Is backpacking the way you are looking to travel through Europe? It could be the right choice for the right person; Europe by backpacking has definitely become a popular way to travel through Europe. It has a sense of adventure, self-reliance, and best of all is the cheapest way to travel.
Planning the Trip
Although there is a romantic notion of backpacking through Europe, of being free to roam when and where a person wants, there are truly some practical matters to consider before arriving in Europe.
The first thing a person will want to look into is how long they plan to be in Europe. The time allotted to travel will determine how much can be seen and how much money will be needed. So, a backpacker will have to determine if they can be there for a few weeks, a summer, a semester, or even a year. Once a time frame is determined then that person can begin to consider where they would like to travel and how much money they will need.
The second thing a person will want to look into (and probably most important) is their budget. A person’s budget will be the most limiting factor of how long and where one can travel. There are places in Europe they can be extremely cheap and there are places where it can be the world’s most expensive place to be. Knowing this to be true can really help a backpacker make choices of where they would like to go and how they would like to go about traveling Europe by backpacking. Also, a budget will help a person to make the most inexpensive choices. Meaning, if a person really knows their budget they can choose to be in Paris and buy some rolls for lunch from a French bakery, rather than spend 10 times as much at a café/restaurant. And by making such a frugal choice one is really not missing out on anything. After all, munching on a lunch of French bread while watching the passerby’s outside at the Louvre will be just as nice as being stuck inside a café.
Ways to Travel Around Europe
The first question after determining how long one can stay in Europe and how much they can spend is how to get there? The only practical answer is by air. Traveling from the United States to Europe there can be some seafaring options like transatlantic cruises or passenger options on merchant ships, but they’re really not that cost-effective. Besides, the time spent at sea could be better spent traveling around Europe.
There are plenty of relatively low-cost options to fly to Europe. Obviously, when traveling in the summertime the price of airfare goes up as more tourists head to Europe. Still, there are brokers that specialize in low-fare options for travelers. These brokers even dabble in chartered aircraft that will not be available by booking on a travel engine like Orbitz, Priceline, or Expedia. If a person is pretty free when they can travel than another option could be last-minute airfares that are available from the major airlines. Every week, the major airlines put out last-minute airfares to help fill up seats on fairly empty flights. For international travel they typically announce flights one week in advance. These flights to international locations will (generally) be from their major hubs which is different for each airline. This could be a really good option if one lives in or near the city that serves as a major hub for an international airline.
Again, planning becomes important before leaving for Europe when deciding how one will travel Europe by backpacking. This is because one of the backpacker’s favorite ways to travel around Europe is by rail. Rail travel is a primary way that Europeans travel. However, those who are not from the continent have an advantage on price, because they can purchase a Eurorail pass. A Eurorail pass allows a person to travel on many of Europe’s rail lines for a certain amount of time for a flat fee. The catch is a traveler has to purchase the pass before leaving for Europe because the Eurorail pass is designed for non-Europeans.
Much like the United States, Europe has also grown a number of small regional airlines that a person can fly inexpensively. These would be like the European equivalent of Southwest Airlines or JetBlue. But just like the American airlines, the best rates will be had when one purchases tickets far in advance. This could put a real crimp into the backpacker, vagabond lifestyle because one will be on a predetermined schedule. On the other hand, if one only planned to see a few, select regions of Europe then air could be a good way to get between regions.
As car ownership is not as prolific in Europe as it is in America, there are many more options to rent a car for travel. Car rental is a great way to travel around Europe because it can help one get off the beaten path and explore more remote, less traveled areas. It also has the benefit of carrying a group of friends together and letting them choose their own itinerary. And really, if one uses a car rental to only get from point A to point B it can be a fairly inexpensive option, especially if the expense was divided among a group of friends. Indeed, the expense does not need to be divided amongst a group of friends but can be split among a like-minded group of fellow backpackers who just want to get to the same location.
Once a person is at a destination then the cheapest travel will definitely be public transportation or by foot. This shouldn’t be too surprising as this is the cheapest means to travel all over the world. Also considering the old world nature of European cities, most tourist attractions are centrally located and within walking distance of each other. This can be quite the cost savings, while also helping keep costs down.
Ways to Stay Cheaply in Europe
The most inexpensive way to stay in Europe is to stay in someone’s home. This can be an option if someone has friends and relatives in Europe or has friends who have friends or relatives in Europe. Of course, this may limit a person to where they can go in Europe because they would be tied to the region where their hosts live. However, there are home exchange programs where one can offer their home to those who are traveling in the United States and then they can stay in the other person’s home in Europe. Some such programs can even do it on a credit basis where one doesn’t have to stay at their guest’s home or at the same time that their guests are in the United States. Instead, they get to cash-in their credit when they travel with someone else’s home, presumably somewhere where they want to travel and not where their guest is from.
A variation on the home exchange programs are couch surfing programs. This is where a host will offer up a sliver of living space where a person can crash while they are in town. As the name implies one may not be receiving anything more than a couch to sleep on, but for a true backpacker that shouldn’t be a problem. The idea here is to encourage cultural exchange. Still, there is an entire etiquette and protocol that these be followed when taking advantage of couch surfing.
Just like the Eurorail pass, an old favorite rite of passage for those doing Europe by backpacking is a hostel. Hostels come in a variety of flavors and are an experience in themselves. Some can be as nice as a bed and breakfast, while others may be nothing more than like an old army barracks with just rows of bunkbeds. Still, the common factor will be that a hostel will be the cheapest place where one can pay to stay. Just like couch surfing there are etiquettes and protocols to follow at hostels, but they are easy to pick up and hostels are used to teaching newbies about staying at a hostel.
Ways to Eat Cheaply in Europe
As already mentioned, a cheap way to eat is to find things that bakeries, groceries, etc. If one were to eat like that for two meals a day, he possibly could save to splurge for a cheap meal at a café or bistro each day. If a person was even outgoing and personable, they could even get themselves invited for a family dinner from friendly Europeans. Of course this would presume that a person is kind, considerate, respectful while at the same time being entertaining and having something to bring to the dinner in the way of cultural exchange. It could even help break down the stereotypes of the ugly American.
While not as romantic as making a sandwich from a baguette while sitting on the banks of the River Seine, Europe is not immune to fast food. And just like America it is cheap eats. So, it is an option but it is also understandable why someone doing Europe by backpacking would not want to fly all the way to Europe and eat at Mickey D’s.