Backpacking through Europe is the dream of many young travelers. Europe is the perfect destination for first-time travelers as there is plenty see and experience, the public transportation options are second-to-none, it is generally considered safe, and with a bit of planning, you can stay within a modest budget. Learn how to travel Europe with this backpacking guide.
Before You Go
While it’s tempting to think you can hop on the next plane to Barcelona and begin the adventure of your dreams, there are a few practicalities that need to be taken care of.
First, be sure you have all the proper documentation to travel around legally. This includes having a valid passport that will not expire while you’re overseas, researching and understanding your visa options (most European countries allow access via the Schengen visa, which allows a 90 day stay every 180 days), and building a budget that will see you through your time in Europe.
After your passport, visa, and budget are squared away, spend some time thoughtfully packing for your European adventure. Make the choice to travel light, allowing for flexible and easy travel, with a targeted packing list. There’s nothing worse than hefting heavy luggage across the busy Gare du Nord in central Paris or dragging a roller bag through the cobblestone parks of Galway, Ireland. Pick a backpack that is functional and durable, as it’ll be your constant companion on your journey.
Where to Travel in Europe
A trip to Europe will go by in the blink of an eye. Be wary of planning too much of your trip in advance, as you’ll undoubtedly want to spend extra days in Amsterdam, or want to check out the amazing beachfront community on the Mediterranean that a new friend recommended while at a cafe in Venice. Even so, creating a rough itinerary will not only give you peace of mind but will also be kind to your budget. Booking in advance often saves money, especially on transportation.
When planning your itinerary take into account how much time you have, which season you’ll be traveling in (do you want to ski in the Alps, or avoid the snow?), and any events that you want to be sure to attend. From there brainstorm how long you’d like to stay in each city or town and how long it’ll take to travel between destinations. When you are done, you’ll have a rough itinerary to help guide you through Europe.
Still stumped? Here are some of the best European destinations for backpackers.
Barcelona, Spain: Barcelona is young, hip, and full of intoxicating sights. Visit the beach, eat paella and tapas at a local restaurant, and check out the Sagrada Familia. Barcelona is also known as one of the more budget-friendly European cities.
Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam is known for its canals, lively nightlife, trendy shopping, and ethnic diversity. It’s also the perfect spot for backpackers, offering affordable accommodations and free events including farmers markets and walking tours.
Rome, Italy: Though all of Europe is steeped in culture, Rome is a must-see for history buffs. Rome was the home of the Holy Roman Empire, is home to the Catholic Church, and is a chaotic, beautiful place to visit.
How to Get Around
European nations have some of the best public transit options available in the world. No matter the destination there’s likely a way to get there without ever setting foot in a rental car.
Airplane: Europe abounds with small, regional airlines to get you from point A to point B. The sheer number of small airlines keeps competition fierce and tickets relatively inexpensive. Pay close attention to fees and restrictions when booking on a low-cost regional carrier; often they make their money by imposing strict rules on seat assignments, luggage (including carry-on luggage), and other services.
Bus: Between commercial bus services and local bus lines you can get almost anywhere in Europe via bus. Have you been dying to see that little town in Germany where your grandfather visited as a boy? A bus will get you there. Buses run regularly, are often inexpensive, and sometimes provide services like bathrooms. The downside of bus travel is it is slow — especially local bus lines — so you’ll need to practice patience.
Train/Rail: If you need to cover long distances across multiple countries, look into a rail pass. Trains are a fast, often economical option for traveling within a country, but when you start to cross borders the tickets can get pricey. Before going out and buying a rail pass do the math and make sure it makes sense for your itinerary and budget.
Backpacking Europe is the experience of a lifetime. By adequately preparing for your trip, adding some of Europe’s best destinations to your itinerary, and using the excellent transit options through Europe, you’re sure to have a great experience. Pack light, bring your camera and allow the journey to delight you