I recently returned from a month of backpacking through Europe. It was, without a doubt, the best month of my life. Like everyone who goes travelling, I met some amazing people, saw some beautiful places and did some really great things. Whilst I’m on this pretentious vibe, I’ll continue by giving you the best 5 pieces of advice I can. Please note the following advice is neither revolutionary, nor cutting-edge. However, it is practical. Don’t be that person that brushes practical advice under the rug!
1. Bring a Waterproof Jacket
I’m not exaggerating when I say 90% of my childhood memories are of my mother telling me when it was and wasn’t going to rain; and more importantly, when I’d be needing a waterproof. Surely this would indoctrinate a certain level of common sense and metrological foresight to my adult life? Right?! Wrong.
Needless to say, I a) never even packed a waterproof, and b) failed to check the weather forecast on any of the days I was away. Big mistake. You don’t want to be spending days in a soggy, overstretched vest top; nor do you want to know what damp clothes smell and look like when they’ve been scrunched in the bottom of your backpack for weeks.
My advice: Yeah, we know waterproof jackets have never done anyone any favours, but it’s still a better alternative than walking around with the faint waft of damp wherever you go.
2. Earplugs. Invest while you still can.
If, like me, you’re poor as fuck and travelling on a tight budget then I imagine you’ll be staying in hostels and campsites. Whilst these are great ways to meet other travellers, they are also a great place to give yourself a taste of what insomnia feels like. The biggest dormitory I stayed in housed 36 people. THIRTY SIX. If you’re a light sleeper like myself, then prepare to spend many a sleepless night listening to the unzipping of rucksacks and the openings and shuttings of creaky doors at all hours of the night. Just when you think all is finally quiet and there’s a chance you might actually drift off to sleep, don’t be surprised when your dorm door slams open at 3am and hits your bed frame, scaring the living shit out of you.
My advice: Bring earplugs if you want any chance of more than 3 hours sleep. Failing that, be prepared to invest heavily in coffee.
3. Wear a money belt.
Despite the fact I lack any form of style or dress sense, even I rolled my eyes when my mother wheeled out her beast of a money belt from the 80s and suggested I take it to Europe with me. It was a garish shade of green and would certainly deter any pickpocket who wasn’t severely colour-blind. In all honesty, the only reason I agreed to take it with me was so I wouldn’t offend my mother, but MY GOD, it was the best decision I made. I witnessed three robberies in Italy alone, and being the gormless tourist that I am, that could easily have been me!
My advice: Money. Passport. Phone. Keep them near at all times. Even if it means looking like a schmuck.
4. Flip Flops.
There is no combination of words I can string together that can accurately describe the colour of some of the bathroom floors I used when I was travelling. My justification for not packing flip flops was simply, “I’m not going to a beach. I don’t need them hogging valuable space in my bag. Also, they are SO impractical for travelling.” Yeah. I take that back. Whilst indeed not ideal for the sheer amount of walking I did, they would have saved me a lot of disgust when it came to the shower situations.
My advice: Unless you’re not perturbed by stepping barefoot on suspicious stains and substances on bathroom tiles, I would strongly advise bringing flip flops.
5. Free walking tours. Do them.
Most hostels we visited had pamphlets and information about what to visit in the city but some offered free walking tours run by local tour companies. I don’t want to sound like a pompous knob here, but they really are the best way to see the area. My favourite tour guide was Tony – a 5ft, Greek, beer garden enthusiast who sauntered round Prague for the best part of 4 hours, waving a Disney umbrella overhead to point to each sight. He described the infamous astronomical clock in the centre of Prague as “the biggest let-down in Eastern Europe” and told us he would compensate by taking us to a strip-club, that was formerly a church. What a guy.
My advice: These tours are funded by tips so they suit all budgets and I would HIGHLY advise you look out for them. Just make sure you take some comfy shoes and/or a hefty supply of blister plasters.
So, there we go. I may have bored you senseless. But this is the best PRACTICAL advice I feel I can give. Take it or leave it.