I just got back from backpacking across England, Wales, France, and Italy. The trip was AMAZING (a bit exhausting), and I’m so glad that I went. Backpacking across a country–especially one where I didn’t speak the language at all–is way outside of my comfort zone. I’m so glad I took a leap of faith and went on one of the greatest adventures of my life. Of course, as with any big trip, you learn lessons as you go, and you see things you could have done differently to make your trip go a bit more smoothly. Honestly, it’s part of what makes a trip like that such an adventure.
It can be nice to remove as many unnecessary stressors from your trip, right? So I have compiled a few things that I learned on my European adventure. I hope they help makes yours go a bit more seamlessly.
There Are Pros and Cons to Backpacking
When the Europe adventure was in its early stages of planning, my husband and I had lots of friends who had lived/traveled around Europe who gave us lots of helpful tips for our trip. One of those was the warning that we should absolutely not bring any more luggage than one backpack each. “You’ll be miserable lugging a bunch of suitcases around Europe,” they said. Lugging suitcases around Europe did sound awful, so we backpacked. It certainly was a lot easier, but the backpack was also a pain in its own right from time to time.
If you’re planning a trip like I went on, where you moved from city and country quickly, and walk everywhere, I highly recommend backpacking. However, when you plan each day, make sure that you think about what you’ll do with your bags as you explore. You’ll encounter loads of backpackers in Europe, so it isn’t out of the ordinary to go through stores and even some attractions with a backpack, but it can be really great if you can stay at a place that lets you store your bags for the day. More than that, there are places that don’t allow you to bring a bag in, so making sure you know where you bag goes each day is helpful.
So it’s handy, but I must warn you, after lugging a bag around a country for weeks, that sucker can get pretty heavy–even worse if you add souvenirs to your bag. I was moving MUCH slower on my last day.
So just be ready for sore shoulders, and the potential of coming across an attraction that won’t allow you to bring your stuff with you.
It’s a Privilege to Pee
I’m hoping you get my Urinetown reference, but if not…
Finding a bathroom that doesn’t charge you to use the restroom is a bit of a feat in Europe. There were restrooms in Venice that charges 1 Euro 50 to use. That’s about two bucks for a potty break, y’all, which can totally add up. Just, plan your days accordingly. Happily, if you’re taking the train, most of the trains (and some train stations) have restrooms that you can use for free, and most restaurants have bathrooms for customers. But still. It can send you into a bit of a panic when you realize you can’t just find a bathroom anywhere to use for free.
The Train is Magical
We rode the Eurail to get everywhere outside of the UK, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. The Eurail makes it CRAZY easy to get all over Europe, and the trains were pretty easy to sleep in. Bonus? Some of them even had phone chargers. While trains come and go almost all day (so its easy to catch a later train if you miss your planned train) the train rides can take a while, so it’s good to make a rough train travel plan. And be sure to make sure the trains you want don’t require a reservation!
Outlet Adapters–A MUST
Got a cell phone, laptop, or flat iron you want to bring on your European adventure? You’ve GOT to bring an outlet adapter. Otherwise?
The EU and the UK have different outlets, so it’s good to have a multi-plug adapter. I bought this one, and it worked great in both the UK and the EU. It had several other options to work for other countries, so I’m going to hang on to it for future adventures!
Don’t Let Language Be A Barrier
Straight up, I was stressed in Italy because I don’t speak a lick of Italian. I felt completely out of control. Of course, I was also stressed in France because I speak some French, but not enough to start a meaningful conversation. Here’s the thing though: it’s totally okay. The French people I met were incredibly patient and gracious, and I had no trouble communicating (turns out I’m awesome at ordering food in French). In both France and Italy, we encountered several people who spoke English, or at least spoke enough English that we could communicate with. However, if you want to prep for those people who don’t speak English, I’d recommend practicing the language of the country you’re visiting with apps like Duolingo, and downloading the Google Translate app to your phone. That app can translate (some) signs, you can type a phrase in to translate (and favorite it for easy access), and even speak into it for a written and spoken translation. Most locals are going to appreciate that you’re trying to speak the language, and will be understanding. It’s going to feel a bit chaotic, not speaking the language, but embrace it. That’s just part of the experience!
Traveling to Europe is a giant adventure, and there is plenty that you’ll learn as you go. Hopefully these five tips can help make your trip seem a bit less scary, and a bit more exciting. Ultimately, you’ve just got to embrace the unknown and (mild) chaos, and enjoy the adventure! Have you traveled to Europe or another country? Let me know your tips in the comments!