Backpackers and Gap Year

5 Tips for Backpacking Europe

Train station in Holland

Ready to backpack through Europe? It is a flexible, adventurous alternative to a traditional holiday, and a great way to experience local cultures first hand and to get to see what happens around Europe away from the hotels and self-contained resorts. That said, you should keep a few things in mind before you hop on a plane and start your trip. Here are five tips for anyone backpacking Europe.

Pack Smart

Do not worry about packing light, worry about packing smart. For example, do you really need bulky hiking boots when a sturdy, smaller pair of sneakers will do just as well? Remember that whatever you pack you’ll have to lug around for hundreds of miles, so unless it’s critical to your safety or comfort, it might be better to just leave it at home. If you can afford it you can also get a very warm jacket which is waterproof and windproof and which is still very light and compact when folded. Many good camping shops offer brands such as Trepass and Gelert which are popular and tend to be very durable and high quality.

Stick to a Budget

Even free-spirited travellers should keep an eye on their money, because if are do not budget appropriately, your trip might end before you make it halfway across Europe. You do NOT have to literally keep to a daily budget but do try and balance out what you spend per week so that your average weekly spend is on budget. One way to extend your budget or to replace that money you have spent and which are short, is to take on some casual work as you travel. Youth hostels and backpacker hotels are great places to find casual work. Take look at the notice board which you will often find in the reception of kitchen area and offers of work are often listed. Fruit picking, seasonal restaurant and hotel work is often possible. Working in a youth hostel can also sometimes mean free accommodation.

Respect Local Etiquette

Every country has its customs and it’s worth doing research to avoid any embarrassing faux pas. In the Ukraine, for example, it’s considered a vulgar gesture to make a fist with your thumb on the outside. In France, you might offend the locals if you act surprised or disgusted by their “greeting kiss.” Before you backpack through a country, make sure you understand how to conduct yourself according to local etiquette. Many countries also add on a service charge in the restaurants and cafes and arguing over the bill because you did not note that it does say (but in the local language) that a service or table charge will be added on, can be something to avoid. According the the country you are in, tips are often expected but not in all countries. The easiest way as a backpacker is to avoid restaurants and to always like for the “Meal of the Day”. In Barcelona for example look at the cafes and bars and look on the sign boards for “Menu de la dia”. You can get a 3 course meal with one drink for EUR10 for example.

Have a Plan

If you are throwing caution to the wind and letting your feet decide your destination, you should still have a general idea of what you want accomplish with this trip. Backpacking in Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so the last thing you want to do is go home with regrets. Is there anywhere specific you’d like to visit? Any attraction or landmark you’ve always wanted to see, like the Louvre or Windsor Castle? Do take a few hours before the trip to plan the things and places you most want to see and print off some maps (free ones from the Internet) and have an idea of the best routes so that you can try and avoid back tracking and wasting unnecessary train, rail or bus fees. You can change your schedule and plans at any time of course but if you have a rough idea of what you want to do, it will make the trip likely last longer budget wise.

Keep Your Paperwork Close

Never go anywhere without your passport and driver’s license when travelling between countries. If you’re traveling in a country not covered by the European Union’s Schengen laws, make sure your visa is always within arm’s reach in case you’re stopped by local law enforcement. When backpacking, you never know where your trip might take you, so do study in advance the entry requirements for any countries which you potentially might want to visit.

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