What you do at home before heading to Europe can help make your trip easier, more enjoyable and help reduce your travel costs. By planning your itinerary and booking things like tours, accommodations and transportation before leaving, you might be able to find early booking discounts and possibly find package deals available when booking in advance.
Of course you do not want to look like a tourist while backpacking, but travel guide books are every traveler’s bible. These books include everything from travel tips and tricks, as wells as lists of all accommodations, sights and transportation options. Some of the best guidebooks and online resources to get include In Your Pocket, Spotted by Locals and Unlike.Net. There are also many destination-specific guidebooks sold online and in local bookstores, including Fodor’s, Eyewitness Guides, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves – Europe Through the Back Door.
Creating an itinerary before you leave will help determine where you will be visiting and what areas you will need to book accommodations in. Because there is so much to see in Europe, this could be the most difficult part of your travel planning period. Make a list of things you want to see and do. Depending upon how long your trip will be, you may have to be creative in your planning to ensure you get to do everything you want. If you have more time to explore, leave some open time in your itinerary so you can go with the flow and see where the day takes you.
Even a little bit of planning helps you reduce time wasted finding accommodations, looking for a ride and navigating your way through a new city. Even if you want to just go where the day takes you, at least make minimal preparations by booking a room and downloading maps to review before departing. To have enough time to explore, give yourself at least three days for larger cities and one to two days for the smaller ones.
Passports And Visas
Traveling to Europe will require you to have an updated and current passport book. If you do not have a passport, allow four to six weeks for it to be processed. Expedited services are available for an additional fee and will take approximately two to three weeks.
A visa is not always required to travel through Europe and most Americans can visit the United Kingdom for up to six months without one. Other countries throughout Europe have different travel restrictions regarding different lengths of stay they allow foreigners to travel the country.
Related: How to Get a Travel Visa
Pack light when backpacking through Europe. Everything you bring with you will be carried on your back, so it is important to not pack more than 22 pounds worth of clothing, gear and the backpack. Anything more might put you at risk for carry-on limits for budget airlines and could weigh you down.
Pack outfits that can be mixed and matched and only bring a few shirts and pants. If traveling for several weeks, make plans to do laundry during your trip. Depending upon the weather, you will want to dress in layers, instead of a bulky coat. The layers make it possible to take some clothing off when you get warm and makes it easier for you to move around.
Do not weight your bag down with hairspray, gels and other liquids. Only bring the basics like shampoo/conditioner combo, body soap and toothpaste. Do not forget to pack enough underwear and socks to last between laundry stops.
Shoes are bulky and can take up a lot of room in a backpack. If possible, only bring one pair of comfortable shoes (the ones on your feet). A comfortable pair of hiking or walking shoes are perfect for a backpacking adventure. If you need to pack a second pair, find a pair that is lightweight and can easily be flattened out in your backpack. It might also be a good idea to pack a pair of flip flops with you as your second pair. These can be used when walking around the hostel at night or on a summer day while you are lounging around a park, lake or by a pool.
If you are planning on bringing electronics with you, such as a phone, tablet or camera, you need to pack a power converter. This ensures you are able to charge these items while traveling through Europe. Without it, you many end up with a dead battery in a single day.
Getting To Europe
Try to book your flights to and from Europe at the same airport destination. This will reduce the high fees associated with one-way and open-ended tickets. Do multiple searches comparing different airports in Europe, as well as some larger airports near where you live. It may be necessary to drive over an hour to find an airport that offers more affordable prices on airfare.
If you are looking to save some money on the flight to Europe, consider booking your backpacking adventure during the low season. Low season is generally from mid-November through Easter. Another affordable time to book a flight to Europe is during what is referred to as the “shoulder season.” This season is in between both the low and high season and is generally from mid-September to Late November and from Easter to mid-June. High season is generally between mid-June to August and prices for airfare to Europe can be as high as $1,500 or more.
Once you arrive in Europe, you will need to have a good idea of how you plan to get around. Will you use public transportation, walk, rent a bicycle or take a train? Look into purchasing transportation passes that will give you access to reduced transportation fees because you are buying multiple uses or day passes at the same time. If at all possible, avoid using taxis because they can be expensive and put a huge dent in your backpacking budget.
Train transportation is one of the most exciting ways you get around Europe when traveling long distances between cities. It allows you to sit back, relax and enjoy the countryside as it passes by.
Some smaller airlines also offer short distance, commuter flights. This is a great way to shorten the amount of time you are traveling, but only gives you a view of the countryside from above. This is a great option and should be tried once during your backpacking adventure, mostly because it will give you a different view of Europe and you can see a wider area than you would from land.
Hostels are unique and affordable places to stay when backpacking through Europe. Hostels offer affordable accommodations and inexpensive food options. The only downside is you will be sharing rooms with others, because hostels rent beds, not rooms to guests. There are some hostels that do have private rooms, but there are very few and it is difficult to find availability.
If you want a room to yourself, hotels are available throughout Europe, however, the cost of staying in a hotel can get expensive. Do price comparisons to find an affordable alternative to staying in a hostel.
Another great option when searching for accommodations in Europe is to stay in an apartment or flat. If you plan to stay in an area for an extended time period, this is perfect. You could also make this apartment your base for your backpacking adventures. From there you can travel a half-day away, explore the area and then return to your rental for the night. Check with a rental agency in the area you plan to visit for details and to book your apartment rental.
Dining out three meals a day for your entire adventure can get expensive. However, some restaurants do offer inexpensive meals. As long as you do not eat anywhere fancy, you should be able to eat for about $35 per day. Food costs could be greatly reduced if you make your own meals or pack a lot of PB&Js for your trip.
A lot of attractions throughout Europe are inexpensive and many are free, especially if you stand outside the entrance doors and admire the architecture. Though many of the attractions, such as museums, parks and other historic locations, only charge minimal fees, the more you want to see, the more these admission fees add up. Ask about student and youth discounts to help save some money and make a list prioritizing the attractions and sights you want to see.
Consider looking into guided or self-guided walking tours. Many of the guided walking tours are free, but you do have to tip the guide, while other guided tours average between $10 to $15 per person. These are great ways to see the areas you are visiting without having to pay a lot of money.
The Euro is the most common currency used throughout Europe, but there are still a few remaining countries that continue to use unfamiliar currencies. Do some research for the currency used in the countries you are visiting and make sure you are familiar with the types used and exchange rates.
You will find plenty of ATMs located throughout Europe and most are in English. If you find yourself needing cash, use your debit card, not your credit card, to access cash. Using your credit card will be considered a cash advance and could carry heavy fees and interest. Bring a backup card and keep it in a separate place than your primary card. This ensures you have access to your money should you lose the primary card while traveling.
To avoid carrying cash or needing to go to the ATM, try to use your debit card or credit card for all of your purchases while traveling. However, just make sure when using it, no one takes your card out of your sight. This will reduce the chances of anyone cloning your card.
As you can see, backpacking through Europe can be an exciting adventure. With a little planning, you will save both time and money, leaving more room for excitement, adventure and fun.
Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.