It’s something of a rite of passage for youth: backpacking across Europe and learning to find lodging, make friends, navigate foreign cultures, and live on a tight budget. One of the core difficulties with backpacking, though, is that there’s a sense that it can be done with little planning because you’re supposed to be improvising. This means some travelers overlook key steps.
Before you set off on your backpacking trip, here are 5 things you should know. From visas to hostels to spending money, backpacking is complicated but ultimately rewarding, and a great way for young people to assert their independence.
Create A Timeline
The first thing you should do when planning a backpacking trip to Europe is to set a timeline so that you can be sure your passport will be valid the whole time, that you apply for appropriate documentation on time, and so that you don’t miss out on any seasonal activities.
Depending on the dates on your documents, for example, you may be denied access to a country even with valid documentation. If you’re an American traveling without a Visa, for example, most European countries assume you’ll stay the full three months permitted and may deny you entry if your passport doesn’t have at least six months validity remaining.
Plan Points Of Entry
When traveling internationally, where you’re coming from is as important as where you’re going. For example, Americans can travel visa-free in both the UK and the Schengen area of Europe, a functionally borderless part of the EU, but those from other parts of the globe may require additional documentation.
If you’re coming from most African and Asian countries, you may need separate visas to travel to the UK and to the rest of Europe since the U.K. maintains a separate visa policy from the Schengen area. An immigration lawyer can help you understand your travel visa needs so that you aren’t denied access between countries en route.
Understand The Trains
Train travel is the heart of backpacking culture and Europe has an extensive rail system. Invest in an Interrail Global pass or Eurail pass and you’ll be able to minimize your travel and lodging expenditures. It’s normal to see travelers sleeping openly on trains throughout Europe. The culture of security is different and you can actually avoid paying for overnight accommodations by doing so.
Embrace The Hostel
When you do need to stay somewhere overnight, look for hostels, which are common in Europe. You can stay at a hostel for a fraction of what you would pay for a regular hotel, plus you’ll get to chat with other travelers, exchange tips, swap books, and more. You should carry a combination lock with you for when you stay at hostels so that you can use an on-site locker or lock up your possessions while you’re there, especially if you’ll be staying for a few days.
Backpacking is all about exploring, but one thing you don’t want to be too adventurous with is your phone plan. Roaming charges can tank your budget overnight and you’ll regret having a phone at all.
Luckily, smartphones have reduced some of the stresses of traveling abroad by freeing travelers from standard phone plans. Before you leave, set up wi-fi calling so that you can communicate with a few contacts regularly. Every parent’s worst nightmare is that their child will go missing and they won’t even know what country they’re in, so keep them abreast of your plans. Your smartphone can also help you check train schedules and avoid getting lost as you move between countries.
Fewer young people are backpacking these days, but what’s stopping you from testing your limits on the open roads of a foreign place? So give yourself a few parameters and get your documents in order – it’s time to set out on your next great adventure.