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Backpacking

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Hello all,

I am graduating this May and, along with two friends of mine, am planning on going backpacking through western Europe right after graduation for about 3-4 weeks. We are hoping to visit Spain, France, Italy and if time and budget allow, Greece. Although we have a rough itinerary of the cities we would like to visit, we, for the most part, are ill prepared.

I know that, generally, making an impromptu backpacking trip to Europe is half the fun of traveling, but I would like to cover a few basics so that we can a.) save as much money as possible and b.) make the most of the little time we have to travel.

With that said, I have a few questions that perhaps you travel savvy folk can help me out with!

1.) Should we purchase round trip airfare from one city, and travel in a circle venturing back to our original destination? Or, would purchasing "open jaw" tickets be more efficient? Which would be cheaper?
2.) EuroRail tickets are vital, I'm sure. Where/when should I purchase them?
3.) Should I purchase my in-Europe flights before I leave the US or while I'm in Europe?
4.) Is traveling to Greece at this time a smart idea? I've been forewarned not to travel there now because of their horrible economic state, but should that fend off backpackers?
5.) Which backpacking guide books have you found to be the most reliable? I've read that Lonely Planet is a worthwhile read, but I'm open to other suggestions.
6.) What, ideally, should our budget be? I am thinking $3,000 (including airfare); is that doable? We are planning on staying in cheap (but safe) hostels, not dining lavishly and even have one or two places we could stay at for free through the hospitality of friends and friends of friends. We are also hoping to find a cheap(ish) flight to and from Europe through the many student flight discounts available.

For now, this is all I have, BUT if you are willing to shell out general advice about backpacking that doesn't necessarily target any of the questions I have, feel free to post it! I am eager to learn as much as I can before my trip.

Hope to hear from you all soon! Thanks so much for your time.

Rachel (D.C. area)

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