Clueless College Students to Europe

Oct 29th, 2003, 07:44 AM
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Clueless College Students to Europe

Right after the end of second semester (Mid-May), my cousin and I who are college students are planning a trip to Europe for about three weeks. Neither of us have been to Europe before but we are planning on doing the Eurail, Youth Hostel thing. The only requirements so far are that we visit France and Germany. I was wondering if you had any other suggestions on places to visit and things to see.
loho is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:18 AM
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I think people on this board tend to be a little older with a little bit more disposable income. Go on the lonely planet website, and I'm sure you will get all the info you need.
Dori is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:23 AM
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Here are my suggestions for doing some planning/elimination for your trip.
First of all, know that you cannot "see it all". Try to identify the top 10 must-sees, string them together and get a rough itinerary. For 3 weeks, you should probably try to visit 3 countries (there is a rail pass for just this). Shoot for 2-3 cities/towns per country to stay in. You can drop in to a few more smaller towns for a look around their old town center, lunch, etc.
Since you are traveling with someone, you will need to figure out what is different about your lifestyle/preferences (ie. you're a nightowl, cousin is early riser; you like architecture and art museums, cousin wants to shop and party...etc) Then you both will have some idea where compromises might need to be made.

Here are some places to go for some basic information:
Destination information on,,

Europe by Eurail 2003, 27th: Touring Europe by Train (currently on sale on Amazon for less than $10)

An overall Western Europe guidebook, ie. Lonely Planet, Fodor's, Frommers, Eyewitness Guide
(check,, or your library)

Last year, airfares were discounted into May and even June so start looking around January to get a feel for what will be a good rate. Plan to arrive in City#1 and leave from last city so you don't have to backtrack.

The Rick Steves site (above) has a very good PDF file on rail passes.

Good luck and get started - planning is half the fun!
Travelnut is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:24 AM
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I agree that the Lonely Planet site, under Thorn tree, Destinations, and Postcards, has people to help you. But you might start with some sites designed foir you:

Privately written US site:
UK site:
Needs a few minutes to load a shockwave flash plug-in:
Short notes by backpackers, and a forum:
Newsgroup Backpack travel discussion group:
Question and answer forum:
Hostelling International - International Youth Hostel Federation
About 270 hostels that are not part of IYHF:

[email protected]
ben_haines_london is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:38 AM
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Some of us older folks with "disposable income" still prefer seeing Europe in the least expensive way. Personally, I derive no pleasure from spending more than I have to, and traveling on the cheap is so much more fun than the 4-star Hilton route!

When I was in my 20s, my 18-year-old cousin and I took a three-week trip to Europe. We flew into Brussels, took the train (via our Eurail passes) to Paris, where we spent a few days visiting the usual sites - Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Invalides - before heading to Madrid. We met up with a group headed by my old college Spanish professor, spent a few days with them seeing Madrid and Toledo, then took the train from MAD to Barcelona, thence Geneva (and about nine days in the nearby Alps) before heading back to Paris via Lausanne for a couple of days, on to Brussels.

Having said that, we stayed in an inexpensive hotel in the 5th arrondissement at the intersection of Boul. St.-Michel and Boul. St.-Germaine, and at a youth hostel near the Bastille (sorry, it's been so many years, I can't recall the names).

In Germany, a first time traveler might enjoy Heidelberg and Munich. Frankfurt - nein. What are your interests? (This is the key question one should ask oneself before planning a trip to Europe). If history, for example, I'd recommend a side trip to Salzburg and one of the bus tours to Berchtesgaden/"Eagles Nest" (Hitler's old stomping grounds). Art? Science? Major cities, e.g., Paris and Munich, have the museums to satisfy such interests, respectively.

flsd is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:51 AM
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I would say Eurail is the best way to go for this type of trip. You'll meet a lot of people on theh trains. Three weeks I would say you could hit 3 or four countries, especially with the Eurail pass. Definitely Paris, Munich are great cities with lots iof nightlife. maybe a smaller university town would be fun for you
also like Freiburg or Wurzburg in Germany.
To see a completely different culture from these two countries I would reccommend Italy also. Venice, Florence or Rome. Depends on how much time you want to spend in museums, old churches, etc.
Spain is my favorite, but a long journey from Paris. The warm countries have a completely different vibe, and are cheaper in general.
Don't constrain yourselves just to Hostels as the two of you can probably also find some cheap hotels occasionally.
Oh, if you are in northern Europe, Amsterdam is great and not too far away. Here and in Germany there will be plenty of English spoken, which helps.
troutmask is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 10:17 AM
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loho, traveling by Eurail is fun and you well may meet some interesting folks at the hostels. As noted above, my cousin and I stayed in an inexpensive hotel at the intersection of Boul. Mich and St. Germain, but we also later stayed at a non-IYHF hostel near the Bastille, which was fine (dorm-like, co-ed bathrooms, but extremely cheap).

If I were doing it for the first time, knowing what I know now, I'd definitely stay in Paris for a few days (Tour Eiffel, Musee de l'Armee, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, etc.), also visiting some places in the environs, e.g., Versailles, Chartres. Stop at grocery stores or street markets for lunch - a baguette, cheese, some fruit and soda (we picnicked at the base of the Eiffel Tower and it's a memorable experience to watch the old men play boules and the kids playing soccer at the Champs de Mars).

You may want to check out Strasbourg and/or Colmar - the Alsace is lovely - on the way to Germany. There, I found Heidelberg, Freiburg and Munich particularly interesting. Heidelberg has the castle, cathedral, Philosphers' Walk, lots of interesting places to eat - I really have enjoyed my two visits there.

flsd is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 11:41 AM
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Paris, of course. Amsterdam, Maastricht & Munich. By the time you are heading back (where are you flying into ?) it may well be worth a stop in Oostende for a little beach time. By June the water should be fine & it is always good to work a little relaxation into your travels. Give us some more info & we'll go from there. Are you looking for history, castles, or just plain fun ?? I wouldn't plan too much, chances are you'll meet some people over there who also have great ideas, go w/the flow.
SAnParis is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 11:43 AM
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Looks like I've responded to you before, at least I'm consistent...
SAnParis is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 11:52 AM
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SAnParis - it's only natural that some of us old fogies (speaking only for myself, of course), who first saw Europe as a college-age kid want to revisit the topic again and again. Ah, youth!
flsd is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 11:55 AM
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Let's Go Europe and Hanging Out in Europe are two guidebooks written with backpacking college kids in mind. Also check out the for helpful student-oriented travel info.
And drop into any STA or Council Travel office. That's their specialty.
martytravels is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 11:57 AM
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flsd - Just remember, age is a state of mind + I now have an 18 month old to help me continue my youth...
SAnParis is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 11:58 AM
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The Let's Go guide series (Let's Go Europe, Let's Go France, etc.) is a good source in that it is written by students for students. It's been in existence for about 40 yrs.(originally written by some Harvard students, I believe) and is constantly updated. It's kind of the grandaddy of budget travel guides.
grandmere is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 12:19 PM
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All the web sites mentioned above are great. Also helpful, particularly for hostel reviews, is .
WillTravel is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 12:39 PM
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College actually wasn't so long ago for me (though 2 moves and 2 kids later, it feels like it!). I made a trip just like this while in college. You're going to have a blast! I'd check out Let's Go, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves. For 3 weeks in addition to France and Germany I'd definitely add Italy. I don't know how long you wish to stay in each of France and Germany or where exactly in these countries you're hoping to travel, but a week in each country would be very nice. If you're hoping to get a taste of different places, though others on this forum would largely disagree, as adventurous college students you could hop around to several countries--France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy. Otherwise I'd just add Italy. And Eurail is definitely the way to go. Have fun and let us know how else we can help.
samtraveler is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 12:47 PM
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loho: Great time of year to see Europe, but plan on rain. You don't have time to see everything, so don't try. A few places in France and Germany plus maybe a stop in Belgium sounds good. Try to keep to Travelnut's suggestions for 2-3 nights per stop.

Hostels can be a mixed bag. In large cities like Berlin, hostels are often your best deal and there are usually several to choose from. Many of the private ones are dumps; the HI hostels are often very tidy and well-maintained, but are sometimes full of screaming school kids on week-long educational outings. In Germany, I try to avoid the larger HI hostels that tend to cater to groups until mid-July, when school lets out for summer. Another cheap alternative in the cities is the ETAP / Ibis type of hotel - a shoebox of a room but clean and very reasonable, and sometimes located near a train station.

If you'll be staying in smaller towns at all, I'd suggest booking a room at a private B&B; in Germany, you can usually find something for around 20 Euros/each per night, including breakfast. Not bad considering that dorm room accommodations with smelly strangers usually run 15-20 Euros per person or more. The local tourist offices usually will send you brochures that include such private accommodations or maintain websites with prices and descriptions.

Eurailpasses: The selectpass for 3 countries is usually a good deal for a 2-week trip:

You can usually do well by buying point-to-point tickets or daypasses in these countries for short daytrips within a region, so for the selectpass, just buy the number of railpass days that you'll need for your long-distance journeys.
Russ is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 01:42 PM
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yo loho,

you guys are *so* excited. i only stayed at yha hostels - and never had a bad night's sleep. definitely check out yha deals . . .

also, besides the online planning, i love 'first time europe' from the rough guides series. it's all the handholding you'll need before you go.

i also love and used let's go, but remember, you'll be hanging with fellow americans if you only use let's go - rough guides, lonely planet and time out are for the euro and australasian crowd (who certainly know how to make the most of their travels) . . .

hth & post us some updates!
ealing_calling is offline  
Dec 13th, 2003, 08:25 AM
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One thing which hasn't been mentioned is safety - for yourselves and your possessions. There have been a couple of threads on this board in the last few months describing travel "horror stories" about backpacking college students who had money, documents, and other valuables stolen from their backpacks while they slept on trains, didn't pay attention or keep watch, etc... I have also heard that theft at hostels is all too common. Please look into precautions to prevent this kind thing - money belts, etc... having all your money stolen on your first day in Europe is hardly a great way to kick off your vacation.

Also somewhere on this board is another very long, funny, and scary thread about "travel companions from hell". Perhaps you and your cousin have grown up together and travelled together on many occasions, so you are familiar with each other habits, preferences, etc... If not, it would'nt be a bad idea to sit down and in a cousinly, positive way discuss such things as waking and sleeping times, eating requirements and meal times, shared activities versus solo time, who's paying for what, preferred activities, and so on. This might help nip problems in the bud. It's amazing how many of those posts in the "travel companion hell" start out with "I THOUGHT i knew my (friend, co-worker, or whatever) UNTIL we travelled togerther to...."
resipsaloquitur is offline  
Dec 13th, 2003, 04:31 PM
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The two recent threads that I can recall about young people losing stuff involved one young man in Italy who was pickpocketed on the bus, and one young woman in London who was pickpocketed at an Internet cafe (or possibly had her stuff taken when she left it unattended briefly). Neither case is really related to backpacking per se. I wouldn't leave valuable stuff lying around in hostels, but your toothbrush and old underwear are probably very safe. Many hostels have lockers in any event, and you should certainly make sure your passport/money are with you or locked up while showering, for example.
WillTravel is offline  
Dec 16th, 2003, 11:36 AM
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I helped my daughter and two of her friends plan their 2 week trip to Europe after HS graduation this past summer. They flew from Atanta to London, then to Amsterdam, then to Rome, then back to Atlanta. They also took Rick Steves' books on the trip as their guide.

The best hostel website we found was They stayed in the International Student House in London and the Flying Pig Downtown in Amsterdam and loved them both. In Rome, they rented an apartment. There, they enjoyed having their own kitchen and private bath but they did not meet a lot of other traveling kids and therefore did not enjoy their stay in Rome as much.

Also, it ended up being a lot cheaper to fly from city to city than to take the train but you miss out on a great adventure by flying. They were limited in funds and in time so flying was best for them. They all had a great time and have set a goal to study abroad while in college. Have a great time.
Parker is offline  

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