When you begin planning your backpacking trip to Europe, there are four key questions you should ask yourself before beginning those plans:
1) In what country do I want to begin my backpacking trip?
2) When do I want to go?
3) How long do I want to stay?
4) Do I want to travel alone or with a partner?
Once you know the answers to these four questions you can begin seriously planning your wonderful experience backpacking Europe. We hope these backpacking trip planning tips will build your confidence in knowing that you are ready to have the trip of a lifetime.
When you decide the country to be your origination location, keep these things in mind:
This will be your starting point and possibly your ending point. A tip to consider: check into “open jaw” tickets, which allows you to fly into one place and depart from another. This has great advantages for saving time and allowing you to see more of Europe than a loop trip. Also, “open jaw” tickets can actually be less expensive than a round-trip ticket in and out of the same location. Determine where you will be flying into and from where you will be flying out. If you are under 26 years of age, ask your travel agent if there are any youth passes available. Don’t be shy when checking prices. Call or “Google” for the best price available. Also, be reminded that you must show that you have a return ticket when you arrive in Europe. Not having proof of a return ticket could possibly result in your not being allowed to stay.
Are you planning on attending any special event while in Europe? Any special plans to stay with friends or relatives in Europe? If so, you will probably want to set an exact date, i.e., Salzburg Music Festival July 24-26, or staying with friends June 5-8. These should be agenda items that you will need to plan around and that will not be flexible in your schedule.
Now we get to do what we call “dream session”. We suggest you make two lists: 1) the countries that you feel are “must see” (be very picky about the musts); and 2) countries that you hope you have time to see. You should leave room under each country to write down specific cities you have dreamed of seeing. We recommend that you choose a few locations and stay longer at each. A lot of inexperienced backpackers approach their planning as if their trip will be the only time they will ever get to go to Europe. They attempt to see 20 countries in 60 days and find that they did not enjoy the trip at all as they felt too rushed. I wonder why?? There is more to see in Europe than a person could ever see in a lifetime. Why not select a few “must see” countries and really enjoy the experience. For us, our first backpacking trip only included three countries. After the trip we immediately started planning and saving for the next trip as we enjoyed the experience so very much.
Next, under each country write down the cities you want to visit. Now refer to your map to visualize a tour plan to see if it is possible to visit every city you have written down. Be picky and use common sense in making your decisions. Again, we advise to choose only a few and allow time to really see them. To accurately plan this you will need a map.
Now comes the tough part (unless you have unlimited time and money). We do not recommend traveling to a city and staying any less than two days, three or more for larger cities like London, Paris, Vienna, etc. The Eurail is fun, but it is also quite tiring! Trust me on this. You do not want to arrive in a city on Monday and leave on Tuesday, you will wear out and you will miss seeing a lot that the city has to offer.
It is time now to make a rough sketch of your route. If you are arriving and departing from the same city the route of course will be circular. But if you have an “open jaw” ticket, the route should be somewhat straight. Check to make sure there is no “backtracking” in your route.
Decision time again. Will you be using Eurail to these places or flying. We strongly recommend Eurail, as you get to see so much of the countryside, but flying does save a lot of time.
Should you decide on Eurail, the “Eurail Global Pass” is a great choice. With a Eurail Global Pass you not only get unlimited train travel in all of Europe, you will be provided with the ability to see the beauty of Europe the way is was meant to be appreciated. Over the last 10 years the rail system in Europe has been consistently improved for maximum passenger enjoyment.
Now let’s get a calendar and start filling in the days. We suggest that you give yourself enough time at each destination to both enjoy the location and to rest up for the next train trip. We never count our arrival day as a day visiting as you really just arrive, locate your lodging, and get something to eat. Why not just relax the rest of the day (what’s left of it) and be better rested for your first full day of exploration. When you get all your days laid out on your calendar you should recheck your itinerary to be certain that you have given yourself enough time to enjoy each location. Many times we have decided to add more time in some cities and remove others until another trip. You should not try to see every location in such a rush that you do not get to really get to know the city and learn to appreciate its people.
With your calendar completed you may now move on to completing some detail work. When you research lodging locations we have found it best for the budget to shop around for the best deals. Most people will tell you that staying in a hostel is the least expensive way to go. That is not always the case. If there are several people in your group, you can very often find “budget” hotel rooms in a city that is cheaper than staying at a hostel where they have multiple beds. Also, we have found that in the larger cities you will not find lodging cheaper than at a hostel. We enjoy the hostels for more reasons than just saving money. They are frequented by other “travelers” from many different countries. Most are very friendly and it is both fun and educational to “try” to communicate with them. For us English speakers, we have found that many travelers know at least a little English and communication is an adventure and very rewarding.
Once that you are satisfied with your itinerary, we suggest you make a copy to leave with someone who is not going with you. Be sure to include the places where you plan to stay and, if possible, a phone number for your hotel or hostel.
It is my hope that these tips will help you in your planning your next backpacking adventure. If this is to be your first backpacking trip to Europe, get ready to be hooked! It is unlike any adventure you have ever undertaken. I am writing this article while sitting at a desk in our room at Sir Toby’s Hostel in Prague, Czech Republic. My grandson and I are at the mid-point of our backpacking trip. This trip has been by far the most enjoyable of all my backpacking trips taken. Maybe because my grandson and I did all the planning together. We had an unbelievably emotional experience a couple of days ago when we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial. My grandson loves history and he was in tears at the conclusion of the guided tour. He told me he would never forget his experience at Auschwitz. I only say that to emphasize that a backpacking trip can be both fun and educational. It is our wish that when you go on your backpacking trip to Europe that you are rewarded with experiences that you will treasure for a lifetime. Happy Travels!
We would like to encourage you to view our itinerary by visiting our website http://www.backpackingtips101.com. On our website you will also find the resources we used in planning this trip. We have used these resources many times and they have made our planning easier and our enjoyment greater. Go there and pick the items that most apply to your situation. You will be glad you did!