European Backpacking Quick Start Guide

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Veteran adventurers share their exploration exploits

European backpacking is a “coming of age” adventure to experience the continent’s diverse cultural phenomena. Its popularity has increased steadily since the 1950s, especially within the college-aged demographic as part of a “gap year” – typically a yearlong break from school. While travelers romanticize and liken their adventure to independence, there can be hidden frustrations and worries preluding the trip, especially if travel rates are a concern. However, backpacking’s attractiveness is due to its low cost and independent travel. Insight from veteran backpackers can provide value for future experience-seekers, especially with the trip’s inexpensiveness past the flight fares. 

“My best friend and I were planning to go to Europe all of high school,” said Justin Lobb, a student at the University of South Carolina. “We got the idea from my dad since he did the same thing after he graduated college back in the day.”

When asked what he would tell prospective adventurers, Lobb advised about the usefulness of planning and time management.

“What we did to plan the whole thing was picking a city to fly into and one to fly out of, and then filled in the dots in between,” he said. “We flew into Amsterdam and had to be in Barcelona, I think, three-and-a-half weeks later.”

When arriving at the initial destination, Lobb referred to resources, research and previous backpacker accounts as guides.

“One thing that helped a lot was the all-you-can-ride Eurail train pass we got,” Lobb said. “And then also booking hostels in advance, so we actually knew we had somewhere to stay.”

Among their travels, transporting from one country to another, they relied heavily on Europe’s Eurail – the continent’s express train that travels through 28 European countries – and emphasized its ease of use. The Eurail Pass is an all-in-one pass allowing access to most trains across Europe. However, stay advised about train reservations. It’s recommended to check if a train requires reservations. If not, passengers can board immediately after showing the Eurail Pass.

“It (Eurail) makes everything a lot easier. I wouldn’t say it’s hard to use as I never got mixed up,” Lobb said. “You can look up train time online and sometimes reserve a seat if it’s an overnight or long ride.”

Once arriving within any unfamiliar territory, check for hostel availability. Hostels allow for real-world interaction with the culture of a country. They’re a form of temporary accommodation encouraging a shared social experience since there’s at least one bed per person within a communal area.

“Every hostel was different,” said Whitney Thalheimer, an avid traveler. “Some felt like five-star hotels with a great community of people of all different ages.”

The travelers spoke about immersing themselves within the local communities with the help of youth hostels and public transportation. Reflecting upon her experiences, Thalheimer spoke of backpacking cultivating change within herself because of firsthand experience.

“My favorite experience was freedom the and excitement I had no matter where I went. It was unknown territory that felt so welcoming and was so beautiful in every aspect,” Thalheimer said. “Living out of a backpack made life much simpler, made me appreciate my surroundings more and made me less materialistic.”

Lobb provided last-minute suggestions for prospecting European backpackers.

 “We went from Amsterdam to Belgium, Germany, Italy, France and then Spain. The sights and people and culture in Florence were my favorite, but the best nightlife without a doubt was in Barcelona.”

According to Lobb, “Capicola ham in Italy is NOT regular ham. The locals in Paris trying to dance with you on the street usually are also trying to get your wallet. And I highly recommend the Hofbrauhaus in Munich.”

It’s also highly recommended to start your adventure today. Look into European backpacking, save money for the flight fare, buy your Eurail Pass and book your hostel. Immerse, engage and enrich your knowledge through firsthand adventuring.