What I learned from Backpacking in Europe

This summer I went on a backpacking adventure through Europe. I had never traveled without my parents before, and all I had was a backpack, limited Spanish, and my friend. The two of us took on multiple means of transportation, major cities, tiny towns, and proved to our families and ourselves that two, 20-year-old female college students with zero traveling experience can navigate, finance, and travel through Europe.

How to Pack

I took my brother’s camping backpack with me, which had about seven pockets, 13 zippers, and towered above my head. I sifted through numerous travel blogs before leaving on my trip, trying to find out what I needed for six weeks abroad and how I could carry it all with me. One of the best pieces of advice I found out there is to make sure every article of clothing you bring goes with everything else in your bag. In other words, if you have a shirt that is so cute but only looks good with one specific pair of jeans, don’t bring it. You’re going to be so short on luggage room, only bring items you wear often, are comfortable in, and go with each other. Also, bring little travel bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and whatever shower necessities you like. We stayed in hostels, (even tents) and discount places won’t provide essentials like these. Finally, invest in a super comfortable, durable pair of hiking sandals! I used a cheaper version of Birk’s and they worked perfectly for me. The last thing you want is to be crawling through Rome because your feet are blistered.

How to Budget

Financing your own travels as a broke college student is hard, but not impossible! We primarily used hostels.com to book our lodgings, which turned out really well. However, if you’re going to travel on the cheap, you have to truly commit yourself to it. Both my friend and I were ready to be uncomfortable, do anything to save money, and were focused on using our money to see more places rather than stay in luxurious hotels. To some people, staying over night in Paris in a tiny tent on the ground with an outdoor bathroom sounds terrible! And that’s ok. Be honest with yourself about what you want, because otherwise being less comfortable than you had intended will ruin your trip. You can also save on museums and tours by researching before you get there, to find out student discounts. In Europe, many places give discounts to under-26-year-olds. For food, we splurged on a big, authentic meal once a day. We’d eat cheap breakfasts, like fruit and bread (typical European breakfast) and then go all out for lunch or dinner. That way, we’d get a taste of every country without spending $20 three times a day on meals. You will spend the most money on transportation and lodging. Research hostel prices and determine how many nights you can afford to stay in a city, and plan accordingly with travel expenses. Flying between European countries is often cheaper (and faster) than trains, and staying in hostels outside of the city is cheaper than staying in the heart of it.

You Can’t Plan Everything

You can’t, we tried. Do plan out as much as you can control, but be ok with the fact that some of your plans are going to fall through and you will be met with obstacles. Backpacking or traveling on your own is different than a vacation; it takes some effort, planning, and you will learn as much about traveling as you do about yourself. We had some transportation issues. In Italy especially, buses and trains are usually late, and this caused as a few schedule complications. But as you go, you’ll learn to adapt to challenges and fix problems quickly. Traveling with the mindset of, “I will do the research and do my best to prevent problems for myself, but understand they will arise anyway” is the best way to go.

You Can Do It

You really can! Don’t be afraid! Our parent and friends thought we were crazy. I promise, we had absolutely ZERO traveling experience, but we were able to travel by ferry, car, bus, train, and plane. We visited seven countries. We saw historical marvels of the world, tasted authentic cuisine, played tourist and immersed ourselves with locals. I’m also someone who, before this trip, couldn’t read a map. Now, I’m confident in my abilities to get myself anywhere. It will be scary, stressful, and hard at times, but those are the times you will learn and grow the most. Our ongoing joke was that we were forced to learn “hello,” “excuse me,” and “exit,” in every language we encountered, mostly taught to us by navigating our way through the underground metros. Traveling transformed my worldview, confidence, and capabilities. It can change yours too 🙂

 

UK Fashion Trends

Guest Post! Bringing you the latest in British fashion trends is fabulous beauty & fashion blogger, Kay

Guest post! Bringing you the latest in British fashion is fabulous Beauty & Fashion Blogger, Kay

Hi Everyone! I’m Kay from Meraki Army.

Seeing as I’m from the UK and Victoria is from the US, she came up with idea of me talking about the fashion here.

First things first….

Boyish behaviour.

Personally, I don’t see many women dressed too ‘girly’. Don’t get me wrong, I see people in dresses and heels but not necessarily together. In the UK if you saw someone wearing a maxi dress, they will most likely be pairing with the a cute pair of ankle boots and a leather jacket, something I love. A pair of cute heels paired with some mom jeans and a oversized t-shirt is a classic and a summer dress with a distressed denim jacket thrown on over top.

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Layer Up.

Maybe you haven’t heard but the UK isn’t known for its amazing weather. That doesn’t stop us though, we will still be going out in dresses and shorts in autumn because of the marvellous invention of tights! It’s better to have to take off a layer than regret not putting one on. Invest in a few great jackets- especially a leather one and a blazer.  Also scarves are always a great way for keeping you warm as well as stylish. This outfit below is perfect for spring but throw on a longline blazer or duster jacket then add a pair of tights and you’re winter ready.

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Other things we wear … A lot.

Camel coats.

Tartan scarfs.

Trench coats.

Rain Boots.

Loafers.

Jeans and Oversized Shirts.

Jumpers or ‘sweaters’ over shirts, the collar just peeking out the top.

Peter Pan collar coats.

Small patterned bags.  

I hope this gave you an idea of what we dress like across the pond. Be sure to visit but blog and follow me on twitter!

Thanks for reading,

 

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London to Paris

Arriving in London is usually the cheapest destination in Europe. And you can easily travel from the UK to the European continent, by bus! We took a 10-hour bus ride from London right into the heart of Paris. Arriving at about 10pm (our bus came in late) we checked into our campsite (more about that later) and struggled to maneuver around a city for which we did not fluently speak the language. Despite this—Paris is brilliant. Forget what you’ve heard about French people! We were worried our American nationality and English speaking would turn people off—as it is commonly thought in the states. But quite the opposite. Parisians went out of their way to stop us on the street, whether we were looking at a map or buying a metro pass, to ask us if we needed help. In English! I know what you’re thinking, and we never even came close to being pick-pocketed. Usually you’ve got to watch out for these “helpers” who target lost tourists as means to a new phone or wallet. But none of these locals approached us in this way, they were genuinely trying to be helpful and we felt very safe.

Something that entranced me from the start, and all the way through Europe, was the architecture. Normal buildings, apartments, shops—even McDonalds—are built inside the most beautifully crafted historical architecture. Simply walking around the streets is the best way to fully absorb Paris and its beauty.

For the day that we were there we had three objectives: Eiffel Tower, Catacombs, and the Louver. A piece of advice is know where you want to go, how far away they are from each other, and what method of transportation is best. The metro was perfect for us and our plans because it made each spot accessible and was wonderfully easy to maneuver. I recommend getting the one or however many day pass that you plan to spend there, it’s a way to spend money and know you’ve got a secure way of getting around. Second, get out early. You’ll be waiting in lines for everything. We got up around 7, ate breakfast, and were at the Eiffel before 9. This was lucky because the Tower didn’t open up until after 9, so we got a good spot in line and didn’t have to wait long. One forewarning: PARIS IS NOT BACKPACK FRIENDLY. At least not for traditional backpacking size, where you’ve got a 40-lb pack with you at all times, which we had that day. We almost didn’t get into the Eiffel because of our large backpacks, small purses are fine, but large bags must be checked for security reasons and they were hesitant to even let us through. Therefore, I’d recommend staying in a place in Paris where you can securely leave your bags while you’re out, or renting a locker. Once inside, you have to pay for a ticket for the elevator up to the top, or a cheaper ticket to climb the stairs. We climbed as high as is allowed (with our packs) and then took the elevator up the rest of the way. You don’t have to pay for another ticket at the second level, nor to get down. I highly recommend going all the way to the top, the third level. The elevator is cramped and a bit sketchy—if you have a fear for that sort of thing. But it’s a short ride and well worth it. The view of Paris is spectacular. And the Tower itself is magnificent. Much bigger than I’d expected!

After the Eiffel we made our way back to the Catacombs, which is in the center of the city and can be a bit hard to locate. Every sign and person will direct you to a triangular strip in the middle of an intersection. You’ve got to walk around the perimeter of it until you’ll see a small wall with little letters saying Catacombs. Of course, you could always just follow the line. We waited two hours in a massive hoard of people; some friends of mine who went a few weeks later waited four. Allow for this kind of waiting time in your schedule. The Catacombs were awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed them and all their creepiness. It’s literally stacks and stacks of ancient bones, and eerie old signs written in French (“mort” was all I could understand). Again our backpacks were a problem, but here they’ll let you store your pack in a room and you can wander below freely. However, you’ll have to find your way back to the entrance to retrieve your bag, because the end of the displayed tunnel spits you out a few blocks down. It’s truly amazing how far those Catacombs reach. They cover nearly the entire city. We didn’t opt for a tour; you can learn on your own by reading informative signs—and maybe secretly trailing a tour group or two.

The Louver unfortunately did not happen. Security wouldn’t let us in with our bags, and they had no lockers or rooms to store them. Disappointing. But I’ve heard exploring the whole museum takes many hours. Also some nights and days of the week offer free student admission to limited exhibits and there are many discounts you can take advantage of by checking their website. I’ll be back to Paris undoubtedly, and the Mona Lisa will be waiting for me.

Our hostel situation was a different, but good, experience. We stayed in a campground in the garden of a discontinued hospital that was now used to house low-income passerby’s and locals. The check-in lady described it as a place for artists, starving musicians, and travelers to stay and be welcomed. The price reflected this! We stayed in a teeny tent atop some wooden planks and had close neighbors. Besides the audible next-door snoring and slight panic at a spider inside our tent—the place was great. I’d recommend it to people who are looking for a unique experience; it’s not for those who prefer luxury. We showered outside under a pull-down tent, used outdoor sink and toilet facilities, and yoga mats to sleep on (plus other rentable equipment) were provided. All in all, it was a positive experience.

Paris is an incredible city that needs to be explored. You definitely can’t do everything in one or two days, so plan accordingly to get to the things that are most important to you. And remember not to carry around a backpack! We didn’t feel comfortable leaving our packs in our unlocked tent, so the only thing I’d do differently is sleep somewhere secure as to leave our bags there. From Paris it was time to fly to Milan where we could catch a bus to Venice and arrive by morning. Or so we thought…