I recently returned back from a two week jaunt across Europe (you can read about it on my personal blog here) and had a jolly time indeed. However, with any backpacking trip you are bound to encounter problems and dilemmas, so here are my nuggets of wisdom for if you’re planning a similar trip!
1. Plan your trip. This applies especially in peak season. Many travellers that we met had seemed to go on a whim, which, while exciting, ended up very expensive for them, and meant they had to do a lot of planning and booking while they were actually in the countries.
2. Check which trains need to have reservations, and how much they are. If you are planning to travel across Italy and only Italy for example, it may be more economical to just buy train tickets there, as you have to pay €10 reservation on each fast train. Yes you can take a slow train, but they are so, so slo o o ow.
3. Double and triple check what train station you need. My sister heard stories of people arriving at a train station in Budapest, for example, and realising they needed the other one across the city. Most major cities have more than one train station and you need to factor this in with changes. Our train from Florence arrived into Milan Centrale, for example, but our train to Domodossola was Milan Porta Garibaldi.
4. Watch out for last minute platform changes. We were stuck in Malmo in Sweden despite being there early, because of a platform change which was only announced 2 minutes before, in Swedish, which we hadn’t heard. You need to always be on the ball!
5. Mix hostels and hotels up! While the best thing money-wise is to book into hostels and dorms with many people, I do recommend at least once or twice a week when travelling to pay a little extra and have a room to yourself – it can be VERY tiring surrounded by people all the time and it’s always good to have a little wind-down and relax as otherwise you may grow to resent other people and their sleeping habits.
6. Eastern Europe is a lot cheaper than Western Europe. This is just common sense, really, but it was a shock for my sister who had been gallivanting across Hungary and Croatia where everything was very cheap to somewhere like Switzerland where even Mcdonald’s meals were the equivalent of about £10
7. Hotels can sometimes be cheaper than hostels. It’s always handy to check somewhere like Trivago to see if you can get a better deal, or a much nicer room for only €5 more. We stayed in a hotel in Florence which was cheaper and more centrally located than a hostel. You also get 10% off on Meininger hotels with your Interrail pass. We stayed in a four room dorm next to Berlin Hauptbahnhof station, which was quite cheap anyway, but the discount covered my credit card fee.
8. Shop in supermarkets whenever you can – stock up on food for breakfast and snacks for the day, and try to limit restaurant meals to once a day or once every other day. I love going to restaurants, but with all other expenses it’s just unfeasible.
9. Walk EVERYWHERE. It’s the best place to see a city and in most places sights are very close together. I would recommend getting a map and if the city has an interesting transport system to also give that a go too, if it is not too expensive. We went on a water taxi across Basel which was only about £1 and was another interesting view of the city.
10. Spend a few days in places – if you have the time, such as a 30 day pass, I would recommend arriving at a destination, dumping your bags, and then having three or four days exploring the area – and using the train to go to surrounding areas. When we arrived in Florence we dumped our bags and then jaunted off to Pisa for the afternoon, which was much nicer without carrying everything.
11. Travel LIGHT. Don’t bring tents as you probably won’t use them much, or at all. This is the same with bedding as most hostels provide them, and if they don’t, you can buy them for a couple of euros. It may be a bit more on the purse strings but saves a lot of room. You probably don’t need camping gear or kettles. Pack the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities.
12. Bring comfortable shoes – who cares if you’re wearing trainers and they don’t match your outfit? You can always crop them off photos! I would recommend shoes that you can walk in for hours and which aren’t too sweaty, and perhaps a back up pair if you want to carry them. More than 2 pairs (including the one you are wearing) would be a waste of space.
13. Pack a small extra bag which you can put your main stuff in for a day of exploring. ALWAYS carry your passport – never leave them in hostels, not even in safes.
14. Pack many plasters, compeed, deoderant and body spray. Just trust me on that one.