Backpacking Around Europe For Beginners; Hints and Tips!
It’s hard to imagine just how anxious you feel stepping off the plane, with no return ticket and nothing but the rucksack on your back for company. The day I actually booked the flight for my first back packing trip across Europe, my heart skipped more than just a beat.
Most of my nerves quite quickly became excitement and I left my fear behind at the airport as I jumped my first of many buses. On the other hand, things could have been considerably worse had I not asked some more experienced friends and read a few well written blogs to advise me on travel before leaving for my flight.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC):
Of all the items you can forget, ignore or leave until the last minute this brilliant little piece of plastic is not one of them. A European Health Insurance Card allows you to get free or discounted hospital and medical treatment wherever you might end up in Europe. Unfortunately it is currently only available to EU residents, so if you’re travelling to Europe from outside the EU this summer, I recommend a medical examination and getting that toothache sorted out before you leave!
It’s best to send off for your EHIC early if you don’t already have one, and consider how many things could potentially go wrong whilst on the road when you’re ordering it. This card ensures that no matter what occurs; you’ll at least be able to get treatment without hospital bills you can’t afford or worse yet, not getting treatment.
Accommodation really falls into very few categories for a backpacking budget with the best choice falling into the “hostel” category. Hostels are cheap, cheerful, flexible and allow solo travellers to meet new friends who share the same passion – travel. This means you can easily get a better lay of the land from fellow hostel dwellers and advice on cheap places to shop, stay and drink in other cities over Europe.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this sentiment before I left, but once I had returned I had no doubt that what I had been told was true. Not only did I save a small fortune on accommodation but I also met new friends in almost every city I stayed in, almost all of whom had good advice to offer me in terms of nightlife, cheap supermarkets, the best bars, the best forms of public transport (which seems to change for every city) and even the best tourist sites. Anyone who doesn’t have some useful information to offer will more than likely need the same thing, which is equally heart-warming and gregarious.
It’s also advisable to have a list of hostel addresses for every major city you can think of; this allows you a bit of breathing room and means you don’t have to find an internet cafe every time you’re stuck for a place to rest. Keep in mind sites like couch surfers too, this is great resource for finding friendly folks to put you up when you’re in a tight spot.
Although hitchhiking tends to be the stereotypical method for a backpackers transport public transport is a wonderful way of soaking up culture, language basics and local scenery. It’s also safer than hitching a ride with strangers… One item which can be ordered online can be of significant use in terms of trains at least and this is the InterRail card (or Eurail card for non-EU citizens). These cards come in two forms, one which is “inter country” and allows you to travel anywhere in a single country which you book in advance. The other is “inter global” and allows you to do the same but for thirty European countries. InterRail cards are cheaper than Eurail cards, but both can prove excellent value for money!
Trams in certain countries can be jumped for free, but be wary because local police often don’t take kindly to backpackers trying to travel without paying their way. Be safe and look up the dangers of jumping trams and buses before being too hasty. There are plenty of blogs which can provide you with information of this nature.
What to Pack:
Expensive electrical goods like smart phones and tablets are also not a great idea for travelling, replace them with books (real, not electronic) and notepads for writing. This will ensure that you spend your time looking around, enjoying the culture and soaking up the local life rather than tweeting about how great travelling is. Not only will it allow you to have a more in-depth experience but you won’t have anything to worry about in terms of thieves, just focus on keeping your rucksack, wallet and passport safe.
In terms of contact, having a cheap ten pound mobile which you can use for emergencies is ideal, it’s less likely to get stolen than a smart phone and allows you the basic functionality required to contact those at home. You can always stop by cafes and hotels with computer portals if you need to make a Skype call!
One Final Note:
The best advice anyone can give you, which will seem obvious and even patronising (but is actually hard to put into practise during your first trip) is this; be open minded to new cultures, don’t speak loudly and slowly if someone doesn’t speak English, try and grasp the basic polite phrases in every country you visit and most importantly, be modest.
If you stick to these rules there is no reason why you won’t have the most amazing time of your life whilst on the road. Nor is there any reason to be fearful or anxious, aside from those feelings of “first time” excitement which often disguise themselves as nerves.