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Many people dream of backpacking in Europe. And given the continent is full of history, culture, great food, scenery (and more!) it’s easy to see why. Europe is an ideal place for first-time backpackers as in general it’s pretty safe and it’s also easy to get around. Though there are likely language barriers, you can still get around if you only speak English (the same can’t exactly be said for China!). If you’re keen to plan a Europe backpacking trip here are a few things to consider before going.
*This post is in collaboration with Axa-Schengen
What to know before backpacking in Europe
Europe is a large continent with many countries, planning a trip can be tricky with so many places to visit! These things below should help you narrow down exactly what it is you want to do and how to do it.
Get your Europe visas sorted
Many countries in Europe are part of the Schengen zone which allows some European backpackers to travel to 26 countries in Europe on one visa. This is certainly a much easier way to travel in Europe than having to get a visa for every country (and likely cheaper too!). Take a look at this Schengen Visa guide for more information about getting one for your backpacking trip to Europe.
Decide where to go
Did you know there are 44 countries that make up Europe? That’s a lot! One of the hardest parts about planning a backpacking trip in Europe is deciding where to go. You’ll likely want to visit some of the “big” countries (those that are well known) such as the UK, France, Italy and Spain but I’d urge you to include countries like Slovenia and the Nordic countries (though expensive) too. They’re some of my favourites!
One of the key points to consider when choosing which countries in Europe to visit is what you enjoy most. Do you love history and food? Then head to Italy and explore the Roman history and great cuisine. Love mountains? Perhaps head to the Alps! Or do you love surfing and beaches? Check out southern Spain and Portugal.
Consider your budget
Budgeting is always tricky. You want to be able to see and do everything but most people have a limit on how much they can spend. Flights in Europe are cheap (especially if you’re coming from the US and Canada and are used to expensive internal flights!). Trains and long-distance bus journeys can be cheap too if you book in advance.
The more expensive things are accommodation and activities though if you’re a culture seeker you’ll be pleased to know a lot of museums and attractions (especially in France) are often free for under 26 years olds.
It’s easy to travel around Europe on $US50 a day or less if you’re clever with your spending. This is especially true in parts of southern Spain, Portugal and Eastern Europe which tend to be cheaper.
Decide how you’ll get around
There’s a lot of options when it comes to getting around Europe. Though Europe vanlife has become more popular in recent years, getting the train, bus or a flight if travelling a long way are all great options.
If you want to travel by train, I’d recommend getting the Eurail Pass which can only be bought by non-European citizens (if you’re from Europe check out Interrail!). The passes are valid for a set period of time and allow you to take certain trains (usually those at off-peak times).
For flights, there are loads of budget airlines. However, if you have a backpack you need to put in the hold then the budget airlines aren’t always the cheapest once you’ve included additional baggage. I highly recommend looking at Skyscanner to find the cheapest deals; they just make it so easy!
Research festivals and holidays
There are tonnes of festivals and holidays across Europe, especially in the summer. And, if you’re visiting in winter then you just have to check out some Europe Christmas markets!
During summer in Europe, you can sail around beautiful islands on a sailing holiday, go running with the bulls in northern Spain or drink beer to your heart’s galore at Oktoberfest in Germany. One thing to bear in mind is that prices will be inflated during these times, and accommodation might book up early so you’ll need to plan quite far in advance!
Learn some key phrases
While I said up top that you’ll get around Europe without knowing all the languages it’s polite to make an effort and learn a few key phrases. Make a list of the countries you plan on visiting and research the phrases for things like “hello”, “thank you” and “please” at the very least. Apps like Duolingo can be useful for picking up some basics.
Think about accommodation
It’s likely a big chunk of your budget for backpacking in Europe will be spent on accommodation. There are plenty of nice hostels across Europe and websites like Hostelworld make it easy to book them. If you’re travelling in a couple of as a group, you may find it cheaper to book hotel rooms or Airbnbs as that way you’re paying for the whole room, rather than per bed (which can work out more expensive overall!).
Alternatively, you might be planning to travel around Europe in a campervan. In that case, check out my posts about our experience of vanlife (including how to find free places to sleep) and how we converted our van into our home.
Research cultural norms before heading to Europe
The countries in Europe are very varied and each (as you’d expect) has its own cultural norms. In Spain, for example, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to open at 9 pm or later, for places to be closed on Mondays throughout France, for liquor stores to close early in Sweden, or for your usual table manners to be considered rude elsewhere. While you’ll quickly pick these up as you travel, it’s nice to
On the whole, Europe is pretty safe but there are plenty of tourist scams and pickpockets to look out for. Use your common sense and don’t wander around flashing cash or with your wallet sticking out of your pockets. If something seems too good to be true it often is. In Paris in particular, be careful with distraction techniques around popular tourist attractions. In these cases, you may be pickpocketed while looking at some toys or games.