Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

First time to Europe: 3 weeks in August, suggestions please

First time to Europe: 3 weeks in August, suggestions please

Mar 13th, 2006, 07:55 AM
  #1  
kkt
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 16
First time to Europe: 3 weeks in August, suggestions please

I'm a 25-year-old female and I have yet to travel internationally. I have three weeks between taking the bar and starting work, and I'm thinking of taking a three week trip to Europe in August. I will be traveling alone. I'm not sure whether I will seriously consider a tour or not. I'm afraid of traveling alone to somewhere I don't speak the language.

I am just starting to plan my trip and really have no idea where to start. Since I haven't been anywhere, I'm overwhelmed by all of the options. I expect to be doing all of the typical touristy stuff.

If this were you - your first time to Europe, traveling alone, three weeks - what would you do? One in-depth tour of a country? Three separate places? A whirlwind tour of Europe?

Thanks in advance!
kkt is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:20 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 19,881
Interests?
alanRow is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:38 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 1,273
You say "I expect to be doing the typical touristy stuff". I say - not necessarily.

Try something that may be a bit outside the box, the typical touristy box being Paris-Rome-Florence-Venice it seems.

Since you have to make this trip in August, where central and southern Europe can get awfully hot and stifling and overrun with vacationers local and foreign, and since you're uneasy about not being understood or not understanding foreign languages, I suggest you travel through Scotland or Wales or Ireland.

Why not take a tour for some of the time? You probaby won't have the time to research an itinerary and make reservations, even though that is easy once you get the hang of it, so you'll do that for later trips you'll take. There is comfort in numbers, a solo trip can be lonesome.

You can and should be selective, there are tours and then there are tours. Be choosy, plan on traveling very light, read up on the history and geography (if your exams leave you any time at all...), and make the most of it.

Plan your travel dates so that you have a few days in England or in Ireland before the tour begins, it's nice to be acclimated and refreshed and time-zone adjusted when joining the tour.

Those remaining days before and/or after the tour you could spend exploring London on your own - it won't be the last time you'll go there, it seems you're headed for a career that will make it possible for you to do some traveling over the years, so take a first look at London and keep the many items you won't see this time up your sleeve for the future.

Check out www.simplynicetours.com, www.irelandtouring.com/ - and there are many others. You might even be a candidate for Rick Steves' tours - www.ricksteves.com - they're no-nonsense no-frills tours for energetic people, no pampering - you carry our own, you're fit enough to keep up - they appeal to a lot of people and might be right for you.

Now if all this doesn't appeal, I suggest you look at Scandinavia - beautiful in summer, from the lakes of southern Sweden to the never-ending days up in Trondheim and beyond - do a coast-hugging fjord cruise...

WK
WallyKringen is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:39 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,507
Wow---all I wanted to do after taking the bar exam was relax! Congratulations on your achievement.

To minimize the stress factor, why not concentrate on England, Scotland and/or Ireland, where you won't have to worry (too much) about the language. There are so many things to do in London alone you will be busy. I would be perfectly comfortable traveling as a lone female all over England and Ireland (I haven't actually been to Scotland,but I assume it is similar in that respect). Also anywhere in Scandinavia, where English is very commonly spoken.

Speaking for myself alone (I'm sure others will disagree) I would not travel alone in Italy or Spain. Not that it's unsafe; it's just that the "hassle" factor (as in amorous males) takes all the fun out of it for me.

From England, you could also include Paris---the Eurostar train from London to Paris is a great way to go. There are others here who are real experts on Paris and can give you lots of help on where to stay, etc. Paris is another place I would be comfortable alone (except for the Place Pigalle area), and it is such a wonderful place that it's worth the effort to visit even if you don't speak the language.
enzian is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:49 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,642
I would pick three different places that were interesting on their own merits and that offered good opportunities. But my three places might be very different from yours.

What's your travel fantasies? Have you wanted to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night? Relax in a picture perfect Swiss village? Crawl the pubs in London?

Put aside the language worries for a moment. Although it's always nice to learn some of the local language, the main tourist centers are filled with people who speak English. I just spent a few days in Krakow and knew only three words of Polishbefore I got there (now I know 20 although I can't spell any of them except wodka and kawa biala). Think about what you've always fantasized seeing and focus on that (don't count on running into George Clooney in Lake Como, though).

Given the stress of your bar exam and your upcoming new career, try to make your trip relaxing. No whirlwind tour to see it all.

If you really aren't comfortable being alone in a foreign country where English isn't the first language then how about a combo? A week in London followed by a walking or biking tour in France, Italy or Switzerland might be just the ticket.
BTilke is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:51 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,135
I would consider Amsterdam, Paris, and Venice, a week in each. I have done each of these cities (as a solo female with no language skills) without difficulties. I believe a lesser number of places therefore less "rushing around" and having to figure out transportation and logistics makes planning and doing this kind of trip easier and less stressful.
suze is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:52 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 42
Scandinavia is also a great idea and there are also no language issues. Copenhagen, Malmo, Stockholm, Oslo, Bergen are all fantastic places to visit that time of year.

ebflo is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:54 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 35
Hi kkt,

alanRow was right, we do need to know a bit (ok, alot) more about your interests before we can actually start suggesting where to go and why. In the meantime, I could give you some general advice.

I did a similar type of trip when I was a bit younger than you are now. I also traveled in late July / early August.

First, I got an "open jaw" ticket which basically means I flew into one city and then eventually departed for home from another. I suggest you look in to this option.

Second, I would say it is better to stick to a few destinations (three for one week each sounds great!). Now it is really cheap to travel between European destinations, air fares are low and connections good. (Check out http://www.whichbudget.com/, for example.)

Third, take in to notice the time of year you are traveling. August can get really hot in most parts of Southern and Central Europe. Are you up for that? This is something you might want to consider when weighing in your options. Also, August is the main vacation month for Southern and Central Europeans so touristy places and large cities can get really crowded. And on the other hand this means more restaurants closed for vacation ect..

As said before, I know nothing of your likes/dislikes, so here a few suggestions. You might want to choose three different types of destinations. For example, you could start by flying into London, an easy destination since you know the language. After a long flight this would probably make you feel more comfortable and get you settled in the "European mood". From there maybe continue on to Paris (for a different feel) then maybe further towards South...Italy is a personal favorite of mine, for example.

Hope this gives you something to think about. Also, I think it's great that you are venturing out on your own! In my solo travels I have felt safe but also always kept my guard and wits about me.

So this is all I can say to at this point, hope you provides us with more info. Happy planning!
Emily is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:54 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,135
Switzerland as mentioned above is another good suggestion. You will find a bit more English spoken than some other countries, but more importantly things are so clean, efficient and darn organized... it's pretty easy to travel there. The train system is wonderful. A plane ticket into Geneva and out of Venice could give you a taste of two countries.
suze is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:59 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 35
Don't forget my native Finland if you do decide on Scandinavia
Emily is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 09:14 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,427
I think there is something to be said for starting your first international travel to a fairly easy place for English speakers. If you are more adventuresome, sure, you can go to places like Italy, but I am a fairly independent person and when I went to Paris for the first time (before I knew French and when I had only traveled outside the US a little bit), I had a terrible time and hated it. A lot of things went wrong, and it was very trying.

Of course, if certain places don't appeal to you at all, there is no point in going there, but you could have a wonderful first trip to Europe by doing Ireland, Scotland and England in 3 weeks (and throw in Wales, a bit, why not). There is no need to force yourself to go to Italy, for example (and I would NOT go there in August, anyway, regardless of other issues), if you aren't comfortable with it.

If you want another place to add to those places, the Netherlands is very easy for an English speaker, also, I'd say next to them. (Amsterdam). I haven't been to Denmark or Sweden, but I would think those are good ideas, also, as others mention -- in terms of weather and language.

That is more than enough to do in 3 weeks IMO. Besides, the British Isles have much nicer weather in August than a lot of the continent, and I would choose to go there anyway in Aug. just for those reasons.
Christina is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 11:11 AM
  #12  
kkt
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 16
Thank you for all of your advice. London will definitely be my first stop. It seems like a logical choice (and something I want to do) and you confirmed that. I'll look into possibly adding a few days for Ireland.

As far as interests go, I would be interested in the wine regions, although Iím not sure thatís a solo activity. Opportunities for photography are high on my list, and I will want to do a little shopping for unique items. I am definitely not interested in a bike tour. Anytime I go biking, something seems to go wrong!

Honestly, Iím not sure exactly what Iím looking for, yet. I would love to have an immersed-in-the-culture experience, beyond the typical tourist experience. But I donít know what that is. Maybe this means certain side trips or activities or classes.

Aside from London, high on my list are Paris, Italty, Greece, and Egypt, although not necessarily on this trip, especially Egypt unless itís a tour.

To add a wrinkle to this, I just spoke to an old friend who is now living in Antwerp. She offered to be my ďhome baseĒ for traveling and to possibly travel somewhere with me for a portion of the trip. On that note, I would definitely be interested in a European beach vacation for a week. Any thoughts on the location for that, and could that be done alone if she backs out?

Thank you again for your advice.
kkt is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 11:17 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,427
Well, that's a start for planning.

I was just wondering if you've done a little research yet to find out the climate in some of these places you are considering. I think a tour is best for Egypt, but there isn't any way in the world you want to go there in August, anyway (I was there in October and it was bout 95 some days). I wouldn't go to Greece in August, either. It gets very hot in these places, as well as southern Spain. The beaches are really packed in August, also, but all the European vacationers (like the Italian and French Riviera).

YOu could go to beaches, though, if you want.
Christina is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 11:17 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 91,135
Take your friend up on her offer! Staying with someone who lives in Europe is the *best* way to get a local experience.

For the wine country, maybe you'd join a tour group specific to that activity for 1 week of the trip?

If you are timid to travel to a non-English speaking country I'd definitely save Greece and Egypt until you've got a few more trips under your belt. I don't consider either one of those countries easy for "beginners".
suze is offline  
Mar 14th, 2006, 01:06 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 1,273
Absolutely take your friend by her word! Antwerp is a great town, really great, and the Belgian countryside in summer is heaven - just go alone or have your friend join you for (almost) aimless drives, stopping at an antique furniture store here, a pottery studio there, have a plate of bread and cheese and ham in a country "pub" while counting the dozens of brewery-issued special glasses, one for each type of beer they serve... Avoid the autoroutes expressways and trundle along the country roads. You'll make discoveries, and I'm sure your friend has a few spots among her favorites that she'll share.

That's exactly the cultural immersion you were looking for! Then make an excursion to Bruges, take your friend on another to Bruxelles (maybe with an overnight stop at the hotel Mozart www.hotel-mozart.be right in the lively late-night eating and strolling hub of the old city near the magical Grand' Place).

Beach communities are not far away - your friend will know the good ones. Amsterdam and Paris each are only a few hours away by fast train, albeit in opposite directions. Amsterdam is bearable even in hot summers, somehow there's always a breeze blowing down the canals and grachten, and the locals bare it all (and I mean all) in Vondelpark.

Paris is almost deserted by the locals, of course, every French citizen who can leaves town in August when the entire country just about shuts down, but if you've never been there, what do you care, you're young and a bit of heat (or a lot of heat...) won't kill your excitement.

Even London is not out of reach, and circling back to "home" in Antwerp between such trips will give you a comfortable anchor place to chill out before you plan your next move.

Three weeks will go by like that, and you'll have better memories than from trying to absorb a little bit of too many vastly disparate cultures - Italy, Greece, Egypt - they've been there for millenia, they can wait another year or three!

WK
WallyKringen is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:21 PM.