I don’t like guidebooks. They take the fun out of things. I feel the same way about eating at regular intervals and planning dinner in advance. However, there’s nothing wrong with a little planning. Being prepared can help you out of difficult situations. Honestly, though, difficult situations and unexpected events make life exciting. They’re going to make your trip exciting too. Isn’t that why you’re going? In the forefront of your mind is the food, the sights, and the culture you will experience, but I believe that underneath this you’re really backpacking through Europe for the thrill of it.
I was eighteen. My friend and I did six weeks. Sure, people have done more, but my time there changed how I thought, what I expected of life, and who I was. I want to share some of the important lessons I learned about travelling, and I want to keep it simple.
One of my biggest regrets about the trip was bringing a giant 60-litre bag everywhere. This is a common mistake for first-time adventurers. You over-pack thinking you’ll need three pairs of pants, four shirts, four pairs of socks, a tube of sunscreen, sheets sprayed with bug repellent, sunglasses, on and on.
Here’s the thing: you are not camping. You will still be in the civilized world. Forget to bring your sunscreen? You can buy some. Sick of wearing the same two sets of clothes? I’m sure you can find an affordable store.
You don’t need to bring absolutely everything in anticipation that anything can happen while you’re there. If your trip does involve hiking into the mountains or surviving in the wilderness then you’ll need to do some more research and bring enough to live but if you’re just travelling via train or bus between cities, towns, and villages then you should be fine without too much prep.
When you carry your things on your back, you feel the burden of anything unnecessary. Having too much stuff means back pain, not being able to walk long distances, checking baggage, finding storage, and generally just more stress than you need.
For my next trip to Europe, here is what I would bring:
One small backpack, often referred to as a “day pack,” and one purse-size shoulder bag. These bags would be filled with the following (note that the asterisk means the item is optional):
– ID, including passport
– *Camera, if one on phone is not suitable
– One change of clothes besides what I was wearing
– Sweater or jacket
– 5 to 7 pairs of underwear, one can always wash or purchase more
– One extra pair of socks, other on feet
– Toothbrush and toothpaste
– Product for washing hair and cleaning self
– Pair of sandals, while more sturdy shoes would be on my feet
-*Dress or something nice for going out, as I will still be in civilization
-*Limited make-up if I feel I’ll wear it, once again for going out
This is if you want to be prepared. You could hop on a plane to Europe right now with nothing but the clothes on your back, and you’d be fine. Take basics. Don’t over think it.
Besides your passport, one of the most important things of all of these supplies is a map. A map is more helpful than any thick, photo-filled guidebook. My travel companion and I made the mistake of not finding proper maps for the cities and towns we visited, but instead showed up at train stations with directions to our hostel acquired from the web. This did not go well. I’m sure I spent at least a quarter of my travels lost and searching for hostels. Book stores, tourist shops, and the web are all places you can get a good map. Before arriving at your new destination, make sure you have a detailed depiction of it.
Another very handy thing is a smartphone. Most hostels have wifi, meaning you can look up train times and reserve your next hostel in advance. This is essential. Hostels fill up very quickly, and we frequently saw many backpackers without reservations turned away at the door. Though I am against over-planning, I believe that not securing a place to sleep before you arrive qualifies as under-planning. Maybe you like the challenge that this presents, it’s your choice, but I live by the mantra: always, always, always book your bed. Though useful, a smartphone is not necessary for this, as some hostels have computers you can rent and internet cafe’s are everywhere. Portable devices with internet access are always helpful, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.
I did not, however, book all of my hostels in advance of my trip. I met some people who did. They were not having fun. This is definitely over-planning as it means restricting your trip and your freedom. What if you arrive in a place you initially thought you’d spend three days in, love it, and wish to stay a week? You may hear of other destinations from travelers you want to check out, or decide against certain destinations you initially thought you’d visit. All of these things happened to my friend and I during our trip. You won’t know what it’ll feel like until you get there, how often you’ll want to change destinations, or exactly where you’ll go. Allow for flexibility in your itinerary (please don’t actually keep an itinerary) by booking hostels only a few days to a week in advance.
I firmly believe that the best guides are other travelers. Put A Guide to All of the Tourist Attractions Ever down and ask the people you meet for advice. Seasoned travelers will give you honest answers on places, sights, food, and events. It is the people you meet on the way that will be one of the most interesting things about your trip. Take on other travel companions, befriend your hostel roomies, and chat up other backpackers. Trust your gut and rely on your common sense about being safe, but also take some risks. This trip is an adventure, and who you meet and what you learn from them will be more enriching than any museum.
Totally check out museums though, especially weird ones.