arrive earlier, airports aren't as well located as train stations etc.. I maybe in the minority, but airports, security etc. don't really bother me. I have found, w the exception of CDG, European airports less of a hassle than US ones. Usually the time difference is an hour or two, and to us that was worth it to save 50E or each.

Oh, and I would discourage using Ryan Air. Their fares maybe low, but their policies are designed to squeeze every euro out of you.
aimeekm is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2011, 07:02 PM
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@aimeekm- We used Ryan Air a few years ago and I booked far in advance (6 mos.) It was an unbelievably cheap fare and the staff was uber-friendly when they discovered I'd had a bad pedestrian accident earlier the day of our flight. And my daughter's luggage was way over weight (she knew), but they didn't charge us as much overage as they could have. Just our experience. I would fly them again any time.
sarge56 is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 09:47 AM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 212
sarge - I think that Ryan Air could be an option if one makes an informed decision, and is fully aware of what the total price of taking the flight will be. I just personally feel that advertising very cheap fares that don't include mandatory taxes and fees deceitful. I find their luggage policy to be particularly unscrupulous. Their carry on allowance is only 22 lbs. My daily laptop bag weighs more than that! If your carry on is overweight then it has to be checked, and it will cost 40E. Checked baggage is 20E and the weight allowance is 33 lbs. Every 2 lbs over the 33 lbs allowance is an additional 20E!?! I'm glad you had a kind agent, but I would not count on that.
aimeekm is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 01:19 PM
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at least Ryan Air decided not to install pay toilets aboard its flights after floating a trial balloon that was quickly shot down last year!
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 10:34 PM
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Have you done this type of trip before? I ask because I know it's personal style and preference but 17 places in 7 weeks is WAY too many for me personally. You spend such a large percentage of your travel time on trains or planes instead of sightseeing. I wouldn't like staying so many place for only a couple nights each place. What to cut is again personal preference, but I'd try to build in at least a few places where you stop and stay 4-5 days.

I don't mind an occasional overnight train, just not too often as I really don't sleep well. Definitely at least book a couchette.

As to waiting to find hostels as you go along, I think it's OK, but again personal preference I'd rather not spend valuable vacation time having to figure out where I'm going to stay each night. Again rather be sightseeing or enjoying places. Personally I'd pin down an itinerary and book it all in advance myself. I think waiting to do it on the ground you need to be prepared for spending time looking, possibly not finding availability at the best hostels, and/or having to pay more than if you'd done it in advance.

(after all that said -lol) Have FUN! Sounds like a wonderful trip.
suze is offline  
Jul 5th, 2011, 11:54 AM
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For any trip involving hostels buy Let's Go Europe, which to me has unparalleled listings of hostels and budget accommodations of all types - availabe in any bookstore and written by college students for their peer age group - and use it to e-mail or call ahead to book a hostel so you do not trek out to a hostel only to find the full sign hanging on the door.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 6th, 2011, 08:22 AM
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Posts: 29
Thank you all for the wonderful advice and kind words. I've encountered some Fodorites who don't appear as well-meaning as you all do, so I appreciate your friendly suggestions!

I have done a Europe trip before, though much shorter and with fewer destinations. I have a little bit of travel ADD- I really enjoy hopping from place to place. That said, I'm planning on cutting out Provence and considering cutting Switzerland as well. I'm having such a hard time choosing which areas of Switzerland to focus on that I think it might just be best to save it for another trip entirely.

I haven't found any cheap flights from Nice to Barcelona, but if anyone has info on that idea I'd appreciate it!
azhawk08 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2011, 11:15 AM
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 170
Agree: You just can't go to the Bernese Oblerand for just one or two days if you want to go up to the Jungfrau.

If the weather doesn't cooperate, there is no use spending all that time and money going up.

ANOTHER THING TO REALISE: 5K people a day are allowed up to the Jungfrau. In the summer, the tickets up are often sold out by 10 AM.

So, Miss Thing, if you want to go up, you had better jump up out of bed at 6 AM on the first beautiful morning at get your tickets.

I have witnessed hundreds of people at Kleine Schedeigg with long faces because they got to the ticket book at 10:30 AM and all was SOLD OUT.

And good luck going up with all those people. Like being in Times Square on NYE. ROFL!!!

P_P, still great after posting in Fodorville for 10 years.
P_Peppington is offline  

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