Tips for Backpacking Through Europe

Me and the Meseta

You’ve finally decided to make that dream of backpacking through Europe a reality. As you’ve already discovered, travel plans have to get a bit more specific in order to actually make them happen. Europe is a big continent, backpacking is cheap but not free, and even though it’s a simple way to travel you’ll still have to plan some kind of itinerary.

Secure Your Travel Documents

It seems contradictory to the spirit of backpacking, but you can’t enjoy a free and easy trek through another country without proper documentation. Don’t wait for the last minute to get a passport or visa; it can take six weeks or longer to receive a passport after you’ve applied and applying might take some time if you have to replace a lost or misplaced birth certificate. If you’re planning on staying in Europe for a total of 90 days or more, a Visa may be required. Schengen visas are popular with backpackers, but not all European countries honor them. Do your homework. Be aware that many countries also won’t accept U.S. health insurance, so it’s a good idea to purchase travel medical insurance, like Atlas visitor insurance.

What Will it Cost?

Not everyone’s ideal backpacking trip is the same. Are you going to stay in hostels, cook for yourself and explore the natural wonders of the country or do you plan on enjoying the local cuisine, the hot nightlife and taking in popular tourist attractions? The only way to plan your budget is to be realistic about your wants and needs. Unless you’re an experienced traveler it may be impractical to think you’re going to spend every night of your trip in a hostel and get by on a shoestring.

Costs you must estimate include:

  • Airfare
  • Ground transportation
  • Lodging
  • Food/Drink
  • Entertainment
  • Personal items (you can’t put absolutely everything you need in a pack, some purchases along the way are necessary)
  • Communication, such as a pre-paid cell phone

Other costs may include souvenirs and gifts for friends back home, small emergencies and unexpected opportunities. A thorough and current guide book can help you make the best budget estimates for your destination.

What to Pack?

Obviously you can’t carry six weeks of clothes and personal care items on your back – never mind your personal electronics and other travel necessities.

Here are three easy steps to packing for a long trip:

  1. Pile up everything you think you need or would like to bring.
  2. See how ridiculous that is.
  3. Keep eliminating non-essentials until you have a manageable selection of items.

Two tricks for easier backpack travel include wearing your bulkiest items on the plane, such as your boots or jacket, and keeping all your personal care items in a sturdy zip-lock plastic bag. Also, don’t forget that pair of sandals for wearing in the hostel shower.

Hopefully, your European backpacking trip will be the experience of a lifetime for all the right reasons. Remember that no matter how you travel, being flexible always makes exploring a new destination more fun. Trains are late, reservations get mixed up and possessions get lost – that’s all part of the journey. Don’t let the little things ruin your adventure, and don’t forget that you’re in the middle of an amazing life experience.

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