With the summer months approaching, I thought I would write a review of tips for backpacking through Europe, which if done the right way can be one of the most thrilling adventures you will ever go on in your life.
For years Europe was the place to be for aristocratic youth who were given months long trips to tour the continent from their wealthy parents while staying in the best hotels and being treated to the best money could buy. It was wonderful, that is assuming, of course, you were one of the one’s who could afford it.
Those days are LONG gone and now anyone with a small nest egg of cash and an once of smarts can get to know Europe as up close and personal as the wealthy. All you have to do is strap a backpack on your back and go where the European winds (and your feet) take you. Not only can backpacking across Europe be a lot cheaper than being a tourist it also can be so much fun and really introduce you to different cultures and amazing, friendly people you never would have experienced otherwise. And the big plus is it makes for some really cool stories for years to come!
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to know where you’re going in Europe beforehand. Actually, one of the greatest joys of backpacking across the continent is going from train station to train station and deciding right then and there where you want to go. With that being said you will need to have an idea of when you’ll be traveling and for how long.
When to travel
Most backpackers travel in the summer when the weather in Europe is very pleasant and everything is open including site’s to see and hostels. Hostels will become an important friend on you trip through Europe and they are surprisingly cheap in some cases. There are many websites out there for people to utilize before they trek out on foot including www.bugeurope.com and www.hospitalityclub.org where you can actually find people willing to let you crash on their couches while you make your journey.
That said though, hostels can be a problem getting into during the summer because, as you guessed it, there are other people out there too who know the secrets to getting around Europe cheap. Winter is also a very good time to try trekking across Europe because the weather is cooler and there will be less people. The downside to traveling in the winter months though is many hostels are seasonal and most museums operate under shorter hours from around September through May. Some smaller ones may be closed altogether. But the things that are open will be more inclined to offer discounted rates to tourist sites, museums and hostels.
I would recommend checking all the particulars before you go and would recommend picking up the latest edition of a budget travel book, which can be found online or in most places across Europe. Three of the biggest sellers are Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, and Rough Guide. They will give you information you could possibly need on all the tourist attractions of every major and some minor cities, as well as accommodation information and food and market recommendations.
The length of stay in Europe is completely up to you but I would recommend taking a short trip of say 4-5 weeks if it’s your first time and want to get a feel for things. But again, how long you stay is completely up to you. Just remember the longer you stay the more money you will need to come up with.
You can actually travel very cheap with some of the airlines in Europe such as www.easyjet.com, who have extremely cheap flights all over Europe and the UK with advance booking. My husband when he was living in England would use this airline frequently to make trips from England to Italy, France and Germany, and sometimes for less then $30 a flight. This can come in very handy when you have a budget to think about.
Another way to get around is the rail way, which will often times have sleeper cars for passengers to use. Sites such as www.railpass.com can offer discounted tickets for many railways across Europe. It’s is best to get a multi city pass which allows you to pay up front for on and off travel. And some places will allow you to choose the cities you want to get off and on at if you already have an idea of where you want to go and what you want to see. Keep in mind though that some rail lines may need to be booked far in advance due to their popularity, especially the rail ways through Italy and it is not uncommon to find yourself standing for 3+ hours if you got in too late.
Also with train travel keep in mind that some countries, like Italy again, can charge a supplement whenever they feel like it. These prices can range from €1.00 to €6.00 and you will need to get your tickets stamped in red to show you paid it. My husband was traveling through Germany and was forced to pay not only the 5 German Marks but an additional 10 Marks for not having stamped in the first place.
Hitchhiking can be one of the cheapest ways around Europe and also one of the most dangerous. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I would recommend taking extreme caution if you plan to do this at all.
Taking a tour bus with a reputable company can be easy and fun while being informative at the same time. Sites such as www.busabout.com offer many cheap fares as an alternative to riding the railways across Europe.
What to bring
Your passport will become one of the most important tools you will have to make it across Europe. Just remember though that some places in Europe require passports not be expiring in the next 6 months or else they will not let you in and that means even if it’s for only a few days.
Make sure you are up to date with all laws and requirements for the countries you plan to visit and that you are up to date with any required shots or medicines you might need.
Be practical about the clothes you carry with you, remember you can stop and wash your clothes if you need to. You should also take into account any sudden changes in weather for the time of year you are going and plan your clothing appropriately. Remember, you will be living out of your backpack while on this trip and that may even mean sleeping outside on some occasions, so be prepared.
Here is a list of the most essential items you will need:
A camping backpack (that has proper back support)
A sleeping bag (this is optional depending on your mode of accommodations)
A sleeping mat (also optional)
A Tent (also optional)
A jacket (recommended for winter use unless otherwise noted)
A sweater (lightweight for the summer)
Pants (possibly pants that become shorts)
Money belt (for your important stuff like money, passports, etc.)
Combination lock (also optional)
A passport (kept in a secure place)
A pair of boot type shoes
A pair of open-toed shoes for the summer
Army Knife (with at least scissors and corkscrew)
Plastic bags (in case something gets wet)
Do your homework ahead of time on how much money you should be taking with you. You want to be careful with your money but you also want to be prepared for any emergency or unforeseen circumstance that may come up. A smart choice would be to use credit cards and travelers checks you can get insured if they happen to be lost or stolen. But be prepared to spend around $4500-$5000 for the whole trip which will mostly go to transportation passes and airfare if you pay higher then you would through a discount airline. You might spend anywhere for $30-$40 a day, and that is at the most extreme cheapest.
Remember to get travel insurance, because you never really know when you might need it, seriously.
But above all remember to have as much fun as possible and be safe out there and you will find yourself on the most enjoyable adventure of a lifetime.