People often catch the travel bug during their years as a student in college. For some, studying abroad in a country gives them the freedom they had been looking for, the complete change in culture they had been yearning to experience, and the feeling of excitement they were seeking from a new adventure. Many other students choose to head out into the unknown by packing a bag, grabbing a water bottle
and map, and backpacking across Europe for a few weeks or months until they miss their parents’ home cooked meals, sleeping in their own beds, or just having clean clothes.
If you’re one of those adventurous ones who wants to hit the road and backpack through Europe, you might want to do some research and plan out your route before you take on such a big adventure. Here are a few tips to consider when planning your backpacking trip to another continent:
Tip 1 – Choose the right backpack
Make sure you get a bag that can withstand all of the everyday wear and tear of your trip along with all types of weather. Its got to be comfortable, sturdy, and most importantly large enough to hold all of your belongings (and souvenirs!)
Tip 2 – Pack lightly
Remember that you only have one little bag to carry all of your stuff for the next few weeks. A good rule of thumb to follow is to pack once, then dump it all out and pack again, this time eliminating about ¼ to ½ of your original fill. Label things as “Must-have” and “Maybe” and only bring the “Maybe” items if you have some extra room…I think it’s safe to say that you probably won’t.
3 – Have your passport (and visa, if needed) ready at least 3 months ahead of time
If you’ve never gotten a passport before, you can file for one at your local state or federal court house or pick up an application at most post offices. Passports usually cost around $110 ($97 for the passport and a few extra bucks for the photos) and because they are in such high demand, they can take months to receive, so be sure to file early!
If you already have a passport, make sure that it is valid at least 6 months after you plan to arrive back in the U.S.
Make a photocopy of your passport and/or visa before you leave. It’s probably not the best idea to carry this with you at all times when you’re abroad, as there are many pick-pocketers that target travelers and tourists. Since this is your key into and out of countries and back to the U.S., it is wise to keep this in a safe spot (not in the front pocket of your bag). Lock it up in your hotel/hostel room and only carry the copy with you when you are out and about exploring the town.
4 – Photocopy your documents and leave the copy with family or friends at home
Before you leave on your trip, make a photocopy of your passport, visa, flight and hotel/hostel information, or any other important details or itinerary that will be part of your trip. If something should happen or you lose or have your passport stolen, there will be someone back home with all of your documents and can know where you are.
5 – Use student travel websites or companies to book your flights
Probably the biggest expense you will have for your trip is the airfare to and from Europe. Companies dedicated to student travel usually offer the best rates around, so definitely check those out before turning to other travel agencies or websites. Note that the cheapest places to fly in and out of are London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam, so try to plan to arrive and leave from these ports.
6 – Money matters
A safe budget to follow is about $60-$75 per day that you will be traveling. That might seem like a lot, but if you consider meals, hotels/hostels, travel, and souvenirs, you can see how all of that can quickly add up. While it’s a good idea not to carry too much cash with you at one time, you also need to be aware of ATM and international banking fees. Definitely stop in or call your bank in the U.S. and see what their rates are and if you will be charged for each transaction. If you need to use an ATM while abroad, it might be a good idea to take out a larger sum of money all at once so you don’t have to keep visiting the machine every day and rack up charges.
It’s also a good idea to give your bank written notice of your consent to let someone back home access your accounts while you’re away. If, for some reason, your card is not working or you need more money deposited in your account, having someone already authorized to do it for you will save you a lot of time and hassle.
Another tip: exchange some of your dollars into Euros before you leave, but note that the airport is not the best place to do this, as their exchange rates are quite high. Some major banks have international fare available for exchange as well as some companies like AAA.
These are just a few of the many tips for future backpackers ready to hop across the pond to explore Europe, but there are a lot of great websites with important tips and words of advice from other backpackers, so definitely do some research online before you go. What are you waiting for? Start planning your trip!