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Old 05-14-2012, 11:03 AM
Location: Colorado Plateau
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My SO and I, in our 40s, are thinking about travelling to Europe for the first time within the next year or so. We would like to travel light (carry on bags) and keep it simple (and frugal) as we learn the ropes of foreign travel.

We don't have a particular place we have to travel to. There are many different places we'd like to see so I was thinking of letting a good price on a flight dictate where we end up. We don't speak any languages besides English, so a mostly English speaking location would be helpful. So I was thinking of flying into a city and spending most of our time exploring that area with no specific itinerary, which might make it less stressful than hurrying to get to place to place. We'd use trains, busses and walking. (We both are pretty fit walkers/hikers) and try couchsurfing or hostels.

Any suggestions on planning or thinking about specific places to go?
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Old 05-14-2012, 11:37 AM
Location: Durham, NC
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Don't let the English language be a barrier. Most Europeans speak some English, especially in the larger cities and major tourist areas. You should have very little trouble in that department. Europe is quite easy to navigate using public transit with small/light luggage, so I think you have a good plan. Keep in mind that high speed rail makes it easy to get from one country to the next, so I wouldn't let a cheap airfare to Amsterdam prevent you from seeing Paris if you're really keen on it.
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Old 05-14-2012, 12:00 PM
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IMO it's easy enough to travel light with just carry on bags. We're doing that at the end of the month and will be gone for 3-4 weeks. If you haven't traveled at all that way before, there's lots of good info on the web about how to pack light. Even with as much experience as I have, it's still helpful to take a look at some of those sites.

As far as English, obviously you'd be fine in England, Scotland, Ireland, etc - although, honestly, some people really have a hard time with the accent and with some regional language differences. Beyond that, though, pretty much any major tourist destination in western Europe will have plenty of English speakers. Since this is your first time over I'd recommend dipping your toe in and sticking with western Europe, with maybe a few exceptions, before diving into more complicated places.

Time of year and how many days/weeks you expect to be away could help people advise you more specifically, also. For example, if you have several weeks you might choose to spend it all in one city/country, or you could end up visiting more than one country.

I like the no specific itinerary idea but I also think you could get more out of your trip, and really feel you got your money's worth, if you do some research and know what your options are. Planning is a big part of the fun and excitement for me - you can really get caught up reading other people's trip reports, blogs, travel sites, etc. I think it's helpful to have a little background about the history of a place, it's customs, typical foods (meals and street food), must sees, etc. I usually take a couple pages of info with me that lists the top places I'd like to see, opening days/hours and costs, restaurant/meal recommendations, etc. Typically, I'll look all those places up on a map so I have an idea what makes sense to do together. That way, you don't have to have a rigid itinerary to check things off, but if you find yourself in a particular neighborhood, you'll know it's a good opportunity to see a certain museum and/or try a restaurant that sounded really good to you. Personally, I love trying street food wherever I go and it tends to be economical and tasty. You can eat in also by getting stuff at local markets - usually cheaper than restaurants.

Another helpful tool are the many self-guided "orientation walks" that different people put together. Rick Steves does a lot of those - many are on the web - they give a nice overview and he usually indicates how much time they take. It can save you money by not having to pay an actual tour guide in a city or historical site. You could check out some hard copies of travel guides from a library to browse through and get ideas of what appeals to you.

One more suggestion about planning - it's good to have an idea of what currency they use and what the exchange rate is, how to use public transportation there, what the public restroom access is, and where the official tourist information kiosks are (they usually have free maps and flyers and other info for how to get around and what to do).

It can be fun to just plop down in a place and see what there is to see - but when you're shelling out $$ and might not be able to do this any time you choose, it can be even more rewarding to do some planning in advance.
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Old 05-14-2012, 12:17 PM
Location: Colorado Plateau
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I was looking on Rick Steves site and his mention of most Europen towns having a nice campground caught my attention. We are used to camping and wilderness backpacking so maybe we might want to consider taking lightweight camping gear and camping each night. We'd have to go during a time of year that is reasonable for camping, of course.

We are also experienced bicycle tourists and would love to tour in Europe, and camping would work out well there, but it is expensive to fly with a bike. I thought we'd make our first trip without bikes to learn a bit about travelling there, then maybe come back with bikes in the future.
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Old 05-14-2012, 12:24 PM
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Other places English will almost always be fine: Holland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark. Usually: bigger cities in Germany. Almost always: Switzerland. Maybe grudgingly: France.

I have never camped in Europe but, especially for a first visit, I think you would find that harder than hotels and farther from the things you want to see.
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Old 05-15-2012, 09:03 AM
Location: Colorado Plateau
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I've been reading more on camping in general in Europe and it's starting to sound better and better to us. My SO really liked the idea of camping. We can be quite comfortable in our own tent. I was reading some posts from tourists who camped in Europe on RS website and they raved about it, and the price was much less then a hotel or b&b, and reservations were often not needed.

We have some decent backpacking gear but I'd be willing to invest in some even lighter more compact gear to travel and camp with carry-on bags.

We are tentatively thinking of going 1 year from now. Early summer would probably be a good time for camping in much of Europe.
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Old 05-15-2012, 09:47 AM
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Also consider youth hostels; it is a whole separate culture in Europe, very family oriented, and not just for young people/backpackers. Many places are updated with private rooms and bathrooms, inexpensive and comfortable. In some European countries bicycle vacations are very popular; you rent bicycles for a weekend or a week or two, and follow a map of bicycle-friendly paths/roads generally leading from hostel to hostel. Of course it's nicer if the weather is good!
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Old 05-15-2012, 01:28 PM
Location: Eureka CA
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England and Ireland (possibly a few days in Scotland) would make a nice first trip. The B&B's in Ireland are so cheap you wouldn't want to bother with camping or hostels. Have a wonderful trip!
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Old 05-16-2012, 08:27 AM
Location: Phoenix, AZ
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I was last in Europe in June, 2010. I went there with my mom, who didn't speak a word of the language (though I'm mostly fluent). We spent most of the trip in Munich and in Salzburg, and quite a few days doing our own thing, not together. My mom had a great time in those two cities, without knowing the language. The Alps are definitely a great place to go sightseeing and backpacking, and I would definitely cast my vote there. As mentioned above, you'll find a good bit of the population in major towns speak English. I can't speak for other cultures, but the Germans LOVE to practice their English! If they caught on that I was American, they would switch the conversation to English, and not let me use my German!

English is actually a Germanic language, so you'll find a couple of cognates, which makes it pretty easy to get around. We stayed in hotels, but I've heard good things about hostels and campgrounds in Germany. I would go mid-summer, to avoid any lingering cold Spring days. This way, you can leave the jacket at home, and pack lighter.

I would advise against France, with the exception of a sight-seeing trip to Paris, if you really want to see things like the Eiffel Tower and the Louver. My brother was in France a few years ago, and had nothing good to say about it. Their culture, while romantic, is bordering on Xenophobic, and if you don't speak even a little French, they'll be slightly hostile towards you.

Naturally, the "tourist trap" cities in any European country will have the most English speakers. But remember that Europe is a large area, with many countries, cultures, and languages. If there's one thing I (and most other people) can't stand, it's the average American tourist. I have legitimately seen people get upset / angry because they couldn't find someone who spoke English in Mexico. It's not the world's responsibility to cater to you, and while traveling abroad you will eventually find yourself in a situation where neither person speaks a common language.

Don't panic. People are intelligent. But keep in mind, no amount of volume or slowing your speech will make them suddenly understand English. Work with cognates, location names, and gestures, and you should be able to get your meaning across. If you were to point to an U-Bahn sign, and butcher the word "Marienplatz" (or even just say "City Center"), any German in Munich will instantly know how to help you get to where you need to go. Having a paper map of the area helps, too, as you can point on the map instead of trying to pronounce long words (Just try saying "Schwanthalerstraße" correctly. I'll give you a hint, "ß" makes an "s" sound).

While there's plenty to do and see in the UK and Ireland, you miss out on a lot of what Europe has to offer if you stick to English-speaking countries. While you will no doubt have an easier time getting around and understanding people (as well as people understanding you), England is not known for it's gothic, mountain top castles, or it's food.
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Old 05-16-2012, 09:53 AM
Location: Colorado Plateau
1,136 posts, read 3,350,389 times
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Thank you all for the replies!

We are still in the thinking stages. My passport is long expired, I probably need to renew that first!
At work I was talking to my office manager about thinking of going to Europe and my passport. The next time she went to the post office she came back with passport forms for me. I think she was trying to tell me something!

We would like to avoid big cities and stay in the country and small towns. We are both geologist and like to look at landscapes.
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