As we get closer to the end of our three month backpacking trip, I thought I would share some of the tips we have learned along the way:
Don’t pack like an idiot. Chelsea rolled off the plane in Dublin with four pairs of Lululemon pants and a couple baggy t shirts and not much else. She screams American when she walks down the street. Sure the one or two times you’re hiking you’ll want that stuff but bring. normal. clothes.
Bring a few girly things. If you’re into looking girly. After a long day of hiking or sweaty sightseeing, it really feels good to put on a dress, necklace and a little mascara to feel like a real human again.
Space bags are junk. Don’t use them. They won’t save space in your backpack. And the noise will annoy everyone else in your hostel.
Use packing cubes. I suggest eBags’ version from Amazon. They will lay flat on top of each other in your backpack and make the most of the little space you have. They also help you to stay neat in a hostel. I couldn’t have traveled without these!
Roll your clothes. No it will not keep the wrinkles out. Whoever started that rumor is a liar. But it will save space.
Skimp on accommodations. Would you rather stay in a 10 Euro a night, not so nice hostel and have money for skydiving over the Alps or a 50 Euro a night nicer place and no money for skydiving? You don’t spend time at the hostel. Stay in the budget friendly ones always.
85% or above on HostelWorld. We used HostelWorld.com to book all of our hostels. When choosing a place, we tried to stick to hostels with an 85% or above rating.
Reviews are most important. Of course the hostels are all going to try to sell you on their place. Don’t rely only on descriptions. Always read reviews on HostelWorld AND TripAdvisor. This will tell you the truth about a place.
Review everywhere you stay. Don’t be a jerk. They’re all fighting for awards and customers so do the hostel (and fellow travelers!) a favor and review their place on HostelWorld and TripAdvisor after you stay there.
Sleep on your god damn stuff! If you’re planning to sleep on a train, plane, bus, floor, hostel without lockers, use your bag with all your valuables in it as a pillow so you don’t get robbed. Guard that crap with your life because it’s hell trying to replace it.
Have a backup payment method. You could get robbed or an ATM could eat your card so make sure you have a backup.
Separate your payment methods. This is common sense, but don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place. Mix it up!
Microfiber towel. It feels like leather when you try to dry yourself but it dries quickly itself. Better than putting a smelly, wet regular towel in your bad and stinking up everything else.
Sneakers aren’t really necessary. Unless you’re planning to literally hike the peaks of the Alps which you’re probably not because you have to be really experienced for that, don’t bring them. Converse are OK, everyone wears them in Europe, but leave the running shoes at home. You look like an American.
Laptop is up to you. It depends on what you want to do on your trip. Do you want to edit a lot of photos and videos as you go? You need the laptop. If you just want to post a few things to social media and keep a blog for friends and family back home, a tablet or smartphone will suffice.
Bring an external hard drive. If you bring a laptop that is. You’ll want to backup your photos. They will become your most important possession. Minus that passport of course!
Don’t rely on your smartphone. Even if you have a Samsung or other phone that takes great photos, you’ll take tons of photos and want an actual camera. It’s awful when you want to grab a shot but your iPhone memory is too full from all your photos.
Daypacks are your friend. Bring a small satchel for nights or small outings. Bring a small daypack backpack for longer days when you’ll need to pack more things like a camera, water, bathing suit, change of clothes, towel, etc. Lock your daypack with a lock while it’s on your back so no one can get into it.
Sturdy over fashionable. Make sure your purse is very durable. Think thick leather strap with a big chain. If someone is desperate they will stop at nothing to get your valuables. Make sure your purse can withstand being ripped off of you, cut, slit, everything.
Don’t get a cell phone plan. You don’t need it. There’s wifi everywhere. It’s all you’ll need.
Grocery stores are your friend. It’s the cheapest place to get snacks and meals plus beer and wine. Cook in hostels when you can to save money.
Face wash is hard to find. Shampoo, conditioner, lotion. They’re everywhere. But we had a hard time finding face wash we were familiar with.
Always check your backpack. You’ll get screwed on extra fees if you try to carry on and it’s too big. Plus it’s easier to get around airports without that thing on your back.
Stick to 25 pounds max with your backpack. Anything more than that and you officially have packed too much junk. You don’t need it all and your back will thank you! It’s hell carrying that thing around as it is.
The Eurail app is super easy to use. Even if you don’t have a Eurail/Interrail pass, use it to find train times.
Don’t be a hostel jerk. Don’t turn on the lights at 3 a.m. Don’t open your crinkly plastic bags at 7 a.m. Don’t use plastic bags period.
Cardinal rule of hostel sleeping. If I can’t sleep, you can’t sleep. If you’re keeping me up with your snoring, I’m waking you up to make you stop. It’s only fair. I would feel the same if it were my nostrils keeping everyone up. Can’t thank the Aussie enough who engrained this philosophy in my head!
Shower shoes. Just use them. Please.
External charger. For when your camera dies mid-hot air balloon ride or you’re stuck on a train for six hours and you can’t play Candy Crush because your phone died.
Phone games are fun for everyone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entertained a large group of people with the game Heads Up. It passes the time and is a great way to make friends!
Try to use the local language, even if it’s just “thank you.” They’ll appreciate the effort.
When lost, just find a Starbucks or McDonalds. They almost always have free wifi.
Google Maps works off of wifi! This realization changed my entire trip. If you search the location while you’re on wifi, the little blue dot will move with you when you’re off wifi. This is a lifesaver, TRUST ME!
Take a break. I know every activity and outing sounds amazing and you’ll probably get FOMO if you miss it, but your health is the most important. If you feel you’re getting sick, take a break. Your body will thank you and it will make you enjoy your time that much more.
Days off are good. Sometimes you just need to go to the movies, shopping, a concert. Things you would normally do at home. Constantly moving around and sightseeing gets awfully exhausting so it’s good to just do you for a day.
Get the heck out of cities. They all have churches and history and are great of course but they get old. People are nicer in small towns and there are less tourists. It’ll feel good to just be in nature and more “local” for a little while.
Create a hashtag. If you’re traveling with a friend or even alone and are big into social media, create a hashtag for Instagram and Twitter personalized to you. That way friends and family at home can follow that hashtag to see all your amazing updates.
Get suggestions from others in your hostel and locals. If you Google what to do in a place, it’s going to give you the most touristy of places. But if you ask others who’ve been there for awhile or who live there, they can give you off the beaten path things to do.
Don’t plan too far in advance. You may hear of something cool along the way you’d rather do or place you’d rather go. Try to build time into your schedule for this.
Eurail pass is good for countries close together. If you’re planning to do France, Greece, Spain and Germany, it may make more sense to hop around with a mix of planes and trains. But if you’re staying in one region or doing a tour of most of mainland Europe, a Eurail pass is worth the money.
Bring copies of all your cards, passport, ID, etc. Duh. But it had to be said.
Pack the night before. If you have an early flight or train to catch, have everything packed and ready to go the night before. You can sleep until the last minute and don’t have to wake up everyone in your room to pack at 5 a.m.
Mixed bed dorms are OK. You will not get hurt or harassed by the opposite sex. Just be smart!
Your person is your most important item. If someone is threatening you and asking for money, give it to them instead of getting stabbed!
Don’t always trust authority figures. Train conductors, police, etc. Some are corrupt and could try to take advantage of you. One robbed me so I can say this first hand! Just don’t trust anyone but yourself.
Don’t get hangry. Try to eat often and stay hydrated. Being hangry makes travel really not fun.
The photo is not the most important. The moment is. If you don’t get the perfect photo, who the heck cares? You saw it with your own two eyes. It’s not your job to make everyone else see it that way. Photos will never truly do a place justice anyway. Just tell your friends and family to go see it themselves!
Nothing negative before noon. Long term travel is exhausting and can be very difficult at times. You will get run down and probably even homesick. But just stay positive until noon! Then you’ve started your day on a good note and all tired, negative thoughts have probably subsided.
Bring a wristlet for going out. I know tons of girls who had wallets, passports, phones taken right out of their satchel in a club or bar so bring a wristlet you can keep close to your hand.
Don’t carry your passport. Unless you know you 100% need it for something. Keep it locked up at your hostel. You do not need it.
Bring a lock! Most hostels have lockers but no locks. Bring your own.
Bring a mini Lysol or Febreze. Your stuff will smell and you’ll want to freshen it up without paying a lot for laundry all the time.
There is laundry pretty much anywhere. Either in hostels or laundromats.
You only need one pair of jeans. Seriously.
Don’t bring an American Express. They really screw foreign sellers so most don’t take it. You’ll want to punch AmEx about a week in so do yourself a favor and don’t bring one.
Make sure your card has a chip. A chip and pin is best but these aren’t that common yet in the States so a chip and signature will work well enough.
Spontaneous travel is more expensive travel. It’s more fun to do it last minute but hostels, flights, busses, etc., are more expensive the longer you wait. Have a good mix of last minute and planned.
Always triple check. Your travel plans, your hostel room. You don’t want to get somewhere and realize you bought a ticket for the wrong day or left your camera somewhere. Or like me, you’re at the wrong airport!
Look up directions to your accommodations before you get there. There’s not always wifi in train stations/airports so you want to know where you’re going before you even get there.
Don’t bring too many books. They’re necessary for trains or other long travel days but many hostels have book exchanges so you can get a new one without carrying around the weight! I put my books on my tablet and found that even better (and lighter!).
Girls: Wear sports bras on travel days. You will get sweaty carrying your pack so do your nicer quality bras a favor and don’t ruin them.
Look at maps before you get to a place. If you only have a short amount of time in some places, help get yourself aquatinted with the layout of the city before you even get there by checking out maps.
I will hopefully add to this as I think of more but this is a start!
Have you done long term travel? What tips do you have?