Travel

Hacks & Pros of Backpacking Through Europe

I love Europe and have had the luxury of visiting many countries on several occasions. I have traveled alone and with family members and each trip was uniquely different. You may visit the same location, but your experiences will always be new and wonderous.

Photo by Ad DeCort/Flickr

There are many ways one can experience Europe. You can take a tour, rent a car and stay at quaint bed and breakfast lodgings, or you can backpack your way through communities, countries or kingdoms. If you are looking for a frugal way to travel and experience as much as you can on a thrifty budget, then backpacking may be the optimal choice. Here are some tips to make your backpacking trek successful and memorable.

Invest in a good backpack

I cannot overstress the importance of a good backpack. You won’t get too far backpacking if you buy a cheap brand. Invest in a quality backpack that has been designed for durability, function, and comfort. It should be lightweight, waterproof, have lots of lockable zippered compartments, sturdy zippers, padded straps and belts, and be front loading. You’re looking at investing a few hundred dollars, but you will be grateful you made this wise decision.

On one of our early Europe trips, we just bought backpacks from a big box outlet instead of an outfitter store. That was a huge mistake and it cost us. The straps of one of our backpacks broke in the airport before we even boarded the plane. We landed in Frankfurt and had to buy a new backpack that was hearty enough to tolerate wear and tear. Not a great way to start a vacation, so thought must be put into purchasing a performance backpack.

Backpacking - deposit

Pack smart and light

There is nothing worse than lugging around a 50+ lb backpack filled with many items that are redundant. You’re all gung-ho when you leave home, but after a week or more, your backpack will become cumbersome. This burden will affect your mood and may even alter your plans.

Women think they have to take all their cosmetics and creature comforts, but most of the time, they won’t use them. There is lots of advice on the web about packing light and smart, but the general rule is to be a minimalist, be versatile and pack for a week. We bought a tube of detergent in Europe and hand-washed our items, but you could also use local laundry mats as well.

backpacking through Venice Italy, canal - pixabay

Best time to travel

It’s no surprise that summer is immensely busy in Europe. Like most locations, summer is the peak season and students and families want to enjoy the nice weather and excursions while traveling. Prices are higher, the crowds are enormous and some countries like Spain are just too hot to visit, so plan your itinerary wisely. We always travel from mid-September onward. The prices drop significantly, the crowds have thinned and the weather is more tempered. It can rain and even snow in October, but most of the time we experienced gorgeous weather.

Freedom

The beauty of backpacking is the uninhibited freedom to go where and when you want. We had a basic itinerary that allowed a lot of fluctuation and wiggle room. On arrival at a new city, town or village, get some local maps and a list of hostels. The first decision should be a place to stay for the evening. Then choose sites you want to explore or just enjoy the ambience of the location and the vibe of the people. Sometimes spontaneous choices end up being the most memorable experiences. You may feel like breezing through some places and lingering in others. Go with your heart.

Croatia - pixabay

Accomodations

There are various accommodations available while in Europe, all reflective on your budget. For backpacking travelers, hostels, Homestays or couch surfing, and camping are the most frugal options. Some places require booking in advance, while others allow you to drop in.

Frankfurt trains - deposit

Transportation

Getting around Europe can be expensive, but the fastest way to travel from country to country is by Eurail. If you wish to see more of one specific country, it would be beneficial to inquire about their local trains, which are a lot cheaper. Or hop on a bus and enjoy the scenery between destinations. There are several companies like Flix Bus Europe or Busabout that cater to frugal travelers.

Mingle and make friends

Of course, caution is always wise, but don’t be afraid to chat with the locals. Many times they’ll share hot spots to visit or inexpensive places to stay or eat. You will most likely meet up with fellow travelers and new friendships that last a lifetime can be made. We made several friends while in Europe and those memories will last forever.

backpacking through Scotland, bagpipes - pixabay

Experience Cultures

The perks of traveling to different countries are experiencing different cultures, customs, and traditions. Visiting museums, exploring medieval castles and other architectural buildings, or enjoying classical music concerts gives us entrance into another countries’ history. You’ll also learn more from these tangible experiences than from reading a book.

Stay on Budget

Plan how much you want to spend each day and stay on budget. Your trip will be miserable if you blow through your cash in the first week. If possible, prepay for some things, like train passes or phone cards before you leave home. Be conscious of all your purchases and only buy what you really need. Buy fresh food at grocery stores, it’s cheaper and you get more for your dollar. Most cities, towns and villages have farmer’s markets. They offer fresh foods for a bargain, so load up when you can. The only downfall is that they’re only open once or twice a week.

Stay Safe

Donning a backpack and camera is a clear message that you are not a local, so you could be a target. Caution should always be used, especially for females traveling alone. Be street-savvy and stay in well-lit areas and make it a habit to be in your lodging at a reasonable hour. Never tell anyone you are traveling alone, even if you are. Lie if you have to and mention your friends are meeting you soon. Secure your electronic devices and keep your backpack locked at all times. Always have a photocopy of your passport and any legal papers in case you lose them or they get stolen. It’s happened to many people. Always stay in touch with family and friends back home and let them know your itinerary before you leave.

Don’t forget

Ever travel to a fabulous place, only to discover you forgot your camera or credit cards? Make a list of things you must bring. Some phone plans allow you to use them internationally, otherwise, you need to purchase a European SIM card. Bring your phone charger, adapters, journal, pen, umbrella, flip-flops, flashlight, extra memory cards for your camera, and any medications you’re taking.

backpacking with a journal

Have fun

Most importantly, have lots of fun backpacking. Go to that beach, climb that mountain, savor a cappuccino in a quaint bistro, do everything that feels like fun. Bring a journal along and pen your experiences. Save ticket stubs and receipts, they’re often the most precious souvenirs. Savor every moment so they seep deep into your soul.

73 Comments

  • Great article. I love to travel, but unfortunately I have not been to Europe yet, but many European countries are on my #BucketList of places I want to visit before I die.
    When I do go, I will keep your hints and tips in mind.

    • Wow! Such helpful tips. Thank you 😊 I’ve never been back packing through Europe. Not sure if I ever will, but this definitely helps.

  • Very informative article! Just the other day my husband and I were talking about how we would like to take a European vacation within the next year or so. I have always wanted to take a tour of the medieval castles.

  • Its looks like so much fun. This is one thing I regret that I didnt do this when I was young. Now I have to walk with a cane & have a ton of medical problems so this is one dream I’ll never have come true.

  • I’ve not back packed but I spent 6 months there and it is most definitely the fondest travel memories of my life. Seen every inch of England and then took the ferry to France and onward to Germany, etc. I forgot a thermometer once and couldnt find one anywhere, traveling with kids I will never make that mistake again.

  • I have nieces who love to travel this way & it does save a lot of money. But it gets much harder to this type of travelling when you get older.

  • When I was much younger I backpacked across most of Canada, but that was many moons ago. I need a hotel room these days. Your posting was very informative, especially the stay safe and stay on budget part.

  • This looks like a wonderful way to explore a new country, and you have some great tips. Too bad for me that my train has left THAT station…. but I will pass it on to the young’uns! 🙂

  • I travel light when travelling , (small suitcase) but I travel during the day with my backpack. I need everything with me, camera, food, storage for souvenirs, water, jacket etc.

  • A good backpack is super-important. If you’re not comfortable, if you have trouble getting around, you won’t be able to enjoy all that there is. I haven’t been to Europe yet…but I think this is definitely the way to do it, especially on a limited budget. All great tips!

  • I always seem to overpack my gear so I appreciate the hacks from pros. I need to learn to streamline to make walking easier on my back.

  • Very informative article for those who wish to vacation this direction. Not my style to live out of a backpack and always be on the go, I prefer a hotel and comfort knowing that I only have e necessities on me while out for the day and can go back to my entire suitcase afterwards.

  • This is definitely for the adventurous spirit. I think even when I was in my early twenties I still would have chosen a hotel . LOL

  • 13 years ago I backpacked Australia and it was amazing, packing light is essential as well as a strong sturdy backpack. I had never considered backpacking Europe but I think if given the chance I would definitely consider backpacking Europe

  • I always carry a backpack when I travel but I know I need to update it because I worry about pickpockets. Thanks for the tips.

  • Thank you for all the great tips. I’m over 60, so I enjoy the creature comforts, but I did have some adventures when I was younger.

  • I have been lucky and travelled part of Europe on a couple of occasions. Backpacking is not in the further for me. Should have done it in my early days.

  • Great article with some wonderfully useful tips. The info about buying and packing the backpack is especially important I think. If you’re not comfortable while you’re lugging your life around with you then the trip could be miserable.

  • I also try to avoid the busy periods when planning to travel. I will definitely keep these in mind for upcoming backpacking trips.

  • Only backpacking I’ve done was in boot camp. 70 pounds in an uncomfortable backpack for 12 miles is no fun.
    Be sure to get a backpack that is comfortable for where ever you decide to go.

  • Staying on budget is so hard. But it certainly is possible if you plan ahead and stick to your budget. It’s worked for us.

  • We only travel with backpacks now – even to regular trips to hotels and cities. It makes it so easy to get around when you don’t have to drag a suitcase around.

  • Traveling is so much fun! When it comes to camping and hiking, a good backpack is so important.
    These are great tips!

  • What a lot of great information. I have noticed over the years about all the different backpacks for travel. If I was only 40 years younger would love to do this

  • This is a well written article. I have a relationship with my backpack and we count on each other. One of the things I remember most about this travelling around Europe is the trains. Coming out of Madrid we met another train and it was gone in a flash. In Zurich there were so many trains that it was a bit overwhelming at first.

  • Well that was fun reading all this. I used to backpack and hike when I was in my 20’s. Never got to Japan like I wanted to, but had fun all the same.

  • This was a great read. I have always wanted to go backpacking in another country, but have never done it. Thank you for the tips and info!

  • I have always wanted to take a European vacation and take a tour of the medieval castles. We wouldn’t be backpacking as my husband has some mobility issues. Good information for those who do.

  • I can’t emphasize the importance of packing smart & light! You might not have your favorite shade of lipstick, but you will won’t be bogged down by unnecessary items & more importantly you’ll live in the moment more.

  • This is a wonderful article. The pictures are gorgeous. I would love to go backpacking in Europe and visit many of the beautiful places.

  • Although I have never backpacked around Europe, it sounds like it would be amazing. My husband will be backpacking in the states this summer. These are definitely some great tips about backpacking, no matter where the location

  • Informative article for those who prefer this way of travel. I like having the modern day amenities at my finger tips and the ability to relax. I kind of regret not backpacking when I was younger, would have enjoyed it.

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