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Backpacking Europe Travel Tips
When you're heading for Europe for the first time
If you're backpacking Europe is a great destination, especially for first-time solo travelers.
Imagine this: you've just landed, exhausted, at Heathrow (or Charles de Gaulle or Barajas or Cointrin). After a cramped overnight flight all you have is a dog-eared guidebook you've almost memorized.
What next? Where do you go - the first guest house on the list? You're desperate for a bed and shower after all. Do you take a taxi or the bus? Where was the bus station, anyway?
Wouldn't it be great to have everything ready before you land - at least for the first night?
Backpacking Europe checklist
If your dream is to backpack through Europe, a bit of preparation will save you a lot of hassle once you get there.
Your first stop should be this handy travel checklist: it suggests some of the things you should start thinking about well before you go. And a few more things:
- Don't get stressed about finances by underbudgeting. Here's some good advice to help you budget how much you need to take.
- Get the best prices and have the most fun by choosing your season wisely. High summer in Paris or late autumn in central or northern Europe can be pretty dismal so choose thebest time to visit carefully.
- Where should you stay? Check out budget hostel accommodation and make sure you book if it's the busy high season. Other options: stay with friends, find last-minute deals online, use couch surfing or become ahousesitter and stay for free!
- Don't risk getting turned away at a border:make sure your papers are in order. Have you got an international travel visa if you're going to a country that requires one? What aboutinternational travel vaccinations if you're coming from a country with yellow fever or cholera? And don't forget to photocopy all your papers in case you lose them.
- Don't run out of time by underestimating Europe's size. It's filled with small diverse countries so you'll be able to get around quickly if you plan properly. BUT - it takes time to travel in Europe so don't try to pack in too much or you'll end up not seeing a thing.
- Don't look like a hunchback on the road - you've seen those first-timers who travel weighed down by everything but the kitchen sink. My travel packing list for women will show you how to pack like a pro and take just what you need.
- Worried about feeling alone on the road? Managing travel loneliness is an art, but you'll have to decide whether to travel solo or look for female travel companions or guys to travel with.
- How will you get from A to B on the continent? Backpacking Europe usually means sampling plenty of cheap train travel schemes like the Eurail Pass, travel by bus or even travel on foot if you prefer something slower.
- Not everyone speaks English - so you might want to check out how to learn a language, even if you just learn a few words or phrases. Or why not pick up a phrasebook or one of those handy electronic translators?
- Fit in like a native by learning as much as you can about the cultural etiquette of the countries you'll visit. Each country is different and unique. Take your time - Latvia and Lithuania may be neighbors, but they're as different as the US and Mexico.
- And finally, book your flight! You'll find plenty of very cheap international flights to Europe, especially if you start looking early enough.
Backpacking Europe, Day One
To make the most of backpacking around Europe for the first time, get things ready for that first day on the ground. These backpacking Europe tips will help get you over the early jitters:
- Reserve your first night in a hostel or hotel (or remember the couchsurfing or housesitting options I mentioned?) There are plenty of woman-friendly hostels across the continent. You'll enjoy the comfort and safety of knowing where you're headed when you land.
- If you don't have a room, go straight to the tourist office when you arrive. They usually have room listings, as well as plenty of other useful information. If it's closed... that's when your trusty guidebook comes in handy. Make sure you've marked out a few lodgings just in case (now you see why it's important to book that first night!)
- Get a city map - tourist offices often give or sell these, so no need to spend money buying one ahead of time, especially since your guidebook will probably have at least a basic one.
- Get a subway or bus map, which will usually be available at large stations. Find out about special deals and passes for tourists - the tourist office should be able to tell you about this as well. You'll probably be using a lot of public transport, after all!
Wherever you go, don't forget your travel insurance! I use World Nomads whenever I travel and recommend it if you're under 66 (70 in some countries). If that birthday has come and gone, click here for travel insurance recommendations that cover you at any age.
Travel in Europe
Whatever you're looking for - culture, history, music, fun, romance, food - a backpacking trip through Europe will provide it. Your problem will always be too much to see rather than the other way around.
What exactly is Europe, anyway?
What Europe looks like at night (Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC)
The core of Europe is made up of the 27 countries of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom (which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are the only countries in the region NOT members of the European Union - but that doesn't mean they're not great European destinations!
Depending on your definition, backpacking across Europe could stretch all the way to Russia in the East, Turkey in the Southeast, and North Africa to the South.
While European countries are incredibly different from one another, certain things will still be familiar enough - whether it's traffic lights, fast-food chains or consumer products. You'll never be too far from something you know - if you need it!
Backpacking Europe means you'll always have a wealth of choices. It's one of the most diverse places in the world to travel, whether you're a seasoned backpacker or just starting out on your first dream trip.