planning your own European backpacking trip
You may be day dreaming about your European backpacking adventure but have no idea how to begin planning a trip. If you're anything like me, planning can be a difficult, complicated, and confusing process. This post will breakdown all the important details you need in order to plan your own European backpacking trip.
Step 1: Length of trip and choosing your destinations:
The beginning stages of planning a trip are probably the most difficult (for me at least). First you should decide how long you want your trip to be and where you hope to go. You need to be realistic about your time frame and the amount of places you want to see during that time. Try and imagine a logical route that you plan to travel in or pinpoint a specific region that is most logical to target. Decide if you would rather spend longer periods of time in fewer places or visit more places for shorter periods. There are so many combinations, destinations, and routes you can take so just do some googling to see what places will best fit what you are looking for! Once you've picked out an estimated length of time and a general route, it's time to book your plane ticket!
Step 2: Purchase a plane ticket. Here's how to find a cheap deal:
Buying a plane ticket is a risky gamble. You can never be certain if you are going to book your plane ticket when it is the cheapest price because prices are constantly fluctuating and there is no guarantee what prices will do. However, there are a few tools that I recommend when purchasing a ticket.
- First I recommend using Kayak.com and google.com/flights when doing your flight research. Looking for the cheapest price requires extensive research and dedication. If you have flexibility in your trip and know roughly the places you want to go, I would recommend just putting in a variety of combinations of cities to see which city is the cheapest. You can also look up a list of the cheapest cities to fly into from the city you plan to fly out of on the internet and see how the prices are with those. It is also extremely helpful if you use flexible dates in searching for a ticket. Flexibility can save you hundreds of dollars depending on the tickets!
- Also, I recommend looking if a multi city flight is a good option for your trip. Sometimes it is best to fly into a certain city and fly out of another because of how you plan your trip.
- Additionally, a useful tool is to enter your "origin" city in kayak where you plan to fly out of and then look at the different "destinations". You can select destinations by continent and then see the cheapest cities to fly into. I also recommend testing a variety of different origins if you have multiple airports near you. Some cities like Fort Lauderdale, Washington D.C. and NYC have super cheap tickets with carriers like Norwegian Airlines which can be awesome if you are near one of those cities. There are probably a variety of other tools out there that can help you search and if you guys have any, please comment and let me know! I'm always on the look out for making this search easier.
- The only other advice I would say is just to check flights every day. Sometimes it is cheapest to book your flight six months in advance but sometimes it turns out to be cheaper a few weeks before. So just stay on the lookout, compare prices, and keep trying different combinations of flights until you find the best one! It's all a gamble.
Step 3: Finding cheap accommodations. Here's how to find places to stay to fit your budget:
There are a variety of cheap and affordable options when looking for accommodations! The best part is, there are ways to accommodate every type of budget so that you can make your backpacking dream a reality.
- Hostels. If you aren't familiar with what hostels are, they are a form of cheap accommodation with dorm style rooms. Sometimes hostels have kitchens where you can cook, a common room for people to meet each other, or even a bar or restaurant inside. If you are really looking to save, cooking your meals in hostels will save you tons so you don't have to eat out every meal (I however love splurging on local restaurants and cuisines!). Also, hostels are great places to meet other young travelers and can provide you with tons of resources like free walking tours, info on events around town, and social gatherings. Hostels are one of the greatest inventions ever because you will leave with so many new friends and lots of memories. You might even decide to travel with some of your new friends or visit them one day from wherever they are from! Prices range from 15-40 Euros typically and can really be cost friendly.
- AirBnB. AirBnB is another one of my favorite tricks to saving money on accommodations. AirBnb is a website where you can rent people's apartment, house, or room. This website is super user friendly and the listings are very reasonably prices! If you are traveling with another person, or friends, it can be super great because costs can be split and reduced. Additionally, through AirBnB you typically meet up with your host to get the key to your apartment or room and they can give you local insight on things to do! It is awesome.
- WWOOF. WWOOFing is a more unconventional option but equally awesome way to save money on accommodations and see the world! WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Basically, you volunteer on an organic farm anywhere around the world (of your choosing) and in return you receive free food and accomodation. All you have to do is sign up on the WWOOF website and contact a host! Not only do you get to stay abroad for free, but you can experience a different and unique way of living. You gain valuable experience in whatever tasks you are doing (from gardening, to olive harvesting, to working on a dairy farm). The options with WWOOFing are endless and exciting! You can stay on farms from periods of 1 week to a few months, just depending on the farm. Maybe you want to stay for a few months or maybe you just want to have a little pit stop from jet setting around the globe. Don't worry though, if farm life isn't for you, thats okay too!
- Family friends & acquaintances. If you have any connection to someone who lives abroad, don't be afraid to use it! People are usually thrilled to show of their town and are equally thrilled open their home to you. So don't forget to try and ask around to see if your family or friends have any connections abroad. This can save so much money!
- Couchsurf. I have never been brave enough to try couchsurfing but I have heard good things about it! Couchsurfing.com is a website where you can find people who are willing to open up their home to you and let you sleep on their floor, couch, or extra bed! Couch surfing is free but be careful! I haven't had any experience with it, so I cannot personally recommend it. If you are thinking about doing it, go read about other people's past experiences to make sure you are taking all the right precautions.
Step 4: Figuring out how you will get from one country or city to the next:
A big question I had while planning my trip was if it was worth it to do the eurailpass or not when going.
- Eurail passes. Eurail passes are a great option especially if it is your first backpacking trip! Though it is not always most cost efficient, it can work out for the better sometimes. Eurail passes come in a variety of different packages. You can buy a one month pass or a certain amount of "travel days" within a month or two. Whichever pass you choose, allows you to use the train systems throughout Europe. Eurail gives you flexibility if you aren't entirely sure where all you plan to go yet because you don't have to worry about buying super expensive last minute train tickets. However, some trains like the high speed trains will require a reservation before you board which means that you will have to pay a 10 or 20 euro fee in order to ride the train and ensure a seat. If you don’t pay the fee and hop on the train you might end up with a ticket of like 20 or 30 euro from the train police. Also, whenever you are at a train station I would always recommend going up to the counter and asking the people for help or advice. They are always so helpful because sometimes the automated ticket machines will charge you differently or not give you all the options available for some reason unknown to me. So always ask the people at the desk. Also, if you are taking long trips, sleeper trains are awesome because you can save money on accommodation for that night and also save tons of time!
- Cheap airlines within Europe. Another option for cheap travel within Europe is through inexpensive airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet. These airlines can have super cheap tickets from one city to the next if you book them in advance. For example a ticket from Athens to London might be $30. However, waiting until the last minute will guarantee prices to double and even triple! So this method is much more cost effective if you book well in advance and have an idea of where you want to go before you arrive.
Step 5: Decide how much of your trip you'd like to plan out in advance (or not plan):
This is answer is entirely up to you! If you have a more flexible budget, you can probably afford to be for everything to be less planned out but even if you are on a tight budget you can still go with the flow and leave everything up to fate. If you are feeling adventurous or even just don't have time to plan--don't worry because everything will work out. It seems scary to hop on a plane without everything mapped out but don't worry because that is all a part of the great adventure. Sometimes its best to feel things out and not have to be restricted to a set plan. This trip is your chance to be a free wandering spirit! Also, by leaving your plans open, you are able to decide if you want to stay in some cities longer than others and not have to worry about moving on too quickly or slowly. It all depends on what you want. There is no wrong way to plan your own trip!
Step 6: Learning a little about the countries you plan to visit:
Learning a little about the country you plan to visit will make your trip far more meaningful. Things to consider are learning about the history, culture, and important details that make this country unique. Try learning important words like "hello", "where is the bathroom", or "how much?" before arriving. Learning key phrases can definitely help you out if you find yourself in a tricky situation. Language barriers can sometimes cause problems but usually, these encounters just turn out to be funny stories so don't worry if your Italian is not up to par.
Step 7: Packing your bag:
The key to packing for your backpacking trip is just to pack LIGHT. As tricky as it seems, it is worth it to pack as little as you possibly can. Don't bring your nicest clothes because you never know what might happen to them. Comfort is key to traveling. You'll need a good pair of walking shoes for sure. Also, don't forget that you can wash your clothes at a laundromat or hostel if you'd like! You will come to find out that less is far more than enough.
Step 8: Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime:
It looks like the bases are covered and you're ready to start planning your trip... Don't forget to utilize tools like the internet and travel guides (Rick Steves, Fodors, etc.) for ideas and other information. So what are you waiting for? Book your flight, pack your bags, and get ready for a whirlwind adventure of a lifetime...