Top 10 Things to Know Before You Travel to Europe

Okay so, I did the top 10 things you should know before your first backpacking adventure, but now I think it is time to get slightly more specific to individual continents. I think I am going to stick with this “top 10 things” idea as it narrows it down to the most important things. Now, I am backing up here to my European adventure about a year and a half ago in August, 2016. Don’t worry, New Zealand and Australia advise to come, but I have a friend about to go on a European Adventure so, Robin, this one is for you!

Now that I got the boring stuff out of the way in my last post, it is time to get onto the fun stuff, actually traveling! So here it is, the top 10 things you must know for your European adventure!

1. DO NOT plan your entire trip, just wing it! Haha, get it? I couldn’t resist given the name of this blog. I know I said this before, but it specifically applies to Europe. Before I left for Europe, I pretty much had my entire trip planned out… I knew exactly the countries that I was planning to go, exactly how many days I would spend in each place and I knew exactly how I was planning to get there. Now, you may ask did I follow my original plan? The answer to that is no. I pretty much only did the first 2 cities on my plan and that was mainly because I was meeting friends in Barcelona and I had to go back to Granada where I studied abroad. I mean it was home for 6 months and I met some of my closest friends there, so of course, I had to go back.

2. Buy an EUrail pass. There is mixed feelings about this pass, but I loved it and I am going to tell you why. First off, the train system in Europe is amazing! You can literally get anywhere on a train. Second, there is so many different types of passes. You can get a 1 month, 2 month, 3 months, 4 month (you get the picture) pass and you can pick how many travel days you would like on it. Here is how it works. You pick the pass you want. For me, I did 1 month and 7 travel days, but pick the one you think would be most beneficial, keeping in mind that you actually want to see the cities you stay in, so I really wouldn’t do any more than 7 travel days per month.

Once you buy it, they will send it to you in the mail and then you can activate it for whatever date you want it to begin. I did not activate mine until I was ready to leave Barcelona (my first city in Europe). Remember, the time starts once you activate it, so do not activate it for the first day you arrive in Europe. Activate it for the day you are planning to leave your first destination. They have an app you can use to look at train times, but for any high speed trains, just know they do require a reservation. You can do this on the app or just go into the train station in each city to book your next leg (that is what I did, as I do better talking to an actual person). There will be a 10 Euro reservation fee every time you book, but again for me that was worth it for the ease of the train pass.

A few other things to know about this pass, it is only available to be used in countries that are part of the EU, so say you buy the 1 month, 7 travel day pass, spend the full month traveling in the EU and once the pass expires then do the other counties outside of the EU. Lastly, do NOT leave the train pass at home by accident as you cannot get it replaced (I know from experience)!

Money I spent getting my EUrail pass sent to me…

3. Meet people! Everyone and I mean almost everyone does Europe as one of their first backpacking adventures and that means people from literally all over the world. However, I swear Australians are taking over the backpacking in Europe, they were everywhere! I met so many amazing people and in addition to it just being amazing to make friends from all over, the connections really do come back to help your future travel endeavours. For example being able to stay with them when you visit their home country, like New Zealand or Australia. Not only do you get a local tour guide, but you also usually get a place to stay reducing your costs. And of course, you will return the favour when they visit your home country. It is this whole amazing backpacker mentality and honestly, it is amazing.

4. Bring a sleeping bag, but no need to bring a tent or camping gear in Europe. It is not necessary and honestly just takes up space. If you end up going on a crazy outdoor adventure in Switzerland or something, just rent the gear, but trust me, you don’t want to be lugging extra crap around. And on that same note of what not to bring, don’t bring a laptop. It is big and bulky and just takes up space. If you have a tablet or iPad, do that instead!

5. Ask people in your hostel travel advise! There is guaranteed to be someone who has already been to the place you are wanting to go to next. AND! If you do not know where you are going next, I can promise you they have ideas. I think one if my most amazing experiences on my trip was Florence, Italy and I would never have gone if the girl sitting next to me at breakfast told me to go. She told me to do this cooking class on a private estate in Tuscany and it was amazing. Words cannot even describe it and I would have never done it if it wasn’t for the girl in the hostel.

6. Party, but not too hard. Europe is a crazy party place and honestly, it is so much fun, but you don’t want to spend the next day so hungover you can’t move. I mean some days, you can, but don’t make it a habit, or the 1, 2, 3, or however many months you are traveling for is going to pass you by and you will regret not seeing all the amazing sights Europe has to offer.

7. Don’t underestimate Eastern Europe. It is not necessarily on the top of everyone’s list, but it is spectacular. I think two of my favourite places in Europe are Prague and Budapest. Also, it is cheap there!

Kutna Hora Bone Church near Prague!

8. The cheapest flights to Europe are in and out of Iceland, and while you’re at it, spend a few days in Iceland!!! It is beautiful. You can use WOW Airlines that depart from either the East Coast or California and fly to Europe very cheaply. But don’t forget to open an incognito window to search your flights, so you get the best possible price. Oh and best way to get around Iceland is to rent a car and if you do that, use Sadcars.

9. This one may or may not be for you, but go by yourself. Yes traveling with friends is fun, but the experience you get in Europe specifically as a solo traveler is an experience that you won’t regret. There is something to be said for doing a trip like this independently and it truly is a unique experience. You meet people and within 10 minutes, it’s like you have known each other for years.

10. Soak up every second of your time there! It goes way too quickly and it truly is one of the best experiences you will ever have in your life.

Up next, tips on traveling New Zealand!

Cheers!

Top 10 Things to Know Before Your First Backpacking Adventure

Okay so this is my first post out of (what I hope to be) many posts offering advise to people wanting to travel and backpack around. I plan to kind of break this up into sections. This first one is just general advise for anyone who wants to travel. This is not limited to a specific continent or region, but it is advise on what every traveler should be aware of before they leave.

So, here it is…
The 10 things every traveler should know before setting off on their adventure:

1. Set A Budget: When you think you have a good amount, multiply it by 2. Seriously. It is easy to do a backpacking trip on a budget, but if you are on too tight a budget, it makes it really hard to do some of the things you really want to do in a city. Yes, you can walk around for free, but do you really want to spend (insert amount of travel months here) just walking around every town/city you go to? The answer is most likely no. You want to adventure and not worry if it will break the bank if you decide at the last minute you want to go sky diving or bungee jumping.

2. Be aware of extra travel fees you may not be thinking about when you set your budget. Plans are almost guaranteed to change! If you change/cancel your buses at the last minute, you may only be reimbursed 50% of your payment and a lot of times if you cancel less than 24 hours in advanced, you will not be reimbursed at all. A good way to avoid this, is always do the flexible booking option if there is one when booking transportation. Yes, you may pay an extra $3.00 upfront, but it is better than losing $60.00. Believe me, I speak from experience. The same goes for hostels… Makes sure to do the flexible booking and be aware of all cancelation policies. Most hostels will make you pay the entire cost of the room if you cancel less than 24 hours with or without flexible booking.

3. International bank fees can get you! Be aware of all international banking fees with your specific bank. For example, mine charges me $5.00 extra any time I make a withdrawal from an ATM and that is on top of the normal $2.00 charge for using an ATM not associated with my account. The best way to avoid this is get a travel card. My suggestion is a Charles Schwab account. I personally do not have any experience with them, as I (regrettably) have just accepted the bank fees in the past. However, I have met so many travelers and had so many friends tell me they are the best for traveling. This one you can do your own research on. If you are in a country for an extended period of time, consider opening a bank account there (more on that in a later post). Sometimes your bank will have options for traveling as well and have ways you can avoid international fees.

4. Do not forget to tell your bank you are traveling. If you decide to forgo a travel card, but forget to tell your bank you are traveling, you may be SOL the first time you try and use your card abroad. I know this one seems obvious, but I do feel the need to put it on this list, as it is a pain to try and contact your bank the second you arrive in a new country and your card is declined. Just save yourself the trouble and tell your bank ahead of time.

5. Get $100 or more (depending on how much you feel comfortable bringing) worth in whatever currency your first destination uses. On the off chance you do tell your bank you are traveling, but your card still gets declined you will be happy you had that cash while you get settled. You do not want to be making a panicked phone call to your bank at the airport after you arrive. Trust me, the only thing you will want to be doing is heading straight for the hostel because I promise you, you will be jet-lagged.

6. Get GOOD travel insurance! This one is huge. I would suggest using World Nomads. You do have to pay upfront for however many months you are traveling for, which can get a little pricey. But it is worth having good coverage if something were to happen. I know this is something no one wants to think about, but shit does happen and trust me you will want to be covered for it.

7. Packing. This one is tricky because if you are like me, you do not have your whole trip planned out. This one is honestly going to depend on the region you are going to and the time of year you are traveling. With this, you are just going to have to look up the weather.

If you are planning a trip to do some crazy mountain adventure in Nepal for example, you will be able to rent all the snow gear you need in the larger cities like Kathmandu. So do not take up room in your backpack with snow jackets and snow pants. Pack well before the night before or the day you leave. Anyone who knows me, knows I have not followed this advice for any trip I have ever done, but I should have.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane… Study abroad in Granada, Spain 2014: Me, my mom and my sister were up till 3AM packing for my 6 month study abroad trip. Backpacking trip to Europe 2016: I packed the day I left and forgot my, non-replaceable train pass (friend had to mail it to Europe). Working Holiday trip to New Zealand and Australia 2017: Packed the morning of and forgot my rain jacket and my hiking pants.

So please follow my advise and do not wait till the last minute because you are 100% guaranteed to forget something.

8. Planning your adventure. Unless you have an entire year+ to travel, pick a region or pick the countries you want to travel and stay there or at least around there. If you try and cram too much into a backpacking trip, you will exhaust yourself. There is so much to see in every single country around the world and if you try and go too many places you could really miss out.

The best part about traveling is you are on your own time table. If you like the place you are, stay a little longer. Do not feel rushed to get to the next city. I met this guy traveling in New Zealand and he did the entire South Island of New Zealand in 2 days. He saw all the main points, but I do wonder if he got anything out of it.

9. Cell phones! We all are obsessed with our cell phones these days and for many of us our smart phones are our cameras, so I am sure you are planning to bring yours. However, I know worried parents are concerned with how they can reach their kids while traveling and vise versa. There are a few ways to go with phones while traveling.

Option Number 1: If your phone is paid off, you can contact your service provider and figure out how to unlock your phone. Normally, it is as simple as going online. Once you do this, you are free to purchase pay as you go SIM cards in every country you go to. Most pay as you go plans have some international calling included, but all plans offer you data and with data you can use WhatsApp. If you don’t have WhatsApp, get it now! You can register using your phone number and it allows you to text, call and video chat your contacts who also have WhatsApp (so make all your friends and family download it too). The best part about it is, when you get a new number with a new SIM card, WhatsApp gives you the option to keep your existing phone number associated with it so your friends and family don’t have to keep changing your contact number.

Option Number 2: If your smart phone is not paid off and you are not able to unlock your phone, you can ask about putting an international plan on your phone. This one can get expensive if you aren’t careful with roaming charges, so I would be careful with this option.

Option Number 3: You can take your smart phone as purely a camera and get a cheap phone to use. You can literally get a cheap smart phone at Target . With this option, you are still purchasing pay as you go SIM cards in countries you visit, but you don’t have to worry about the issue of unlocking your iPhone or Android.

Option Number 4.:The fourth and final option is you can forgo any phone plan, keep data roaming off and rely solely on WiFi. This one you have to be careful with depending on where you are going. In Europe, there is free WiFi almost everywhere and this option is probably the best one. However In Australia, there is no free WiFi anywhere.

No matter which one you choose, just remember to keep an eye on your phone in any country. I have been pickpocket at the bars in the US, but it is a lot harder to replace your phone while traveling (again, I speak from experience with this one).

10. Have the time of your life. This is one of the most amazing experiences you can have. You meet so many amazing people doing the exact same thing you are. Enjoy every single second of it. I found a passion in traveling and a happiness I didn’t know I could feel. There will be times you miss home and that is normal, but remember your friends and family will be there when you get back. Live in the moment while you are on this grand adventure and remember the reasons you wanted to travel in the first place.

Cheers.