So you’ve decided to backpack around Europe – you’ve read all about the amazing cities, the beautiful beaches and the great party scenes in the blogs and lonely planet guides and you’ve talked to friends who’ve ‘been there, done that’ and while all that is great to get those wanderlusting juices pumping, its the boring, practical, actual travelling part that’s going to make or break your experience.
Its the dull but important advice people leave out because it didn’t involve ‘that one night you got into that club, danced on the bar coyote ugly style (please tell me some of you got that early 00s reference), got all those free shots and partied the night away on a beach with all those models…’ but believe me, knowing these useful tidbits may be the difference between the adventure of a lifetime or a regret filled disaster trip that ruined friendships, caused countless arguments and burned a hole in your pocket the size of a small island (perhaps I’m being a little overdramatic but it could definitely be a giant pain in your arse and be an avoidable waste of your hard earned beer money)
So here are my top 10 things to know before you start your European adventure;
1. Validate your Ticket!!!!!
Let’s start with the obvious but easily forgettable step in any city travelers journey. In Europe, buying a ticket for the bus/tram/train is useless unless it is Validated (has the date and time stamped on), if your ticket gets checked and it hasn’t been validated you will get slapped with an on-the-spot fine ( its €80 in Berlin for example). And don’t think you’ll get off because you are an unknowing tourist – this just means you are easy money, wardens will take no pity on you. But don’t fear! Ticket validating machines are in abundance in stations and are located near the doors of buses and are usually easily signposted.
Wardens are particularly present in Berlin and Budapest and will most likely been in ordinary clothes. However, in Budapest by law, wardens must wear an armband indicating their presence.
2. Get a Travel Card
Although most of Europe has the same currency, a few do not, particularly in Eastern Europe. This will save you carrying a lot of cash, the chore of changing currencies and massively decrease your chance of losing your money. They are also helpful as many cards come with apps with currency converters, the same exchange rates as banks and the ability to cancel/track your card incase it goes missing or gets stolen. The ones we use are Revolut and Monzo (We have 2 just incase one gets stolen or doesn’t work). But do your research! Any travel card will have their own pros and cons so find the one that is right for you.
3. Check if you need a Rail Reservation
The easiest way to cross countries in Europe is using the Railway. It is cheap, fast and very efficient (except for Britain, it’s pretty shit there). But, similarly to using the local metro/bus, many rail companies require more than just buying your ticket. In this case, it is getting a reservation for the specific train you want to take.
Of the places we travelled, Italy and Poland have a mandatory reservation policy whereby your ticket will not be valid without a reservation – the prices vary anywhere from a few Euro up to 10 Euro depending on location, so be prepared for this additional cost and always check whether a reservation is required, particularly if you are crossing Country Borders. (Note – If you are traveling using an Interrail/Eurail Pass this will not be included in the price of your ticket and you will have to pay additionally for a reservation)
4. Student Cards are Absolute Gold (you lucky bastards)
In Europe, many of the big museums, art galleries and famous landmarks have a discounted price for students so bringing your student card is an absolute must! For those of you who have just graduated, bring your old one anyway. We did this and more often than not the cashiers don’t bother to check the date on the card. It’s a risk but it will end up saving you a lot of that precious beer money.
5. Hostels aren’t always the cheapest way to go
Other accommodation sites such as Airbnb are often cheaper than Hostels, especially for groups because you’re paying for the accommodation rather than the bed. The bigger your group of travelers are the cheaper Airbnb tends to be.
Airbnb is just one other option, there are loads of accommodation options these days, couch surfing, house sharing etc… My point being, shop around first, there are other options than just hostels. What can get you a crappy hostel sharing with 20 strangers included that guy who snores like a foghorn, the chronic farter and that couple who definitely aren’t sleeping in the corner, can get you a pretty decent shared house with your own quiet room.
However, if you’re a solo traveler then hostels are definitely the way to go, they will almost always be the cheapest option and hostels will always been your best option for meeting fellow travelers – for better or worse!
6. Buy your Alcohol in the Supermarkets!
Obviously buy one or two when you’re out, but make sure if you intend to get hammered, do it before you go to the pubs/clubs because, irrelevant of which Eastern European country you’ve been told is ‘insanely cheap for beer’, the clubs will always charge 3-4x the price of the local shops because they know ‘mad-for-the-sesh’ backpacking chumps (like you) will pay it. So grab your alcoholic beverage of choice, go back to your hostel, set up in the common area and have a good old pre-drinks before you go out. You’ll get adequately smashed, make some new friends and save yourself a small fortune in the process!
7. Make your Own Meals
This is one of the best and easiest ways to save money while you travel. A loaf of bread and some ham and cheese can make you a couple of days worth of lunches, add in some fruit or chocolate – depending on your health preference – and you will save yourself a small fortune.
An entire loaf of bread at a supermarket can be as cheap as 50 cents. And for the extreme savvy traveler, if you have the amenities available, cook meals in rather than eating out every so often. You’ll be amazed what you can do with one pot and a few spices.
Note – We are thinking of making a Travelers Guide to making edible food from that unknown meat you just purchased (it’s a working title) – Comment below is if you think this would be helpful?
8. Use Travel apps/Bus apps
If you’re intending to travel through Europe via Interrailing/EUrail or just using the railway system by yourself, the RailPlanner app will quickly become your new best friend! This app has a timetable for all the major and not so major trains across Europe. Type in where you are and where you want to go, the date and time you want to leave and the app does the rest for you. It even tells you if the reservation is needed for the train you want to get on (See tip No.3). The timetables are updated pretty regularly so make sure you have the most up-to-date version before you travel. It also works offline, which is extremely helpful when you will inevitably get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no internet!
If you happen to go to Croatia, it is best to travel using buses, we used a company called Flixbus (which operates all across Europe). Buying the tickets through the app is very straightforward and gets rid of the daunting busy bus station ticket office. You download the tickets through the app so there is no need to print them off, you just show the driver and there you go. However, be wary, the app tell you that luggage is free but this company often hires out local bus companies which can independently charge for you luggage (usually 8 Kuna).
9.Google Maps is the Best!
This is probably an obvious one but just incase… If you’re British then good news! All major mobile phone companies have stopped roaming charges in most european countries so you can use internet data on your phone without being charged extra, this is a godsend for navigating around a new city. We highly recommend using google maps as it not only gives you a map of the city (obviously) but will give you bus/train routes and times, which is extremely helpful if you’re ignorant Brits like ourselves and don’t speak the local lingo. For Non-Brits or those who don’t have data roaming, there is an offline version that allows you to download maps of certain cites that can be used when you have switched off your data.
10. Don’t look at your phone while you have your backpack on and are going down a flight of stairs – even if your Facebook has just been hacked.
OK, so this one is ridiculously specific… and does only apply to me … but learn from my mistakes! Nobody wants a severely sprained ankle whilst travelling with an 80L backpack in the backend of Poland. Those gloaty snapchat stories and Instagram posts #wanderlust can wait for the 5 hour train journey you’re about to get on.
The last thing you want is to have cut your trip early and return to those people you’ve just pissed off with your relentless posts about the ‘how travel has made your spirit so free’. When you’re suited and booted in all your travel gear focus on getting from A to B and that’s it. Trust me.
Hopefully this will help make your journey a little less stressful and your pockets a little fuller…
Comment below if you have any other helpful tips for the novice European traveler.