Many people dream about one day being able to travel through Europe, but few actually do, so congrats to you for making your dream a reality! You must be feeling a bit like a Taylor Swift song – happy, free, confused, and stressed over all the planning and preparation. That is completely normal.
Lucky for you, in this post, I’m showing you the best way to travel through Europe. We will be covering everything from what to do before your trip to budget tips and packing essentials.
My first trip to Europe was epic but full of rookie mistakes. For starters, I spent way too much money on stupid things. $10,000 to be exact. I’m quite embarrassed about this figure and quickly learned that was a horrible way to go about living a life of travel. At the same time, it was a great trip so no regrets. Fast forward a few years later, my exact trip cost less than half that.
My advice to you is to apply these proven tips and hacks. By doing so, you will make the most of this once in a lifetime experience. Unfortunately, it took me four long trips through Europe and countless disasters to learn the best ways – eventually becoming backpacking Europe master. Learn from my mistakes and get to reading.
Table of Contents
Psst…need some inspiration on where to go? Check out these (ok read them all) popular destinations in Europe for backpackers.
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Misconceptions About Backpacking
Since you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re well aware of the misconceptions about backpacking. This section is more to reiterate back to your friends and family who are nervous or doubtful towards your decision to go and have a great time around Europe.
#1) I watched the movie Hostel, therefore, would NEVER stay in a hostel.
No, hostels are not death traps. Many hostels are nicer than hotels – putting you in central locations for a fraction of the cost.
#2) Backpacking is only for 20-something college kids.
That could not be further from the truth. While the experience changes as you get older, many hostels open their doors to all ages. Adoration 4 Adventures gives insight into backpacking in your 30’s.
#3) Backpacking is expensive
Traveling for weeks on end appears to be a fortune to outsiders, but the reality is, it’s not. The true backpacking style caters to the budget-conscious travelers – hence why it’s most likely associated with young, broke kids. The only way backpacking will be expensive is if you’re dining at restaurants 3 times a day, moving around way too much, and sleeping in nice hotels.
My total cost of backpacking Europe for 1-month in the summer was around $4,000. That total included everything.
Planning Your First Trip Through Europe
These are the things you need to take care of before you depart for Europe.
1. Map Out A Rough Itinerary
Look at a map and map out a rough draft itinerary of where you want to go. It does not have to be too specific, but doing so will help you determine the most practical route. If sticking to a budget is an issue, mapping out a travel course will help you save money on transportation costs. If time is an issue, it will help pick the quickest routes eliminating travel time.
For example, say you are planning a trip through Europe and want to visit London, Copenhagen, and Barcelona. It’s going to cost you more time and money if you were to fly from London to Barcelona to Copenhagen versus Barcelona to Copenhagen to London. The point of mapping out a rough draft itinerary is to help you determine a practical route rather than jumping around wasting time and money. Once you have your itinerary mapped out, set travel alerts to ensure you get the best flight deal.
2. Purchase Travel Essentials
You can surely find similar products abroad, but it’s a pain in the neck. Stores and shopping centers are not like the ones in the U.S. Save yourself the headache and purchase your must-have travel essentials before you depart. Here is a great packing list to get you started.
3. Book Accommodation for the First Destination
It is not necessary to have accommodation booked for the entire trip before you leave, but I recommend having at least the first few days booked. This ensures you’re not frantically running around looking for a place and can instead enjoy your arrival.
Book your future accommodation the day of or a couple of days before once you know your next destination. I use HostelWorld the most. One thing I love about Hostel World is their cancellation policy. They understand the spontaneity lifestyle of backpackers, therefore have a flexible cancellation policy.
If you cancel they allow you the choice to apply those funds towards a different stay anywhere else. Plus an incredibly easy to use App.
4. Learn Standard Customs Beforehand
It never hurts learning some standard customs and cultural norms beforehand. Not only is it respectful but will get you settled into a place easier if you already have some background knowledge. Of course, if you’re ever unsure of something, Ask! You never want to disrespect someone.
5. Make Copies of Your Passport & Credit Cards
You want copies in the event your stuff goes missing. Replacing your passport at an embassy will go much smoother if you have a copy of your passport. Also, don’t forget to call the banks to set travel alerts on your credit cards. Some even let you do it online. No one wants to deal with their card declining in a foreign country.
6. Purchase Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will give you peace of mind knowing that wherever you are in the world, you are covered should anything happen. My favorites are Blue Shield, AIG, and World Nomads.
Best Way to Travel Through Europe
Adopting these tips will help you travel like a pro. I’ve backpacked Europe four times and use these exact methods every single time.
7. Utilize Laundry Services
We all know time is precious. Some people get months to travel while others get weeks. Only if you’re short on time, I recommend paying for cleaning services. Doing this frees up your time otherwise spent at the laundry mat.
You drop off your clothes, head out for the day, then return later to find your clothes clean and folded. So worth the money if time is limited.
8. (App)lify Your Smart Phone
Since I discovered Google Maps offline capability, I refuse to go without it. I can’t recommend this enought. It’s my #1 tip on the best way to travel through Europe for all travalers. Make sure to download the Google Maps app and download cities offline. You must be on WIFI when you download the city, but once downloaded you can utilize that city map offline.
You can also use Google Translate to download languages offline which can come in handy for reading those restaurant menus. Travel Tip: if you’re at a restaurant that has a menu in 5 different languages, RUN for you are in a tourist trap. #itsatrap
9. Invest In A Quality Backpack
I use a duffle bag with backpack straps. The straps tuck away and it’s super lightweight with tons of space. I also use packing cubes. I can’t go on a trip without them. It makes packing and unpacking a piece of cake and helps free up space. These are my top 3 backpacks that are lightweight, spacious, and carry-on approved:
1) The North Face Base Camp Duffel: This large bag comes with removable straps and separate compartments should you wish to keep dirty and clean clothes or wet and dry clothes apart. Its heavy-duty material will keep this bag in good standing for many years to come.
2) The North Face Golden State Duffel: A weather-resistant bag for shorter trips around Europe (i.e. 2-weeks). It comes in more colors which I like and plenty of storage areas. My OCD side loves this bag.
3) Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler: A super-light bag weighing less than 2 pounds. It has plenty of space at an affordable price. It can even be folded up and packed in a larger bag for longer trips.
10. Use Luggage Tags
Use luggage tags to write your name, number, email, phone and address in case your luggage goes missing. Before every departure, I write the address to my first hotel on one side and home address on the back. Luggage tags are not just for flights. There are many buses, ferries, and tours that will require you to store your luggage in a different place than your seat. They are even more crucial if you have a standard black piece of luggage. Luggage tags can help you identify your bag from the rest.
11. Pack Machine Washable Clothes
Depending on your style of travel you could be camping and need to do a quick hand wash, or maybe the nearby laundry mat doesn’t offer dry cleaning. Trust me when I say, you will be immensely happier when you can just throw a load of clothes into the washing machine instead of tracking down a dry cleaner. Please leave the dry clean items at home. Any seasoned backpacker will agree.
In the event you find yourself needing to dress for a special occasion, use that opportunity to do some shopping! There are a ton of stores you have probably never heard of before (i.e. C&A) making it all the more fun to go shopping.
12. Leave the Labels at Home
There is no need to be carrying your brand name purse, accessories, or anything else with you that may attract unwanted attention by pickpockets. Yes, they exist and they are everywhere you are I promise. Instead, carry a crossbody bag that is compact and close to your body.
13. Use Fabric Softeners
After days of being in your luggage clothes can start to feel stiff and not so fresh smelling. A hack I love to do is tuck fabric softeners in my luggage to keep my clothes smelling fresh. They also double serve as a bug repellent. Turns out mosquitos don’t like the smell of fabric softeners.
14. Minimize the Liquids
If you’re only taking a carry on, limit your liquids. Some airports will make you put all liquids in a small plastic bag. Anything that doesn’t fit in the bag will have to be disposed of. It happened to me in Brussels. Unfortunately, this is not the case for every single airport security but best to be safe.
Best Way to Travel Through Europe on a Budget
Travel is possible no matter the budget. I always travel on a tight budget. A few changes here and there will make sure you don’t spend a fortune while leaving enough room in the budget for fun activities. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re missing out due to money.
15. Save on ATM Fees
If you’re traveling with a group, you can easily minimize bank withdrawal fees. How???
Say everyone in your group needs to pull cash out of a local ATM. Rather than everyone getting charged fees up to $20 or more (atm + bank transaction fees), why not have one person withdrawal cash for everyone and split only one fee. Then you can transfer what you owe to that person’s bank account using Venmo or other money transfer tools.
Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. This is a sure way to save money as opposed to using your debit card. Apply for a travel rewards credit card with no foreign transaction fees. You will save and earn points. If you’re backpacking around Europe for weeks, that will earn you tons of points, especially if you get a card with a sweet introductory offer.
16. Set Your Phone to Airplane Mode
Unless you want to purchase a sim card in every city you go to, keep airplane mode on. Most places offer free wifi, so wait until you are in a wifi spot to get online. Download google maps for the cities you plan to visit so you can access it offline. If you are pulling up something important like directions, just screenshot it for reference.
17. Pack Carry-On Only
When it comes to packing for long-distant journeys a strategy is needed. Every item needs to be practical because space is limited. I recommend taking no more than a backpack or carry on luggage. Moving around is easier when you have less stuff to carry, and you will save on checked bag costs when flying.
If you plan to fly around the continent, you will find baggage fees to be extremely expensive and unnecessary. Even more so on trips longer than 2-weeks. If you can, pack everything into a carry-on. Don’t think that’s possible? Think again. Ever since my luggage got lost, I rarely check a bag. Even when I went for over a month. Learn how to pack a carry on for 1 month.
18. Spend More Time in Fewer Places
One of the best ways to travel in Europe is slowly. For some, if not everyone who embarks on a backpacking trip, they set out with the goal to see and do as much as possible. It makes no difference if you have weeks or months of travel planned. All that means is more things to add to the bucket list. Trust me when I say, that method no fun, expensive and exhausting.
To get a well-rounded experience, I recommend spending more time in fewer places. Not only will you save on transportation costs you will learn so much more about the destination. Rather than limiting yourself to just the top things (aka tourist spots), take a few extra days to slow down and get off the beaten path.
19. Get Creative With Accommodation
These days with the help of technology you can easily find cheap accommodation. From Couchsurfing and camping to hostels and shared rooms on Airbnb. I recommend creating an account on Airbnb, Hostelworld, and Couchsurfing. You can check rates before you head to the next destination. If you want to plan, you can even join travel Facebook groups and see if anyone is interested in splitting a room.
Europe will always have a special place in my heart. Every time I visit, I learn something new – from best practices to personal reflection. Travel opens your mind and changes you for the better. That said, I hope you apply these tips and have a wonderful trip.
Looking for more European adventures? Check out these guides:
Have you ever traveled through Europe? What tips worked or didn’t work for you? Share in the comments below!
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