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Open-ended back-packing trip to Europe

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Nov 26th, 2011, 12:07 AM
  #1
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Open-ended back-packing trip to Europe

Hello all! I am new to this forum.
I have joined here to get help for planning my trip to Europe, tentatively sometimes in 2012 or 2013. I am 45 years old and live in Pune( Maharashtra, India).
My travel companions will be my wife and daughter( 10yrs old).
In India, a whole lot of tour operators organize trips to Europe from 7 - 20 days....for example, Thomas Cook, SOTC, Cox & Kings, Raj, etc. The advantage of travelling with them is obviously the absence of paper-work hassles and the group discounts that they get in big hotels and events abroad. These tours, I have learnt, are a bit hurried and I don't like travelling in hordes. Therefore, I have decided to organize the trip on my own, that is, we shall be like lone-rangers.....a back-packing family.......travelling on our own time-line and yet planning the budget very carefully.
Our trip will be ideally of 25 days and we are planning to stay in farm-houses and private bed/breakfast lodges, in small towns near the big cities, so that we can save on the expenses of staying in luxury hotels. I am in the process of making a rough itinerary and working out a route accordingly.
Tentatively, our destinations en-route include London, Windermere, Edinburgh( all in UK), Brussels, Bruges( all in Belgium), Paris(France), Amsterdam( Holland), Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg, Frankfurt( all in Germany), Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg( all in Austria), Budapest( Hungary), Schaffhausen, Berne, Zurich, Geneva, Interlaken, Lucerne( all in Switzerland), Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Pisa( all in Italy) and Prague( Czech Republic). My wish-list also includes Barcelona in Spain and Copenhagen in Denmark. One is in too south of my normal route and the other is a bit too north.
To save costs, I am also considering staying in one central place and covering the other destinations, travelling to and fro, etc.
My total budget will be around 7500 Euros( plus/minus another 10%) for all 3 of us.
Please feel free to give me advice and suggestions and build up my detailed itinerary day to day.
As I detail out my itinerary day by day, with your help, I shall keep this Message updated. I need your tips and guidance for this. Thanks in advance...and wish you all bon-voyage.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 01:31 AM
  #2
 
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Making your own arrangements inevitably means you see fewer things in any period of time than taking an organised tour. In 25 days, it might be possible to see everything you've listed (or at least de driven past the pointless tourist cliches). But that's just not possible making your own arrangements.

On top of that, you're going to be around for another four decades or so, and Europe's not going to disappear. The ONLY point in a mega "do all Europe at once" trip is to be able to hold your head up when the silly woman next door looks down at you because she did all that in HER trip, and what's wring with you for "doing" so much less? You know she's a pillock and got nothing but photos she thinks impress other people out of her guided tour to Europe's motorways. But she doesn't.

You need to prune your list severely: in 25 days I can only manage to drive from the Cotswolds to Rome and back again.

Assume half a day is taken up by any plane journey. and that most train journeys average 80 km an hour hotel to hotel. It's a near universal law in Europe that the faffing about time on any intercity journey is longer than the station to station, or airport to airport, time

Personally I can't see the point of one base.Assuming London (Europe's airline hub) or Frankfurt (looks more central), you're still having to overnight for several days everywhere else you want to stay, either paying for two hotels, or having to pack everything up each time. And your plans for Italy and Germany mean you're going to have to stay in several cities in each country anyway.

You MIGHT be one of the few cases where a Eurorail pass makes sense. But the people selling it, though reliable in most things, are out and out liars about the relative cost of the pass. Most European railway systems offer a huge range of fares, and Eurorail quote ONLY the most expensive ones when claiming to compare the price of their passes with individually booking each leg, Since a 3-4 week pass for three of you runs into a thousand or two dollars, do your homework thoroughly, using www.bahn.de to plan the overall structure, but the individual national railway websites to calculate prices.

Alternatively, on journeys over 200 miles, especially across borders, flying is often (but not always) BOTH faster and cheaper. www.whichbudget.com is probably the most comprehensive site for cheap plane fares

I'd also challenge your "we are planning to stay in farm-houses and private bed/breakfast lodges, in small towns near the big cities" theory. Almost 100% of the time, commuting into, say, Paris will halve your available sightseeing time, and the cost of the commute will kill any apparent saving in hotels. London, Paris and Rome (and Amsterdam and ...) are stuffed with cheapish hotels and B&Bs: the trick is to stay in the cities themselves, in the areas slightly outside the tourist centres where we all live, and use their fabulous (London & Paris) or at least a bit better than Bombay's (Rome) public transport systems. Bluntly: the idea of finding a farmhouse of any sort, never mind one letting rooms out, within 100 km of London or Paris is surreal.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 01:43 AM
  #3
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@ flanneruk.............thanks for your opinion. It is feedback like these, that will help me fine-tune my planning more realistically. Infact, I have just skimmed over your reply. I shall read it in detail, later and try to improve upon my plan........and then discuss it further. I agree, I have packed in too many places within 25 days...and I shall try to make a more realistic itinerary over the next one year......ofcourse, I am aware there will some compromise in respect of quality time. Regards
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Nov 26th, 2011, 08:17 AM
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Ok, I like a challenge -- here is a 25 day itenerary, just to throw something out there and give you an idea of what might be possible. It skips some of your desitnations and short-changes others. The basic idea is to spend at least 3 night in any one place, with some day-trips to nearby towns when possible. (You could of course rent a car wherever it says `train to'. )

A better idea would be to concentrate your 25 days in either Northern Europe or Southern Europe, but not try to cover both.

I agree with flanneruck that you should look for inexpensive accomodations in the towns, to reduce your back-and-forth time (and expense) as much as possible -- you are already spending way too much time in transit for my taste.

That being said ...

3 nights x 8 destinations = 24 nights+1 near airport.

1. Edinborough 3 nights, day trip to Windermere. Looooong train ride (or drive or flight) to London.

2. London 3 nights. Fly to Amsterdam

3. Amsterdam 3 nights. Train to Paris with a stop for a half-day in Brussels -- see the town center, have lunch.

4. Paris 3 nights.

5. Train to Munich, with a half-day visit to Heidelberg on the way. Munich 3 nights. Train to Vienna.

6. Vienna 3 nights, day trip to Budapest. Long train ride to Florence, via Venice -- spend a half-day in Venice (too short!).

7. Florence 3 nights, day trip to Pisa. Long train ride to Zurich (stop in Milan if you really have to, but its not really a day-trip kind of place).

8. Zurich 4 nights. Day trips to Shaffhausen, Lucern, Bern. Fly home from Zurich.

9. Collapse from Exhaustion!
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Nov 26th, 2011, 08:56 AM
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It seems you have picked the same destinations as the tour companies might. Instead of adopting the "Grand Tour" strategy and destinations, you should do some more research first to locate places that closely match your interests. How did Frankfurt and Heidelberg get on your list? Because they are in the tour brochure, perhaps?

Right now, you have about 30 destinations and 25 days. It's crazy. You should instead be looking instead at maybe 7 or 8 destinations, and, they should be geographically closer to one another, if possible. Your budget if inclusive is pretty tight. I would drop plans to see Italy and Switzerland, and maybe London?, which tend to be budget busters, and spend most of your time on the continent, north of the Alps, instead. (If you visit Munich, you can enjoy some mountain scenery south of there near the Austrian border in places like Berchtesgaden and Mittenwald.) Then you will have time to actually see and experience some of Europe. See London, Edinburgh, Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam, Munich, Salzburg, and maybe a place or two in between these cities, and your plate will be overflowing already.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 11:03 AM
  #6
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Hi Bl,

For 25 days you should have no more than 5 destinations, from which you can take daytrips to lesser venues.

Which are your important 5?

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Nov 26th, 2011, 11:38 AM
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Agree that 5 destinations is you max. By trying to see so many places you not ony guarantee that you wil miss most major sights - but you will spend a fortune on trains or fights with all that toing and froing,

I can't comment on your budget - since super economy is not our price point - but if that is supposed to include your air fare from India (I have no idea what that is but assume it's not close to free) you may be seriously underbudgeted for 3 people - esp in Switzerland (where the prices are brathtaking - even for someone from New York).
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Nov 26th, 2011, 01:08 PM
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I could also suggest you try sites such as Airbnb http://www.airbnb.com/ to try to book lower cost accommodations in various cities. We have used it in Europe with mixed success --- one wonderful experience and another one not so good.

The advantages, other than low costs, are that you can stay in the city centers, usually in peoples homes or apartments. This allows you to meet the owners and they are usually more than willing to help you with the logistics of getting around in their cities and neighborhoods. The disadvantages are the obvious ones of having to correspond with the owners, and carefully checking the reviews to assure that you are getting what you expect.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 02:18 PM
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If you are an Indian citizen, you need Schengen visa. And one of the conditions of getting your visa is to have pre-booked accommodation for every night of your trip (and your visa will only be as long as your pre-booked itinerary). Now this will take spontaneity from your plans. One way some travellers get around this problem is by booking accommodation with easy cancellation terms, which most B&Bs and farm stays do not have.

Just bear these points in mind in your planning.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 10:47 PM
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I agree you have waaaay too many destinations for your timeframe. I would cut out at least half. If you decide to book the Eurostar train between London and Brussels or Paris, then the earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. The best prices are when fares first become available, I think it's 3 months prior to your travel date but you can check on this great train website www.seat61.com

Also if you end up booking any of the cheap airlines, such as Easyjet or Ryanair, it's the same thing. The earlier you book the cheaper the fare. If you sign up for their email alerts they will tell you when new fares are available or if there are any specials.

Kay
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Nov 26th, 2011, 11:54 PM
  #11
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My hearty thanks to all!
I shall respond properly at leisure in a while....
But I can see at a glance that there is already enough info to re-structure my tour program in a more realistic manner.
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Nov 29th, 2011, 10:09 AM
  #12
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Hello guys.....thanks for your advice, all of you. I have learnt a few things here and let me list them below:

- 25 days not enough for my itinerary... so I have now planned for 40 days and planning to cover 16 cities(9 countries)
- Staying in cities cheaper;
- Cut down as much on commutation time within cities;
- Train journey shall be cheaper than road journeys…hence go for an Eurail pass( Global Eurail pass may be);
- Quality time at each destination more desirable;
- Health of family needs to be taken care off in a longish and hectic holiday;
- Budget needs to be suitably jacked up;;
- Pre-booking needed for Schengen visa, personal appearances in consulates, etc;
- Easy cancellation terms may be taken care of during booking of accommodation;
- Book early on trains and accommodation for discounts;
- Open jaw flight booking...planning to fly into London and fly out of Rome back to Mumbai;
- Making central city bases out of question….rather follow a circuit preferably by train. I have planned a circuit for my trip, which covers 3000 miles with very little overlap. It is traversing my favorite locations of Europe like a slanted 'S';
- Dehiring of vhcls in different countries is very expensive
- Loire valley needs to be added into the circuit;

I am sharing my proposed itinerary in my next post. Regards
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Nov 29th, 2011, 10:13 AM
  #13
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My 40 days itinerary:


6th April 2013 – Fly from Mumbai (India) and Arrive at London in the afternoon;

7th, 8th and 9th April 2013 – Local site--seeing in London, including London Eye, Madame Tussaud’s, Tower of London, Changing of Guards and Lord’s cricket ground if possible.

10th April 2013 – Early morning travel by train ( Eurostar) to Bruges via Brussels( 3hrs-30mins). Reach Bruges by the afternoon. Local site- seeing.

11th April 2013- Stay on in Bruges. Local site- seeing.

12th April 2013- Start for Amsterdam ( via Brussels) by train. Use the Eurostar –multi- country pass, if possible or Eurail pass. Reach Amsterdam by afternoon. Local site--seeing. Night-stay at Amsterdam.

13th April 2013- Stay in Amsterdam. Local site- seeing.

14th April 2013- Start for Paris by air( 1 hr flight). Reach Paris by afternoon. Night halt.

15th , 16th and 17th April 2013- Paris local site--seeing, including Louvre, Versailles, Notre-dame, etc.

18th April 2013- Start for Amboise in the Loire valley by train( 2 hrs journey approx). Reach Amboise by 10 am. Local site- seeing. Stay at Amboise.

19th April 2013- Local site- seeing and stay at Amboise.

20th April 2013- Start for Geneva. Early morning train to Geneva ( 6 hrs journey). Reach Geneva by 12 pm, afternoon. Is this the best way to make this journey?? I surely need guidance here. Local site- seeing and stay at Geneva.

21st and 22nd April 2013 – Site- seeing and stay at Geneva. Visit Lausanne/ Montreux, etc.

23rd April 2013 – Travel to Interlaken in the morning( 3 hrs train journey). Local site- seeing and overnight stay in Interlaken or Lauterbrunnen/ Wengen etc.

24th & 25th April 2013 - Stay in Interlaken. Local site- seeing to Berne, Jungfrau, Mt. Titlis, Engelberg, etc.

26th April 2013 – Start for Zurich in the morning ( 2 hrs train journey). Local site- seeing and overnight stay in Zurich. May stay at Lucerne also.

27h April 2013 – Start for Munich( 4 hrs journey by train). Halt at Munich.

28th , 29th & 30th April 2013- Local site-seeing in and around Munich including Neuschwanstein castle near Fussen.

31st April & 1st May 2013 – Start for Prague (Czech) by train( 4hrs journey). Local -seeing and night stay at Prague;

2nd & 3rd May 2013 – Start for Vienna( Austria) ( 4hrs journey). Local -seeing and night stay at Vienna.

4th and 5th May, 2013 – Start for Salzburg(3 hrs journey by train). Stay at Salzburg; local -seeing.

6th May 2013 – Start for Innsbruck. (2 hrs journey by train) Stay at Innsbruck; local -seeing.

7th May 2013- Start for Venice( Italy) by train in the afternoon( 4 and half hrs journey). Reach Venice in the evening. Night halt at Venice.

8th and 9th May 2013 – Stay at Venice, local -seeing.

10th May 2013 – Start for Florence by train(2 hrs journey). Stay at Florence; local -seeing.

11th May 2013 – Visit Pisa and return back to Florence.

12th May 2013 – Start for Rome, by train( 1 and half hrs journey). Stay at Rome; local -seeing.

13th & 14th – Stay at Rome.

15th May 2013- Start for Mumbai in the evening. End of trip.

I shall write, how and why I selected the above. Plz keep your suggestions coming. Regards.
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Nov 29th, 2011, 10:39 AM
  #14
 
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You MIGHT be one of the few cases where a Eurorail pass makes sense. But the people selling it, though reliable in most things, are out and out liars about the relative cost of the pass. Most European railway systems offer a huge range of fares, and Eurorail quote ONLY the most expensive ones when claiming to compare the price of their passes with individually booking each leg, Since a 3-4 week pass for three of you runs into a thousand or two dollars, do your homework thoroughly, using www.bahn.de to plan the overall structure, but the individual national railway websites to calculate prices.>

Talk about lying... or at least not disclosing all the facts - yes those discounted online tickets are much cheaper than full fares but they are also train-specific in many cases and often must be booked far in advance to secure as they are typically sold in limited numbers - a pass however can be virtually used on any train anytime - fully flexible travel that you decide which trains to take as you go along and if you compare pass prices to full fare prices you will quickly find what a bargain a pass can be. and also if over 25 years old a Eurailpass comes in first class and IME of decades of incessant European rail travel there is one thing I can strongly recommend to a party like yours - go first class! Cheapest is not always the best - you will usually be able to just jump on the train and find three adjoining empty seats - NOT so in second class and many of those online discounts like in Germany do not come with seat reservations I believe.

So the benefit of what a pass offers - fully flexible first class travel is the key - and since your daughter pays only 50% of what you adults would pay on a Saverpass (two or more folks traveling together on one pass) your party would no where near spend two thousand dollars as that poster hypes - indeed look at a Eurail Select Pass, valid for two months for a certain number of days of unlimited travel within that time frame - use the train to move between bases far apart and then just use local transportation once in a place - and those online discounts that some say you should totally rely on - that is poor advice IMO because for someone like you on a wide-ranging multi-country trip there will - yes will be gaps on international trains where such discounts simply are not available and you may end up paying a huge price for full fare - such discounts are NOT always available on international connections.

There is a lot of misinformation spit out on Fodor's by would be experts about how railpasses are rarely if ever are a good deal (and the poster I quote is IMO one of the biggest offenders in this regard, routinely dissing passes when in fact they may be great for a person. Ignore any outright info that passes are always a bad deal and yes one thing I do agree with is do your own research - and once again on the trip of a lifetime go first class - there are so so many benefits to that over second class!

not always available multi country


first class
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Nov 29th, 2011, 11:24 AM
  #15
 
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Still far too many destinations, IMO. Forty days at that pace and you'll be half dead, possibly divorced and estranged from your daughter, and all you'll remember is the insides of trains and stations.

Keep winnowing. You should have at most about 8 venues in 40 days. Eliminate completely those destinations where you're on a train for 4 hours getting there and when you do, you spend only one night. That's nuts! You've got more than 40 hours of train/plane time in this itinerary, and that doesn't even account for getting to and from stations/airports, packing and unpacking, finding your hotels and getting oriented, etc., all of which eat up loads of time - you'll probably end up knocking off at least a full week's time out of this trip just for being in transit. That's hardly budget-conscious.

Seriously, this forced march is a recipe for disaster. You need to think in terms of quality,not quantity.
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Nov 30th, 2011, 01:12 AM
  #16
 
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I agree, it's still too many stops and the stops are all quite short. How about reducing the number of places and have 3 or 4 nights in some places? You need to allow time for having a rest, doing laundry, etc.

Also I would suggest staying in Montreux instead of Geneva. And we stayed in Lauterbrunnen a few years ago at a reasonably priced self-contained apartment that was right in the village. We much preferred Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken, it's quite a bit smaller but much more attractive, and you can easily reach Wengen, Murren, Interlaken, Thun etc from Lauterbrunnen.

The train system in Switzerland is excellent, though expensive for some of the cable cars etc. There is a Swiss Half Price pass that might work out for you. This is the apartment -
http://www.anton-graf.ch/

There is also a nice hotel in the village my parents stayed at, I can find the name if you are interested.

Happy planning.
Kay
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Nov 30th, 2011, 02:29 AM
  #17
 
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Have done this type of trip a lot

www.eurocheapo.com

www.backpackeurope.com

www.seat61.com www.skyscanner.net planes and trains

www.eurolines.com bus pass VERY cheapest goes everywhere.

Your route looks fine I usually stay flexible hop trains

like a local cheaply do not reserve much usually cheaper day

of...Europe in fianacial trouble big strike at HeathRow today

so insuremytrip.com ALWAYS wise for me...

Have fun!
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Nov 30th, 2011, 02:33 AM
  #18
 
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From India flights into ATHENS can work out lots cheaper

or Istanbul(IST) too...as you are in early stages this might

save you thousands with a family..

Also know you will need a tourist Visa check with embassy

for Schengen regulations.
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Nov 30th, 2011, 06:04 AM
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www.eurolines.com bus pass VERY cheapest goes everywhere>

does not go everywhere or nearly everywhere but a limited routing at often inconvenient times - trains are infinitely better and for OP's wide ranging plans some kind of railpass makes sense.
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Nov 30th, 2011, 08:15 AM
  #20
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Thanks all of you for your helpful suggestions. I have already sacrificed quite a few of my favorite 'must-visit' places.....and infact, still in the process of pruning down a little further. It is tough...when one comes from the sub-continent, the first time, one feels like covering as much as possible. But I agree with your point that at the end of 30 days of travelling even an exotic Prague may appear annoying.
I shall try to prune my trip down to 30-35 days and cut down a few more places like Prague, Amboise, etc .

@ Kay....yes, I like your suggestion. Infact I am trying to pin-down my Switzerland stay to just one central place and see everything from there. Your experience and suggestions are welcome here. I shall certainly consider Lauterbraunnen. I was actually considering either of Interlaken or Lucerne. But your opinion is welcome. Thanks.
I would certainly like to stay in a small town, rather than a busy city here.
I too feel, the Eurail Global pass suit me better...sometimes, I can just travel between destination overnight...just to save on a day's hotel cost..
By the way, can someone inform me, what are the expenses in the London airport( where I am arriving ) and Rome airport...as of now, unless I change that( where from I am panning to return back)...like Taxes/ Transfers, etc? I have already considered the visa costs and the flight ticket costs. Thanks...more later
I shall respond in detail a bit later
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