Adventure abroad! Do you know what it takes to go backpacking in Europe?
By: John Miller
What's the very first step after you decide to backpack across Europe?
Planning is a key step for any trip abroad, and that's especially true if you're going to backpack across Europe. A bit of research pays tremendous dividends and reduces frustration. And yes, at times, there will be frustration -- but it will all be worth it in the end.
If you're from America and you want to backpack through Europe, you will need ______.
Ever seen those nightmarish movies about people who get stuck in travel hell because they lost their passport? Don't be that guy. Apply for your passport at least three months before your trip, and after you receive it, don't lose it.
If you want to see Europe on the cheap, where should you stay at night?
Hostels (or dorms) are like hotels, but you'll often share large rooms with other travelers. What they lack in privacy, they make up for in cost reduction. They're also a great way to meet new people and make temporary traveling friends.
Where are you most likely to find cheap and (relatively clean) hostels in Europe?
Major cities -- of where there are many in Europe -- often have numerous cheap hostels where you can crash. The key is to call ahead and book your reservation in advance so that you don't risk being turned away by a "No Vacancy" sign.
What would you do with a "Eurail" pass?
The Eurail (passenger rail line) is a very popular method of traveling Europe. You can hit 28 -- yes, 28 -- different countries with a single Eurail pass.
In terms of prices, when is NOT a good time to travel to Europe?
The summer months of July and August are the most popular travel periods, and as such, travelers pay a premium for all services and products. Go in April or September and prices are substantially lower.
When you arrive at your destination city, what's the best way to save money while you're sightseeing?
Many Europeans cities are walking paradises, and your own two feet will save you bundles as opposed to cab rides. Just make sure that you're in decent shape before you decide to walk all over the place, or you'll be exhausted and ready to go home after a week.
What's one way you can dodge paying for a hotel during your trip?
Hotels can be crazy expensive depending on your destination. But if you take an overnight train, you can simply doze while you're en route!
What's a "homestay"?
A homestay is when you crash overnight with a local person. There are multiple apps that can connect you with people who are willing to have you as a guest. These are a great way to make friends and really get in touch with the regional vibe.
What's one major advantage of a homestay?
Homestays have a tremendous advantage -- they let you find a place to stay, even in areas where there are no hotels. That means you can hit smaller towns and villages in more remote locations.
True or false, when you're traveling, should always wear your backpack and carry a large map right in front of you so that you look like a lost traveler?
Don't make yourself a target to criminals. When possible, store your bags in a locker and look at maps on the sly. If you blend in, you won't look like an easy mark.
What would you do with a service called Bla Bla Car?
Bla Bla Car is an online service that helps people find carpooling partners. You can specify your destination, and often, you'll find a driver who's willing to let you tag along for a fee.
Before you go to Europe, take a picture of your passport and then _____.
Email that picture to yourself or store it in the cloud in case of an emergency. There's no substitute for a hard-copy passport, but if you store a copy of your passport online, you'll be ahead of the game in case you lose your documentation.
If you want to avoid hordes of other tourists, when's a good time to travel to Europe?
The "shoulder" seasons, April through June and September through October, are less popular for the masses. Hit the shoulder season for lower prices and far sparser crowds.
Staying at major hostels has one nice perk. They often have _____ for rent.
Many of the bigger hostels rent bicycles to their patrons. Bikes are one of the fastest and most cost-efficient ways to see big cities in Europe.
If you want the cheapest possible airfare to Europe, you'll want to fly out of what sort of place?
You have to start your trip somewhere, and that somewhere is the airport. The bigger the city, the cheaper the flight -- sometimes, it's worth traveling to another city just to get a more affordable plane ride.
If you're traveling solo through hostels, should you definitely have a hardcore itinerary with no flexibility?
If you're traveling alone and hitting hostels, you're going to meet some new friends, and you may decide that you want to travel with them for a while. In short, don't lock yourself into an iron-clad schedule, otherwise, you'll miss out on spontaneous adventures.
What's a way to avoid paying high restaurant prices in touristy areas?
Skip the tourist traps. Instead, wander beyond those neon-lighted areas and hit the outskirts, where local establishments will be happy to see you and charge you half the price.
What's a typical tip for waitstaff after a meal at a European restaurant?
In the United States, a standard tip is 15-20 percent. In Europe, you're looking at more like 5 percent. Don't worry, they'll find all sorts of other ways to get into your pockets while you're there.
True or false, does everyone in Europe know how to speak English?
Not everyone speaks English (no, seriously!) so you should familiarize yourself with a few key phrases in the languages of the countries you're visiting. It's simply common courtesy and people will be much nicer to you if you show them a bit of effort in appreciating their native tongue.
What's one reason you should research a destination city BEFORE you arrive?
Sure, you want to be a free spirit and simply explore. Feel free to do just that -- but realize that if you do just an hour or two of research beforehand, you'll be able to maximize your fun while reducing uncertainty and inconvenience. For example, booking a hostel online a day or two in advance takes five minutes. While you're standing on a city street corner in the heat, it can get much more frustrating.
True or false, if you eat a meal at a counter, is it customary to leave a tip?
In Europe, you're not required to leave a tip for a counter meal. It'd be like tipping at Burger King.
How do European businesses operate during normal business hours?
Different cultures have different norms for business operation, so keep that in mind as you travel. In Spain and France, for example, it's common for businesses to close for several hours during the day during a siesta. And the Louvre? It's not open on Tuesdays.
If you use a credit card for a cash advance in a foreign country, you will often pay _____.
Credit card companies love it when travelers take out chunks of cash. The companies will charge immediate interest and fees. And you thought the pickpockets were bad!
In which month would you find the cheapest airfare to Europe?
For the cheapest airfare, check tickets in the offseason, like November. If you're lucky, you can snag a round-trip ticket for less than $600.
True or false, do many hostels serve free breakfasts in the morning?
It's true, just as in America, many hostels and hotels include breakfast as part of their fees. That might mean coffee and not much more, but this will vary depending on the location.
What's a BENEFIT to visiting Europe during the busiest months?
Sure, peak season is busier, but that means businesses and amenities of all kinds are ready and waiting to help you. In the offseason, particularly in smaller towns, some businesses have reduced hours or may even be closed.
What's one benefit to using local trains as opposed to the Eurail?
Local trains within one country have two huge advantages: you don't typically need advance reservations, and they are often cheaper than the touted Eurail system. That's just one more reason to research your plans before you go.
True or false, do all major credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee when you're traveling abroad?
Many cards do charge you exorbitant fees when you're abroad. But some major companies offer cards with no fees at all -- be sure to get one before you go.
Why is wintertime sightseeing in Europe sometimes frustrating?
During winter, you'll run into shorter business hours, and of course, there's less daylight, too. In smaller towns, the shorter hours of operation can turn a fun trip into a patience-busting ordeal.
It's time to guzzle French wine, eat authentic Spanish tapas and sip a beer at Oktoberfest in Munich. Do it all on the cheap by backpacking across Europe! Do you have what it takes to survive a trip through these amazing countries?
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