Hi friends! It’s been about 1.5 weeks since I returned to Canada, and it’s about time I write something post-trip. I discovered that a lot of people I know are planning their own Eurotrip, so here’s a blog entry with the answers to some of the questions I’ve been asked!
Please keep in mind that these are answers based on my *solo* backpacking experience, so this may or may not be accurate for groups.
How much $$ do I need?
That depends on what kind of trip you want. Do you want to travel frugally or spend lavishly? I chose to travel comfortably. I never let money be the reason that I don’t do something. If I chose not to do something, there would have had to be a reason other than money. My opinion is that I’m already paying a lot of money to be on the other side of the globe – why stop there?
This doesn’t mean spend on whatever you want. It just means you have to figure out what the focus of your trip is. Is it food? Self-development? Experiences? Mine was all of the above. Self-development depends on experiences, and experiences depends on food (for me). My goal was to eat a local dish in every city, and sometimes that was expensive. To balance it out, I avoided shopping needlessly. I also often walked instead of taking public transportation. This benefits your wallet and also your sightseeing 🙂 .
For those of you who are looking for a more quantitative answer… In 10.5 weeks, I spent about $2000 on accommodation, $1500 on flights (including the one from/to Canada), $1100 on trains (including the month continuous Eurail pass), and probably $2000 on other transportation and admission tickets. On top of that, add meals and emergency ubers/cabs… you get the idea.
How can I save money and be frugal?
Plan ahead. I planned my trip months ahead of time and booked my hostels/Airbnbs early. Some nights, I spent only 10-13 euros per night for accommodation – at decent hostels, too! It’s also not a bad idea to travel with others because then you can split costs – whether this is with friends you already know or new friends you’ll meet abroad.
What’s the cheapest/best place and time to buy foreign currency?
Avoid currency exchange places in airports and touristy areas at all costs. They will rip you off even if they’re not being paid commission. Trust me. The best answer is your bank. I got the TD All Inclusive banking plan before leaving for my trip. As long as you keep $5000 in the account, you’re not charged the account fee of $35/month. I don’t have $5000 to keep there while spending my money abroad, so I borrowed $5000 from my parents. You’re not touching that money anyway and there’s no cost to opening/closing this account before/after the trip. And this account allows you to withdraw cash from any country without a fee – at a rate that I found to be better than any currency exchange booth.
ALSO, apply for the Amazon international credit card! No exchange fees! Do this ahead of time.
What are common scams?
Whenever you’re using an ATM, make sure that the slot in which you insert your card does not have another layer. Watch this video if you don’t know what I mean. Skip to 0:20.
Other scams are gypsies. They will shove items in your face and annoy the crap out of you. Sunglasses, selfie sticks, and weird toys. Just avoid them altogether. It could be a distraction. And always keep an eye/hand on your bag.
How should I avoid getting mugged or pick pocketed?
Read my Lisbon post on my experience getting my wallet taken out of my backpack. Don’t underestimate the pick pocketers. Somebody managed to unzip my bag and take my wallet out without me knowing it while I was walking in broad daylight. So this person walked with me and managed to be sneaky enough (or maybe the others just didn’t care) that nobody said anything.
Another thing to watch out for is on trains – always keep your valuables with you. On a night train that I took from Venice to Salzburg, I put my larger backpack on the overhead and used my smaller backpack (with my laptop, wallet, passport, etc.) as a pillow. To provide some context, this train had little cabins with 6 seats in each cabin (Harry Potter style). While we were all asleep, somebody came in and stole one of the other travellers’ backpacks from the overhead – there was no stepping space, so this person would’ve had to reach over our sleeping bodies to do this. This backpack had two of the travellers’ phones, wallets, and valuables. You’d think one of us would wake up…
What do I do if I am fined?
Don’t pay them. I got fined in Florence because I didn’t validate my bus ticket. So in many parts of Europe, you buy bus tickets, and when you get on a bus/subway/whatever, you have to stick the ticket in a machine that time stamps it for you. Also, it’s not like Toronto where the bus driver lets you on if you have a ticket. In Europe, somebody else in the train/bus checks your ticket. Sometimes there is nobody to do this, so it’s better to always follow the law. If you get caught with an unvalidated ticket, they will fine you – especially in cities that are broke. They try to make money off the tourists. I tried to get them to mail it to me or give me another option and they pretended they didn’t understand. You don’t have to pay your fine right there. You have a right to get it mailed to you.
What do I do if I am robbed?
If it’s just money, suck it up and move on. You’re not getting it back. If it’s your bank cards, call your bank and cancel the cards immediately. If it’s your passport, go to the appropriate police station (you can’t just go to any – there are specific stations to deal with tourist passport theft) and get a report filed. They’ll give you a piece of paper that you need to take to the Embassy to get a new temporary passport. This may take a few days, so be prepared to cancel any plans you had to leave that city in the next few days.
Did you stay in a Hostel or Airbnb?
I did both. Mostly hostels because it was usually cheaper and also provides more opportunities to meet other people. I only used Airbnb for 3-4 cities I was in, and they were usually hostel-style Airbnbs where there were many other travellers. It was a great way to make friends. If you’re planning on booking hostels, you can use Hostelworld or booking.com. I used Hostelworld but I heard booking.com is better because you have more time to cancel your booking without incurring a fee. If you’re using Hostelworld, I highly encourage you to go for ones that have 8.5 rating or higher, and go by location. If you think you’re saving $$ by choosing hostels that aren’t in city centre, think again – transportation costs can really add up.
How should I use Couchsurfing if I want to?
Couchsurfing is free, so it’s a good way to be economical for a place to sleep. It’s also a great way to meet locals. If your idea of Couchsurfing is just a free Airbnb, you’re wrong. The idea behind Couchsurfing is that you’re spending time with your host – he or she will show you around or make dinner or take you out or all of the above. Sometimes, they give you daytime to yourself and then spend evenings and nights with you because they have work. Other times, they will commit every hour of every day to you. Make sure that your hosts are people you can spend time with, or you might discover that you really hate your host. This also means that you’re more likely to get requests/acceptances from hosts if your profile has information about you. What do you like to do? What kind of person are you?
If you don’t want to use Couchsurfing for accommodation, it’s a good way to meet other people just to hang out! I’ll talk about this later when answering the “how did you meet people” question.
Was Couchsurfing creepy?
Creepiness depends on how thoroughly you do your background research. It also depends on your gender. If you’re a guy, you’ll probably have a harder time finding a host, but you probably wouldn’t get requests from hosts with winky faces and suggestive messages.
If you’re a girl, make it a responsibility to go for people with at least 15 reviews, and actually send a message to one of the girls who have stayed with that host and ask her how he was. A lot of people leave good reviews and just forget to mention the part where he was flirty. Of course, if that’s what you’re LOOKING for, then you should have no problem finding a Couchsurf host. I actually have it on my profile that I will not hook up with the host, and I’ve had hosts back out from their offer after I point this out to them.
How do you get by if the country doesn’t have English as a first language?
Just know the key words, like toilet and water. Download a translator app onto your phone, or just know the words in English, French, and Spanish … because chances are, the foreign country you’re going to will have people who understand at least one of those! Haha.
Also, make sure you know the address of your accommodation in case you need to ask someone or have to cab. Have a city map with you in case your phone dies. You know, basic stuff.
What place was the hardest to make your way around due to language barriers?
My experience was that most people in Europe actually knew how to speak English – especially Germany. The more difficult areas were Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy.. with France and Italy being the worst. It was still doable, so don’t worry. Just follow my advice from above.
Did you pick up a temporary cell phone? Where can I grab a SIM card with data all over Europe?
I didn’t use a temporary phone. I took my phone and used Rogers’ Roam like Home plan which is already included in my Share Everything plan. This allows you to use your phone just like you’re still at home – same amout of data, minutes, and texts. You can call local numbers in the foreign city you’re in as well as Canadian numbers.
Unless you really need calling services (for business purposes maybe), I recommend you not to do this. Just get a SIM card. You can order one online if you research, or you can find places around Europe. My friend got one that’s Europe-wide for like 10 euro in Amsterdam. If you’re going to use SIM cards, make sure to get your phone unlocked so that it’s not tied to your current service provider.
Just a heads up – in Europe, it won’t be as easy as finding SIM cards in Asia. Asia has them everywhere in random little stores. Europe isn’t really like that. But there’s always wifi, so don’t worry. You won’t die 😛 !
PACKING, PEOPLE, AND MORE PERSONAL QUESTIONS:
How do you decide on what to pack if you’re backpacking? What are the essentials?
Use this Weather Finder site to check the average weather (average rain days vs. sun days, average temperature) in the cities you’re going to in the months you’re going there! Then, read my post on what I packed for my 10.5 week backpacking trip across Europe from early May to late July.
Note that Europeans dress more conservatively. Skirts above the knee are uncommon. It’ also a good idea to bring a summer scarf to wrap around your neck/shoulders when entering sacred areas or when you’re cold.
Don’t forget power adaptors. They’re hard to find abroad. The UK uses a different adaptor than the rest of Europe. The rest of Europe uses the same one, though, so you should only need two different kinds. If you can get a separate one that accepts multiple USB inputs, that’s even better because you can plug in your phone/camera chargers there and charge your other things (laptop?) with the legit adaptors.
Portable chargers are also a good idea. Saved me a few times – for both my phone and my camera! (I’m big on taking photos).
How did you meet people?
All over the place! I even met a girl at a random grocery store because she asked me how we’re supposed to know how much the fruit costs. We then spent the whole day together!
I also met people in hostels and Airbnbs and also via reaching out on Couchsurfing. In hostels and Airbnbs, make sure you say hello to people the first time you see them. I mentioned this in the post I wrote halfway through my trip about traveling solo. If you don’t say hi the first time, it might be awkward to say hi on a second encounter.
My rule is… if they’re alone, go in for the kill. LOL. It’s so much easier to approach them. Even if you’re shy (trust me, I’m shy when it comes to stuff like this), just pretend you’re not. They don’t know you! Walk into your hostel room all chipper and say “hey guys!”. 99% success rate.
THE KEY is that before the conversation dies off, ask them what they’re doing later. What are they doing for lunch? Dinner? Plans tomorrow? If you don’t, you likely will never get past the small talk (how long have you been traveling? where have you gone? what do you do? Ugh. UGH!) and you’ll find yourself feeling quite lonely after a while.
What cities were your favourite and why? Which cities were overrated? Which cities were your least favourite and why?
Oh boy. My favourite places were: Santorini, Cinque Terre, Lisbon/Porto, and Salzburg. And Budapest. And Prague. In that order… I think. Here are a few photos for each place so you get an idea…
My least favourite…
- Belgium. I went to Bruges, Brussels, and Ghent. Ehhh. Beautiful and fairytale-like, but it seemed more appropriate for like a retirement trip? I don’t know. It was also the week where I got super homesick, so I’m probably biased.
- Rome. Too hot. Beautiful, but waaaaay too many tourists and I was just not a big fan of the heat. I’m also not about the history. It was interesting and I don’t regret going, but in comparison to my favourites… ehhh.
OK scrap the list thing. To summarize, parts of Germany and Italy were duller than expected. Germany’s super developed and city-like and everything, but Frankfurt and Munich were not special. I prefer Heidelberg and Berlin. And my favourite parts of Italy were Florence and Cinque Terre. The rest were just… beautiful, but again, nothing special.
When I say “nothing special”, it’s just that there’s nothing that really sticks out about them in my mind. Maybe it’s because of the hype. They are still beautiful, though! So don’t worry; even my least favourites were still good. My opinion is that it depends on what mood your in and your energy level at the time, as well as the people you meet (or don’t meet). Being alone is great for some cities, but other cities are better for those who have friends/partners with whom to share the experience. Some cities are beautiful, and that’s all there is to them.
Basically, take my answer to this particular question with a grain of salt. I don’t like beer, wine, or too much history.
That’s all for now! Feel free to leave comments on your own thoughts and any other questions you have!