Backpacking Basics: How to plan for your first European Adventure

In honor of summer coming in just a couple of weeks, I wanted to write a few posts for first time backpackers. While I may be a little bit late for a lot of people who have already made plans – I figured that this series could be helpful in the future.

A fancy, but very cheap, dinner

Decide on an overall budget – how much are you going to spend? This seems so obvious. You should have your “ideal” budget and also about $500 as an emergency fund ready to go. Without a budget, it’s really difficult to plan beyond the exciting words: “I’m going on a EuroTrip!” I usually plan about $50/day for food, activities and public transport.

The hottest August day in Rome 

Set a timeframe – Lots of students are able to travel during the summer. With your budget in place, you should start to plan around how long you want to travel for. Consider if it’s your first time things like travel fatigue and time before and after your trip to decompress. If you can travel in September or May – I highly recommend it. The middle of summer may have good weather but it’s also absolutely packed with people.

Select realistic locations – So first, make your dream list of places you want to go. Plot them on a map. See how far away they are from each other. Then, get real. Where are your non-negotiable locations? What places can you cut out? Don’t force yourself to see 10 cities in 2 weeks – you will not have a chance to explore! My rule of thumb now is for a bigger city – I want 4 days to explore, enjoy and not feel rushed. Smaller cities I’ll do in 3 days. Maybe you don’t need as much time but you also have to keep in mind that every time you change locations it may be up to a day of travel between checking out, finding your transport, traveling, locating your accommodation and then checking in again.

Decide what transport you are going to use – For my first few European adventures, I almost exclusively used Eurail passes to hop on and off trains. At the time, this was a great option for me. However, the prices have dramatically increased from my first trips. I had a two week pass that I could use any days within a two month time span and it was around $250-300. That same pass now is $437! To me that’s ridiculous for just a few years of difference. Plus, France is no longer included in the Global pass! Instead, consider all your travel options from bus to budget airline to even long-distance ride sharing. You will have to keep in mind there may be overage luggage costs but it still may end up being the right decision for you!

Read Reviews before you book accommodations – I give a pretty extensive rundown on first time hostel stays in this post. But if I had to summarize what the most important thing is to remember: do your research. When you read the reviews of a hostel, both positive and negative, you get a good idea of what the hostel is all about. Maybe someone complains that it’s too quiet – that’s a sign that it isn’t a party hostel. Someone else may let you know about privacy or breakfast. It’s all good information.

Make a booking spreadsheet – It doesn’t have to be a spreadsheet. It could be a word document. But I think it’s a good idea to not only write out what you have to book still but also how much you will owe upon arrival. I also use this sheet to write out directions to hostels and put in maps of cities. I print it out and as I go, I get rid of the pages after I’ve been to each city. It’s ended up being really useful for me.

I hope this helps new or nervous travelers who are looking forward to their first backpacking trip. I do have one final comment which didn’t warrant its own section which essentially is: Don’t bother with guidebooks. Considering the internet – why on earth would you pay for a guidebook at this point. There’s enough free travel content to last you a lifetime online.

Please let me know if any of this helped you and if you are traveling soon – Have an amazing trip!


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