Need advice on travel in Europe
September 22, 2009 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Need travel advice. Please give suggestions on the best way to travel around Europe when you are single, young professional, adventurous, don't want to travel with your close friends (already did that) but don't want to travel alone.

Please share with me some information on your best experiences traveling abroad....when you either traveled on your own, or with a tour group? I'm interested in visiting Spain, Italy, Greece primarily (not necessarily all in same trip) but I don't want to be totally on my own, yet I don't have anyone in my group of friends I'm dying to travel with at the moment (and I'm single). Suggestions? If its kosher, please provide the names of good travel sites/tour groups. Has anyone had a positive experience with Sierra club trips? Thx in advance!
posted by dmbfan93 to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I really liked contiki. Lots of young fun single people traveling alone and having fun.
posted by I love You at 6:40 PM on September 22, 2009

One thing to know with tours is that if they aren't age limited, they will skew very old. 55-75 year old couples are their bread and butter. It's a generalization, but 20-somethings don't have the money and 30- and 40-somethings have kids. They hit 55, the kids go to college and the parents finally take their first trip to Europe. This older crowd isn't a bad thing, but it's not a party scene — it's a drink wine after dinner scene. I took a Trafalgar tour when I was 23 and I was the youngest by about 20 years.

If you wish to avoid this, look for age-limited tours. For instance, Contiki and Top Deck explicitly sell themselves as 18-35. But there only seems to be budget options in this category. "Budget" isn't bad — everyone has a price they can pay — but I haven't really found the upscale alternative, and on package tours I think that makes a difference in the experience. Like a budget operator will use a hotel on the outskirts of the city and bus you in to sight-see. It's ok, but at night you're stranded in the suburbs (or on the mainland in Venice.)

I have heard good things about Rick Steves tours, anecdotally.

Or you can just do the hostel thing. Spring for a single room if you don't like the dorm idea, meet a bunch of people, find another single who's going the direction you want, and join up. When you get sick of them, "you're headed in a different direction".
posted by smackfu at 7:33 PM on September 22, 2009
I did this in Paris and it was pretty awesome and fun!
It's like you have an instant insider friend in the city!
Just use your common sense in choosing hosts - I am female and so I stayed with mostly women, and the guys I stayed with had tonnes of references and photos and friends vouching for them. It was a great experience and I would totally do it again.
And - it's free!
posted by smartypantz at 8:05 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I stayed at hostels and found that people were very friendly and totally willing to go explore the city and maybe even travel to the next place together. This works best if you stay in each place for several days and if you are not scared about saying hi. Try to pick hostels that have lounges or common areas.

Though, I would totally have couchsurfed if I had known about it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:15 PM on September 22, 2009

PercussivePaul has it. Not Europe, but I traveled around Asia and and Central America for a total of about a year (two different trips) when I was in my 20s and really never lacked for company. Stay in hostels, take local transport, strike up conversations (for some reason, the latter is so much easier when you're in a foreign country).

A few other tips for meeting fellow travelers/backpackers:

- Like Paul says, stay in places with common areas that are not bars (unless it's a small, cozy bar, or mostly frequented by guests). Bonus if they serve communal meals like breakfast.

- It's always best to stay in hostels if you want to meet people. If you're averse to staying in dorms, most have single rooms. Fancier hotels tend to be full of families and business travelers.

- Be on the lookout for groups that seem to be comprised of people who met while traveling - obviously they will be more likely to be welcoming (a dead giveaway is multiple ethnicities in one group). I have had some really great times that started because I approached a group of travelers in a hostel.

- On the other hand, don't write off couples or other pairs. I've actually found that pairs, even (maybe especially!) often welcome the company of a third for a while, to give them a break from each other.
posted by lunasol at 8:45 PM on September 22, 2009

Chiming in on the hostel suggestion -- it is absolutely the way to go. Most people are very down to meet new friends/travel partners in the common area of the hostel. You may be picturing an awkward situation like the lunchroom at a new job, but it just isn't like that at all -- people are excited to be there, people are high on the Louvre or the Sangrada Familia or whatever amazing thing they saw that day, and happy chat just happens. I'm not particularly outgoing myself, but I met a lot of cool people and had a blast. One thing though: travel light.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:57 PM on September 22, 2009

I'm commenting primarily to say that I met PercussivePaul and his fantastic partner via when I stayed with them for several nights last year. We all immediately got along, and spent the weekend exploring, riding bikes around Vancouver, and building fires on beaches together. Then I stayed with them again for a weekend, then another two weekends in a row. There was lots of whiskey and pie. Then they stayed with me in the Bay Area for a week this summer. In the meanwhile, sometimes we send each other letters and postcards... Not all couchsurfing hosts/guests hit it off this fantastically, but I'd like to really really stress the sense of community that couchsurfing has striven to build among its userbase, and also how incredibly nice it is to experience a new place as the guest of someone who lives there. I'm fairly selective regarding who I'll stay with, and who I let stay with me, but of the handful of couchsurfing guests I've had over the past couple years, I've kept in touch with more than half. (Hi Paul & Shab!)

(On the other hand, I'm really not a fan of hostels, though I'm certainly a budget traveler. Too many instances of running into hyped-up, culturally ditzy post-college backpackers trying to check one more Really Important Cultural Site off their list before taking the 5 a.m. bus to another country, to start all over again.)
posted by soviet sleepover at 11:39 PM on September 22, 2009

Hi! :)
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:44 PM on September 22, 2009

If you don't like soviet sleepover's description of the hostelling crowd, then definitely don't try a Contiki tour. I worked in a London hostel for a few months and the Contiki people were, primarily, exactly those kind of people. They saw sights, got drunk, and never had to make a decision themselves. I definitely wouldn't recommend them for anyone who describes themselves as adventurous. (Not that every Contiki person was like that- there were always exceptions)

One of my highlights was a bike trip through England. I bought a secondhand bike for 20 quid, met a Canadian fellow in the hostel who was keen, and the two of us set off on a trip. No map, no helmet, no bike repair kit or spare inner tube, and definitely no idea what we were getting into. Bucketloads of adventures and stories and memories though. Europe's populated enough that, even on a bike, you're rarely all that far from help, and never need to carry too much food or water with you. We camped along the way so we got to sleep in farmers' backyards and village greens and medieval ruins and castle moats (though the legality of these varied somewhat). I'd had all my money stolen the day before I left, but with free accommodation and self-powered transport, I lived on about 2 pounds a day (three cheers for Tesco 9p spaghetti in a can!).

I say head to your first destination, get a bike, and go. Stay in hostels along the way, and you're guaranteed to meet people to explore the place with, and perhaps people to join you for longer. If you want big nights and drinking, search for the party hostel. If you don't, stay in a YHA. It's pretty easy to tell if the place has the right kind of vibe for you.

I just saw that you asked for recommendations of groups... I think you need to decide if this is to be an adventurous trip, where you're not relying on (and paying) others to organise things for you, or if it's a fun trip where you don't need to worry about bookings or itineraries. If you want the former, then avoid tours, stay in hostels, and you'll never be alone unless you choose it.
posted by twirlypen at 1:42 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of it's luck. I've stayed in hostels and met more incredible people than I had time to make plans with. I've also stayed in hostels and not met a soul. But for me, hostel stayers often bring with them problems - no money to do anything, weird depression, a pre-existent clique, and so on. Couchsurfing is hit-or-miss, but you can have some great experiences. I find this to be especially true in more offbeat locations - weird villages in Romania, that sort of thing. But again, it's luck.

I always recommend language classes. They're usually great fun, you learn a lot, and in two weeks or a month you'll have dozens of great friends from all over. I'm in Europe now, and by the time I go back to America, I will have been here 14 weeks - hopping all over the place - Germany, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and more - staying nearly always with friends, for free, and having a great time (and not even visiting my birth country.) Nearly all these people I met taking Hungarian or Romanian classes.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:30 AM on September 23, 2009

Another vote for hostels, the more crowded the better is my experience for meeting up with people. It means you have to sit together for meals, and that leads to talking and agreements to hang out and do local stuff.
posted by biffa at 6:01 AM on September 23, 2009

hostel stayers often bring with them problems - no money to do anything

This can be surprisingly annoying. Like one thing you really want to do with other people is eat dinner. Food is a big part of these place's culture, and eating alone is not that fun. But people traveling for months at a time are on a budget, and often are cooking cheap meals in the hostel kitchen. As a generalization, the only people who seem willing to eat well are those taking weekend or week trips (like me).
posted by smackfu at 6:59 AM on September 23, 2009

I also couchsurfed alone (in France) and felt much safer / better connected than when I stayed in a hostel.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:29 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition to hostels, you might want to look into single-day walking tours or other similar quasi-active group events if you're interested in meeting other young-ish travelers who aren't traveling quite as cheaply as a lot of hostel stayers. People who are low-budget enough to not want to eat out aren't going to pay the 20 euros or whatever for a walking tour, and in my experience these things tend to attract a younger crowd than multi-day tours where everything (food, lodging, travel) is planned out for you.

When I was traveling alone, I had a fabulous day in Berlin with this walking tour, and hit it off with someone else traveling alone who ended up being my dining buddy. Even if you don't meet someone who you like well enough to continue traveling with, it does give you a nice break from having no one to talk to but yourself.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Along the same lines, the day bike tours I've taken, like Fat Tire Bike Tours, had a bunch of younger travelers, many single.
posted by smackfu at 9:08 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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