Sunday, July 21, 2013

Backpacking Tips

I learned a lot about traveling while backpacking through Europe.  And the month Liz and I spent in Europe ended up being exactly what I hoped it would be—a compilation of amazing experiences and entertaining stories.  We got the chance to interact with tons of people, both locals and travelers, and we did a lot—more than just visiting historic city centers, that’s for sure. 

So if you’re planning a backpacking trip, here’s my advice.
  1.  Plan ahead, and book hostels for the major cities ahead of time, but leave a window for flexibility.  Liz and I didn’t really have this, and it did work out fine for us, although I think we’d both agree we would have liked to extend our stay in Gryon, Switzerland for another day or two if we’d had the chance.  But we met plenty of people who booked hostels only a few days or a week ahead, thereby giving themselves a great deal of flexibility to get to a city, decide how long they wanted to spend there, and then figure out where to move on from there. 
  2. Cash in on all of the contacts that you have.  Don’t be rude about it.  There’s no need to email that girl you met in History 101 five years ago who according to facebook is now living in London and ask for a place to crash for the night.  But do use the resources you have.  Before we left for our trip, I sent a message to a girl I met last summer who lives in the Netherlands and asked her for tips on what to see in Amsterdam and whether she had recommendations on hostels.  She responded almost instantly, not only giving recommendations, but also offering her own home to us if we wanted to escape the city, or her cousin’s home in Haarlem.  She ended up taking a day off to visit us while we stayed with her cousin, and we had an absolutely fantastic day getting out of the city and seeing more of the “real Netherlands.” 
  3. Take some time before leaving to really plan what’s going into your pack.  Whatever you bring, you’ll be stuck with those outfits for your whole trip.  Make sure every type of weather is covered, just in case.  (I mean, you don’t need a winter parka, but bring a light jacket in the summer). 
  4.  Get out of the city center.  Get away from the tourists.  Find a local, or get advice from a travel guide or tripadvisor, and go see some of the less popular sights.  That’s how you’ll really get to know a place, and for me, those “side adventures” are the things I remember most fondly.
  5.  Bring your student id!  Even if you’re not a student anymore—if you’ve got that ID and there’s no expiration date on it, it can save you some money.  I left mine at home—actually took it out of my wallet right before we left.  Why? I don’t know.  But Liz got a discount more often than I did. 
  6.  DO IT.  I believe that for the majority of people in this world, saying that a trip to Europe is “impossible” is inaccurate.  It may not be intelligent right now, but it is possible.  The trip doesn’t have to be that expensive.  Liz and I saved up for 2 years, and our trip ended up being a little less expensive than we budgeted for.  It took planning and some dedication.  We’re not rich.  We’d never done anything like this before.  But I can absolutely swear to you that it was worth it, and if you have any interest in traveling, my best advice to you is this: Make it happen for yourself.  

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