Help me plan my European vacation?
March 29, 2011 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Where should I go on my trip to Europe and how do I pack for it?

I plan on flying to somewhere yet to be determined in Europe. I'll have 10 days before I have to be in a relatively small city near Frankfurt for a two week long school program. My problems are these:

1) I don't know which countries/cities to visit and what is reasonable in 10 days. I haven't been to Europe since I was a kid (London and Paris) and while I have taken car trips by myself, I have never done it by planes and trains. Any recommendations on where to go and what to do?

2) I need to pack relatively nice clothes for some day trips to government institutions. This means business attire. I also plan on packing a cocktail dress and nice shoes for social functions. Will I be able to carry everything I need for a nearly month long trip in an internal frame backpack without it wrinkling?

3) I may need a computer for the school part of the trip and I'll need to check my email every so often on the way there. My laptop is pretty big and heavy. I don't want to buy a netbook, so I'm planning on using my droid (data turned off) and wifi. Will there be sufficient wifi in the average city for this to work?
posted by mewohu to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
if you have ten days, i would aim for two places. you could maybe throw in a day trip somewhere else too. europe has so much interesting stuff packed in so tight, that it is easy to try to do as much as possible - but man, hectic travelling is just awful.

1) here are a couple of possible places to visit that are not too far away:

Berlin: everyone loves berlin. good if you like nightlife, museums, art, etc.

Switzerland: the swiss alps are utterly gorgeous - the train from basel to lugano is breathtaking in the summer. you could also do some hiking in the mountains, if that is more your sort of thing.

Maybe you could tell us your interests?

2) it will probably wrinkle a little bit no matter what. so long as you don't need to pack sleeping bags are winterwear, you can probably get away with it, but you would know better than us how much you need to bring (everyone is different)

3) europe has plenty of cafes with wifi.
posted by molecicco at 8:12 AM on March 29, 2011

Very general advice:

1) Can't say for sure, but try not to be too ambitious. It's arguably better to see one or two cities in depth than to try to whirlwind around eight cities in ten days.

2) Yes! Try rolling your clothes. The lighter you pack, the more enjoyable day-to-day traveling actually is (seriously!). You can always buy some new clothes when you get settled in Frankfurt. On the road, nobody will know that you wore that outfit yesterday or the day before.

3) Definitely. Wifi is everywhere (especially hotels and hostels), but you may have to pay for it in cafes etc.
posted by hamandcheese at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2011

Two or three cities would be my limit too. Bruges is really nice. Berlin, Munich, and either Vienna or Salzburg might be a good three pack. Prague is also really nice, and in the same general area as those three, if you want to replace one with another. Check out the discount airlines too, you might be able to fly really cheap, so you can be somewhere a little out of the way from Frankfurt and get to Frankfurt pretty easily.

Check out One Bag for some packing advice. It is easy enough to get things washed over there, so don't feel like you need a month's worth of clothes. You can also buy anything you forget or wish you had when you get there. There's a good chance you can get access to an iron too, so if packing right still leaves a few wrinkles (and it probably will), you can do a quick ironing job.

I can't imagine you'll have any trouble with the wifi thing. There are tons of internet cafes that either have wifi, or computers you can pay to use.

Have fun.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2011

Will there be sufficient wifi in the average city for this to work?

If you're in Germany, you can pay for T-Mobile Hotspot access. Those are at every Starbucks in the country so you save a lot of headache searching for cafes with free wifi (of which there aren't very many).

If I were in your shoes, I'd go to Prague for 5 days and then somewhere else (Berlin, Vienna, Munich, Amsterdam, Zurich, take your pick - they're all easy flights out of FRA and PRG) for 5 days.
posted by cmonkey at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love outdoor activities, like bike rides, hiking, and anything to do with the water. I also enjoy museums and historical tours. I an not really interested in the night life.
posted by mewohu at 8:29 AM on March 29, 2011

I once took a suit folded inside a suitbag in a backpack from Sydney to Ireland via Japan. It was ok when I got there.

10 days is not a lot of time. Paris to Frankfurt via train would probably be quite an easy and comfortable trip. Lately I've been getting rather into European train travel.

You could probably do Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt pretty easily in 10 days by train.

it really depends what you like to do though? Do you speak German? you could say fly into Frankfurt (which is a bit of a hub) then drive a round trip into say France and southern Germany?
posted by mary8nne at 8:35 AM on March 29, 2011

The small part of Switzerland I visited (north of Italy) was beautiful, and definitely had outdoors stuff to do.
I second rolling your clothes. I spent two weeks traveling with a carry on duffle bag which was no problem. I was even shocked by how much I could fit in there.

My experience with wifi was most was paid. I had a netbook but my cheap ass was not going to pay for overpriced internet privilege and I mistakenly forgot my backtrack3 cd that would have cracked wep protection which I so could have used. Have fun, I dream of being back in Italy and Switzerland, and miss the food/culture
posted by handbanana at 8:35 AM on March 29, 2011

On the Wi-Fi. I'd try and avoid taking a computer as there really aren't that many free WiFi spots in Europe.

I've been taking my iPod touch lately for the occasional Cafe. Most hotels in Europe now will charge you exorbitant rates for WiFi use.
posted by mary8nne at 8:37 AM on March 29, 2011

I pigeonhole you as the Switzerland type. Do it! But sure you go to the pointy parts - Zurich will likely bore you. Go biking and hiking in the Alps. Just pick up a Let's Go Switzerland or some such thing. You might even want to swing down into northern Italy for more interesting food / culture / history. Milan perhaps? Florence is a little further away but is a historical gem.
posted by molecicco at 8:43 AM on March 29, 2011

Florence is amazing, beautiful hills, wine and city. I'll second Milan.
posted by handbanana at 8:46 AM on March 29, 2011

The key to packing light for any trip more than a few days is to realize that you will have to do laundry. How often you want to do that and how much care your clothes need dictate your clothing choices. The OneBag site linked above has a lot of great advice. Generally, take enough for three days or so, of wrinkle-reistant clothing. Pack the business/fancy things by a bundle or roll method (see the OneBag site for examples).

Ten days isn't a lot of time, but Florence, Venice, Prauge, Munich will give you the whirlwind tour of classical Europe, spending a couple days in each. If you're under 25, I highly recommend youth hostels. They're safe(er), and cheap, but theft will always be a problem for the backpacker.
posted by bonehead at 9:02 AM on March 29, 2011

If you'll be two weeks at school in Germany, spending some of your ten free days in a non-Germanic country could be nice. I'd go to Florence (already suggested) or Athens for a different experience.
posted by anadem at 9:09 AM on March 29, 2011

It's not clear from your post whether you will need your fancy duds whilst travelling around but if not, investigate whether you can leave your large pack somewhere for the duration--train station left luggage in Frankfurt? hotel or hostel storage room? That leaves you much more maneuverable with (say) a large daypack and a couple changes of clothing. Nothing drags you down like too much baggage.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:15 AM on March 29, 2011

I can't recommend Barcelona enough.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:17 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree about two cities...I wouldn't do three. You've gotten lots of good choices already, but I am surprised no one has suggested Rome yet... my favorite! Florence is amazing too. My personal other choice would be Amsterdam. Bruges? ReallY? Different strokes I guess.

Also, rolling your clothes to mitigate wrinkling works pretty well. Try to make enough time to hang things up (in the bathroom during your shower is best) before you have to dress.

Have a blast!!
posted by txmon at 9:32 AM on March 29, 2011

For water, you could go to Budapest and go to a different thermal bathhouse every day. Some of them are really fantastic, and will you ever be relaxed! Also, lovely walking and amazing - amazing - food.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:37 AM on March 29, 2011

I'm in the middle of planning a similar trip, two weeks in Europe with a specified endpoint (mine is Rome.

I decided to stick mostly with Italy, with a side trip to Slovenia. Slovenia was chosen because the friend I'm traveling with has cousins there who will host us, but it's also a good choice for something like this because it's a small and manageable country that is convenient to parts of Italy we already wanted to see (before we made the Slovenian connection, Austria and Croatia were potentially on the table).

Our trip basically has three segments. Venice, Ljubljana, and Rome. We've got lots of other things to fill out our whole trip, but those things are day trips and smaller places near those three main points. I am really confident about this plan. I heartily advise you to copy my "three base camps" plan for your own trip.
posted by Sara C. at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2011

I think I'm more of a city person than you are so I'm not sure you would enjoy my recommendations. That said, I'd encourage you to think outside the box a little. Ten days isn't a long time but it's enough time for an adventure. What about Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Turkey? I was in Tbilisi, Georgia about a year ago and thought it looked like Prague but was more difficult to navigate (fewer people knew English, it's not on the Euro, etc.).

If your trip is about three weeks in length, it's totally reasonable IMO to pause and do laundry somewhere. It won't take long and you can find a funky laundromat.
posted by kat518 at 10:49 AM on March 29, 2011

Be prepared to do laundry - if you do cities as opposed to serious outdoor activities you can probably get away with taking tops you can dress up for the business part and down for the leisure part of the trip. You may also want to consider leaving the "cocktail dress" in favour of a dress that is versatile enough to go from daytime business wear to social function with the help of accessories.

You can and should fit it all into one bag you can carry without too much effort because this will make moving from place to place a lot more enjoyable.

It also helps to remember that there are shops all over Europe should you really find you misjudged it big style and can't do without a particular item :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:06 AM on March 29, 2011

My boyfriend and I did 3 weeks in Europe with one (larger than carry-on) rolling bag, so it's definitely doable. Look someplace like Travelsmith for clothes that pack well and dry quickly; I got the clothesline that OneBag recommends and washed a few things every night in the sink, so we didn't have to carry much. If your dressy shoes to go with your dress are flats with a good sole, you can wear them for sightseeing as well (I definitely wouldn't bring shoes you're going to wear only once). Instead of a dress, I'd probably bring separates that you can mix and match.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:51 PM on March 29, 2011

if you do cities as opposed to serious outdoor activities you can probably get away with taking tops you can dress up for the business part and down for the leisure part of the trip

This is a good point. To cut down on luggage, maybe you should make this trip about things you can do in business casual clothes? Spend time in cities, taking in cultural stuff and eating great meals. Europeans dress slightly more formally than Americans do, anyway. Any activity that requires technical clothes you can't wear in a business casual context, strongly consider not doing it on this trip.
posted by Sara C. at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2011

Switzerland has some pretty impressive-looking cycling routes, and you should be able to rent a bicycle as well. I would look through that and see if there is anything that interests you.
posted by that girl at 5:34 PM on March 29, 2011

Anadem has a nice point about logging time in non-Germanic countries. And that girl is totally correct on the cycling routes; they are very well signed so you don't get lost, point-to-point bike rental is possible at train stations (the bike I rented wasn't exactly a brilliant machine, but it did the job - the ride from Lausanne to Montreux is amazing), and the omnipresent train service is a built-in sag wagon.

For a 10 day trip, I'd fly into a major city in Northwest Italy or Southern France; I can vouch for Lyon personally, but I'd consider Nice, Marseille, Florence, Genoa, maybe Turin or Milan. You basically lose the day you travel out, and then spend something like 4-5 days in town. Day 6ish, I'd wake up bright and early, catch a train to an interesting smaller town, probably in Switzerland, throw my bag in a locker and explore for the day. (Locarno or Belinzona coming from Italy, Lausanne or Bern coming from France; Geneva only if you're way into NGOs or Calvinism). I'd then either catch a late train that night or an early morning train the next to get to the Bernese Alps, specifically someplace like Gimmelwald, which has been getting the Rick Steves push, but was amazing when I was there. (Note: not Grindelwald, which is touristy and terrible.) I'd then spend a couple of days hiking around before heading to the small-town-near-Frankfurt, maybe pulling the same day trip trick on the way (Basel or Strasbourg perhaps). (Speaking of trains, check out for all of your route-planning needs.)

On the packing side, one thing to consider is an Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder; it can hold your dress clothes packed and fairly wrinkle-free, and you can move it in and out of your bag as a secure bundle so you don't have to mess with it while you're on the holiday part of your trip. Another option is a luggage shipping service; a random ballpark quote of $150 for a small bag one way is $15 a day to travel light and not have to worry about your fancy duds, which isn't totally unreasonable.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:52 PM on March 29, 2011

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