So you’re doing it. You’re heading out there to start your first backpacking adventure. Congratulations, you are about to become part of a fantastic community of travellers that span every corner of this beautiful world. If you are like us, I’m sure you have lots of questions. The purpose of this section of Life is Good, Eh is to try and answer as many of the questions you may have before you embark on your first journey abroad. The tips and tricks here are a combination of advice from travellers who have been there and done that. Currently we have two contributors adding their knowledge to help get you started:
Ryan is 23 year old Canadian engineer who is currently living abroad in the United Kingdom. Ryan has a particular fondness for travelling Europe and decided to make the jump across the pond in order to travel more often and explore as much as possible. When he’s not travelling you can find him wearing a flannel shirt, drinking a beer and shouting at a hockey game on TV. If you have any questions about the tips here, shoot an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and he will do his best to get back to you!
Charlotte is a twenty-something Canadian, currently situated in the beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. When she’s not working her day-to-day job, she’s doing everything else she’s passionate for: writing, travelling, climbing mountains, cooking (which includes eating), and allowing others to inspire her. Having always been traveller, she decided in March 2014 to start up a blog; one that talks about her current and past travels. She has recently been inspired to broaden her blog content by including excerpts that talk about her other interests. You can check out her blog at: http://hiatushunnie.com/
Tips and Tricks
Consider your “Travel Pace”
Whether you have two weeks or two years, it is important to think about how many places you are trying to visit on your trip. Some people try to fit as much in as possible, spending only 2 or 3 days in each city. Others will stay put and truly immerse themselves in a few cities over a week or more. Part of this is knowing what kind of person you are. Do you want to hit the highlights and move on to the next one, or would you prefer to discover those back alley cafés and quiet side streets one city at a time. It is also important to consider the fact that over the course of a longer trip, jetting from city to city quickly can cause you to get worn out easily, making you enjoy your trip much less. On the other hand, spending too much time in one particular city can lead to boredom and feeling like you wasted your precious time abroad. I (Ryan) personally have a short attention span and tend to move more quickly from place to place. I typically plan to spend about three days in each location the first time I visit.
Consider your travel partners
One largely missed consideration when planning your first trip is who you are travelling with. Backpacking around a foreign continent is an exciting and adventurous experience, but it can also be stressful if you do not travel with the right people. Depending on the length of your trip, you could be spending several months with the same person. Even the best of friends can get on eachothers nerves spending day in and day out together for a long period of time. There are pros and cons to both travelling alone and with others.
Travelling alone – pros – complete flexibility in your itinerary, get to see and do everything on your time. If you want to nap, take a nap. Travelling alone can force you to come out of your shell and make friends, instead of just spending time with your travel partners. Cons – Travelling alone means no one has your back. Travelling is not all daisies and rainbows. You will have good days and you will have bad days. Being prepared and knowledgeable can limit your bad days but sometimes nothing helps more than a familiar face.
Travelling with friends – pros – The shared experience of a trip of a lifetime with your best friends. Having people there to watch your stuff at the train station, have a second look at the map when you get lost (you WILL get lost) and someone to split the bill at the grocery store with. Cons – travelling day in and day out with the same people can drive even the best of friends crazy. You may miss out on some things you wanted to do because your partners did not want to go.
In the end, your trip is entirely what you make of it. If you are laid back and like to go with the flow, perhaps travelling with others won’t be a problem at all. If you are independent, maybe going it alone is your cup of tea. A bit of a best of both worlds approach that works well is to plan trips with other friends who will be travelling, where you plan to meet up in certain cities that are of interest to both of you, and then diverge here and there to go your own way.
Pick your Pack
A largely misunderstood idea about backpacking is that the more you take with you, the more prepared you will be. Most experienced travellers, especially when in Europe specifically, will tell you the opposite. Having a smaller pack can not only save you money but make your trip much easier. Budget airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet are extremely cheap if you do not check any baggage. Another important thing to consider is that throughout your entire trip you will often be stuck on crowded metros or buses. A small, compact bag will not only make your life easier, but make the locals much less annoyed with your presence.
Know how to Pack your Pack
Backpacks are deceiving – especially when you are looking at a 35-45 litre ones. They may come across as small and worthless for a 4 month trip, but fear not, there is more room than you think there is. It’s all to do with how you pack it!
As mentioned in the previous header, when packing for a european trip, the bare-minimum is what you truly need. Take into account that you are probably going to buy a new t-shirt, scarf or a new set of pants (whoops!) along the way. You want to be able to bring those things home with you! An excellent way to organize your belongs is to use travel packing organizers. By using these, it save you from rummaging through your pack every morning to find that one missing sock! Another great way to pack efficiently and make the most of your pack space is to use a compression sack. These things have never failed me. It’s amazing how much you are able to pack!
Another consideration when packing your pack it to know weight requirements. For those who decided to carry on their pack, you will find airlines have become quite strict when it comes to the size and weight. Be sure to research your airline ahead of time to find out its maximums. Of course if you decided to check your pack, this isn’t applicable.
If you do decide to carry on your bag, be sure you organise it so that all your liquids and electronics are easy to remove for security check purposes. Also, research ahead of what fluids you are allowed to carry on. Some airlines differ from others. There is nothing worst than having to throw away that expensive hair product or eye solution because it’s 10 mL over the limit. Read ahead and save your things!
Hostels can make or break your trip. Of course they are a place to sleep and lock up your stuff but in the modern world of backpacking they can be so much more than that. Hostels are continually adding bars, hangout spots, pub crawls and all sorts of other fun and unique things that set them apart from other hostels in their cities. Above all, hostels are a haven to meet other like minded travellers and can lead to new experiences and life-long friends that you wouldn’t have imagined possible. Both of the contributors to this blog met in a hostel in Milan and have remained friends ever since.
The destinations section of this blog will give you some specific hostels that we have stayed in and found to be totally worth your money. The list will continually be updated as we continue to travel the world, but if there is a destination that we have not included a suggestion for, there are plenty of ways to find yourself a good place to crash for the night.
Hostelworld.com – A great resource you can download on your phone or tablet, featuring all sorts of hostels all over the world. Hostelworld offers deals in certain cities each week and also gives out awards for the best hostels on it’s site. Check out the features and reviews for each hostel to make sure the place you are booking has everything you need!
Ask your fellow travellers – The intent of Backpacking 101 is to share knowledge of fellow travellers to make your trip all the better. This can be done while you are travelling as well. One of the coolest hostels I have ever stayed in was in Sorrento, and I never would have found it if it wasn’t for an Australian backpacker I met in Nice that suggested it.
Workaway – If you don’t feel like giving up the cash for accommodation, surrender some of your time and help volunteer somewhere! Workaway is a very reliable website that advertises places to volunteer around the world. Its filters make it easy to find the perfect location you’re yearning for. On average, the host will make you work 4-5 hours a day for free accommodation and food. To register as a volunteer, it does require a fee of 18 dollars or so. This registration lasts about 2 years and you will have to reset your membership by paying the next fee. It’s absolutely worth it for the experiences and memories you will take away!
IMPORTANT – these Workaway locations are not always “drop-in.” Sometimes host only take volunteers certain times of the year. 99% of the time the host would like between 2-4 weeks of notice ahead of time. Be sure you do your research and communicate with whichever host you decide to work for.
You will read about Eurail passes on nearly every travel blog and travel advice column you find. There is a reason for this. A rail pass is a really, really good idea, especially if you are travelling relatively short distances from city to city. Rail passes can save you a tonne of money and are easy to use, Eurail even has an app you can download and use offline to pick trains between destinations. A Eurail pass that allows 10 travel days in 2 months can run around $650 CAD, which allows you to take as many trains as you want within a 24 hour period, 10 times. These type of passes are especially beneficial if you are not planning your route out entirely ahead of time and will be more or less going with the flow. It also helps if you miss your train, instead of a lost fare you can just hop on the next one.
IMPORTANT: Although most rail passes cover your train ticket, some countries such as Italy will require you to book an assigned seat on the train for a small fee, usually €10-20.