The Top Ten Things I wish I knew before Backpacking Europe
After my first two backpacking trips throughout Europe, I learned a lot--about myself, of course, but also about how to prepare for my next trip. Luckily for you, you don’t have to mess up first to discover this information for yourself.
Here are the Top Ten Things I wish I knew before Backpacking Europe:
- 1) Pack Light
I cannot emphasize this enough. You don’t need heels, you don’t need ten shirts, and you don’t need a hair dryer. Pack the essentials. For my last trip, I packed two pants, three shirts, one pair of walking shoes, one pair of athletic shoes, an umbrella, toiletries, a jacket, pajamas, and my kindle. That’s it. That’s all you need to survive, because there is a magical invention called a “laundry machine” in most hostels. Remember, you’ll be carrying all of this on your back. Save yourself the extra money on massages.
- 2) Create a Budget
For my first trip, I had no idea how much money I would be spending on food, activities, etc, and I ended up spending WAY more than I wanted to. Go into each city with an idea of what you want to spend your money on. Also, you don’t need to eat out for every meal! Going to the supermarket or the local market for groceries (especially fruit) is more cost effective.
- 3) Bring a water bottle
You’ll be traveling a lot, stay hydrated and keep your body healthy!
- 4) Always count the change
Most backpackers learn this the hard way, and you’ll be cheated out of your money. You’re not used to foreign currencies, and natives can smell this from miles away. Count your change when you get it back, and always ask for receipts. In high tourist towns, scams exist on every corner. Be prepared, and be smart.
- 5) Being an introvert/extravert
Be open on days you want to be open, and closed on days you don’t; it’s that easy. While you are on your trip, you will meet new friends, from all walks of life, every single day. Be friendly and open! Share your experiences. But also know when you are “socially fatigued” and take some time to relax by yourself.
- 6) Flight vs. Ground Transportation
Do your research! Sometimes the train can be less expensive than a flight, or vice versa. Research all of your available options before booking. Maybe a 17 hour bus ride from Madrid to the South of France isn’t ideal, but if it is only 15 euros, you may want to consider it...
- 7) You are not restricted to the town you are staying in
Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Dublin, Edinburgh; the list of “big name cities” goes on and on. But you are not restricted to that one area. Look at the bus schedule, and visit the local towns. There, you may find the real cultural experience, as opposed to the tourist-focused main cities. When I was in Edinburgh, I got on a bus and participated in a “Highland Tour” throughout the entire country for the day. It was amazing seeing all of the other towns in Scotland. By doing this, you’ll get a more intimate travel experience.
- 8) Be prepared to walk
If you’re interested in exploring a new city/country every few days, be prepared to walk, A LOT. Make sure you know your limits, and plan ahead. Decide if you prefer to use the metro, the bus, or walking around town. I always prefer walking, even if it is a big city. Again, bring proper footwear, and keep yourself healthy. With all of the physical activity you will be doing, you’re going to need a few rest days as well.
- 9) Hostels, Air B&B, Couchsurfing, etc.
There are many options for where to stay during your travels. Hostels are most popular and very affordable, but Couchsurfing is free yet sometimes unreliable. Air B&B is the better option if you are traveling in a large group. Again, do your research! Find out what is best for you. I personally prefer hostels because it is an extremely social environment, and (most times) breakfast is included.
- 10) You don’t always need to have a plan
I learned this the hard way. My trips were planned out to the "T", which left me no wriggle room to be spontaneous and go somewhere else with my new backpacking friends. I met a few people that had no idea where they would be in 3 hours, let alone in 3 days. There’s a freeing quality to that ideology, and I recommend you give it a try.
Have any questions about my experiences? Ask away!
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. you step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." --J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings