Existing Member?

Hayley Travels

Final Thoughts

WORLDWIDE | Sunday, 30 October 2016 | Views [394]

So I'm back in the States after a four-month long adventure in Europe. I had the most amazing, magical, fun time! I got to eat delicious food, see gorgeous architecture, experience unique cultures, and learn fascinating history. I do not have a single regret about my time spent in Europe. This is my last post for this trip and I wanted to include my final thoughts and advice.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Europe is widely varied and totally fascinating. That being said, there were places and activities I liked more than others. In general I liked most cities. I'd recommend either skipping Madrid or only spending a day or two there. I loved Spain but Madrid was a let down for me. I'd also recommend skipping or limiting Warsaw. Spend more time in Kraków or go to a different city in Poland. I wasn't as impressed with Rome and Athens as I'd hoped and expected to be, so a couple of days in each city was more than enough for me. On the other hand, I spent days (and could have spent more) just wandering around Barcelona, Stockholm, and Kraków, and that's not even taking into consideration the many cool museums and activities you can see and do in each of those cities.

To help you out, I've made some 'Top 10' lists.

TOP 10 CITIES
Barcelona, Spain
Stockholm, Sweden
Edinburgh, Scotland
London, England
Kraków, Poland
Sevilla, Spain
Dublin, Ireland
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Berlin, Germany
Prague, Czech Republic


TOP 10 FOODS
Kielbasa and potatoes, Kraków
Swedish meatballs, Stockholm
Beer battered apples, Munich
Margherita pizza, Naples
Franchesinha, Porto
Bacon & sausage roll, Edinburgh
Fresh squeezed orange juice, Valencia
Croque Madam, Paris
Bratwurst, Berlin
Chicken schnitzel, Budapest & Prague


TOP 10 MUSEUMS
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
British Museum, London
National Archaeology Museum, Madrid
Egyptian Museum, Turin
Louvre, Paris
Altes Museum, Berlin
Skansen, Stockholm
Musee du Oceanographique, Monaco
National Archaeology Museum of Catalunya, Barcelona
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence


TOP 10 SITES
Catedral, Sevilla
Parthenon, Athens
La Mezquita, Córdoba
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Lisbon
Colosseum, Rome
La Alhambra, Granada
Big Ben & Houses of Parliament, London
Trevi Fountain, Rome
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Prague Castle, Prague


TOP 10 ACTIVITIES
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, London
Loch Ness & Scottish highlands day trip, Edinburgh
Warner Brothers Studio tour, London
FC Barcelona game, Barcelona
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kraków
Oceanographique, Valencia
BioParc, Valencia
Pompeii, Naples
Canal cruise, Amsterdam
Day trip to Monaco

 


IF YOU WANT TO BACKPACK THROUGH EUROPE

Planning a trip like this is no easy task, trust me on this. I spent two and a half years planning my trip, although that is partially because the location changed several times. I read dozens of blogs and books for advice and tips. So, I've compiled a list of information, advice, lessons learned the hard way, and tips that will be helpful if you want to take a similar trip. If you are interested in doing something like this and want even more information, please do not hesitate to contact me. I'd love to share my knowledge and experiences because it was an amazing trip and I'd love for more people to travel like this!

I've broken down my advice, etc. into categories for easier reading.


HOSTELS

Hostel World and Hostel Bookers are the two websites I most used for my trip. I'd recommend Hostel World because more people use it, so you'll have more reviews. On the other hand, Hostel Bookers has better filters for narrowing down options. Try both and determine which one you prefer.
As a general rule, do not book hostels that have less than an 80% (Bookers) or 8.0 (World) rating. The lower rated hostels tend to be really cheap but they're not worth it. Sometimes you can find really highly rated hostels for fairly cheap, sometimes you can't, but you can almost always find good priced hostels between 8.0 and 9.0 ratings.
As you travel you will discover what to look for in a hostel and I guarantee it won't be all the same things you looked for when you started. Initially I cared if a hostel included free breakfast, but after staying a couple hostels that did, I realized I rarely ate the free breakfast and that it wasn't a big deal to me. There are primarily four things I care about when reading reviews for hostels. First, safety. If a hostel has a low safety rating I tend to avoid it (it depends on the reviews and the reasons for the low rating). Second, cleanliness. I'm going to tell you right now that you're really never going to find a spotless hostel. There are just too many people coming and going that it's difficult for it to be sparkling, but hostels do their best to keep it as clean as possible. If I read reviews about how it's slightly dirty or dusty, I'll generally be fine with it, but it's when words like 'rats' and 'cockroaches' get tossed around that I look for a different place. Third, wifi. Since I do not have an international plan and am making plans as I go, I need wifi. If the only strike against a hostel is spotty wifi I may still stay there but wifi that cuts in and out when you can't use data is extremely frustrating, especially when I'm trying to let my family know my whereabouts. Fourth, outlets. This isn't a deal breaker necessarily, BUT if there are similar hostels and one has a charging outlet per bed and one doesn't, well, I'm sure you can guess which one I'm booking. It's incredibly annoying when there is limited charging in rooms and you have to get creative. But I wouldn't pay more for a hostel because of better charging.
Bigger is not always better. Big hostels tend to be run more like hotels. Smaller hostels feel more like home, it's easier to meet people, and the staff tend to be more helpful, friendly, and personable. The best hostels I've stayed at only have a handful of rooms and I've met tons of people there.
Going along with smaller hostels, they tend to also have a kitchen and common area that people spend a lot of time in. Use them! Seriously, I hated staying in hostels that didn't have these. It's really cheap to pick up food from a supermarket and make food, plus, again, you have a better chance of meeting people.
I keep talking about meeting people, I know, but it's important! Part of the backpacking experience (as opposed to taking a vacation) is meeting fellow backpackers. My best memories from my trip aren't the world famous landmarks, the fascinating museums, the beautiful town squares, or the scrumptious food. No, my best memories are the times when I'd sit in my room exchanging stories with my roommates, when a group of us from my hostel decided to hike partway up a mountain to see the city at dusk, or when a couple people would be leaving and ask if you wanted to go grab dinner with them. I met people from every continent except Antarctica, from 30+ countries. I met people of different ages, occupations, religions, political views, cultures, and experiences. Even if you are shy or introverted, try to step outside your comfort zone and meet people. I have had cities where I didn't meet many people and I don't have as fond of memories of cities that I should have loved. And the opposite can happen as well. I didn't particularly enjoy Madrid but I had some really great roommates. The people you meet make a huge difference on your experience.
Take advantage of the hostel's facilities and utilize the staff members' knowledge. The staff know all about the city and what they don't know, they can look up for you. This is why it's important to stay in small hostels - the staff at bigger hostels tend to feel less approachable. And seriously, take advantage of the facilities. If a hostel has a rooftop terrace, enjoy pleasant temperatures and read, or have a glass of wine and watch the sunset. If a hostel offers free or cheap meals or activities, think about taking them up on it (for example, my hostel in Granada offered all-you-can-drink sangria for 3€ after 11pm). If a hostel has laundry facilities, especially if it's pretty cheap, use them! Seriously, I wish I had done that earlier. Your clothes will start to smell and get dirty and eventually it gets to the point where washing them does little good. Don't get to that point. Use the laundry facilities.
Are you a light sleeper? Not anymore you're not. The more beds in a room, the cheaper the cost (the most I ever stayed in was an 18-bed dorm) so you'll likely have at least five-nine roommates every night. Some people will go out and come bad at four in the morning. Some will be traveling together and will stay up talking when you're trying to sleep. Need to get up at 6:00 AM to catch an nine hour bus? You can guarantee you'll have a group of five people check in at one o'clock in the morning, turn the lights on, unpack, and talk loudly. You eventually just get used to it. Bring some earplugs and an eye mask and you'll be good to go.
Modesty basically goes out the window, just letting you know. People will change right in the middle of the room with the window open while having a conversation with you. People will see you sleeping (nobody looks good while they're sleeping), they'll see you when you just woke up, they'll see you when you haven't showered in four days and your hair is all kinds of greasy, and they'll see you right after you shower. It is what it is and you'll get used to it, I promise.

 

TRANSPORTATION

Go Euro and Rome 2 Rio are your best friends for finding transportation between two places. I prefer Go Euro but Rome 2 Rio is good if you're traveling outside of Europe.
If you're traveling within Europe, I highly recommend Flix Bus. This company goes between almost every major city in Europe. It tends to be one of the cheapest options, there is usually a decent amount of room between seats, and there is almost always charging outlets and free wifi.
You may have to take buses that are four or more hours long. Usually these buses stop at a gas station, rest area, or McDonald's at least once. Take advantage of these stops. Even if you don't want to get anything to eat or drink, use this time to use an actual restroom, stretch your legs, or get fresh air. You will thank yourself.
Try to avoid overnight buses if at all possible unless it's by far the cheapest option. They're not particularly comfortable, you won't sleep well, you'll have to leave at a weird time, and you'll most likely get to your destination several hours before you can check into your accommodations.
When you're booking buses and trains, you may find crazy cheap tickets (like less than $5) but the bus/train leaves at two o'clock in the morning. Before you book that ticket, make sure to take into consideration how you're going to get to the station. Metros and buses tend to shut down around midnight and night city buses tend to be infrequent.
Know how to get to your hostel from the bus/train station. Oftentimes hostels will include directions from the main stations but you might not come into one of the main stations, especially if you're coming by bus. If you don't figure this out before you leave, you'll waste a lot of money on taxis, trust me.
Make sure you know the spelling of your destination in the native language. For instance, Praha = Prague and Wien = Vienna. Not knowing this could mean missing your bus or train.
For longer bus or train rides, go to a supermarket and pick up some snacks and water so that you have something to eat and drink while you travel and you don't have to pay for the overpriced food and drink at the station.
You'll find that buses are by far the cheapest option for traveling. Lots of people asked me why I didn't buy a Eurrail pass. My response was always that for the length of my trip it was significantly cheaper and more flexible to not buy the pass. For shorter trips it can be beneficial. Just look at the website and determine what works best for your trip.
You may need to fly while you are on your trip. I used STA Travel for all of my flights. They'll find the cheapest options. You'll hear a lot about Ryan Air and how cheap it is. I never used Ryan Air and here's why: the base coat is really cheap but if you have any luggage at all, it could cost you more than the ticket is worth to check your bag. If you are studying or living in Europe and want to go to, say, Prague for three days and all you're going to be bringing is a school size backpack, Ryan Air is a great option. If you are backpacking through Europe, it will most likely be the same price as any other airline since your backpack or suitcase will most likely not fit as a carry on.
You will spend a ton of time traveling between cities, so have a lot of music on your phone or iPod and have books on a tablet. I much prefer reading the physical copy of books but that's not feasible for a backpacking trip, so I use iBooks on my iPad. Trust me that having music and books will make trips go by faster.
Need some recommendations of good books? I got you covered!
If you like action, suspense, romance, and humor, read the Bluegrass Series by Kathleen Brooks. Technically there are four series all in the same world. The first series is the actual Bluegrass series. It is a trilogy that builds off of the book before. Then comes the Bluegrass Brothers. There are six books in this series and the books don't build off of each other the way the first series does. Third is Bluegrass Singles. There is less action in this series but more background or wrap up from characters you get to know in the first two series. Last is Forever Bluegrass. This series has the action of the first two and is actually about the lives of the children of the people in the first two series. There are currently four books out but there will be a ton more since between the nine couples in the first two series there are almost thirty kids. I've reread these series several times and they're always good.
If you like political intrigue, assassination attempts, romance, action, and drama, I recommend The Royals by Danielle Bourdon. There are fun twists and turns, some that you'll see coming a mile away and some that will throw you for a loop.
If it's drama and romance that you're looking for the North Star Romance series by Suzie O'Connell is a great series. There are four books that cover a span of several years and are great reads.
If you're like, "Hayley, what if I just want something fun and lighthearted? These all seem too dark for me," I got you covered. I recommend The Wedding Pact and Bachelor Brotherhood series by Denise Grover Swank (she is also the author of a pretty good mystery series if that's your thing).


GEAR

You'll want an actual backpacking backpack, trust me. I've seen people bring suitcases and that's a freaking terrible idea. Most streets in Europe are cobblestone which is no good for suitcases because they ruin the wheels and make suitcases hard to maneuver. Also, there are a lot of hostels that do not have elevators and having seen people struggling to get their suitcase up and down the stairs and it looks miserable. So seriously, get a backpack. You'll probably have to spend a decent amount of money on the backpack. I spent just under $200 on mine. This will be carrying all of your belongings for the trip so you don't want to cheap out. There are many different types so do some research on features you'd like before buying one. Pro tip: go to a small outdoors/sporting goods store to look for your backpack. When I first began searching I went to Academy Sports and Gander Mountain and they both basically had nada. But then I went to this small store called the Bear Mountain in College Station and not only were there tons of backpacking backpacks available, but the people working there were extremely knowledgeable and had actually done backpacking trips. My backpack is Osprey which is one of the most popular and respected brands; I highly recommend it and the employees at the Bear Mountain swore by it. Also, you'll want to purchase a backpack that is between 45 and 55 liters. Any smaller and you really won't have much room for anything (highly seasoned backpackers can go smaller because they know exactly what they're doing, but that's not common). Any bigger and it will be difficult to carry.
You will want to get a good pair of shoes because you will be walking all over the place. Again, prepare to spend a decent amount on shoes. Lots of people will recommend Merrells or Keens and they are both wonderful and respected brands. But I wanted shoes that looked less like walking shoes. I swear by Olu Kai. The pair I got were a little over $100 but absolutely worth it. They look a little like boat shoes and are already broken in when you purchase them. They are extremely comfortable and I never got a blister during my entire trip. Plus, although they're scuffed and dirty, they're still in great shape after four months (plus the times I wore them before I left).
Ladies, although not essential, I recommend buying a Vinyasa scarf from lululemon. My cousin recommended it to me and I'm so glad I got one. It snaps closed and I've used it as a scarf, a shawl, a blanket, and an extra pillow case. Seriously, at least look into it.
Quick dry towels are your friends. They fold up into little pouches and are thinner than normal bath towels so they don't take up much space in your backpack. Plus you won't have to worry putting a wet towel in with your stuff.
Invest in a good travel pillow. Seriously. You will use it way more than you think you will. During my four months I have taken 1 ferry, 9 planes, 14 trains, and 31 buses. That's a lot of traveling. Mine has foam instead of beads and is super comfortable.
Don't forget that the plugs are different overseas, so you'll need adapters and converters!
For ladies, shampoo and conditioner can be a pain when traveling. I've been using bar shampoo from Lush while I've been traveling and while it's not as great as the shampoo I use at home, it does its job and is convenient. It doesn't count in liquids when flying and takes up little room. If you don't want to use bar shampoo, I'd recommend just getting travel shampoo when you're there.
Deodorant in Europe is a different chemical makeup than in the United States. For some people, it's whatever and doesn't affect them. However for others it can give them rashes or at the very least irritate their skin. That is not something you'll want to find out the hard way.
When you're deciding on clothes, simple is key. Plain colored shirts, dark wash jeans, tan shorts, etc. This way you can mix and match outfits since you'll have limited space for clothes. I brought five tank tops (deep blue, deep green, maroon, and two black), a black short sleeve tee, a white long sleeve tee, black skinny jeans, tan shorts, black Nike shorts, and one simple dress.
Pack clothes you're not attached to. They're going to get dirty and you'll probably get sick of wearing them. I only brought back about a third of the clothes I came with. That's not unusual. If you need to get rid of clothes while you're traveling, you can almost always find a H&M for a cheap replacement.
Store your clothes in large Ziploc bags. Packing cubes don't work well in backpacks but Ziploc bags do. This keeps your clothes organized so you're not pulling out each piece of clothing individually when looking for something in your backpack.
When I go on trips with my family I tend to overpack because I try to pack for every possible situation. If you're anything like me, you probably do to. DO NOT DO THIS. Seriously. You are going to have to carry your backpack to every city you visit and it can get heavy. Do not add to this weight by packing more than you need. Also, unnecessary items take space away that can be used for souvenirs.

 

ACTIVITIES

Make a list of all things you want to do in each city you visit and how much things cost, just so you have an idea for a budget. Then understand that you will for sure not do everything on your list.
There are a lot of castles, cathedrals, and monuments in Europe. Do not pay to go in them unless you're dying to see the inside. I almost never paid to go in but got some gorgeous pictures from the outside. I saved a ton of money that way but still saw some of the most popular sites and landmarks in Europe.
You'll get bored of museums no matter what you think. Plus museums can get pretty expensive. Again, only go to museums you really want to visit.
Much like museums and landmarks, limit the number of tours and day trips you take, because they are even more expensive. The exception being free walking tours. If that's your thing go on as many as you want. For the ones that cost money, narrow down a list to what you absolutely refuse to miss. For me that was Pompeii, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Loch Ness, Warner Brothers Studio, and a double decker bus tour. Don't pay to take a tour just because it's highly recommended if you're not interested or only sort of interested.
Spend your time exploring the city. Most likely you'll be within walking distance of or a metro ride away from a city's Old Town or historical neighborhoods. You'll save so much money and get a great look at the city's culture and history this way. There were so many cities where I never paid for a single activity and just explored the city. You'll find cute shops, stunning architecture, and delicious restaurants filled with locals.
Ask reception and use Google to find free and cheap things to do. For instance, sometimes, especially in Spain, there are days or times that museums or landmarks are free to enter. By utilizing reception and Google you can often find great deals as well as find out places to avoid or not to miss.

 

SAFETY

Trust your instincts. It sounds too simple and cliche but seriously, trust them. If something feels off, don't try to tell yourself that you're overreacting. Listen. You may very well be overreacting but if you feel something is wrong, it is so much better to be safe than sorry.
Don't be alone after dark, especially if you're a woman. I have done it but usually I was just walking a block from a restaurant to my hostel, but I tried to avoid it at all costs. Some places felt more safe after dark than others and you'll get a feel for the location almost immediately, but as a general rule stick with others.
Harassment. Unfortunately this is a problem for women both in Europe and the United States. If you're a women traveling by yourself chances are you are going to be harassed or catcalled at least once. Rarely will it be anything serious so just ignore it. There were only a handful of times that I actually felt a little nervous. Normally it was just annoying or slightly uncomfortable. Just be careful, because unfortunately, just like in the States, there's always the possibility of it turning serious.


I have a ton more advice and tips, so if you want more, just let me know!

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.


About hayleythenomad


Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries

My trip journals



 

 

Travel Answers about Worldwide

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.