‘Walk, Don’t Run’ and 6 Other Tips for Backpacking Through Europe
With fall about to kick into high gear, we wanderlusters are already planning next spring & summer’s adventures. As with most Americans, Europe is high on the list for travel destinations–it’s easily accessible from the US and, once there, it is simple to hop from one country to the next. And because Europe is a continent best seen crossing borders by land (or underwater depending on where you are), we suggest you do your traveling the old-fashioned way: with a backpack, a map, and boundless curiosity. Yes, we’re talking about backpacking through Europe. But, before you book your tickets, there are a few key things to consider in both planning and partaking in your journey.
Before You Go
- Create a basic itinerary, then loosely follow it: Of course, it’s important to have major dates and time mapped in cities, but don’t hold yourself to every stop. The best memories are the unplanned ones, and, with Europe being Europe, there are bound to be plenty of missed trains, delayed flights, and overbooked hostels. Sometimes you just have to go with it.
- Get a great backpack: The debate will go on between wheeled vs. non-wheeled, but my Osprey Farpoint 55 was a nearly perfect travel companion–and it took a beating between the deserts of Israel and the Scottish Highlands. It returned unscathed and is now my bag for almost every trip (Stateside or International). Take the time to have a professional size you for a backpack and think about your needs. Comfort and necessities are different for everyone.
- Take copies of important documents: Passports, credit cards, etc. Trust me, you’ll be happy to have these should some nice person “borrow” your bag at the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Once You’re There
- Walk, don’t run: The beauty of Europe is that most countries have a great public transit and train system. The downfall is what you miss as it passes by your window. Some of the best gems are tucked away in neighborhoods between transit stops (whether train or bus). I averaged 12 miles a day and loved each one (which means great walking shoes or boots like these are essential).
- If you’re in a social lodging situation, be social: Some of the places I stayed also offered the best activities. Most hostels worth your coin, like this nice spot in Edinburgh, have pub crawls at least a couple of times a week and many are incorporating their own (sometimes free) walking tours into their programs, meaning the aforementioned note about footwear is doubly important.
- Use Common Sense: Practice all of the same safety tips you would at home. Don’t walk alone at night (walking in groups, regardless of time of day, is more fun anyway). NEVER flash cash in public and only take the cards/cash you’ll need for the day. Again, common sense, but always worth reminding.
- Unplug: I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t have to, don’t get a European phone plan and bring a separate small digital camera (this one went with me to the Euros, fell down six rows of seats, suffered a huge dent and still works like a dream). Being disconnected allows you to appreciate the literal history you’re walking through at every turn. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time to make your friends jealous over Instagram with all the #TBT’s once you get back.
Last, But Not Least
- Only bring things that you don’t mind losing, breaking, disappearing, etc: I know you want to show off your Jordans, but your shoes are so nice that someone may, ahem, “want” them too and one night they’ll walk away. Invest in quality luggage locks like these and keep anything valuable locked up when you’re not using it. Those locks also work on hostel lockers, so it’s a win-win.
- Keep a journal: I had read about this from a prior traveler and fortunately took the advice. Get the cheapest, sturdiest notebook you can find and write as you travel. It’s the coolest souvenir and will help you remember those fuzzy nights and fuzzier mornings years down the road.