How to plan an awesome trip to europe in less than a month?
June 1, 2008 8:58 AM   Subscribe

TravelFilter: A friend and I have about a month to plan a 7-10 day trip to Europe (travel window is around early July), and are in need of some advice. I've been overseas only with family, and he's never been at all. Good dancing is a must.

I know a bit of French and he a bit of Spanish. Suggestions of places to go, safe but cheap lodging, especially with the weak dollar? There's so much to experience that it's hard for us to whittle down what sort of trip to take. I'd love to go dancing -- but not a tourist-type club -- perhaps to even an outdoor festival. We both agree on ragga/jungle/dnb and generally interesting beats (def not four to the floor). Since we'd expect to hit different cities (and theoretically, countries), any packing suggestions would also be welcome. I simply don't know where to begin!! Thank you, hive brain:)
posted by Sweetdefenestration to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's great dancing/clubs in central Europe, you might want to try to do the following cities (in this or the reverse order): Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Prague. It's perfect for a whirlwind ten day trip, as each city is within a few hours of the next, and you get to see four capital cities in four very unique countries. This isn't the best time to travel, in terms of it getting touristy, but it will be like that anywhere in Europe right now. It's also a relatively cheap circuit, compared to other cities, as you're far enough East to save a bit of money. I posted a vague cost itinerary in a previous post, but expect, after the flights in and out, to spend between 800 and 1,000 US dollars. I'm sure you'd expect great clubs at Prague and Budapest, but Bratislava has a surprisingly hopping night scene as well (we didn't go out in Vienna because the hostel's bar was so great). Arrange the trip so that you are in Bratislava either on a weekend (preferably a Friday night) or a Tuesday night, when apparently the students all go nuts. Mefi mail me if you'd like any more information about hostels, bars, or transit.

Also, as for travel experience, don't be too nervous. I did this series of trips with little independent experience, and it couldn't have been more enjoyable or less stressful. All of the hostels where we stayed (especially in Budapest and Vienna) were full of incredibly nice, fun, and helpful people, which made the trip even more incredible. In terms of packing, I suggest a heavy duty book bag/travel pack (like what you would take camping) and a smaller bag, like a satchel, for day to day walking and planes. Pack light, and remember that keeping warm is a matter of insulation (layers of clothing that trap air rather than a thick, bulky coat). It won't be cold this time of year anyway, so all you should need are a few pairs of shorts, a pair of pants, t shirts, underwear, a long sleeve shirt, a jacket, and, if you're staying in hostels, a towell. When in doubt, pack light. A compass is always handy for getting your bearings, along with a book, a sturdy notepad and pen, and a good travel guide (Lonely Planet has an excellent 'Central Europe guide'). Again, mail me if you're interested in such a trip and I'll go further into recommendations and links.

Godspeed and good luck!
posted by farishta at 10:00 AM on June 1, 2008

Begin with getting your passports if you don't already have them, and making sure your immunizations are up to date, and that you'll have sufficient quantities of any needed prescription medications for your trip. Sounds crazy, but many people forget such basics until it is too late.

Don't overthink this trip. It's only a week, and you have a relatively short time to plan it. I'd advise picking an area, perhaps Tuscany or Provence, and enjoying yourselves, rather than running about like chickens with your heads cut off. Rick Steves has made a good living advising Americans about European travel.
posted by paulsc at 10:07 AM on June 1, 2008

Stay in hostels. Even if you don't want to stay in a shared dorm (which really isn't that bad -- bring ear plugs), you can find private, double beds (meaning two separate twin beds) with bathroom for far less than what you will pay at even a low-star hotel. Plus, it's a great place to learn about local dance clubs, and find other travelers to go with.

Do your research through HostelWorld, but book directly through the hostel or through a no-fee (for anyone, including the hostel) booker like Gomio. Book early as possible, as July is the height of the tourist season.

Any of the major cities in Europe are going to have plenty of dance clubs, so instead I'd recommend selecting where to go based on other factors. What do you like to do during the day? Do you have a burning desire to see anything in particular? Figure that out first, then build a trip around it.

For instance, if you MUST see the Berlin Wall, start there, then head to a few other major cities in the area -- Munich, Salsburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Krakow. Pick a few. Don't try to see everything in one trip.

If you absolutely can't decide, throw a dart. Seriously.
posted by nitsuj at 10:15 AM on June 1, 2008

Festivals would be a great option, you could even plan for two in two different countries say, and then spend the interim days getting from one to the next with a bit of random sight-seeing in between. There's an article on the 20 best euro festivals (according to the Time newspaper) for some inspiration, of those Sonar is probably the most eclectic and interesting but is probably a bit too soon (you'd have to find accomodation in the town which could be a pain).

Incidentally, as a non-european traveller you can buy a cheap Eurail ticket which covers ALL journeys (standard class) in however many countries you want to travel in, so you could travel via sleeper car (will be extra, but not much) thus covering some of your nights accomodation.

Anyway, have fun!
posted by freya_lamb at 10:21 AM on June 1, 2008

P.s. Eurail is travel by train, sorry for omitting that key fact!
posted by freya_lamb at 10:25 AM on June 1, 2008

One of the biggest festivals in Europe is happening in early July, the Exit Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia. (This year they have 600 bands including M.I.A., the Gossip, Gogol Bordello, Manu Chao, and Ministry...)

Packing: the best thing to do is to pack hardly anything. Seriously. Pack as little as possible, and then take like a third out. Wearing a lot of stuff with, say, English-language university names emblazoned on it, or (in some places) wearing shorts and athletic shoes will immediately identify you as an American. If you're going to stay in youth hostels, pack flip-flops (for using in dirty shower stalls) and maybe a money belt. (While you are much less likely to get mugged/shot/beat up in Europe, you are INFINITELY more likely to get your pocket picked, backpack lifted, etc., especially while in tourist areas. Keep your valuables close to you and in front of your body.)

Traveling: if you're gonna be there for 7-10 days I'd go to two, maybe three places. It's not fun to spend all that money on a plane ticket and then spend the whole time, jet-lagged, rocketing around on a train. It's nicer to see a place and get used to it.

And speaking of jet lag, you might be interested in this article about how to reset your circadian clock by changing your mealtimes.

Have fun.
posted by hungrytiger at 12:54 PM on June 1, 2008

Der Love Parade (careful, minorly NSFW big image on this page) is great. It's the weekend of July 19th, in Dortmond this year. The parade is supposed to be a total blast. You will hear some music in 4/4, perhaps lots. Though I'm sure you can find (and then follow ... like a NO jazz funeral but with lots of german club kids) a D-n-B traveling stage or parade and stay away from PVD.
posted by zpousman at 2:03 PM on June 1, 2008

There is a charming summer activity in France sponsored by Festival Convivencia. The group's mission is to diffuse French patrimony in the form of music with historical roots. The show travels on the Canal du Midi by barge. It comes to my village in alignment with a general fĂȘte. The dancing is fun because everyone in or near the village who's physically able will dance. Parents dance with their young kids; elderly people dance together. If Occitan folk-inspired music appeals to you then it is worth turning up at one of the Festival's stops. You'll hear lines of development picked up in zydeco, Irish folk and Breton music.
posted by jet_silver at 6:41 PM on June 1, 2008

@everybody -- thank you so much for all your suggestions, inspiration, experience and knowledge. I had been thinking western europe, but i am quite heartened by the suggestions to explore eastern europe. I look forward to more deeply exploring all of your links, checking out the comments to come and pming you if i have a specific question about something you've said. I quite literally bow to the collective wisdom you've presented and am already quite grateful to each of you for contributing to my trip! Please feel free to contribute if you're just seeing the post -- your experiences and suggestions are quite valuable and very welcome. I'll be checking back often. thank you.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 7:39 PM on June 1, 2008

I see Love Parade was mentioned above, there's another in Zurich called Street Parade. It is h.u.g.e, and Zurich is a lovely little city with a lot of weird and fun.

IF YOU GO you should know
-it's on the German side, but most everyone speaks great English
-you have to eat dinner at the Blindekuh, the dark restaurant
-the river is cool and clean; during the summer lots of people jump off the bridges and let themselves get carried along by the current
-you are only an overnight train away from Hungary or Czech Republic.

I looove Zurich.
posted by whatzit at 5:37 AM on June 2, 2008

I did this last summer, so I'll post a few things I found out.

Eurail pass - a lot of the students I ran into that were using them found they weren't as much of a cost savings as they had hoped for. The ones who were travelling for months, and visiting a large number of destinations liked them, but the long travel times, and restrictions made them wish they had just bought individual tickets as they needed them.

Flying - There are a lot of low cost airlines flying around Europe. I found Momondo invaluable for finding low cost flights in and around Europe, as low as 20 Euro.

Hostels - Read the reviews, to find out about showers, Air Conditioning, etc. As an American travelling in Europe, AC was my biggest must have, especially when it was over 100 degrees in Italy. Staying in hostels is a great way to meet people, and reduce cost.

Packing - take only half of what you think you'll need. Two pairs of jeans and 5 t-shirts was enough for my month there.

Where to Go? - Many great places listed above. I enjoyed Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam, Rome - and there great dancing in most of those places if you enjoy the European techno stuff.
posted by stovenator at 8:44 AM on June 2, 2008

Tell your friend to check out Cheapest way to find a place to stay and meet locals who will show him around... Great for budget travel in Europe.
posted by syzygy at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2008

CouchSurfing is an option, but it'll be tough to rely on using only that for such a short trip. Problem is, response times from members can be pretty slow, so you might find a good place to stay for your first few nights, but unless you have your trip planned down to the hour (which you shouldn't, obviously), you'll end up spending a lot of time waiting for an email that may or may not come.

It works much better for longer, by-the-seat-of-your-pants trips, where itineraries are non-existent.
posted by nitsuj at 7:07 AM on June 3, 2008

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