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Raileurope.com: See Europe by train
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Old 01-24-2006, 12:05 PM   #1
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Welcome noobs! Not to depersonalize the TravelPunk experience, but the wonderful team here has answered many questions many times. Browsing the boards is a wonderful way to gain information you may not have found elsewhere or to answer a lingering questions. While some questions are more personalized to your situation, please feel free to browse the boards to see if your question has already been answered before posting a new topic. Here is some general information that gets asked a lot, but there is A LOT more info scattered around the boards!

Eurail and travel throughout Europe

Before deciding what you should choose as a method of transportation, you need to gather some form of an intinerary. You should also browse through the Eurail page (passes can and should be bought here!) and browse. Look at the various passes offered.

There are two main types of passes that people have a hard time choosing between: Eurail and Eurail Flexi. The difference between the two are that the Eurail gives you days that have to be used consecutively. Meaning if you get a fifteen day pass, you only have fifteen days to use the pass.

The flexi pass gives you X amount of days of travel in a certain timeframe. IE you have 10 non consecutive days to use your pass within a 60 day timeframe. Days count as 24 hours, meaning you can use your pass as much as you'd like in a 24 hour period and it will only count as one single day.

The above mentioned are great if you're wanting to see a lot of Europe, or will be going all over (Ireland - Spain - France - Italy for example).

If not you may want to consider a regional (predetermined pass for bordering countries) or a selectpass (you select 3-5 bordering countries to "make" your own pass [Benelux = Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg - all count as one]).

You can also get passes within individual countries.

Now, should you choose a pass or point to point? The cost worthiness is up to you. You can view the prices of the varying passes (cheaper for people under 26 or buying in pairs). How can you figure out if it's worth it?

It is hard to say P2P (point to point) ticket prices without actually being in the country getting a quote. You can go directly to the site of the country train (Die Bahn is German's train system for instance) and get a price, but they're not always accurate. "My" way of guestimating was every 8 hour trip was approximately 80-100 Euro, or so it happened to work out. Again, guestimations aren't going to be completely accurate but may give you a rough idea.

So, start counting the number of P2P trips you'll be making. Are they adding up? You'll probably want to consider a pass. Which one? Look. Calculate a rough idea of days you'll be traveling and see if it'd be worth it to flat out get the Eurail pass or a flexi pass. Not sure about your itinerary? Winging it? Then you'll probably want to consider the Eurail pass as it will allow you the freedom to travel whenever/wherever.

Not only do you get the pass plus the handy dandy stuff they give you, but you also get bonuses (view on their site) such as boat rides, reduced/discount fair on other lines, ferry rides, etc. Browse the site and see what all they're offering.

Keep in mind the pass is only valid for travel in W. Europe and does not include the UK or Northern Ireland. You are eligible for discounts in C./E. Europe with the pass though and there are rail passes for those areas.

Most overnight trains require a reservation which can be done online or at the train station. It is recommended this be done at least a day in advance. You will likely have to pay a small sum of money for reservation trains. It varies (2-30 Euro). You will have to pay extra if you want a sleeping compartment. Are they worth it? Some say yes, some say no. The cars aren't too bad, but people are coming and going, so it depends on how well you can sleep. I do not recommend non reservation trains for overnight travel if you want sleep.

Other forms of travel -

If you're thinking a pass may not be for you or you want alternate choices, here are some links.

Eurolines was a great way to travel and is very affordable, especially outside W. Europe. I found it to be plenty comfortable. You can look at prices and book online. It is different for every country, so go to the country site.

Busabout is another bus system that offers flexibility for the traveler. They have information on their website, but I have no previous experience.

Flying is extremely cheap on budget airlines - Ryanair, and Easyjet are two of the most popular. Wizzair is more focused towards C. Europe traveling.

Travel in the UK can be done cheaply ala Megabus or you can also view BritRail's page for more pricing information.

Travel through Ireland is best by Bus Eireann as it's relatively cheap and goes more places.

You can take ferries - a good place to look is here.

So this information should give you a good start on determining how you should get about Europe. You should hopefully be able to determine what's right for you.

Lodging

Most budget travelers book rooms in hostels (which can be booked through that link through a very reputable site we all use and love ). Many people have misconceptions about hostels, such as they're dirty and sleazy. Not true for most. Many are very, very nice and clean and have wonderful staff. Most offer private rooms if you're not comfortable sleeping dorm style (usually ranges between 4-20 beds). The main difference between hostels and hotels is hostels have a community kitchen (usually) so you can do your own cooking, and there are shared bathrooms/sleeping rooms. They have a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. If you are traveling with 2-3 people, you may want to consider booking a budget hotel.

There is a section on this site that has hostel recommendations and hostels de-recommnedations. Check it out. If you're iffy about a hostel, do a search for it online and you can usually find a place where it's been rated.

Many people wonder if they should book ahead - the answer is probably. If you're hanging out in Paris in July, YES. If you're in Dundalk, Ireland in November, probably not necessary. It is understandable that people want flexible itineraries, but if you book a few rooms ahead of time and pay the small reservation fee and decide not to stay, you're only out a few dollars. If you can't find a cheap/room and end up paying out a lot of money for hotel or have no place to sleep, you're out a little more. Use common sense - busy areas during busy times usually call for reservations.

What about camping? Camping can be cheap. Look online at campgrounds in cities you'll be visiting or visit a tourist center when you arrive. You can buy uber cheap 3 lb bivy tents that relatively comfortably sleep 2 people from Sportsman's Guide for around 25-30 USD or you may want to consider higher quality and look at some place like REI or Cabela's. If you're going to be doing a lot of camping, buy one and strap it to your pack. You'll barely notice it. If you won't, stop at a Carrefour (Europe Wal Mart) and pick up a cheapy bivy tent for some ridiculously low price.

Also, have a look at Altrec for backpacks and other travel/camping/hiking gear.

Sleeping bags? You can buy a low quality ultra light cheap one from SMG again, or look at higher quality elsewhere. Is it worth it? Hell yes. They weigh less than a pound and barely take up any room. So worth it for camping, when we had to sleep outside a train station and on overnight trains as a small example. Some people won't even use hostel linens and will only use their bags.

Do I have enough money?

Maybe... There is a wonderful site that does realtime money conversions call XE. You can keep an eye on the exchange rate for the country you'll be visiting. A good rule of thumb is about $75 USD per day (ie 20 days of travel = $1500). The more the better for emergencies and splurges. Can it be done cheaper? Sure it can. Say you camp and eat grocery food every day, you can probably get by on the equivalent of about $30 USD a day (without travel), but it's always better to budget higher and have extra money. You should not budget your airfare or rail pass into the large sum.

How do you get the money? SAVE! Take on a second job. Do strange things like recycle aluminum, donate plamsa, participate in research, etc. Babysit. Do chores for people. Invest in the stock market. There are some great links throughout this board about how people have saved (IE tape up a shoe box and put money in it every day (just a little)).

When to book

I usually try to book about 4 months in advance. I have always had good luck getting the best price within that range. Where should you look? Discount sites like Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelzoo or directly at the airlines site and browse their specials and deals.

Food

Best way to save money on food? Stop at a grocery and pick up staples, like bread, tuna, cheese, sausage, juice, etc. There's lunch! Pick up stuff to make at your hostel like noodles or rice or anything that is cheap.

Eating out cheaply is possible, even in tourist areas. How? Go a few streets down from the major streets and shop around. Most places have menus in the windows or advertise their specials.

Drink Buy beer and drink it before heading out! Easiest way to save $$ on alcohol.

Will add more as time goes on.
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~~ Jamie ~~
You give me the most gorgeous sleep That I've ever had And when it's really bad I guess it's not that bad




Have some general questions such as whether or not to get a rail pass or how much money you'll need? Visit here!

First time travelers/travelers with a lot of questions - this forum is for you![b]
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Old 01-24-2006, 04:06 PM   #2
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Old 01-24-2006, 10:15 PM   #3
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Hope you don't mind me adding to this, Jamie!! :D

What should I pack???

Okay, everyone wants to know this. Each of us has our own personal list, but as a general rule, here's a good way to go:

Essentials:

First Aid Kit.

I always pack a heavy duty hiker's First Aid kit. I carry an Atwater-Carey Backpacker kit. Has everything i need for a good day's hike (moleskin is your friend.) I've augmented it with a few necesities: A few condoms, (they make great finger cots, as well), compact sewing kit, copies of my passport, driver's license, and ISIC card, and ICE contact info. First Aid Kit: A-C First Aid Kits

Med Bag:

Not to be confused with the First Aid kit, this has all the shaving kit, deoderant, toothbrushes, contacts backups, some bandaids, antacids, meds, etc. This stays in the bag in the room, but the small first aid kit goes with me. This is your typical traveler kit. Mine's an Eagle Creek Wallaby II, available just about anywhere.

Poncho:

For the obvious, as well as the fact that it makes a great tarp if the ground is muddy. One for me and a cheapo vinyl one for my bag if necessary.

Granola Bars:

They never go bad, and if you're hiking/walking all day, heavy in nutrition. These sort of things are the little stuff nobody remembers.

Clothesline, elastic:

Good for lashing things to my pack, as well as the obvious.

MSR Pack Towel:

Dries fast, compresses well, and doesn't take up as much room as a full-size bath or beach towel. Remember, be a hoopy frood. Know where your towel is. MSR: Packtowl ™

Batteries for Camera, iPod, MP3, etc:

Because the things will die at the worst possible moment.

Guidebook:

I like Rough Guides. Some folks will advocate only taking the pages of stuff you want to see ahead of time, stapled together. I don't like this idea, as I'm prone to changing direction once there with the wind.

Journal:

Keep the time, jot down your thoughts. You'll thank me later.

Compass:

Duh. Keychain variety.

Multi-Tool:

Leatherman or Gerber tools are far more versatile than the traditional Swiss Army Knife. The pliers alone are worth it. Gerber Compact Sport Tool here: Gerbergear.com

Duct Tape:

Take a roll, make a loop about 10 cm long, and start wrapping it around until you are confident you have enough (about 30-40 layers). This stuff saves lives. There are "backpacker" rolls made that are overpriced flat rolls without the cardboard core. Waste of money. The stuff costs less than a dollar or two at your local hardware store.

TP:

Never know when you may need to take a shit. Seriously. Granted, this stays with the main pack, but its an honorable mention

A good hat.

I have a Seattle Sombrero from Outdoor Research. You can get them here: REI

Books:

I have a book I always travel with, Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary. Also brought Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I tend to get a lot of reading done on the buses/planes in between. Plus, the quiet solace of a good book on a beach can't be beat. Pick two. Bring 'em. But bring the paperback versions!

Digital camera with batteries and biggest memory card you can afford.

Smaller is better for the packer on the weight savings. A Nikon SLR digital rig is a lot to carry around and a beacon to would be thieves. I have a Nikon Coolpix 5600, and a nice little pack that clips to my belt. Its unassuming, and though it won't make me the next Ansel Adams, it takes decent pics. It would suck if you didn't have pics to remember the friends you made. A good add-on is a cheap disposable 35mm cam with a flash. You never know

Small compressable sleeping bag:

Good idea, since you may need an extra blanket, and as Jamie said, you never know.

Again, things may vary person to person, but generally, the above are universal.

Security:

Padlock, combination style, and bike cable lock. Cable locks are great for lashing your pack to a bed, etc. Padlock for the locker you may find on your way.

Under-the-shirt-style money belt. I have an Eagle Creek I like, it keeps my passport and backup cash, etc together. Great for the traveling- NEVER KEEP YOUR STUFF IN YOUR PACK!!! Seen too many folks lose their bags at a bus stop, etc, and their papers, money, etc. are in the pack. Too dangerous!

Zip-style moneybelt: Keep $100 cash in it at all times. If you get mugged, or lose your pack/wallet/etc, you've got some cash to get you through. These things range from about $10 and up. I bought mine on Ebay, its an unassuming black web belt that doesn't look like anything but a belt.

Whistle: Though I don't carry one, a lot of the girls I met along the way do. Use your imagination.

DO NOT CARRY PEPPER SPRAY, A KNIFE, MACHETE, GUN (unless permitted by local law, and chances are it isn't. **but if you backpack Alaska, it may not be a bad idea!** ) or any other weapon. Not worth the hassle, or the liability.

Clothing

This is the biggest bone of contention. Unless you are heading deep into the back country, where laundry services are generally unavailable, its not necessary to bring a change of clothes for every day. Do laundry along the way! Save weight! Support your local laundromat!

For 8 days in Costa Rica, i packed the following:

4 pairs boxers
3 pairs light socks
2 pairs heavy hiking socks
3 t-shirts
2 polo-style shirts
1 fleece vest
1 button-down long sleeve shirt
1 pair cargo pants
1 pair cargo shorts
1 pair, board shorts (swim trunks)

1 pair Teva's (all-terrain sandals)
1 pair cross-country style tennis shoes (never wore 'em.)
1 pair medium-heavy duty Merrel Chameleon hiking boots (wore 'em everywhere)

Now, this includes the clothing I wore down on the plane, IE, the long pants, long sleeve shirt, vest, and requisite underwear. Hindsight being 20/20, a long-sleeve T-shirt or a sweatshirt would have been nice, but not necessary. It did get cold in the mountains, but I didn't mind so much. I would have much rather had more heavy hiking socks than athletic socks, however. Again, live and learn.

Those neat zip-off convertible pants are well worth it, as you have long pants and shorts if the climate calls for it. Again, your mileage may vary.

This was a list for a Central American trip. A Western European or North American trip would be completely different. Take into account the different climates you may encounter. Pack accordingly. If you think you'll be clubbing then bring an outfit that can pass for a club entrance, but still get some mileage on the road, etc.

------------

Which Pack Should I Get?

"does anyone have _____ pack?"

"is pack _____ the right one for me?"

These sorts of questions are all over the boards. Let me clue you in on something: Just like your choice in clothing, cars, women or men, its entirely subjective to your personal preference.

Many folks here swear by their packs. I know that some senior mods/recogs and general users will never own anything but a Dana Designs/Eagle Creek/Kelty/jansport/etc pack.

Here's the advice from the Joker:

Figure out how long your trip will be. Then, go to a good sporting goods store that sells a variety of packs and has a knowledgeable staff, and ask for suggestions based on your size. For instance, a small girl would likely be not inclined to get a full size Eagle Creek Ultimate Journey Enormo-Gigantic Friggin Keep My Life in it for Years Pack. But then again, a simple North Face Bookbag ain't gonna cut it either. Check out REI, Moosejaw, etc. The folks there are good and if its a really good store, they'll have the bags stuffed so you can see exactly how big they are fully loaded.

Personally, again, its up to you. What I can suggest:

1. Internal Suspension with integrated cover for the straps (for checking it into luggage at the airline.) I wouldn't want my pack's straps to get caught on something and dismantled before my flight begins.

2. Front Loading: Allows for easy access to your gear. Top loads are a pain, since you have to empty everything to get to the bottom. Sometimes this just isn't feasible.

3. Detachable daypack: Well, prior to Costa Rica, I was a fan. But since, I'm not. The detachable just didn't have enough room for my hiking necessities and a bottle of water. I thought it was gonna stretch itself apart, and that wasn't good. So next trip, I carry my trusty North Face bag that's served me on many ski trips as Beer and backup glove caddy. But again, YMMV.

An honorable mention are the lines of packs that have a steel cable wound through them for securing to fixed objects. Mine, an Eagle Creek Transcontinental Journey, has one. My cable lock and padlock were always hanging from it, and it was definitely used on occasion. Consider this as a part of safety/security. Nylon webbing straps can be cut easily.

Also, a bag with a ton of compression straps is good for the obvious. That, and the hammock you bought can be lashed to it. Or your sleeping bag.

"Rolling bag or not?"

Again, if you think that your trip is going to be on paved roads, it may not be a bad idea. But if you are traveling into the back country, a backpack is the way to go. Eagle Creek has some convertible packs called "Switchbacks" but all-in-all, its again a personal preference.

---------------

Hopefully the above makes some sense and helps you along the way. If you have any more specific questions, dont hesitate to ask a mod or recog. That's what we're here for!
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