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Advice for a first time traveller?

Old Jul 11th, 2013, 12:27 AM
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Advice for a first time traveller?

Hi there! I'm a 20 year old student planning to travel to Europe in Jan-Feb 2014 for a month with a friend, and as it will be my first time travelling without my parents (and being a bit of an organization freak), I hope to get some wisdom and advice on here to make the planning a little clearer and easier for me. I know I'll be asking a lot so it is VERY appreciated for any little or long advice you can give

This might get a few rolling of the eyes but the base of the plan is to start on a Contiki tour for no more than 2 weeks then start exploring countries in Europe on our own for the remainder of our trip. I know there are a lot of people who don't see Contiki in a very positive light but as it's our first trip away on our own, I feel with everything being planned and being with a group of people, it'll help us ease into the whole travelling by ourselves thing.

This brings me to the weeks after our Contiki tour where we'll be travelling without a tour group, just ourselves. I honestly have no idea where to start, where to go - where is good to go, how to get to one country to the next (obviously plane, but more of the process of it all?).. basically I'm on a clean state. So please, any advice, tips and recommendations or anything at all would be greatly appreciated

If you recommend any places/countries to visit it'll also help determine which Contiki tour we'll want to take seeing as tours don't particularly allow you to fully appreciate the places you get to see due to time limitations.

Looking forward to any replies!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 02:19 AM
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It is a personal decision as to where you want to go. Have you got any idea of where you want to tour? Which continent? Haha
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 02:23 AM
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Oh sorry just re-read that, silly me. Have you been to Europe before? Maybe you want to see places you haven't already?
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 02:23 AM
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Oh sorry just re-read that, silly me. Have you been to Europe before? Maybe you want to see places you haven't already?
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 02:23 AM
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Oh sorry just re-read that, silly me. Have you been to Europe before? Maybe you want to see places you haven't already?
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 03:13 AM
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Give us some personal preferences as to what you enjoy most. History, culture, party, beach time, architecture, music, food, hiking, budget, places you have been before and liked/disliked any particular, languages you speak, stuff you are interested in etc. Other than that it'll be nothing else than stating our personal preferences which wouldn't be of any help with regard to the fun your trip should provide to the both of you.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 04:16 AM
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You've listed some countries. Where is your tour taking you? I don't think it's a bad idea at all and will give you confidence. But without knowing where you will have been, how could we suggest other places for you. And as said above, it will be OUR personal likes.
Do you like countryside? Do you like museums and cathedrals? Do you have a smattering of language? What kind of budget?
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 06:37 AM
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I think it is a very good idea to do a trip.
I do not know your details, but I can suggest you some of my favorite places:

France - Paris, Cote d'Azur
Italy - Rome, Florence, Venice
Germany - Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg, Cologne
Holland - Amsterdam
Czech Republic - Prague
Poland - Warsaw
Bulgary - Sofia
Hungary - Budapest

Mostly you can travel by train, because Europe is not that big!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 06:59 AM
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Considering the time of year you're planning, I would probably not choose the most northern destinations (Sweden, Netherlands) in your tag line, but that's me. I see that Contiki offers 14-day "Mediterranean Highlights" tours that start/end in Madrid and Rome.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 07:42 AM
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I'm with Jean - in the winter, I'd focus on Italy and Spain. But I hate cold. If you're fine walking around in the cold, that opens up your options (though I might still stay away from Sweden, since the days will be quite short there).

Otherwise, the answers to MaloBalo's questions will be very helpful.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 07:52 AM
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Sine you are going in midwinter you might ay differnt choices than you would in summer. But for us to help you, you need to provide more info:

Where will the Con Tiki tour go?
What are your interests?
Are you going for winter sports? Or do you want to try to find someplace that is less cold for sightseeing?

Suggest you get some guide books and tour brochures and look through them to decide what YOUR must sees are.

also, you need to look at your budget - Switz or Scand is probably almost twice as expensive as Portugal or rural parts of central europe.

One you have done some work yourselves and have more speciic questions people can be more help.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 08:16 AM
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When traveling from one town to another, get the names of a few hotels and ask the hotel where you are staying to call ahead.

If you plan on renting a car, learn how to drive a shift, it will save you hundreds of dollars.

Do not pick up a car and drop off in another, the surcharge will be ridiculous.

When walking around take a backpack and fill with bread, cheeses, wines, desert, chcoolates, fruits that you see during the day and have a feast back in the room. If you are checking in your luggage, put in a knife, fork, spoon, and corkscrew. If you are carrying it on carry plastic utensil and buy a corkscrew once you get there. You will save a lot of money.

I have no idea what Contiki is besides a raft.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 08:57 AM
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In your situation, I think an organized tour is a great idea. Have fun! After that, the train will likely be your best mode of transport. There are particularly good deals available to those under 26, so check out your options for Eurail passes or other discounted tickets.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 01:04 PM
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Wow, thanks so much to everyone who has replied!

TravelBound96: Nope, have never been to Europe before! What are you favourite countries to visit?

Frankman: Thanks so much! I'll definitely keep those saved and start Googling them. And is Europe really not that big?! I've always just seen it as overwhelmingly big. Shows how much I know, ha. Also thanks for the link! Very helpful.

Jean & jent103: Ooh thank you both, that makes it easier for me to narrow down the countries. To be honest, I'm not much a fan of the cold either but I'll go through anything if it means to experience something beautiful! I wish I was able to go during Summer but it's just not a good time for me - life schedule wise (if that even makes sense lol) .. but yes, the "Mediterranean Highlights" is definitely one of the tours I was considering but unfortunately it doesn't run in January so it doesn't fit into our time schedule

BigAleinsten: Great advice! Thanks so much ..I think I'll be sticking to public transport though I'll probably get anxiety from driving in a different country lol. And haha, Contiki is basically a company that runs tours for 18-35 year olds! (and has a bit of a reputation for party animals)

msteacher: I figured the train would be our best friend thank you for letting me know about the Eurail passes and discounted tickets!

MaloBolo, Gretchen, nytraveler: Sorry about the lack of info, I'm new on Fodors so I had no idea how to approach myself and my questions on here! I'll try to be as detailed as I can.

- Budget wise, I'm planning to save around $8,000-$9000 AUD
- To be a little more specific on the dates, we're planning to go last week of January to the 3rd week of February
- Unfortunately can only speak English, however I do know a bit of Italian
- Big fan of food so would love to visit places that will please that side of me hah!
- Culture and architecture would definitely be another one on the list
- Also would like to do some winter sports, I figured Swiss Alps, but is that the goto place for winter sports?
- Being from Australia I've only visited Asian countries (Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Malaysia) as it's not a long trip, but the one thing I loved most when visiting these places is, as cliche as it sounds, just seeing sights that take my breath away. I suppose that means I'm looking for recommendations to sight see. But with that being said, I would even be happy just to wander around small streets with old buildings and cafes or markets.

I guess what I'm looking for in this trip (after the Contiki tour) is to just be able to slow down and enjoy beautiful sights, eat a lot of food and dwell in new cultures, as I've read many Contiki tour reviews and a majority of them had said there wasn't much time given to truly appreciate the sights they saw so I'm hoping to make up for that in the weeks after the tour.

As for the Contiki tour I'm considering: http://www.contiki.com/destinations/...scovery-winter which goes to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland and France in 12 days. The tour will end in London so we'll start there for our trip alone and because of that we would like to stay a couple days in London and Ireland and we definitely would like to visit Spain - other than that we're honestly open to anything/anywhere. The Contiki tour covers a lot of countries already but if we feel like we really loved a country but didn't get to spend enough time there, there's probably a high chance of us going back.

Like Jean and jent103 suggested, since we're going in the Winter, Italy and Spain are good choices.. are there any other particular countries you could recommend during this season?

And nytraveler, thanks for the advice, will have to go and do some research but with yours and everyone elses advice at least now I know where to begin and how to begin with that research!

I think if anything we're mostly clueless on what to see or to do. But I guess that's when the guidebooks and research will come into play. Hope my reply was detailed enough to give a good basis on recommendations. Again thank you everyone for the replies I really appreciate it!
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 01:25 PM
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Your contiki tour is 'way too much in too short a time, even for a tour. Sorry about that. You have virtually NO time to see anything but a bus window on that trip. It is insane. And remember, I was the first to be in favor of a tour for you.
You will find that London is expensive I think. And yes, if you do that tour, you will want to retrace your steps some. Have you looked at other tours--Rick Steves?
How much is this tour? I'm not sure it really IS the best thing to do now.
You are going to have to settle on an itinerary because you may want to book an open jaw flight--arrive one place and leave from another, probably far away from the arrival.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 01:42 PM
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Don't even think of driving. Even if a company would rent to a 20 y.o., there would be an expensive "young driver" surcharge.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 01:50 PM
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I feel like you are talking a mile a minute. Rushed, out of breath, a chicken without a head kind of thing. SLOW DOWN.

First, while Europe is small in area it is probably the densest place in the world in terms of things of interest to tourists. You could say there is something of interest around almost every single corner. So what does that tell you?

You do not need to travel distances to find something new every day. In terms of your time (1 month) it isn't even enough to cover one country in any depth.

There is an old saying which at your age you probably haven't heard before. 'If this is Thursday it must be Belgium'. It is referring to the typical 'European Tour' where you change countries almost every day and it all goes by in such a blur that you cannot remember any of it. You can only look at your itinerary and say, 'If this is Thursday...............

Here is the soundtrack to the original movie which was a spoof on 'European Tours'. Maybe it will appeal to you as a 'Youtube' generation member. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bR1YKcO3Qg

Any European bus tour, not just Contiki is not about spending time IN places. They often spend as much time if not more in BETWEEN places. What they are all about is ticking off the boxes, as in 'been there, done that' bragging rights and nothing else.

If you want to get the most out of your month then forget Contiki. Yes it might be a good party but here's a tip they don't tell you. You are as likely (if not more so) to get some real jerks on your bus as you are fair members of the opposite sex with an uncontrollable urge to meet you and become physically close with you.

You can achieve the same thing (party, meeting people) with more control by staying in hostels known for their party atmosphere and possibly for less money. At least if you don't meet the right people you can leave and go somewhere else!!!

With a month I would check some guidebooks and narrow down your choices based on interests and weather. If you want to go clubbing I hear Munich is hot year round. If you want scenery and skiing then Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy would be your best choices.

Put together a FEW interests and then pick a few places to go for them. Where will you fly into and out of? If flying into London then a week in London makes some sense. Then by train to say Switzerland for skiing followed by a train down to Rome for sightseeing and finally a week in Barcelona perhaps before heading home. That's a relaxed month in Europe. You can't see it all no matter what you do. Better to see a lot of a little rather than trying to see a little of a lot and ending up singing, 'If this is Thursday, this must be Belgium...........
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 02:01 PM
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Holy cow. I travel pretty fast compared to many here, but that Contiki tour is nuts. I don't mind the idea of a tour, but a slower one would let you actually see things and not feel like you have to go back to every single place your tour went!

London doesn't have to be expensive. It is expensive compared to Greece or Portugal, but you can do it inexpensively. Most of the museums are free. You can eat cheaply.

The middle of the winter is not the best time to see Ireland. The biggest attraction is the countryside, and winter is a terrible time to see that. Plus Ireland is far off from everything else.

If you can't find a tour, think about...

- start in London, spend 4-5 days there (you can do lots of day trips if you get bored of the city)
- take the Eurostar to Paris, 4-5 days there (same, maybe one less day than London if you feel the need to speed up, since you'll be over jet lag)
- maybe visit the south of France en route to Spain; I haven't been anywhere in France but Paris and Bayeux, so can't help much there
- Barcelona - ~3 days
- Seville - 2-3 days
- Madrid - ~3 days
- fly somewhere in Italy, let's say Venice
- Venice, ~3 days
- Florence, ~3 days with several possible day trips (lots of threads here with info)
- Rome, ~4 days

That's more or less your whole month. It's a lot of cities, but in the winter the countrysides are less appealing. The cold weather won't matter as much in London and Paris because the main sights are indoors.

Now, that may not be what YOU want to see (maybe you're dying to see Amsterdam), but it's a place to start.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 02:56 PM
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Contiki-Tour, almost as quick en-route as Pep's tiki-taka... I'm a young cowbowy and as well like speeding things up at times but the tour is nuts and a total waste of money and time. In your shoes, I'd go for three or four must-see / must-do things. If you definately want to ski in the Alpes, it's one of them. If London is a must, that's no. 2. Food, culture and beautiful ancient architecture smells like Rome as no. 3. An since you mentioned Spain, Madrid seems a legit option, too. So, taking jent103's plan as a good start, I'd modify it a bit here and there:

London (5) - keep the jetlag in mind
Paris (3-4) - by Eurostar
Alpe d'Huez for skiing (5-6) - good resort w/ decent parties, great pistes and definately a lot cheaper than Switzerland/Austria
Venice (2)
Rome (4)
Madrid (4)

That itinerary will leave you with about five days for extravaganzas in either direction. Visiting London, Paris, Rome and Madrid gives you probably the best mix of things Western Europe has to offer these days taking into consideration your limited time.

But having in mind that Jan-Feb are probably the coldest months over here, you might as well try Eastern Europe if London is not a must. One idea would be seing places saving time in transit due to their proximaty:

Berlin (3) - Dresden (1) - Prague (3-4) - Wroclaw (1) - Krakow (2) - Bratislava (2) - Vienna (3) - Salzburg (2)+Skiing someplace near (4-5) - Munich (3) + 5 days for whatever else you desire.

I am fully aware that travelling to Europe for the first time makes it a lot more likely that jent103's initial itinerary is the best choice for you. However, keep in mind it's twice the distance to leave behind.
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Old Jul 11th, 2013, 03:22 PM
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Contiki trips are fine IMO - better if you are guys because the many Contiki groups I have seen are largely female!

Afterwards take the train around as zillions of folks your age will be doing - many using various Youth Railpasses - zillions to chose from from one country to 2, 3, 4 and 5 and all countries (Global Erauil; except not in the UK.

For lots of great info on European trains and planning such a trip I always spotlight these fine IMO sites - www.budgeteuropetravel.com (download their free and superb IMO European Planning & Rail Guide (http://www.budgeteuropetravel.com/id2.html); www.seat61.com (great info on discounted train tickets which however have to booked in stone months in advance to get as they are sold in limited numbers) and www.ricksteves.com.
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