Backpacking Europe:Top 20 Tips For First Timers

5:26 PM

The excitement of travelling to Europe is itself like a dream come true.For many,people save for their honeymoons or their anniversaries to enjoy 15-20 days in Europe.For the rest of us,the budget keeps us tight lipped if we ever harbored any plans such.As the blogs and travel magazines grow in heaps and bounds we wonder if every country needs to be visited.If every country is as beautiful as every printed picture.We often end up regretting the country we missed going.But are there reasons why certain countries are given more weight-age than certain others.Does the blogs or the articles convey even half the real picture?

Me,backpacking in Rome,Italy

As I researched for my trip to Europe for a month that included Greece,Turkey,Italy,France in Oct 2014 ,I found no source which warned me of what I must be careful with.Most of it,I found was an fogged up beautiful view of places to gain TRP’s and comments.People travelling solo wouldn't write about experiences they found defeating.The truth is travel is not always a happy picture.It comes with both happy and bad moments,as life.

 Today I am going to write about the real picture of when you travel Europe and what you must know before you start enjoying a place.

The intention of this article is not to bring down your hopes on planning Europe but to make more cautious choices you take/make when there.

 This trip of mine wasn't a FAM Trip.Partly,I won the Travel Shop Turkey contest wherein my 7 day tour to Turkey was inclusive(excluding airfare) and partly I won Skyscanner contest worth 1 lakh and rest was from my own money.You would ask me why rest,I would say because I booked the tickets very last minute due to Skyscanner coupon to be redeemed within 3 months from my win.Since I won in September end,I had no choice but to book tickets and accommodation very last minute as I wanted to visit Greece and the islands in Oct.I would tell you also,here tips and tricks to save just in case if you are wondering if that is even possible.I was in Turkey for 10 days,Greece for 11 days,Italy for 5 days and Paris for a day.

 1)Packaged Tour or On Your Own:

Turkey was partly on a packaged tour
Which I thoroughly enjoyed
Though sans flexibility of time 

Many of us,are often confused on this part if they want to do a packaged tour or on their own.Even on discussion with my friends and family,people told me that in one month you can cover so many countries,why do just a few?

The main motive then is to enjoy vacation as a carefree soul not bothering about penning down plans in the most budgeted way possible.As every foreigner who comes to India does the Golden Triangle,that includes Delhi Agra Jaipur or Kerala but is that it about India is the question.That just gives a peek-a-boo of important sites in India.Similarly,that goes for a packaged tour to Europe.If your idea is to cover the highlights of a place in a short span of time,packaged tour is your choice.There is nothing wrong in it.A trip for 6 countries 12 days would roughly cost you around 1.5 lakhs on a packaged tour + your own personal expenses when there.

You can also rent a car when in Europe which comes as quite cheap and at leisure both.

 Now,coming to doing it on Your Own.The best part of doing it on your own is the flexibility it provides plus you could save extra money if you plan well in advance.I say well in advance is because,if you book it last minute you wouldn't be saving much on Airfare.Travel Shop Turkey was my first packaged tour,and I loved it in Turkey as the guides were well informed,mostly on time the buses used to come,the hotels were posh and nice,but it was time bound.That meant if I liked Grand Bazaar and wanted to stay for 3 hours or more,I have to cater to other guests in the bus and most often we would run to catch the bus because we always felt we wanted to spend more time where ever we liked.Doing it on your own gives you the flexibility to choose your own stay - boutique hotels (if backpacking is not your type) or hostels(if you want to make it real cheap and interact) or couch surfing(knowing people up close and staying complimentary) and allows you to dedicate as much as you would want to at each place.You can even do backpacking in Europe for 1 lakh in a month and a half(including airfares) provided you are comfortable being on road or with hosts.Many of us,do not want to make our vacation a shared space.I find hostels the most easy way to not overdo it.However,backpacking needs a bit of planning and research.It however can be more relaxed if you plan a trip of say 10 days at one single place,otherwise a little knowledge is necessary.

2)Making a Choice: 

Where this road leads me to..
In Santorini Greece.
Greece is a perfect exotic honeymoon destination
But for backpacking..well I don't think so.

While planning Europe,we often tend to draft the same itinerary as is present online.Do not.When I was comparing my own budget to Greece vis-a-vis if I go on a packaged tour,I casually chatted with Makemytrip consultant online who told me Greece won’t be possible with Italy and France.On asking why so,she casually said mam we have other beautiful countries like Italy,France,Germany,Austria why don’t you choose that.I said her Greece to Italy is accessible by low cost ferries and flights,so why isn’t it possible?She said it doesn't happen like that.I found the answer weird.

But the thing is with your shrinking budget,you would find not this,but many other sites,give you the same answer.Unless you are ready to pay off your pockets in huge amounts,a customization is a difficult choice.Even websites like Backpacker Co which are my favorites by the way,I would say,staying in hostels is much much cheaper than planning with them.However,do plan with them if you want it to be a little more organised.

Remember you can always locally pick up a packaged tour when at a place,like in Capadoccia I found that even if I would want to cover many places and activities(I did pottery in Turkey!) I wouldn't be able to on my own,as the public conveyance were less,so I hopped in to the central area,booked my day tour through a local agent which was much less than what I could have got from here.Ditto for Paris.

3)Keeping Enough Time Gap: 

While backpacking Greece,I realized that hopping onto islands was a real fun deal.The problem just was it came with big bold sea.Airfares when booked in advance were similar to the ferry fare,so I had booked most of it on planes except one on which I wanted to experience the ferry ride.To tell you the truth,the day before my ferry was scheduled,the other ferries and all jets were cancelled due to strong winds and bad sea.The worst you would want any day is to get stranded in an island,or book last minute planes to the nearby mainland because its going to be expensive.

Secondly,you cannot be sure of everything.As an when I researched,I got to know that the Havatas bus in Turkey from Airport goes 24 hours as per online,but I had to wait for 4 hours at the airport to catch the morning bus at 5am. Most of these sites aren't updated.Things always don’t go as per schedule.Keep that blanket.Zurich Airport is so big that it takes an hour and a half to reach the gates.

In Venice,I felt in winters(that is Oct),the sun rises late and goes down early(like 4 pm).That meant,I had to plan my vacation accordingly.

4)Keep City Center as focus

Hostels in Greece are a delight
I stayed in both City Circus near Monastiraki Metro
And Athens Backpackers near Acropolis Metro
This one is Athens Backpackers,and the pic is half the 6 dorm room.

Book hotels which is located in city centre or which is connected to metros or buses.That ways your vacation will be more easy.You can book through where you have option to choose(near city centre) with some hotels with free cancellation and pay on the place,HiHostels(if you have a youth hostel card or you want to try them),Skyscanner(pretty much sums up everything - your flights,your stay,your car rentals,flight low cost alerts).Recheck reviews of hostels or hotels though through Tripadvisor.

5)Knowing a Place Before You Dive In: 

Though I liked Greece,
I would any day choose Turkey over Greece.
Ephesus in Turkey is more beautiful than Acropolis to me!

As an when I see the exaggeration everywhere,I feel some things need to be told.Like Greece has amazing hostels and stay including lovely boutique hotels/lodges with friendly hosts.However,If you are travelling solo and you have to make a choice,stick to Turkey instead of Greece.Turkey has more Greek history,its more beautiful,very similar to Greece in terms of food and drinks,the people are friendly,and it has got everything a traveler needs.So instead of spending that 1.5 lakh on a place which so and so said is nice,invest in a place which is culturally more rich.If you are travelling as a couple or with friends,Greece is a perfect destination.It’s highly romantic specially the islands.The islands looks so picture perfect that every corner can be a frame.Athens can be a backpackers choice but I would still prefer Turkey.

It has got history but I found Turkish history to have much much more history even the sites are more worth watching.Most often ‘a Sea place’ gets a little boring,when doing alone unless you are hung ho on solitude or the want of it.Because I have done that in Israel,going to the mid of sea alone,trying hard to please myself its nice,but sea needs fun.I wouldn't say I didn't enjoy dancing with random people on beach or even hopping onto local buses in Greek islands in search of the authentic local Artichokes fry(fish fry),but unless you are confident,give ‘Some places a skip’ for a better place.

6)Plan Weatherwise

You wouldn't want this to be snow covered,would you?
At Pamukkale,Turkey

Unless you are sure of being content in seeing less,as much as possible Skip countries with sea during winters.Why because,Europe can get really chilled during winters,and you might then have to carry extra luggage(jackets,sweaters,woolens) and also during winters you would be able to get onto less sites.Ferries hardly run in Greek islands during winters.Even if you get in Turkey,it gets unbearably cold.That however shouldn't stop you from venturing into common winter gateways such as France,Italy,Switzerland as these are relaxed site seeing location with much lesser activity or even better 'their summer during our winter' holiday to Australia and New Zealand. Don't worry Switzerland has snow throughout the year.You do not have to freeze in a location to be able to enjoy it.Understand a snowfall for the time being looks cool,but for a longer period of time,just messes with your plan,bang on!

7)Be Cautious,but open up:

Tanned yet loving every bit of it.
With my lovely host Marietta in Mykonos Island,Greece
who gave me simple map,picked me from my ferry venue and dropped me at the airport.

Turkey so far,remains one of my favorite countries I have visited.It’s beautiful.In terms of travelers convenience for both solo and backpackers and groups,its very well managed, friendly and even budget friendly,I liked it even better than Switzerland.Italy and Switzerland are expensive yet quite backpack-able.

To each his own,but every country has a downside.The downside with Turkey is ‘Beware of Turkish Men’.I say to all solo female travelers travelling to Turkey.In Turkey,as long as I was there for 10 days 3 days solo,and with 7 days with a friend,I would everyday hear ‘ Are you a dream or are you for real?’,’Can I have your Facebook madam’ ,and even hindi taglines 'Jaati hai tu kaha'  and even 'will you marry me' it came as a natural way of wooing a girl but it came so often even on the roads that you must be aware of that.I would be writing a post shortly on Turkish men and their ways,but sadly none of the blogs have mentioned it.

Although we did indulge in random banter for fun's sake,the attention every time was making us smile,do not in any case,listen to your heart and give in,because they know they are handsome and they are very direct with their words.That doesn't mean,you mustn't make friends when abroad.I made beautiful Singaporean couple friends in Greece who I had dinner with.I made friends in Italy and Paris as well.Even Turkey would give you great friends,if you are cautious and know which way to go.

8)Some places may give the ‘not so IT’ factor you have to deal with: 

Racism at some places,well yes!
But just move on..and enjoy the place.

 I loved Italy.Spending 5 days in Italy was so less a time.If I had to go one place again,that would be Italy.However,it came with its own share of ‘not so IT’ factor.For the first time,I faced Racism in Italy.So when travelling in a packaged tour,you wouldn't be knowing if there is anything as such,but when travelling alone,there are things you might face.One of the statement which I took as a pinch of salt was when bargaining for a cloth was “Go back to India or Pakistan,your home land,we don’t sell cheap and low quality stuff”.The attitude was no rude,that it spoilt a couple of minutes of my otherwise cool vacation.And this wasn't the only time.

9)Skip Ryan Air: 

Do yourself a favor. Next time you plan Europe,skip Ryan Air or know the terms and conditions of being in it.These are super low budgeted airlines,which comes first in the search engine.I had booked them,because I thought they would be the best.However,Ryan air has these weird rules,that will scratch your head.Venice didn't have a printing counter,that meant you have to check in your own luggage,book your seats and deal with going forward to it.The airport of Ryan air had me hoping from several islands in Venice at the middle of the night and taking a bus,that meant spending whooping 3 hours to get to the airport.

The airport of Paris where the Ryan Air lands is in countryside(intact the airport is dedicated for Ryan air) and takes around 15 euros to go to the city after you land and around 1.5 hours.I had to pay 70 euros extra for not printing my ticket at Turkey,when all they had to do is print on my confirmation of booking which I had print of.After these mishaps,I would say best take a train or a flight which is not Ryan Air. Also,these low carrier airlines do not have luggage free.And we cannot travel without luggage.So even if you want a 15kg check in,you would have to pay 15 euros.

10)Plan Your Stay: 

 I loved my stay at all the hostels.I haven’t tried Airbnb,but I have tried Bnb’s and I would say they are my second choice if I want my piece of relaxed mind to crash in.However still,I would highly recommend hostels.Greece has the best hostels with kitchenette,bar at terrace,fun activities.It might be a little off for you to live in with 7 men(or women) at a 8 bed dorm,but these are the places were you find friends,you know the best ways to travel in budget,and they are not creepy as it sounds to us Indians.It is very similar to living in hostels in colleges where people mind their own business in their very own good way.So bar hopping and dancing with 5 euros is what I have done in Greece thanks to hostels.Most of these hostels have free breakfast.

When in hostels,take your own toiletries or buy it from the local store nearby because sometimes its not there.Get your own towel,some hostels may not have it.Luckily both my hostels at Greece had it.Since I wanted to enjoy my stay at the islands more in Greece,I had booked boutique hotels which were very very beautiful.

In Rome,I stayed at Roma Scout Center where I felt,like I was in Scouts.I had to give keys down and had a common bathing space separate for girls and boys which too as I had hoped otherwise was a pleasant experience.

11)Take Less Luggage: 

Roll and put it.This was my travel checkin bag.
Do carry sunscreen.The sun in Greece is sharp.

The last thing you would want is drag your luggage everywhere.When I traveled first time to Scotland,I had a whooping 21 kgs to carry around.Hopping into trains would often require an attempt more than once which I was more often than not helped by people with kind stares.The trick to this what I have learnt is,you can still carry all your clothes,provided its lightweight plus a jacket which you can wear while at airports.Carry clothes which can couple up in layers.Usually the domestic flights in Europe has weight limit of 15 kgs,so be aware of that if you are taking internal flights.The penalties at Europe is much much higher than what we give in India.So even a kg extra can cost you 20-25 euros.Best thing is take what’s essential,skip what’s garbage.If you travelling for a month and a half or more,you can also wash your clothes and dry.If you plan every day,take your dress accordingly for each day.I don’t because I usually carry 2-3 more alternatives,but that’s indeed the way.

12)No Place is as Safe and As Unsafe: 

We all have in mind that Europe is the ultimate destination with no crime rates which is not true.I agree,you may find yourself more ‘free to do’ in Europe.However with recession,came the high crime rates.Greece and Paris are notorious for pick pocketing. While during my trip to Greece,I know two stories that happened right away in the metro of Athens,where one of my hostel mates passport and wallet were stolen who had to make several trips to the embassy afterwards,and another a guy’s wallet was stolen which he complained to Athens police but got a stern reply ‘It happens everyday’.I didn't face pick pocketing in Paris but the constant announcement in metros and stories online says it happens quite often in Paris too.In fact as a matter of thumb rule,do not leave your luggage unattended in any part of the world. Safety lies in your hands,be little more cautious when travelling abroad.

13)Managing Money

Me and Namita having a blast at a local pub in Turkey
For free!

As you read my posts on Paris,you would understand what I am talking about.While Travel card is widely accepted everywhere in Europe,its advisable to carry part cash.Why so is because,if you plan to wander places which are off beat you might not have the facility to swipe the card.Usually carrying small denominations is recommended,as you would need it in metros(1.5 euros),buses and other modes.For shopping and everywhere else,you can try your luck with the travel card.When you board a bus in Paris or Italy,validate your ticket at the validating machine in the bus,they do not have ticket conductors.You can backpack Europe in as small budget as you would want to,or more,depending on how you want to travel.Europe isn't a big deal if you are sure of your budget.It’s easier to overdo budgets with the currency,but with planning,it can be done.

Buy City Passes i.e Roma pass,Zurich Pass and etc at every country that mostly includes your transport and historic cites.That is another budget way to save money.

14)Be Flexible with plans

The idea here is to get a hint and know in detail.However,while travelling you may come across people who inspire you for a new place or places which are just random somewhere on the map.Keeping your gut feeling intact,follow your heart,sometimes the new places are more beautiful than the ones in map.And many a times,the local buses,trains go to these places.Take calculated risk while travelling keeping the above factors in mind.I have taken buses worth Euro 1.5 inside the islands in Greece,,just because somewhere I liked the name and had the desire to explore.It hardly took me 20 minutes to figure out bus routes at the stand and places it takes me too.Adding onto a quick conversation with the one who gave me tickets,I got to know which places has what exactly.

15)Vegetarian or Non Vegetarian:Most Often You'll Find A Way

Swiss Alpen Macaroni consisting of Potatoes Macaroni Cheese Onion
And with Apple Sauce

Our parents have literally fed us with a concept that most often foreigners survive on meat or rather beef,and finding a vegetarian food is a struggle out home which is crap.I myself,am not a vegetarian,but an occasional non-vegetarian(I love chicken,fish etc etc but not always and definitely not on every meal in a country!)But having traveled to 6 European countries this year,I can confidently say 'Vegetarians will face no issues anywhere'.You can always ask the cook of the restaurant to make a vegetarian dish.Better still,you can do your research,make a list of vegetarian places and go hunting! So whether in Turkey or in Greece or in Spain,it's no big deal.Most of the restaurants have vegetarian dishes.Even in place like 'Scotland in UK' I found so many vegetarians!

If you are specific on having Jain food during your tour,go for packaged tours.If you are non-vegetarian be flexible on what you are getting because we may be used to chicken and fish,the world may have something different to offer.

16)Respect culture

I see it often that when we go abroad,we have a tendency to overdo our want for the teeny meeny,considering its Abroad and its Europe.However,in places like Turkey which still is very open except few sites where the shoulders need to be covered,respect that.Respecting their culture means instant connect.

17)Language No Barrier

It was when my dad went to Paris many many years back,he said the English speaking folks are not talked to sweetly.Considering my experience in Paris now,I would say if people don't understand your language,its fine,talk in sign language.If they seem not interested,move on.Learn a bit of a language if you have to,there are small little language book in every place most often on roadside,or you can learn on Internet.Sometimes talking in two different languages can be quite a funny experience like I had with a Croatian lady in Switzerland.

18)Yes,There are needy people everywhere

Now as per my assumption,I had never assumed in European countries people who are needy perform on road (like music,dance,act) and expect a money back.In Turkey at Taksim square you would see beggars even.The good part is these guys perform,while at India we are for free give and take.

19)Expecting Europe To Be Washed Clean is a mistake

The first impression you would have of Paris is Mumbai(a better version).The second impression the not-so-clean metro gives is 'Is it really what we see on the Facebook pages'.During evenings,Athens would have jammed packed metros.Is that the Europe you knew about?These places are still beautiful but whitewashed cleaned,not so much.Accept this fact and go with an open mind.

20)Do Not Ever Go Just By Photographs: 

 The Internet is full of beautiful photographs isn't it?But sometimes it happens,when you go to a place,you realize that it isn't even half as beautiful as the photograph.I have seen thin waterfall shots taken with so much grace,that I too get inspired.And when I go there,I find it that the picture wasn't as the reality is.Capri in Italy has beautiful photographs but one of my friend was advised to not go there by a local because they said it was dirty.

So,my last word of caution is:

 Do not plan just by watching Photographs.

You have Google. Do an image search.Look at other pictures and then decide on your own.Videos speak volumes.Watch videos which are not time-lapse or heavily edited,but the ones which are uploaded by amateurs or blogger who want to show you the real picture. So hoping that,you learnt a lesson or two on backpacking Europe.

We’ll have more series on planning travel,but these are just the basics before I write about my trip to Turkey,Greece and Italy.I see a lot of posts,randomly scattered online,and none helped me plan my trip,which was rather sad. But I hope this one helped you in little understanding of travelling alone.If it did,your sweet comments will make my day.

 Backpacking Paris is already there on my site.Till Turkey and Greece and Italy comes up published in detail,tada!

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  1. Spending time in Europe can be a great pleasure if you get organized in advance .

  2. completely agree with you on ryan air .. we paid 1500 INR for flights and 4K for luggage that was pathetic .... no ryan air for us too ...i think racism is everywhere, its better to ignore and move on, who cares !! At times i have seen officers at port of entry are also very rude as if they are doing a favour on us ... btw nice tips for planning ... I was thinking of a family vacation and was in a confusion whether go for a package trip or plan on my own ...

  3. Very nice post, loved reading it. I went to Paris a year ago and did all the planning myself, so rewarding and fun at the same time :)

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing article. I have been looking for this information as I am planning a trip to Europe this summers.


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