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 🙂

 

Travel Stories from Around the World

I set out to ask some of the most experienced, knowledgable travel bloggers a few questions about their experiences. I asked where they’ve been, to share their favorite experience, a funny disaster story, and lastly one piece of advice for all of you newbie/ aspiring globe trotters. From their answers, I hope you can learn more about what to expect, know, and love about traveling (I know I did)!

Where have you traveled?

“I have so far traveled to 3 continents and over 20 countries. Some of the countries I have been to are: USA, Thailand, Amsterdam, France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Jamaica and Tenerife.”

@dreamand_wander

“India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Borneo, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, United, States, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, Morocco and of course England, Scotland and Wales.”

@ FindingBeyond

“So far only Europe. I’ve interrailed across Eastern Europe, driven around Iceland & Norway, been to Lapland 8 times and seen a total of 23 countries. I aim to double that in the next 5 years. “

@JoonasInCPH

What is your favorite memory?

“Whenever I travel, if I am not in a place long enough to immerse myself completely in the culture, I always try to have what I like to call ‘live like a local day.’ My favorite LLL day would have to be my trip to Florence. I rented a moped with a friend of mine and we drove through the cobble-stoned streets of Italy. We even got chased down by Italian foot cops for driving through a pedestrian only street! We had no idea. Although we only had the bike for an hour, I have never felt so free in my life. That feeling is something I will always cherish and I will forever think fondly of my Italian ‘live like a local day.'”

@tfabroad

“Reaching the top of Preikestolen, Norway, with 600m drops on all sides of this amazing rock pointing out into the Lysefjord…it really is a spectacular place with incredible views! Sat here it is so easy to imagine Viking long ships sailing past returning with their plunder from from foreign lands…it is a place where time really stands still.”

@mytravelmission

“It’s a bit cheesy but when we got engaged in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The city is so beautiful and one of the most romantic locations we have ever visited. Darren proposed on top of the St Lawrence Fortress which overlooks the old city. He couldn’t have chosen a better spot.”

@FindingBeyond

Everyone’s had something go wrong while traveling, what’s a funny story where something did not go as planned?

“Through my travels, I have had many, many experiences where things have gotten a little crazy. The time that most sticks out in my mind was my trip to Monaco. A large group of us went to the Monte Carlo Casino. It was a big night out where we all got dressed up and has a lot of fun. On the ride back, I fell asleep on the bus and since I was in the back row with only one other person (who was also sleeping), nobody noticed us or thought to wake us up. Next thing you know, I wake up to hear the bus driver locking the door! We had missed all the bus stops and the bus was back in the yard for the night 20 minutes away from the hotel. When I approached the driver, he was so startled, saying “this has never happened before! I have never had anybody be left on the bus.” Lucky for me, he was very nice and had his friend (who didn’t speak a lick of English) drive me home. Then to top it all off, when I got back to our hotel, the gate was locked for the night so I had to hop the fence in my fancy dress and five inch heels! Looking back, I was very fortunate to have run in to the right people. Things could have gone very differently if not for their kindness. But, nonetheless, it is a night I will always remember!”

@tfabroad

“It was my first time abroad at the age of 17. Me and my best friend went to Brighton (UK), and we were staying with a host family we met back home. As soon as we enter the house, their over-friendly dog comes to greet me and completely rips off my shirt. I am left standing there in my underwear feeling like I am about to die with shame.”

@dreamand_wander

“I was in Key Largo with my friends because we had bought a Groupon for a one hour Jet Ski and all day kayak. First of all, the service from the people that worked there was rude. So it started off a little shaky. lol But once we were out in the open water with the Jet Skis we forgot all about it. The water is so amazigly blue, it was unreal. After our one hour was up, we went and switched to the kayaks. I have never been kayaking before so I was all about it. If you have never been to Florida, then you don’t know how quickly weather can change.We had only been out maybe ten minutes when the clouds started rolling in. I kid you not, we saw the clouds and said maybe we should head back but some of the guys thought we had a few more minutes. WRONG! Literally within seconds it was like we were in the middle of a hurricane. The workers from the company came out to get the others that were on Jet Skis, so we thought “ok cool, there be over to grab us too.” Yeah no…they left us stranded in the middle of the ocean. I am not even exaggerating when I say the wind was outrageous as was the rain. We were paddling for our lives basically. There was a dock that we had to get around before getting back into the canal but the wind was so strong we were getting thrown under the dock. Somehow we managed to get around it but once we did the rain and wind seemed to intensify to the point where I couldn’t see anything and the rain felt like hail against my skin. As we are trying to get back through the canal, there are also boats that are trying to get through so it was a struggle for us staying out of there way. Not only that, the wind was either pushing us back or swaying us into parked boats along the canal. After what seemed like hours of an ordeal, we finally made it back to the shop. It’s safe to say, you should definitely check the weather before going out on the water.”

@travelingbbrunette

What’s one travel tip you’d like to share with my readers 

“Don’t book accommodation solely on website photos. We’ve lost count of the amount of rooms we’ve checked into that look nothing like they did on the website. Do a little bit more digging online. Trip Advisor’s traveller photos are always good for more up to date images.”

‪@FindingBeyond

“As a solo female traveler, the best advice I can give is to always walk with confidence. If you give off an air of self-assurance, people will assume you know where you are going and what you are doing… even if you don’t. This could make all the difference in terms of safety. “

@tfabroad

“Never try to overplan it. I did this for our trip around the east coast of the USA, and while it was great to be at home and know exactly where we were going and what we were doing and having paid for it all, when you get there you just want to soak it all in. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you didn’t have enough time to explore! Not to mention you don’t always feel like doing something strenuous everyday and may feel like having a day off every now and again!”

@_jordan_short

“Things will happen: planned and unplanned, but always keep an open mind. You never know: that one terrible moment in that trip you took may be something you’ll look back on fondly – or even be the catalyst for life long friendships and hilarious photos.”

 @JemicahColleen

Thank you to everyone that contributed! I got a lot of great responses, too many to post! So I will be featuring even MORE in a later article 🙂

Everyone showcased in this article:

@JemicahColleen

@_jordan_short

@tfabroad

@FindingBeyond

@travelingbbrunette

@dreamand_wander

@mytravelmission

@JoonasInCPH

How To Do Tijuana

For those of you who love San Diego but are looking to get a little more adventurous, don’t forget about our neighbors! I recently visited Tijuana, Mexico, and it was a great time. Here are some tips on how to make your trip fun and safe.

  • Go in a group. This seems obvious, but you want to make sure to have a somewhat ratio of guys to girls for extra caution, and also keep in mind large groups are safer but tend to split up if too big!

  • Pick a nice club. If you go on a weekday night, ladies night, or other special night, fancy clubs in TJ are not expensive to get in to. Plus, nice clubs are less likely to be seedy, have better drinks, and a more enjoyable environment. We went to a club my friend had been to previously on their ladies night where girls drank for free. Entry was $10 and it was a perfect place to spend the night. My advice is to do some research before hand and ask others who have been there for club recommendations, don’t wait until you get there to pick a club or bar

  • Carry cash but not a lot, mostly small bills. DO NOT bring a lot of money or a debit/credit card, as well as anything extremely valuable. Bring what you’ll spend and maybe $20 extra in case of an emergency. Cash is best for entry fees, drinks, cabs, gambling, and small meals

  • DO bring your passport and have a small bag or pocket to carry it in. We had a couple friends who left their passports at home and did get across the border, however they had to go through special security and the process of entering the country took a lot longer

  • When you first get across there will be a lot of vendors trying to sell you candy and paraphernalia, as well as taxi drivers trying to lead you to their cabs. DO NOT use these cabs; they will charge you more than if you walk further down the road. Try making a club that is walking distance your target, and only use a cab to get back to the border

Lastly, have fun! As long as you stay with a big group, be aware of your surroundings, and follow normal night-out safety precautions, you’ll have a fun, unique adventure!