My college roommate and I just took the trip of a lifetime: 20 cities, 10 countries, 1 backpack (each) in 23 days. Here are some things we learned. Apply them as you will:
1. Be a more open version of yourself.
If you want to backpack then, trust me, you will have to ease up on the self-judgment and concern about what others will think. You won’t ever see these people again anyway (except the beautiful British future husband you meet, obviously. But he’ll love you unconditionally so it’s all good.) You’re going to smell a little more than usual, build an intimate connection with that t-shirt you wear 9 times, and you’ll have to be resourceful. If you’re traveling with someone else, make sure they can accept this about you too.
2. Be creative.
For example, when I lost my travel towel, did I spend the three Euros it would’ve cost at our hostel to rent a towel? Heck no! Do you know how many gelatos that would buy? Priorities, y’all. Instead, I figured it was 98 degrees at night anyway – I could probably get by with using my top sheet as a drying mechanism. We also found that a fitted sheet makes a great beach blanket for two. Do people look at you strangely? Yes. Does it matter? See point No. 1.
3. Laugh it off.
You will get lost. You will get ripped off. You will be borderline anxiety/nervous/mental breakdown status. But when you’re sitting there, crying at the bus stop in the outskirts of Amsterdam with everything you’ve brought, no cell reception, and no idea how the hell to pronounce ‘Haarlemmermeer,’ much less how to find your way there, take a second to consider what a great story it will make. You will find your way home, always.
4. Invest in great footwear.
Not Crocs. I just feel that one should always lead with that. I splurged on some cushioned, arch-support, leather sandals for my trip and broke them in. You don’t have to go Velcro-orthopedic style (unless you want to; we discussed the practicality/style ratio many times as we stomped the cobblestones), but make sure they’re supportive. Sometimes people (not me, just speaking hypothetically, of course) lose their maps and you have to just wander all day, seeing the sites without knowing exactly what they are. Big, fancy building? Probably should take a picture in front of it (that’s a free pro tip for ya). We hit 15 miles in Berlin one day. Flip-flops are not going to cut it.
5. There is never enough Wi-Fi.
Ever. But take it as a sign to just enjoy the scenery and take advantage of the #latergram tag. Upload away when you’re huddled in the stairwell of your hostel, standing on your head, dipping the second toe on your left food in sheep’s blood, because sometimes that’s your only hope for Internet access. It’s some voodoo, I tell ya, but your mom and grandma and second cousin Earl will appreciate it, because clearly everyone is living out their dream vacations through you. So use it when ya got it! C’est la vie when ya don’t.
Don’t think of this as a contradiction to No. 1, but rather a continuance – nay, a favor – to those mentioned at the end of No. 5. The people you love (and the people who make the mistake of coming over right after you spend a small fortune on photo prints) want to see pictures and it’s just a human kindness to appear presentable; not to mention, you never know who you’ll meet along the way. Leave them wondering how you possibly look so immaculate when you lived out of a 2′x1′ backpack for a month. Baby powder is your new best friend – it’s no longer your dog, your BFF, or your significant other. No. It’s baby powder. That God-send will get you through greasy hair, smelly shoes, and mystery purse odors. Playing a strong mistress to your love affair with baby powder are body wipes. Your traveling companions and acquaintances will thank you. Mix and match – yes I did wear that white t-shirt 8 times, but did you see where I wore it with a skirt? And then with pants? And is that a scarf?! Bring mixable basics and it’s like you have your whole closet. Well, not really, but your delirious traveling self might be convinced. And your mom will be proud of your practicality. Sunscreen. Nobody wants to look at your lobster skin, and no one wants to sit next to the person whose skin is peeling off on the train. Plus, a 25-pound backpack on sunburned shoulders is less than enjoyable.
When I say that my main motivator for traveling (and for life, let’s be real), is the food experience, know that I mean it. However, it does add up quickly. Take advantage of free continental breakfasts; we assumed it was fine to grab an extra five or six croissants and/or Nutella packets to stuff in our bag and eat while we gawked at 3,000 year old busts of poets and dead guys. Also, grocery stores in Europe are, for the most part, fantastically inexpensive, especially if you indulge in regional specialties. Buy the mozzarella balls for one Euro, because that is not going to happen in the States. Watching our hostel owner, Giacomo, in Venice, cook (I kid you not) a legitimate steak dinner on a hot plate inspired us to make some stir fry. We also learned how to open a can of tuna without a can opener. Spoiler alert: it takes about 25 minutes and you will reek of tuna water, BUT WE OPENED IT, DAMMIT. So, if you can, cook yourself at least one meal a day. Then splurge on the other two. Win-win!