Five countries, seven cities, fourteen days. I just lived the quintessential 20-something dream of backpacking across Europe and I don’t even own Chacos. The only time I had ever camped was in my backyard at home, so naturally this adventure was a little out of the ordinary for me. Here’s what I wished someone told me before I hopped on my plane to Poland (yes, Poland. It was really awesome!):
1. Deny it all you want, but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is totally real. You may be standing in the most beautiful place on earth, but without sleep/food/warmth, it might as well be the Walmart from back home. Make sure you have at least two of those basics fulfilled frequently.
2. Basic manners get you a long way. A simple “please” and “thank you” (or “merci” or “grazie”) might just get you an early check in to your hostel, free admission somewhere, or a new friend!
3. Your definition of personal hygiene becomes very flexible and sometimes directly correlated with your finances. Sleeping on the floor of a train station, wearing the same clothes for days on end, using a shirt as a towel…it happens.
4. It’s okay to look like a tourist. News flash, you are. You’ll regret the things you miss out in hopes of looking cool.
5. If you can survive living in a hostel dorm with strangers having sex as you try to sleep, you can pretty much survive anything.
6. Interact with other travelers you see (but probably not the ones currently having hostel sex) even if it’s kind of intimidating. Everyone has really cool stories and even better, first person travel advice about places they’ve visited.
7. Don’t murder anyone. This includes the people you’re traveling with, who will inevitably annoy and frustrate you. Take the chance to get time away from your group, even for just ten minutes. Homicide is just not the answer.
8. Forget about the wifi. Be present. The world is waiting for you to explore–get off Facebook! The people back home will understand. Adventure is out there!
9. Be brave, even if you’re just pretending. Traveling won’t go smoothly all of the time and bad days happen. Weather might ruin plans or something completely unpredictable like a metro strike could set you back a few hours. Pretending that the unknown doesn’t actually scare you usually works, even if just temporarily.
10. Get ready for everyone back home to be jealous of you. You just backpacked across Europe, you badass you.