1. If you were limited to a 10-15 day trip to Europe, what would you
recommend as an itinerary? Christina H., Charlottesville, VA
This one is a matter of personal taste, but there are some basic choices: the
classic London-Paris-Rome jaunt, if you have 15 days, or London-Paris, if you
have only 10. The other option is to pick one of those three cities and
spend your entire trip there, making day trips out of the city to places like
Chartres, Oxford, Naples, Florence/Pisa and Cambridge. Itís really up to
you, but I would find it hard to go to Europe and not go to at least one of
London, Paris or Rome.
2. How do you recommend calling your home country while traveling in another
country - net-to-phone, calling card, call-back etc? Ed S., Kennesaw, GA
This one is easy---buy a phone card, call home just long enough to spit out
the number youíre at, and have them call back. Calling collect will cost a
small fortune, using a dial-home service, such as ATT USA direct will cost a
large fortune, and using a credit card phone will bankrupt you. Of course,
anything using the internet will be cheaper than regular phone lines, but
then youíre talking about finding a cyber-cafe with internet voice.
3. I'm planning on going to Europe for 2 months this summer. I know I'm
going to take a lot of pictures while I'm there, but I don't want to risk
destroying any of the exposed film. Is there I way that I can have it sent
home without developing it while I'm in Europe, as well as not risk the roll
getting destroyed when I send it? Kevin H., Chelsea, MI
I donít quite get this question---I would just put the rolls of film back in
their little plastic cans and hang on to them. Itís not like film canisters
are going to be damaged unless you are on some kind of really severe camping
trip. Mailing them home is no big deal--stick Ďem in a box, pad them with
newspaper and mail away. For the record, I hang on to my film and develop it
at all home...the easiest way to ruin negatives is to develop the film and
then carry the pictures around for a month. Pictures in an envelope are
4. What do you recommend in regards to camera for the first time traveler?
Should we go simple, or digital? How easy is it to use a digital camera in
Europe? Jeff B., Peterborough, ON
Get a small, very high quality point and shoot 35 mm, preferably with a zoom,
or a similar high-quality digital, unless you are really into photography.
Using a digital camera in Europe is a non-issue. Itís not like the residents
of Paris are still using horses and buggies. Cell phones and digital cameras
are more common in most of Europe than in the US.
5. What is the best type of suitcase or backpack would you recommend for a 3
week trip across the UK? Kathryn T., Orlando, FL
Three week trip? Get a high quality travel pack--you know, the kind that
converts into a suitcase, with a zipper that allows you to open the whole
thing up, rather than a load-from-the-top backpack. And if youíre only going
for three weeks, pack very very light.
6. When choosing a backpack to backpack through Europe, is price a factor,
the more expensive the better? Becky L., Downers Grove, IL
Well, yes, generally you get what you pay for, just donít buy a pack designed
for climbing Everest. You donít need that. Get a good travel pack or
internal frame backpack. (It should cost, at most, 300 American dollars.)
There are a number of pages of advice on backpacks in FTE, by the way.
7. When arriving in Europe for the first time, the thought of utilizing the
public transit system may seem intimidating - especially if all of the
printed instructions and materials are in a language one is not familiar
with. Do you have any suggestions for the first-time global traveller faced
with a new transit system in a new country in a new language? Darryl W., White House, TN
Another subject that I spend pages discussing in FTE. The bottom line is
this: Every year millions of foreigners come to Paris, Rome, Berlin, London
etc., from places like Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Singapore. The public
transit people know this. If only for their own convenience, the public
transit systems in major European cities have instructions in several
languages, and rely on symbols rather than words. Relax. You are not the
first non-Italian speaker to take the subway in Rome. The last time I was in
Paris I didnít see thousands of lost travelers wandering in the Metro. You
will be an old pro in two days.
8. Are there any areas in Europe more dangerous to travel to than others? Lianne C., Waterloo, ON.
Well, every city has its bad areas, of course, just like any city anywhere
in the world. Donít hang around outside train stations or in parks after
dark, and take all the crime-prevention steps you would take at home if you
go out at night. When I arrive in a town I always ask at the tourist office
in the train station if thereís any place to avoid.
As far as whole regions....I suppose thereís more crime in Eastern Europe
than Western Europe, and Southern Italy is notorious for theft, but then
again there are areas of Paris that are pretty bad as well. The bottom line
is that you are unlikely to go into these areas unless you are looking for
the things you might find there. If you get robbed or worse because you go
out looking for drugs or something illegal, you will get very little
sympathy, either from the local police, your embassy, or from me.
9. What are some precautions women traveling alone or in pairs should take to
ensure their safety? Kara F., Sioux Falls, SD
Every year, hundreds of thousands of women take to the trains of Europe.
Most are under 22. 99.9% have no problems at all. Other than the normal
safety precautions everyone should take, donít worry excessively about
violent crime. The men in Greece Italy, Spain and other places may be much
more aggressive and suggestive than those in America, but itís almost never a
matter of safety when they are. Thatís how things are done in those places,
and you wonít change it by yelling at them or getting upset. 99% of the guys
in those countries are harmless, and the best tactic for dealing with them is
10. Since the Sept. 11th attacks, how have travel regulations changed
throughout Europe, and how does this affect backpacking itineraries, safety,
packing, and prices? Danielle F., Granada Hills, CA
Other than longer lines at airports, I didnít notice a thing. Remember,
Paris, London, Ireland and most of Spain had ongoing terrorist problems long
before September 11th. They didnít need to change much in those areas. Just
expect to spend A LOT of time in airports, especially when boarding a flight.
11. I am wondering how difficult things will be considering the language
barrier. Is it easiest to attempt to ask questions in the native tongue, or
to ask if anyone knows English? Are people often offended if you ask if they
know English? Taryn V., Muncie, IN
See the answer to Question 12
12. How much Italian should I know before trying to make reservations in
Italy? Do most hotel receptionists speak at least a little English? Erin D., St. John's, NFLD
In Italy, and every country for that matter, you should always try to learn
as much of the local language as possible. Nothing else you can do will make
your stay in a country more enjoyable, or make it easier for you t o meet
people. While almost everybody in Europe, especially those who work in
hotels, speaks some English, the more effort you make, the more friendliness
and cooperation you will encounter.
To answer question 11, if you can ask questions in the local language, do so.
Nobody will be offended if you make a mess of the language, as long as you
are trying. Very few people will be upset if you ask if they speak English-
remember, if a Finn wants to speak to an Italian, or a man from Portugal
wants to speak to a Greek, theyíre going to speak English. What WILL offend
someone is if you just walk up to them in their home country and start
speaking English to them as if you expect them to answer you. Ask if they
speak English first.
13. I was wondering if there are any tips you would give first time
backpackers on how to get off the beaten track and really experience the true
culture of the countries you are visiting while still keeping your budget
basically intact? Amanda T., Winona, MN
Oh, thatís easy. Donít use ďLetís GoĒ. All kidding aside, it is easy. Just
pick a small town and go there. It will be more work than simply following
the directions of a guidebook, and you may have to hunt for housing, but
thatís what you have to do if you want to get off the tourist trail. (You
also may want to learn how to say ĎExcuse me, sir, where might I find a room
for the nightĒ in the local language.) And donít worry about your
budgets--small towns are cheap--big cities are expensive.
14. If I am going to travel around Europe for the first time, is it better to
go with someone or can I handle it myself? Ricardo C., Miami, FL
This is purely a matter of personal preference. Unless you are really really
worried about going alone, you will be fine on your own. Women, especially
in Southern Europe, might want to go with a friend, to keep the annoying
Italian men at bay.
15. When you are going to Europe during a busy time of the year, is it
necessary to make reservations for lodging before leaving home? Amber A., College Station, TX
Yes. Absolutely. 100% Yes. Do not leave for Europe without having a
reservation, or you may spend your first day or night in Europe walking
around all day, or all night, looking for a place to stay.
16. There are a couple of spots throughout Europe in which I would like to
reserve a hotel room. How do I go about finding the hotel rooms that are near
the things I want to do and how should I contact them? Mark R., Redmond, WA
Just pick up any good travel guide in a book store or library, find a place
that sounds nice in your price range, and give them a call. Procedures for
dialing internationally are in the front of every phone book. And
remember--ask them if they speak English when they answer.
17. Also, is it necessary to have credit card? I've read stories on the net
about hostels charging extra nights on peoples credit cards. What can I do
to ensure this doesn't happen to me? Tara V., Calgary, AB
I wouldnít go to Europe without a credit card. And the only thing you can do
to keep someone from overcharging your card is to get a receipt showing /how
much you paid, hang on to it, and if they charge you more than what appeared
on the receipt, dispute the charge.
18. What is the best time of year to go? Is it best to avoid summer to miss
the big crowds, or is it better to go when lots of others are there and all
attractions are open? David C., Dallas, TX
May is the best time of year to go, and August is the worst. If you have a
choice, go in April, May, June or September and October. If not, expect
crowds. And itís not like Europe shuts down when summer is over--very few
attractions close during the fall and winter, although many hostels do.
19. I understand that some people bring sleeping bags and others bring a
sleep sheet. Which is best to bring for the backpacker who is planning on
staying in hostels? Dave M., Fort Pierce, FL
Some hostels donít let you use a sleeping bag instead of sheets, so always
bring a sleep sack. If you expect to get cold, such as in Northern Europe or
in fall winter or spring, bring a small, lightweight sleeping bag as well.
20. Which do you feel is the best way to bring your money with you while
traveling-ATM card, travelers cheques, cash or credit card? Which will give
you the best rates? Dave F., Victoria, BC
I recommend you bring Ďem all. You obviously need cash for some things, but
you donít want to walk around with a couple of thousand dollars. I bring
about five hundred dollars in cash, use a credit card or ATM card to get
money from ATMs, and use credit cards for buying big things like plane
tickets and long hotel or hostel stays. Travelerís checks are for emergency
use only. Theyíre out of date, really--bring a hundred dollars or so, but
not much more. Those commercials where they show you getting an instant
refund if you lose them are a crock. Itís much harder than that.