Are you planning a big European adventure in 2022? The beautiful continent has so much to offer backpackers with every single country being miles different from one another. From the medieval villages of the Czech Republic, quaint coastline towns in Greece, lush green countryside in Scotland to big bustling capital cities such as London and Paris, it’s no wonder backpacking in Europe is so popular and culturally diverse. Not only are many of Europe’s cities budget-friendly, they’re also big on partying, food, architecture, art and culture. Before you take the trip, here are our top tips for backpacking Europe. It will make your life so much easier…
Need a hostel in Europe? Check out St Christopher’s Inns
TAKE A BACKPACK, NOT A SUITCASE
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when travelling Europe is taking a suitcase. A travel backpack is a great investment and will make things a lot easier for you on your trip compared to a suitcase. Europe’s cities are full of narrow cobbled streets, uphill walks and stairs (especially in train/metro stations) - so it will be a pain to drag your case around everywhere. It’s especially annoying when there are crowds of people and you & your suitcase have to battle through, hoping nobody trips over it. Just carry a backpack on your back and it solves everything!
Plus, how can you call yourself a backpacker without a backpack?
CHOOSE YOUR ROUTE WISELY
Choosing the cities you want to visit and in what order is the most exciting part of travel planning. Whether sunny Rome has always been on your bucket list or exploring the Netherlands is a dream of yours, the route has to make sense geographically. When doing this, just remember that you want to make your life on the road as easy and as logical as possible.
Get a map out and see what cities border one another.
Decide on the order based on how to get to each place. Is there an Interrail train available that goes through several countries? Or would you have to catch a night bus? Or maybe you need to plan some internal flights? Which city would make sense to do first? And which is best to do last? How many cities do you want to fit in and how much time do you have? You need to take all of these things into consideration when choosing your European travel route. With the Interrail global pass, you have access to 21 different countries in Europe and 40,000 destinations.
ORGANISE A GROUP MONEY KITTY
If you’re travelling with a group of friends, a kitty can make things a whole lot easier and avoid any petty “you all owe me €1.22” demands. A kitty is a pot or purse that everyone puts an equal amount of money into each day/each week so that group purchases can be done without a fuss. If someone goes off to buy the group some pre-drinks or picnic food, they can simply use the kitty. Or if your group could do with an extra power adapter, then the kitty is there to eliminate the money-splitting stress. By the end of your trip, whatever money you might have left over could be put towards a bottle of wine with dinner as an end-of-trip treat.
BOOK YOUR TRAINS IN ADVANCE
Especially if you’re travelling during the peak summer season, and you’ve created a route around Europe that you’d really like to stick to, booking your trains in advance is a must. As soon as you have your route mapped out and you’ve decided how long you’d like to spend in each place, get online and start looking at your cross-country travel or you could be disappointed. The Interrail passes are great as they let you travel from country to country without any extra cost (on most trains but not all), but you still need to book yourself a seat! Trust us, European trains get filled up pretty quickly…
BOOK CENTRALLY LOCATED HOSTELS
Every backpacker desires a central city location to base themselves so that they can get to the main sights and attractions easily. Accommodation in the centre of a big European city can be a little on the pricey side compared to a hostel on the outskirts, but it will save you a load of euros later when you pay less for travel to and from the city. If you can navigate around a lot of the city by foot or bike, you know you’re onto a winner. Research is key when booking hostels so open up Google Maps and start working out how close/far you’ll be from all of the action. St Christopher’s Inns hostels are located in the heart of some of Europe’s biggest backpacker cities including London, Barcelona, Berlin, Bruges, Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and more.
Top tip: If a hostel seems extremely cheap online, make sure you check its exact location because a lot of the time, it’s that cheap for a reason. The reason usually being that the hostel is far out from the city centre.
TRAVEL WITH LIKE-MINDED BACKPACKING BUDDIES
Nothing beats travelling with friends when you’re all on the exact same page. You don’t want to be backpacking with someone who just wants to party all day and night long when you want to be out exploring by 8 am - this sort of travel partnership doesn’t usually end well. Before committing to booking a long-term trip think and consider how well you’ll compliment each other once you’re actually out there. Will you both want to be doing similar things? If not, will you both be happy to compromise? This will be one of the best times of your life, and time and money while travelling is precious. Don’t taint it by choosing the wrong people to go with!
DON’T OVER PLAN
You might be one of those people that likes to plan to the T, but don’t go too overboard before you get there. Leave the daily itinerary planning for when you get to your destination as you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll feel like doing on the day. You don’t want to give yourself too much to do in the day and make yourself all run-down for the evenings. And you don’t want to make your days too structured in case you get invited elsewhere with someone you meet from the hostel - can’t say no to that!
OR UNDER PLAN…
Be spontaneous but don’t be lazy. You should always make a brief travel plan so you have a rough idea of what you want to do/how to get around/timings/locations - you get the point. But as we said above, don’t over-plan. Under planning is also a big no-no. You don’t want the holiday from hell just because you forgot to do your research and visited the dodgy area that all travel guides say to avoid...
Plus - there’s nothing worse than landing in a new city and then having a lack of knowledge of local customs, traditions, common courtesy and famous things to do.
USE A PACKING LIST
Have a look at what the temperatures are going to be like for the time of year you plan to travel and use a packing list to help you fill your backpack accordingly. Check out this list of to really make sure you don’t forget anything crucial. But remember, you’re travelling Europe! You can buy pretty much anything and everything from whatever city you’re heading to so don’t let packing be your biggest stress.
STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
This is your time to spread those wings and step out of your comfort zone. When you’re exploring Europe, do things that you never thought you would. Whether it’s becoming more adventurous with food, braving a skydive in Switzerland or even letting your wall down and talking to new people in the hostel, everyone’s comfort zone will be different. But stepping out of it will make you feel accomplished and on top of the world. Sometimes, the best memories are made because backpackers throw themselves into things that may scare them a bit. Even if it’s gobbling down frogs legs in France.
During your travels, you’ll have the opportunity to meet both locals and other backpackers constantly. Whether it’s in your hostel dorm room or while chilling in a park, talk to them and take note of the places they’ve already ticked off and can set you up with cool recommendations. Someone may be doing a similar route to yours just the opposite way round, so make sure to swap tips and give them the low-down on the best things to do, where to stay and some of the delicious food spots you’ve discovered on your way through Europe. You might even make a few good friends out of it!
In any city, you go to, be wary of pickpocketers. Make sure your bag is zipped up, keep valuables in a hostel locker and don’t wear expensive jewellery out and about. While most of this is common sense, you’d be surprised how many times belongings get stolen from tourists. Generally, Europe is a very safe place but if you ever sense danger, trust your gut. Trusting your gut goes a long way when travelling - especially if you’re alone.
SET YOURSELF A DAILY BUDGET
A backpacker’s budget isn’t a hefty one so budgeting is extremely important. Research online how much different things tend to be from city to city and note it down until you come up with a rough daily budget for each place you visit, as some countries are obviously more expensive than others, especially in Europe. London, for example, is much more expensive than Prague, so you don’t want the same daily budget for both these cities - that wouldn’t make any sense. Often, sticking to the city’s cheap eats, foodie markets and street food is a cheaper alternative to dining in restaurants. Come up with a logical money plan so you know exactly where you stand with your finances and you know where you can go a little more crazy (or not)!
Although deciding on a route is a good idea before you set off on a European adventure, be sure to keep your options flexible as plans could easily change. This could be for countless different reasons, from meeting someone cool who you’d like to carry on travelling with, to the weather meaning plans need to be postponed. Just stay open-minded, try to stick to free cancellation bookings and maybe even delay booking your return flight home… You never know how you might feel at the end of your trip!
STAY IN ONE CITY FOR LONG ENOUGH TO EXPERIENCE IT
One thing backpackers do all too often try to fit in too many cities in too little time. Do your research and figure out how long you think you’ll want to spend in each place and bare in mind that some European cities have far more ground to cover than others. For example, you’ll probably want to spend more time in Berlin than in say Bruges, as the German capital is miles bigger with way more time-consuming things to do. So depending on the size of the city, make sure you set enough days aside to be able to do all the things you wanted to do and more, without feeling like you had to rush through it all. An incredible part of travelling is getting to know new cities beyond just what tourists tend to see, so give yourself enough time to do so.