1. You’ve read it before and it’s really true – Pack light
I am so glad I followed the advice of many to only pack whatever could fit in my 45L backpack comfortably. This will save you a lot of stress, physical exertion and money. I was always in a different city every 4 days or so, re-wearing the few outfits I brought was not a problem, required less planning, and most of the accommodations will have laundry machines. There were also days I had to walk for a while before getting to the train stations, bus stops, or accommodations with 18lbs on my back. This doesn’t factor in the unexpected times I got lost, adding more time to the journey. Finally, if you fly budget airlines in Europe, many of them require you to pay a fee to check in luggage and are usually strict on the weight and size limit (eg. Ryanair). I was fortunate enough that my backpack was under the weight restrictions of a carry on and appeared to be within the size dimensions so I never had to check it in. You avoid the wait at the end of the flight and that extra money saved can mean feeding you for a few more meals or more nights out in the town.
2. Google Maps will be your best friend
After visiting over 20 cities, I mastered navigating myself around with a map. It really helped to have a spot as a home base to work with. However, as time went on and I wandered onto random streets that took effort to locate on a map, it was time to use technology. I didn’t have an international phone plan so my phone was always on airplane mode, and I connected to WiFi when available. While connected, load a map of the city you’re currently in or heading to next and do not close Google Maps, just leave it running in the background. When you get lost, jut turn on GPS, wait a few minutes while it locates your location and that wonderful blue dot will appear and just work from there. This saved me many moments of confusion and asking people for directions, especially at night.
3. Backpacking is not the same as a vacation
These 2 terms are not synonyms. With backpacking, I was constantly on the move, lugging around my bag, spending hours planning my next stop, sleeping in accommodations with strangers, trying to familiarize myself with a new city every few days, and so on. It became stressful at times, while a vacation is meant to be relaxing. I became exhausted about 6 weeks in where travel days spent on a train to the next destination consisted of simply checking-in to my hostel and just sleeping afterwards. That being said, it was the best experience and completely worth it.
4. It’s really not as scary as people think
I can understand where all of the concern stems from. I had my doubts, but once I arrived and settled myself into a place, I felt at ease. The only concern I mainly had with Europe was the severity of pick pocketing. I brought a padlock for my belongings in the hostels and used a money belt or kept my bag in front of me at all times. Other than that, everything else was minimal. Just as anywhere else in the world can be dangerous, use some common sense, stick to the busy streets and avoid anything that seems unusual. I spent quite a few nights wandering the streets alone and it was perfectly fine.
5. Most things are not as serious as it seems
Thankfully, the worst that happened to me on my trip was having my phone stolen. This didn`t happen on the streets but in a hostel dorm in Berlin, so be careful anywhere you are. After I got over the initial shock and frustration, I replaced my phone, moved on and did not let this minor setback dampen the rest of the trip. I realized that this small incident and many others that happen to us on a daily basis are just that; small stuff that are just not worth all the stress. Everything goes on as normal and sooner than later, you will forget about it. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
6. Plan less, do more
In hindsight, the 1 thing I would have done differently was to plan a little less and go with the flow of things. Because it was my first time traveling solo for an extended period of time, I was certain I had to be prepared. And I did, to an extent. I had picked out all the cities I wanted to visit in order, but not the accommodation sorted out which was good. I arrived at the end of high season so reserving a bed last minute was not an issue or expensive. It also left some flexibility on the amount of time to spend in each city once I was there, and to visit nearby cities last minute. Originally, Hungary was never a part of my plans, until I met a lot of people that highly recommended Budapest, so I took the next train out after Vienna and ended up falling in love with the city. However, I did have a few flights booked in advance for certain cities which prevented me from traveling along with some great people I’ve met along the way to places I had not considered before. That`s one of the best parts about traveling, you never know what can happen.
7. Ups and downs will still happen
Similar to what I’ve mentioned earlier about backpacking not being a vacation, you likely won’t be in a constant state of euphoria. Traveling is a part of your reality for the time being. Being on my own, I had moments of loneliness, being homesick and craving the comforts of something familiar. It can be triggered from a lack of interaction for a couple days, encountering less than friendly individuals to missing a friend’s birthday or event back home. However, these feelings do not last long. You will create amazing memories and encounters that will remind you exactly where you are and to enjoy it.
8. The travel bug never really goes away
Three months was the perfect amount of time for me to be away. As it coming to an end, I was looking forward to going home. Although I was gone for a while and was lucky enough to have done so many things, I realize that you never stop wanting to travel. Every trip taken is a completely different experience, and there are just far too many places to see. I have only been back for a few weeks now, but I’m already thinking about where to go next when another opportunity presents itself.