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A Few Suggestions

June 20, 2011

Practice makes perfect, the old saying goes. It certainly rings true in my book…if I could do things over, my bag would be a little smaller, my shoes a little lighter, and my maps a little more detailed. So here’s a list of Tips for any novice backpacker like myself (or for anyone attempting to Do Europe Cheaply and Deliciously).

Ten tried-and-true Backpacking Tips: 

1. Make a detailed itinerary & keep it with you at all times. Ours included detailed walking directions to every hostel we stayed in, which were a Godsend when the time came to put the to good use. Keep key contact numbers on this sheet, as well a “receipt” mapping out prices for each stay. Print out at least one copy per person, just in case one gets lost along the way!

2. Bring as few valuables as possible. Keeping track of your passport is hard enough – I was happy to be Blackberry-free for a few weeks. Yes, I brought an ipod and pay-as-you-go phone, but those were the only things of value with me, & I kept them close at all times. On that note: definitely invest in a European phone, & read the small print before you buy. Fees are often tacked on that you wouldn’t even know to look for!

3. For those who use hairdryers: Buy a European model upon arrival. I had one from a previous trip, which we brought along. It really came in handy, as we found that while most hostels do provide hair dryers, they often don’t get hot, practically whisper out air, or flat out just don’t turn on. Pick one up for around 10 Euros…and if you’re traveling with other females, bring just one to share (same goes for brushes…no need to schlep two of ’em around with you).

4. A huge, huge tip: Go to your local library & check out a few city-specific guide books, & take the best ones along with you. They were a life saver for us! Not only do they contain great suggestions for must-see sites, they have maps, neighborhood-specific restaurant recommendations, & even metro maps. Yes, they get a little heavy, but if you split them up (like my friends kindly agreed to do) then it’s not so bad, & well worth the hassle. Really, having these books made our trip hassle-free & gave us more time to enjoy the sites!

5. Be prepared to lose just about anything you brought with you, & don’t sweat it. Somehow I parted with a black cardigan, a skirt, and a towel in our travels. The only real issue was the towel (resorted to a pair of wool socks once. Don’t ask). Thankfully I was able to pick up another quick-dry (though slightly water-resistant) towel for cheap pretty soon after losing the one I’d brought along.

6. After traveling for awhile, we kind of got sick of eating out for every single meal (and our wallets did, too). One of the best suggestions I picked up on this trip: head to an off-the-beaten-path supermarket & order some freshly made sandwiches for lunch. You will find yourself eating great quality meats, cheeses, & breads, & it’ll literally cost you just a handful of euros! Europeans do their deli-sandwich making a little differently from run of the mill American markets. They weigh each ingredient as it gets piled onto the bread, & just charge you for what you buy. No service charge. As a result, my prosciutto, mozzarella & artichoke sandwiches never went a penny over 3 euros!

7. While I’m on my supermarket-kick: Hydrate at them! Restaurants charge upwards of 3 euros for one silly bottle of water, & most don’t offer tap. “Too dangerous,” they say. & you can forget the free refills. So, just hop into a supermarket, where you’ll be happy to find rather large jugs of water for around 20 cents a pop. We picked them up all the time, gas or natural (flat). In fact, after a great day on the beach in Barcelona, we gulped down a 30 cent small bottle before heading to dinner. No need to pay so much for something that in the US is free!

8. Collect something from each city/country you visit, and keep up with it from the start of your trip. For example, I now have cooking magazines from England through Spain, and love them. Sure, I can’t read more than half of ’em, but they were the perfect memento to remember each country by.

9. Forget dieting. A friend of mine once went on a 14-day European cruise & only ate salads. Salads! What a shame that was. Honestly, just lose a few pounds before, & then another few after the trip. If you’re backpacking, you’ll be doing a ton of walking anyway (which is how I rationed stopping in about half of Europe’s pastry shops).

10. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for suggestions. Sometimes the off-the-beaten-path gems come out of asking for quick directions to a local landmark. I had fun using my very limited French & even more limited Italian to get to know the people whose countries we were visiting. Don’t just take the easy road & resort to English all the time. Sure, it’s easier, but where’s the adventure in easy?

11. Contact your bank before you go abroad. Many banks have relationships with banks abroad, where you won’t be slammed with ATM user fees. Lucky for me, Bank of America has deals with many European banks, and I didn’t pay user-fees as a result, as they’re often are upwards of 5 bucks. Barclays is Europe’s most popular bank, and works with BofA.

Hope these are of some use to somebody!

Thanks for stopping by!


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