Traveling in Europe can be an overwhelming experience, especially for those of us who grew up in the midwest United States.
The way I see it, if you’re paying for the flight all the way over the big blue, you’re going to want to get the most you possibly can for your money. First of all, don’t plan on being there for any less than two weeks. You will need all of that time, trust me.
You’ll also need to pick between two types of trips. One involves landing in a major European city and seeing that city in depth, plus a few daytrips outside the city to see the surrounding area. The other involves a more backpacking-esque experience in which you try to see as much of Europe as possible during your time there.
Here are my general tips for making the most of your time and seeing as much as possible for very little money if you decide to take the second option.
Don’t do Eurorail. When I first arrived in Europe, I had the same misconception that Eurorail is cheap and practical. Unless you’re really rich, have a lot of time on your hands, or are an experienced traveler interested in seeing a lot of small towns or out-of-the-way places, the train is way too expensive and just plain takes too long. If you haven’t yet seen much of Europe, you’re better off traveling by plane, which will take you between major cities efficiently and cheaply.
For flights try RyanAir or EasyJet. These are lowcost airlines, which means that you only get a carry-on bag included in the price of your flight. This is when it’s really important to carry a backpack rather than a roll-y back because they are intense about baggage limits on the size of hard suitcases. They also may weigh your carry-on bag but this has happened fairly rarely to me. You will need to plan ahead and bring only small containers of liquids that can be carried on.
Don’t worry about the language. Not everyone speaks English, but if you are at all capable of being polite and courteous, you will largely find other polite and courteous people who will do their best to communicate with you regardless.
Sleep in hostels. I know that word often immediately calls up images of the movie Hostel, but hostels are actually (usually) completely safe and clean and don’t involve torture of any sort. Use a website like HostelWorld to compare ratings and chose the right place for you. Some hostels are more aimed towards young people and sometimes have a rowdy bar. Others are more quiet and are just a good place to sleep after a long day of sightseeing. If you want to save money, you can generally get a bed in an all-female or mixed dorm. Just make sure to keep your valuables with you or in your locker.
Don’t worry about being fashionable. You’re going to want comfortable, durable clothes, and clothes that don’t take up a lot of room in your backpack. Layering is always good, think about wearing leggings under your pants, and multiple sweatshirts. You should also make sure you have a good pair of shoes that won’t give you blisters, and if they’re waterproof that’s even better.
Don’t forget your rain jacket. Because sightseeing is so not fun when you’re soaking wet.
Eat well. Usually I always ask for a restaurant recommendation in whatever hostel I’m staying in. Sometimes they suck, but sometimes they’re amazing. Avoid anywhere that is filled with tourists, and if the waiter doesn’t speak English, that probably means that the food will be great. Do not go in to any restaurant with large menus covered in pictures of the food or offering some sort of discounted tourist meal.
Eat cheap. Buy sandwich stuff from the grocery store and assemble your own sandwiches. Hostels are usually also equipped with kitchens. This means that you can also cook for yourself instead of going out.
Do your research. If you’re visiting a lot of locations, you won’t need a guidebook for all of them. Do some research online first and make a list of all the things you want to see when you’re in town. Most hostels will have free tourist maps available in the lobby, so you shouldn’t even need to spend money on that.
Take time to wander. Don’t get so caught up in seeing everything that you forget to wander around aimlessly. This often leads to the best discoveries and is much more relaxing than running from monument to museum to monument.