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European Travel FAQ - READ THIS FIRST

Hydro

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Tags: Europe, faq, tips, hostels, eurail, visas, schengen
  • Added on: April 24th, 2009
This post is to highlight some of the questions that we frequently get asked by first-time visitors to Europe. So if you are posting on this section for the first time please take a moment to check the list below, as your question may already have been answered.This list is for questions relating specifically to Europe. For questions about travelling-in-general I recommend you try BnA's RTW FAQ.

*Further information about Europe, including an online booking facility for flights and hotels, is available here: BootsnAll Europe Guide

1. What time of year should I visit?

Obviously it varies from place to place but generally speaking April/May and September are good times. July and August are peak season where popular places are at their most crowded, in hostels you also tend to get a lot of the 18-21 party-crowd travelling during their summer break, also bear in mind that the southern countries get extremely hot in mid-summer.

2. Can I get by speaking English?

English is widely spoken in much of Europe. However it is recommended to try and learn at least a few words in the local language of the country you are visiting. Even knowing simple worlds like "hello" and "thank you" and "how much?" can make a real difference.

3. How much will my trip cost?

"When trying to formulate a budget for how much a trip will cost to europe start with the unavoidable costs: Accommodation, transportation, insurance, supplies. These are things that you will spend immediately out of the box before you step foot in European soil. When I mention transportation I am talking trains, planes, buses, rental cars etc that you will use during your entire trip. Don't just go with the estimate of "well my flight to europe only costs 500 so I'll have 1500 to spend." In my opinion this is a fatal flaw for budgeting your trip. For example in Switzerland trains are extremely expensive. You can pay as much as 40-50 US dollars for as short as an hour an a half trip (from Geneve airport to Fribourg for example).

So remember trains in Europe ARE NOT always at "budget prices." The UK, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the TGV in France and many other countries in Europe have pricey long distance and shorter distance trains. This brings me to the eurail debate. This has been debated extensively on boots and so I don't want to go in depth here but all I want to say is price everything out. Price out your point to point tickets vs. how much countries and cities you want to do and how many actual train rides and nights on the train you expect to spend and see if that works. Try and find the country railways sites and see if they can give you what you will pay when you arrive in the city vs. what eurail and those other companies charge.

Accommodation - Listen folks hostels are rock bottom cheap. If you get a hostel bed like The Circus in Berlin with excellent location, that is clean and safe for 19 Euro a night you are doing great. Sure there are dumps that are cheaper in SOME cities but for the most part expect to pay 25-30 USD per night for a hostel. If you are two or more and can split a hotel room for cheaper (like the marriot in Amsterdam which can be split pretty cheaply with 3 or more people), then go for it. But I would say in my experience hostels will probably run in that 25-30 dollar range. If the Euro goes low, it will go lower, my dollar amounts are based on the current exchange rate of roughly 1.30 USD to 1 Euro. I mean maybe its possible to find beds for 15-20 in some smaller cities or some really crappy hostels or ones that I don't know about, but definitely read the reviews on BnA or some other website to make sure the hostel or hotel is right for you.

Insurance - if you are traveling to Europe for 3 weeks or more I recommend getting travel health insurance not TRIP insurance, yet often times you can get both in one plan. World Nomads offers a solid plan as do many others that you can find on BnA and contact Dave (Sean's dad) he is great with health insurance. This can run you anywhere from $50+ up to a lot more, so be aware of those costs.

And finally, supplies: Now when I say supplies I am talking about toiletries, medicines, a backpack (which can run you anywhere from $60 for a cheap 40-45L bag upwards of $3-400 for a top quality 70+L bag.) Personally my northface 75L backpack ran me well over $300, so these are costs to make sure you are aware of when booking a trip."
-Eppyboy.

4. What is the best way to travel?

TRAIN: Trains are probably the comfiest form of transport. Also train travel is a great way to view the country you are travelling through. Switzerland for example has some of the most beautiful rail-journeys in the world. Most countries have an extensive rail network with international connections. Some of the few exceptions to this are Croatia, Greece and Turkey where the number of routes is very restricted. For long haul journeys sleeper trains can save a day of travel. Prices vary from country to country. Britain, France and the Nordic countries are most expensive while Eastern Europe is significantly cheaper. Prices also vary according to the type of train. TGV and Eurostar are the most expensive, while regional train services are a lot cheaper. You also have the option of buying a rail pass (see below).

BUS: Busses are cheaper than trains but tend to be slower. However certain countries such as Spain have an excellent bus network.

FLIGHTS: Companies such as Easyjet and Ryanair provide cheap flights around Europe. With the exception of Russia and a couple of other former Soviet countries you can get a cheap flight pretty much anywhere you want to go. On top of this many countries have their own low-cost domestic air-lines. If budget airlines are not your thing then flagship carriers such as BA and Lufthansa cover the same places and more.

"One of the biggest problems is that people who take budget airlines fail to check what airport they are flying into. For example you book a trip to Paris and ryan air or easyjet flies to Orly. So you say great the flight costs 30 euros you are all set. But wait where the hell is Orly, or where the hell is London City (which is actually about an hour and a half by train outside of London). Sure your flight might cost 30 euros but getting from the airport to the city you actually want to go to might be the more than the plane ticket, double or triple, so be very careful and make sure you look up what airport you are flying into and how far you need to travel and by what means (is there a cheap airport bus available, train or even taxi) to your hotel, hostel, friends place or family."
-Eppyboy

5. Should I get a Eurail pass?

This depends entirely on your circumstances. For further details read this topic here. If you do decide you want one, book passes here.

6. Do I need visas?

If you are a resident of an EU country you can visit any other EU countries without a visa. Residents of countries like USA, Canada and Australia can visit the Schengen zone for up to 90 days total without needing a visa.

For Russia, Belarus and Ukraine almost everyone will need to purchase a visa in advance. To visit Russia you need an 'invitation' sent out from a hotel or travel agency. Then you need to apply to the Russian consulate for the visa. A basic Russian Tourist Visa can set you back at least $100.

Turkey also has its own set of rules. People visiting from certain other European countries are visa-exempt, meanwhile other nationalities can simply purchase a visa on arrival for around $20.

BnA has some resources on that too.

7. What bank account/credit cards should I have?

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. In most countries ATM's are available in the majority of towns and cities.

For american travellers the following advice may also be helpful,

"Here is my suggestion for traveling through Europe and anywhere abroad for that matter: Get a Charles Schwab bank account: There are no branches per se but at most Charles Schwab investment branches you can deposit checks, cash, etc. You get a visa ATM/Debit card (hey visa is accepted everywhere, if you dont believe me check out my blog entry on getting money out in Botswana in summer of 2008) when everyone else had maestro, mastercard etc...So you get a visa debit card but the best part is that Charles Schwab rebates ALL foreign atm fees that are charged from the individual ATM and that Schwab charges NOTHING on their end. Your charges get rebated at the end of the month and it is a great thing.

Also when you take money out from an ATM, use a debit card for purchases or a credit card you get the BEST rate available. "Well Josh what happens if my credit card charges 3% transaction fee after conversion?" Get a capital one credit card! There are no fees, no foreign transaction fees! Plain and simple if you get these two things (granted you can get approved for a capital one card) you are all set for sorting your money.

Also I suggest keeping your main bank account back home and then schwab allows you to link up your checking out with schwab and lets say your bank of america bank account therefore you can have people back home put money in or transfer money between banks for free online (that takes between 5-7 business days)."

8. I am a female planning to travel alone - is this really a good idea?

As a whole Europe is perfectly safe as a destination for female solo-travellers. You will meet plenty of others doing the same as you.

"With regards to travelling alone - be brave and go for it. It can be scary for your family to think of you alone on the other side of the world but you shouldn't let this stop you. I didn't travel fully on my own til 25 after a few group trips but I could easily have done it sooner (Ive travelled about 4 years on my own since). And Ive met so many other girls travelling on their own as young as 16 and all having an amazing time. You'll probably find that the majority of the people you meet will be younger than you! There will be challenging times but you'll learn so much about yourself and the world along the way and probably come back a different person (Cheesy but true!).
The hardest part is landing in your first foreign country but if youve set up a place to stay before hand all you need to do is get a taxi, give them the address and have some money on hand (ask how much first).

Stay at hostels where you'll meet other people travelling alone and you'll probably find you end up co-ordinating more with other people than travelling by yourself anyway. Just use your common sense and dont walk alone at night or in isolated areas, even if you feel safe - all of that stranger danger stuff applies - ask for help from other women if you ever need it, and you'll be fine!"

9. What are great places in Europe to party?

Party hostel recommendations
Top party hostels in Europe

This FAQ post is a work in progress. Let us know if your question has not been answered and we can continue to add things as they come up.

Huge THANKS to Craze_b0i for putting all this together.
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anniebanannie

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  • Added on: April 24th, 2009
Great list.

Largely because I am a corporate shill, I would just like to add again that Schwab also has a credit card that offers similar terms to Capital One's and you get 2 or 3% back (can't remember which).

seraphim

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  • Added on: April 24th, 2009
I think you have outdated info on Ukraine. EU and US citizens don't need a visa to go there anymore.

And maybe include something about Eurolines in the transport section? If you're on a budget and don't have a railpass, that's pretty much the best option for international journeys. (with budget airlines it's not always the cheapest option anymore, but if you want to be flexible, or don't like to fly, it's still better)
Karlien
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Craze_b0i

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  • Added on: April 24th, 2009
Ty for the input guys. The more information we can include the better.

Hydro, I am also thinking as the FAQ gets bigger we may need a 'menu' at the top....
"Let's see if we can enjoy this recession. i enjoyed most of the previous ones."
- Zoomcharlieb.

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Not the first Travis

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  • Added on: April 24th, 2009
Great idea.

Good luck with that.

Tortuga_traveller

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  • Added on: June 29th, 2009
Safety issues:

Yes, single young woman can travel safely. They also. like single young men, or any kind of traveller, can make errors. Here are some things to be aware of:

1. Never put your important documents in your backpack or purse, or pockets, if it can be helped. Pickpockets and thieves do exist in Europe, especially in prime tourist locations. I myself have been pickpocketed three times, and only knew it was going down once. Daypacks can be cut and the thief long gone before you know it, or taken from you when you sleep.

2. Be aware of unsafe areas and unsafe times. For example, I visit NYC once a year. I'm no young female. I still don't like to go out after midnight alone, and definitely am back before 3 or 4 am, when the animals come out to play. Young women should NEVER go out alone after 11:00. Every city has different limits. The good news is that most European cities are safe at night in the populated areas, far safer than the USA cities. Still, ask the hostel staff about the safe times and safe places. They may be a tad on the careful side, but they seldom err on the side of danger. There is happy confidence, and there is foolish indifference to risks. Many times the main danger for a young woman or man in travelling is their own indifference to the risks they take, not their age or gender. Eventually the odds catch up to them.

3. If someone comes up to you from nowhere, speaking English and asking to help you without introduction, be careful. Especially if they are from that country. There's nothing more tempting than a young handsome young man offering to show you around, or to a good place to stay. For some reason, the women don't often do this with men. Maybe theres a reason for that.

4. When you travel, plan your arrival and exit times at SAFE times. Most people don't do this going out, and trains and busses before unsafe hours. That's usually ok, unless you're in a real dump. You'll have found out beforehand if its a good idea or not. It's the arrival times you have to look out for. Do you REALLY need to get there so soon that you arrive on a night train at 3:00 am in a deserted station? If so, do you REALLY need to save 10 dollars by walking to your destination, rather than take a much safer cab? Many beginning travellers are penny wise and pound foolish. So, if you have a choice of trains, and one arrives at 3:31 am or even 1:am, and the other arrives at 4 pm, usually its better to spend the half day poking around and arrive at your next location in the daytime, with plenty of time to find your hostel and get setttled. You are never really sure how long it will take to find your hostel or lodging.

5. Relax. Take a deep breath, and relax again. You're not in the Great Race. Arrive at your train or bus station with plenty of time to get to your destination. Put your pack down. Have a tea. Collect yourself. Then go, calmly, to your next destination. Rushing about results in bad decisions, and bad decisions are often unsafe decisions.
Open your heart, and your dreams will follow

Craze_b0i

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  • Added on: July 10th, 2009
Tortuga that is very good advice. I would say a lot of it applies to travel-in-general, things that can happen anywhere in the world, but nonetheless it is sound advice worth repeating as often as possible.
"Let's see if we can enjoy this recession. i enjoyed most of the previous ones."
- Zoomcharlieb.

my travel website

heymikey

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  • Added on: December 27th, 2009
Hydro wrote:"One of the biggest problems is that people who take budget airlines fail to check what airport they are flying into. For example you book a trip to Paris and ryan air or easyjet flies to Orly. So you say great the flight costs 30 euros you are all set. But wait where the hell is Orly, or where the hell is London City (which is actually about an hour and a half by train outside of London). Sure your flight might cost 30 euros but getting from the airport to the city you actually want to go to might be the more than the plane ticket, double or triple, so be very careful and make sure you look up what airport you are flying into and how far you need to travel and by what means (is there a cheap airport bus available, train or even taxi) to your hotel, hostel, friends place or family."
-Eppyboy

Some great advice here but I just want to comment something Eppyboy said that was really inaccurate. London City airport is actually the closest airport to Central London, which serves mostly business travelers to the 'City' (Square Mile, hence the name of the airport) and Canary Wharf. In fact, it's only one of two airports inside London itself (the other being Heathrow). The others (Gatwick, Stansted, Luton) are actually located outside the city. And Orly is easily accessible by RER trains in Paris. But good point though since travelers need to know the transport links between the airports and the city that they are planning on going.
"This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time" -- Fight Club

Eppyboy

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  • Added on: January 24th, 2010
i apologize for that inaccuracy. Thank you for the corrections. I hope that my general point of making sure you know how to get from the airport to the downtown area of the city, hotel, hostel, etc...comes across.
Josh and Nicole aren't going anywhere for a while, but you can still read about their past trips herehttp://blogs.bootsnall.com/eppyboy

anuraglidl

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  • Added on: November 25th, 2010
I too have many times seen many persons including women arriving stations at odd times. I think they do it to save money if they are at low budget. Its really unsafe not for women but for all.

adie2356

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  • Added on: September 17th, 2011
Believe me after my trip to Holland I am quite convinced that the trains are far from the conceptions of something that is cheap.



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