As much as my generation may have been defamed for being so obsessed with the social-media, and being termed everything from twit to ditz to social-media whores, it would be imprudent to overlook the plethora of benefits this very same social media offers, other than instant gratification of course!
Another ingratiating vice which my generation has providentially succumbed to is that of ‘excessive traveling’ (wait isn’t that an oxymoron?). The yearning and the act of traveling has transcended like never before. Being a 90s kid, I remember ‘summer vacations’ and ‘honeymoon’ being the only words associated with traveling. But now, we travel to celebrate, travel to commemorate, travel to find ourselves, travel to lose ourselves and most importantly even travel for no reason.
While my generation has willingly surrendered to this whirlpool of travels all across the world, the quintessential ‘euro trip’ is what rings in the mind of all young and old, while they look towards planning their ‘first trip abroad’.
For most, Europe has been their first choice for the famous graduation trip. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s breath-taking, affordable and has something for all kind of travellers. I’ve travelled Europe before and I stayed in hotels, and trust me I didn’t feel the pulse of Europe until I went back there the second time as a backpacker. My first backpacking trip to Europe was the best that it could be. Not bragging really. I couldn’t have had asked for a more liberating experience, and the fact that I enjoyed it so much, I thought these few travel-hacks could add more life to your backpacking trip, while you may be dealing with jitters on the thought of backpacking Europe, just the way I was.
While it may be a rage amongst travel-junkies across the world, unfortunately this concept has not yet picked up too much by us in India as yet, due to safety hazards. But let me tell you, the element that tops my mind for making my backpacking trip so fruitful was definitely Couchsurfing.
You want a couch for free and that’s why you want to Couchsurf? – No. Don’t even bother trying then. You will hate it for many reasons then. But if you get an adrenaline rush at the thought of exploring a new culture, by watching it up-close and living it, and if making new friends of varied surnames fancies you and if you are curious AF to know why they do what they do, then Couchsurfing is totally for you. Of course it has its cons, but isn’t traveling also about getting out of your comfort zone sometimes? If your goal is to explore and not holiday and if you want to literally live in Rome as the Romans do, then Couchsurfing is totally for you.
Travel Tip – Please read your host’s profile before approaching them, and a good time to approach them is easily 2 weeks before your dates of arrival.
2. One for the hostel
Okay, you’re not getting hosts in a particular locality or are looking for some convenience and still want to feel like a backpacker. Hostel is next best option for you. If sleeping in a bunk which is encircled by bunks full of people from speckled nationalities is your thing, then you’re sure to not feel lonely even if you’re an
introvert and on that solo trip. For solo travellers, there can’t be a better option than hostels, which not just offer you a bunk ideally placed in melting cultures, but they also offer you breakfast, a kitchen where you can cook (and must clean), animated common areas full of people exchanging everything priceless, games and books, wifi, city tours, crazy versions of beer pong, joint cooking sessions, pub crawls and
lots of fun events coupled with maps and dollops of trivia on places close by.
Cons – One bathroom and six to eight people sharing it. Oh come on, it’s totally worth the drudge. Just adjust your timings maybe?
Travel Tip – The Hostelworld app has some great options and reviews for hostels, which is pretty accurate. And a cooler way to find the best Hostel is look for Hostels which have won Hoscars (Hostel-Oscars) pretty cool right?
3. Free walking tours
The first thing you MUST do after checking in at your Hostel is ask for the Free City Tour and join them quickly. You may be tired but trust me it’s the best thing to do on your Day 1 in any city of Europe. These walking tours are free (but you should definitely tip that cute guide, who is generally awesome!)
and last for about 2-3 hours and is extremely extremely informative. So basically, you’re getting a much-needed insight into the history of the city, some fun-facts and a basic layout of the city without getting lost, coupled with ample opportunity to make friends en route. Now that makes it a win-win deal.
The tour guides are like sweet limes (they’re really sweet and funny), more you can squeeze the information out of them, more you’re likely to enjoy everything around you. And did I say they’re cute?
4. Affordable country hopping
So much to see. So little time. How to afford it all? Night journeys in the bus, while you hop countries can really save up your time, money and of course spare you the boring day ride in the bus.
Internal flights and trains are the most viable when you’re looking for a comfortable journey while hopping countries, but if you’re young, broke and once again blessed with capability of sleeping just about anywhere, hit that button to book a seat and do night journeys while crossing countries. You save money of hostels and at the same time, you save time.
Con – They don’t have sleeper buses, so it’s 6-7 hours of sitting.
Travel Tip – Flixbus, Polinski are some major bus operators in Europe and the buses go pretty full in season, so get that ticket atleast 2-3 days prior. And let me tell you, those buses are extremely safe and even offer free wifi. Aren’t you convinced already? I haven’t tried bla-bla cars, which also is pretty famous in Europe, but I rented a convertible to drive on the Autobahn, and the drive was super chic.
Travel Tip 2 – If you pick the car in the same country and drop it off in the same country, it’s definitely a cheap deal, also you can put yourself on bla-bla car and get some passengers in to make your ride cheap and fun (hopefully).
5. Daily pass for internal travels
Europe is a lot about walking around the cities, because everything around is oh-so- pretty! But there comes a time, after which everything in Europe starts looking similar, the same central square, the typical buildings, the beer gardens and your legs refuse to budge and move any forward. That’s when a day pass will come to your rescue.
You usually can get get day passes, typically valid for a city’s entire public transportation system for 4-8 Euros, and as the name goes you can take rides all day with that one pass without paying anything extra and use it in several modes of transportation depending on each city. Plan your trip accordingly and when you feel you’re in the mood of exploring the city through a window seat and earphones plugged in, get that pass already.
Travel Tip – Cycling is BIG in Europe. Some cities even offer dedicated lanes for cycles. Even the locals use cycles to commute to work. Try it at least in one of the cities like Amsterdam or Salzburg, it’s easy to rent and super affordable. You can thank me later!
6. Student pass for city fun
If you’re below 26, don’t waste your money on those drunk blurry weekends and back-to- back Goa trips, head quickly to Europe, while you can make most of it.
Under 26 peeps can enter museums for super cheap and get great discounts on parties and other trips. I got a discount, even for hiking! They love younger people don’t they.
Travel Tip – Unfortunately, I forgot my student pass, so I showed my driving license everywhere. It worked just well for me.
7. Lockers for those spontaneous trips
So, you’re in a city for some time . You don’t want to spend on a hostel/hotel and don’t want to drag that luggage everywhere you go, so what should you do? Fret not.
There are super safe and easily functional lockers (of various sizes) at most major bus stations and airports. They are self-operative and super affordable.
8. Festivals, carnivals, concerts
I got lucky to witness and dance in the Berlin carnival (Karneval der Kulturen) and it was such a treat to experience it all, watch the localities coming on the street and enjoying an important day together. Now isn’t that kind of a memory you would definitely want to rant about once you’re back?
I also got to enter an aviation museum for free in Krakow, because it was an important day for them out there, and that’s what the cute girl managing the Mosquito Hotel in Krakow told me.
Travel Tip – These things make your trip wholesome and extraordinary. Keep your eyes and ears open and look out for all the local festivals/concerts happening. You’re sure to experience a city from the inside at that time. Wouldn’t the non-Indians be lucky if they landed in India just on Holi or maybe
9. Read up on world wars
Even if you’re not a history person, a little awareness on the World Wars can really make you appreciate Europe far more and help you hold a conversation with a local. Europe had a significant role in the World Wars and the people there are not yet over that scars of history which are etched into their city’s soul.
Concentration camps like Auschwitz will make you cry and leave you depressed for a while.
Travel Tip – Enter museums with the audio guides on rent available outside
to make the most of that museum experience.
10. Book in advance but don’t book in advance
Yes, that sounds a bit contradictory. You don’t need to book your entire Euro-trip in advance, as sometimes while you’re on the trip, you may meet fellow travelers and locals who may turn out to be better tour guides than anyone you would have found on the internet. Travel is about fun and going with the flow after all!
That said, there are things in Europe which you need to need to book in advance, like the Parliament Visit in Berlin and Auschwitz Camp Tour as they do fill up really fast.
Travel Tip – Spontaneity is great but get yourself booked in well in advance for these tours as they get full super-fast. Especially the parliament tour in Berlin. You can’t come back from Berlin without doing that.
So just like life, a trip is a balancing act of what to book and what not to book. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
These hacks could be useful to you according to what traveler level are you at. I can’t wait to get back to Europe again, and soak in all those cobbled streets full of beautiful people, cute houses and vibrant markets. I would love to hear from you if you can add to some of these travel hacks which really made my trip wholesome indeed. Just leave any more tips you have in the comment section!
Salzburg, Innsbruck, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Brussels, Cologne, Heidelberg, Krakow, Zakopane, Prague, Budapest, Split, Dubrovnik, Vatican City, Monaco, Paris, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Genoa, Venice, Zurich, Berne, Liechtenstein – CHECK! And so much more yet to explore.
Ps – Learn a few greetings in their local language, it goes a long way in making friends and even getting help from strangers.