So in a past blog, I went into crazy depth about WHY you need to travel, so on and so forth and if you didn’t read it, you can check it out here unless you’re already convinced that it’s time to travel:
But anyway, moving on, first things first, congratulations on making the decision that YOU want to travel! Specifically for this series “Eurotrip Tips for the Young Backer”, it will revolve around Europe so if this is a possibility for you, do stick around!
Now, where to begin?
Planning is something that was an extremely crucial asset to my backpacking trip. I may have actually gone overboard. But my philosophy is, it’s better to take the time and inconvenience out of your comfort at home to ensure a safe, organized, and efficient trip rather than be panicking, lost, and in a frenzy in foreign grounds. Like I’ve said before, I met people that actually didn’t plan period and laughed at me and my stuffed folder of receipts and Google Map directions, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is advice, take it or leave it.
Now, let’s get started! First things first, before all, you should consider:
Step 1: Are you Traveling Alone or with Friends?
The reason why I’m putting this out there as number one is because if you’re traveling with friends, you guys should be planning this TOGETHER so everyone has awareness of the itinerary and the weight of the trip isn’t entirely placed on you. The last thing you want is your trip to be spoiled because you end up having to play Mom or Dad for a friend that consistently depends on you or worse, completely conflicts with you. Make sure everyone is on the same page with finances, make sure everyone is communicating, make sure you address this at HOME and are not finding this out at the Eiffel Tower when Bobby needs you to spot him extra Euros for hostels and food for the rest of the trip. Let’s move on.
Step 2: Figure out your Total Budget
Okay now that we have an idea of whether you’re alone or with company, it’s time plan your budget like you learned in high school Econ class…or maybe you didn’t because your high school Econ teacher was the football coach that hopped on the job last minute and let everyone party the whole time instead of doing his job. No worries, I’m here for you!
So! Grab a pen and paper or open a Microsoft Word document. Whatever you prefer. Figure out how much money you have right now that can be used for this trip. All the fundraising, work savings, maybe graduation gift money for you recent grads, yeah all of that, combine it into one number and physically write it out. The grand total you create is your base budget. This will cover EVERYTHING from the plane ticket over and back, transportation within the countries, hostels and hotels, and don’t forget FOOD, LOCAL TRANSPORTATION, AND RECREATION. And this is the point where if you feel like you need to back out and save up a little bit more, that’s fine. It’s better to realize this now then when you’re out of luck scrounging for food and shelter in the streets of Venice.
Personally, I find that writing everything out always helps me to visualize and make sense of all the possibilities that can happen instead of letting everything infinitely get out of control in my mind. I admit, my method is a little too scrupulous and overwhelming so my best recommendation for you when planning this trip is at least make sure that you’re keeping an eye and record on your total budget. Make sure your deducting prices appropriately and accurately from the total budget while planning to ensure that you’re not overspending your limit. Grab a calculator if you have to.
Plan out hypothetical possibilities in terms of destination-wise and financial-wise. If you see a good deal on airfare, transportation, or sleeping accommodations, bookmark it, save it, and write it down.
Unless your traveling for over a month, you want to be absolutely SURE that this trip is finalized from start to finish before booking ANYTHING. Once again, I feel the looks of skepticism from my wanderlust explorers that just hop on a plane and follow the wind, but seriously, I’m just here to ensure as much efficiency and safety as possible. If you want to experience this adventure free of planning, save yourself the read, good luck, and above all, please be safe.
But if you still could use some advice, I’m here for you. Trust me, it’ll be a headache. Grab the Advil. Suck it up. Let’s do this.
Step 3: The Actual Planning of the Euro Trip
So we have a base total to work with. Cool. Now comes the extremely tedious part, which is the actual planning. Don’t get discouraged, stay with me. You’ll be fine. You might pull your hair out, but trust me, it’ll all be worth the discomfort now versus in the latter. Whatever you do, you’ve come this far, don’t you dare stop and say you can’t do this, it’s too overwhelming. Trust yourself. Stick with the program buddy.
And before I forget or if you get tired of reading this blog, if there’s one thing I want you to do is KEEP A FOLDER OF YOUR RECEIPTS. Now. Get a folder. Save the receipts. Keep track of your finances. Okay got that out of the way. Let’s get to it.
Key points to consider:
1. How long are you planning on staying?
Time. Consider time. Did you just take vacation time off of work? Maybe it’s your break from school. Are you seriously planning on catching a red-eye and going to work or class the next day straight off the plane? Class maybe it’s okay to skip, but a professional job, you may want to consider flying in a day or two earlier to recuperate, just a suggestion.
Whatever the case is, figure out your desired and eligible trip length. Is it one week? Two? Three? A month? Six months? Depending on the amount of time you have depends on the possibilities and extent of your trip. For an example, I’ll give my recommendation of how I’d plan a trip depending on these time lengths.
One week = 2-3 cities
Two weeks = 4 cities
Three weeks = 5-7 cities
One month = 7-10 cities
Six months = It’s seriously on you at this point. Good luck and kudos to you.
I give this recommendation because I felt like the most common complaint I heard from other backpackers was:
“We literally just rushed through this city to that city and we didn’t get to enjoy anything, in fact, we’re just really exhausted now.”
With this allotted time frame, I can ensure that you’ll be able to enjoy your time in each city and country and truly take in what each place has to offer. Unless you prefer the thrill of hopping from each city to city without stopping by to smell the roses, by all means, I’m not saying this is “The Universal Backpacker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, so if you feel like you can cover more ground with the risk of missing out on staples of each city, by all means do it. This is just a baseline and a recommendation.
Also keep in mind jet lag will play a toll in your itinerary the first few days, while your mind and body will begin breaking down on the last few days. Definitely put that into consideration.
Another point to bring to your attention. Some places like in Paris, almost all the shops are closed on Sundays. This is crucial when planning around weekends.
2. Research your destination
No I’m not trying to be your History teacher, but seriously. Do some research before heading over. Is there a political rebellion, war, or strike happening in the country you want to go to? Maybe it’s better you save this destination for another time for the sake of your safety and the possibility of getting stuck here due to blocked roads or military reinforcement at the airports. Don’t be ignorant, educate yourself, and if you’re willing to accept the consequences entitled with walking through foreign conflict, be safe.
3. Inbound and Outbound Airfare
This will truly dictate the outcome of your trip in my opinion. If you’re only going for 2 weeks and you’re flying in to Dublin, it’s gonna be tricky to squeeze in Istanbul, Venice, and Budapest. Likewise if you’re flying into Venice with 2 weeks to spare, it’ll be tricky to traverse to London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. But, this is advice, if you’re up to it, go for it! All I’m saying is, if you have limited time, it’d be wise to knock out cities regionally. For an example, combining Western Europe and UK or Eastern Europe with certain areas of Western Europe. If you have more than 3 weeks to spare, don’t even worry about the regional organizing, you’ll be fine.
The actual cost of the airfare is going to be the first and possibly heaviest strike on your grand budget unless you or a relative works for an airline then kudos to you. But if you’re like me, it’s up to you to find the best deal on airfare.
– Consider the seasons
Is it peak season? Is it off season? If you don’t know what this means, read this article:
– One Way Tickets
I thought this was obvious, but I felt like it needed to be said. One-Way tickets are sometimes a lot cheaper than round trip tickets and honestly, a round trip ticket can restrict your movement since you’ll need to relay all the way back to the city you came in from. Keep this in mind when planning your trip. One-Way ticket in to let’s say Paris. One-Way ticket out from let’s say Rome. In that aspect, you won’t have to worry that night in Rome that you have to traverse all the way back to Paris.
– Buy tickets through travel agencies
Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity are a few of the mainstream one’s that come to mind; however if you’re between the ages of 18-26, I can vouch for Sta Travel. They provided me an unbeatable airfare during peak season. Seriously do your best to find out every possibility of searching cities inbound and outbound thoroughly. It’s super tedious. But I would literally sit at my computer for a few hours changing the flight dates, inbound city, outbound city, and through different travel agencies just to find the best deal. And it paid off. It really did. I found a deal through Sta Travel that was exclusively incomparable to anybody else after patience and persistence. It’s very time consuming, it’s very tedious, but it can help shave off a lot of money if you strike gold.
– Research your airlines and understand their rules and regulations
Like I always say, do your research. Seriously. Certain airlines like American Airlines or Ryan Air in Europe are notorious for putting on the hurt with additional fees, making your cheap airfare more expensive than you planned. Look up the rules, fees, and regulations so you come in with a plan instead of ignorantly getting hit with charges. How many bags are you bringing? Hopefully, if you’re reading this, it should be one with the exception of a day pack.
4. Internal Travel (City to City, Country to Country)
Some people vouch for buses since they enjoy a scenic view of Europe. Others enjoy planes because it’s fast and efficient. Luckily for you, traveling within Europe is fairly cheap either means of transportation, it’s up to your fancy.
– Transportation Services
Are you planning on conquering Europe within a month? Grab a Eurail pass. If you’re under 26, you get a discounted price. It’ll save you a lot of money and the Eurail trains are convenient and safe.
Are you planning on doing the UK and parts of Western Europe in 2-3 weeks? Maybe the Eurail pass isn’t the best solution. The UK has it’s own rail system separate called Britrail that does not connect with Eurail. Consider options such as Mega Bus or Ryan Air. These prices rival around 1-20 euros/pounds for a fare depending on when you book it and the demand of passengers. I can vouch for both Mega Bus and Ryan Air. Mega Bus is safe and now, it even covers ground and sea between the UK and certain destinations of Western Europe. Ryan Air, just come with a plan and do your research on their baggage and check-in fees beforehand and you’ll be fine. I feel like Ryan Air deserves a blog of it’s own so maybe I’ll make one in the future for how to take advantage of their unbeatable prices.
– The Night Bus and Train
If you’re traveling via ground transportation, night buses and trains can save you a lot of money on hostel and hotel fees. A 12-hour bus or train ride at night will also allow you to get from city to city without wasting a day. It’s a very plausible and efficient option that I recommend.
5. Sleeping Accommodations
Now where are you going to rest your head for the night? Hostels? Hotels? Airbnb’s? Couch Surfing? Maybe you have a deal with Workaway? Whatever the case is, you better have a plan on where you’re going to be sleeping so you’re not hugging your backpack in a subway station next to a homeless man at four in the morning.
Don’t forget to consider:
Make sure you Google Map where the place is. Sure it may have an unbeatable bargain, but you don’t want to pick a place that’s infamous for robberies or on the outskirts of the city making the city a hassle to get to. Sometimes you need to bite the bullet of a better price for a better location. Research the area. What if this place doesn’t have public transportation near by? Then you’re spending even more money on expensive cab rides. Do your damn research.
– Check-In and Check-Out times/Baggage hold policies
Don’t forget guys, if it’s a hostel or hotel, plan in accordance to check-in/check-out time. The last thing you want to do is get kicked out of your room unexpectedly and be left to wander the city with your huge backpacking bag the entire day until your plane, bus, or train. Some places will be nice enough to allow you to store your baggage behind the counter or in a locker until a certain time, others will simply tell you, “Thank you for staying with us, get out”.
The same goes for checking-in, if you show up hours before the check-in time, you won’t be able to just drop all your belongings and spread out on a bed just yet. Just be aware of the times and policies.
– Where’s the best place to stay?
Honestly that’s up to you. Are you talking about price? Are you talking about luxury?
One thing I can say for sure is hostels are NOT sketchy penthouses for criminals, thugs, and bums. Get that out of your head. I stayed in the cheapest 24-man dorms or 8-man dorms and most of the people staying are college students, recent grads, or other young travelers just like you, with the exception of European businessmen. It’s not jail. I’ll write a blog about hostels in another time, but if there’s one thing I can vouch for hostels other than the price, it’s the community. You’ll never get that community vibe in a hotel, trust me. You’ll make a lot of friends in hostels. Check out Hostel World for good deals and more information on locations and such.
Airbnbs and Couch Surfing were means of accommodations for people I encountered; however I can’t personally vouch for them since I’ve never experienced them, but I thought they were worth mentioning. Some friends of mine told me Airbnb was cheaper than hostels if you’re coming with a partner or a group so that’s something to consider. Couch Surfing is a roulette, I’ve heard not to bank on it unless it’s a last resort because they’re not guaranteed stay; however many people have told me that the people that they’ve housed at were extremely friendly. Once again, I can’t personally vouch because I haven’t done either, but they’re options to consider.
I’ve also heard of Workaway, but once again, I don’t have personal experience from it. From my understanding, you work in a country with a host on farms or in the community and you get a free stay for your labor. I haven’t met anybody personally that has given me feedback as well, but I’ve heard good things about them through online sources if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty while traveling!
6. Local Transportation
Local Transportation is important to keep in mind. How are you going to get from the airport to your place of stay? Does public transportation run late? Does public transportation run on weekends? How much is the cost? Is the city small enough for me to just travel by foot?
Keep these questions in mind. Once you figure out what means of transportation is best, do yourself a HUGE favor and print out the maps NOW. Or as soon as possible. Whether it means screen shotting it on your phone or printing it out or physically writing out the steps, or all of the above, just DO it. This will save you time and terror of being lost when you don’t have access to wi-fi or internet or even your phone at that. Knock all of the local routes out now and make them easily accessible for your sake and benefit. It’s a LOT better than pulling out a HUGE map of the city exposing to pick pocketers that you’re a lost and vulnerable tourist. Trust me.
If you’ve been keeping track of your finances throughout this whole time and creating hypothetical itineraries, whatever is left with the remaining budget should be prioritized towards food above any recreation.
I’ve seen budget backpackers that travel around the world eating Top Ramen, canned food, and McDonald’s. If you can help it, try to avoid the extreme budget backpacker life and have the funds to buy good food from time to time. Seriously, at least for me, good food made a huge difference to my trip. I’m not saying go to the fanciest restaurant in Paris and order everything, but treat yourself to some of the local eats. I remember at one point in the beginning of my trip, I just ate apples the whole day and by the time I splurged on a good meal, I literally felt like crying from happiness. Enjoy yourself. Have a good time. If you need to save more money for it, then do it.
At this point, it’s up to you! Do you like museums? Parks? Restaurants? Cafes? Tour Guides? Bars? Clubs? Whatever the case is, you’ve created your own personalized agenda and itinerary, it’s on you to decide what to do and where to go; this is your trip!
A handful of museums are free in Europe while parks usually don’t require fees. Look up what places require entrance fees and possibly research your happy hours or weekend deals. Some places even give student discounts if you bring your student ID! Whatever money you have left that isn’t prioritized by food, go have fun!
9. Finally, if you haven’t, I’ll say it again, print your receipts, maps, and tickets NOW
I will continue to bug you for this. Do it. Listen to me. Just do it. It’s better to be over prepared. Put it all together in a folder and make sure to keep it safe. If you can’t print out your airline ticket for the outbound flight yet, that’s fine. Print whatever you can. Documents are crucial. That is all.
And that basically concludes the fundamentals for planning your trip. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to Your Homie Omi, I’ll be around with open ears- eyes I suppose.
If you’re going to jump the gun and travel after reading this blog, safe travels my friend, I’d totally grab a beer with you if I could, but I can’t at this current moment, so enjoy for me! Cheers!
If not and you still need more time, no worries, you’ll get there. Be sure to keep an eye out for “Eurotrip Tips for the Young Backpacker: Step 2″ which will cover what to pack. Thanks again for reading and stay tuned!