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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ambiance 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.
There are various accommodations available while in Europe, all reflective of 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.
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.
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 country’s 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.
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.
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.
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.