A Guide: 5 Quick Rules on Backpacking
As many of my friends embark on separate journeys through Europe, I've been asked advice on good places to eat, apps to download, events to attend, etc. While compiling my list of do's and don'ts, I thought it might be a useful tool for more than just my close friends. So here is my attempt at guiding you through the cobblestone streets of Europe:
Rule #1: Shoes
Make sure you have a great, well-worn, diverse pair of shoes. It may sound silly, but a good pair of shoes is so key to a great travel experience as these hard-soled best friends of yours will take you through everything from that wobbly walk back from pub crawls to sleeping on overnight trains, and hiking up trails to walking through museums; you will want these shoes to be comfortable and sturdy. Comfort over fashion, always, because when you find yourself on an unintentional hike or walking for hours through unfamiliar downtown streets, you're going to want comfortable shoes. Also, it's usually very, very helpful to have a pair of Chacos, Tevas, or something similar on you, for hiking, hostel showers, etc. I personally, have a pair of black, military-inspired type boots that can be dressed up for somewhat, nice events, or worn with leggings and a t-shirt. If you have extra room in your backpack, or expect to be going to nicer events, a pair of booties with a short, wedge heel is ideal because it matches everything, is comfortable, and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.
Rule #2: Map
Download CityMaps2Go. This app singularly saved me, and friends, from getting lost in numerous cities in almost every country we traveled through. It's free, easy to use, helpful, and most importantly-- does not need wifi. When you've just arrived via night train or bus and can't find your hostel, this app is your best friend. You can star your hostel/hotel, places you want to go, restaurants, pubs, etc. and you can color code it. I usually make the place I'm staying a separate color than all the other places I've marked so that it's easy to find when I want to go home.
Rule #3: Hostels
Hostels are actually not as terrifying as some may think. I've personally never seen the movie Hostel (2005), but I know that some people, experienced or not, think that hostels are dirty, unsafe, or the likes, but if you do your research and choose carefully, staying in a hostel can be an amazing experience! I love staying in hostels. They're inexpensive, a great resource, and great place to meet fellow travelers, especially if you're a solo traveler. My two favorite hostels to stay in across Europe are Wombats and St. Christopher. Hostelworld.com is a great source for finding hostels: make sure to check reviews, if there's a free breakfast (super helpful and a $$ saver), location (near downtown/restaurants/etc), safety, and overall feel of the place.
Rule #4: Must Haves
Some good must-haves to travel with at all times:
- A pair of Chacos, Tevas, or something similar. You're going to want these for hiking, walking, and showering. They're super useful and you'll use them more than you think.
- A towel. One of those small, travel towels, preferably quick dry are always helpful. You never know if you'll need one for the place your staying, for an unexpected downpour, or unplanned swim because you're near a beautiful lake/ocean/waterfall and it's a once in a lifetime experience.
- A rainjacket/downjacket. I carried around one of those small, easy to carry Patagonia down jackets. These kinds of jackets are great because they fold into a smaller carrying bag and can be quickly stuffed in a backpack and are very lightweight, yet super warm. I have a black one because it goes with everything and is a great basic item to own.
- Chapstick. Burt's Bees is the homie. Never forget your Chapstick because you'll hate yourself and never know what's going to come up or happen or what kind of weather conditions you'll be facing. The type of lip balm you choose is entirely up to you, I just prefer Burt's Bees.
- Phone/Camera. This kind of goes with out saying, but sometimes when you're in a country where you don't want to be carrying around a giant camera or stand out like a tourist, it's always a good move to use your phone as your handy, little camera. I used my iPhone for most of my travel photos, and the quality is surprisingly great! When I was in Morocco, that was a country where I wanted to be more low-key about being a tourist and I really wanted to blend in, as much as I could. It's also always a good idea to ask permission to take photos when you're in a place such as Morocco, to show respect and not be rude. Especially being an American, I try to stay away from any stereotypes.
- Remember to capture your memories, but don't live through your camera. Try to not find yourself having a camera, tunnel vision experience; capture your experiences, but remember to be in the moment. Sometimes places, people, or scenery isn't meant to be caught on camera-- the picture will never fully capture the beauty, it'll never do it justice, so you might as well take it in and keep those memories for yourself.
Rule #5: Stranger Danger
When I was in Budapest, Hungary I had the misfortune of having everything I had stolen from me: clothes, money, passport, etc. I was on a train going from Austria to Hungary and someone swiped my backpack in the craziness of a stop in Vienna when the train was crowded and people were moving in and out. Apparently the exact stop where I had my belongings stolen from me is an organized crime put on weekly because of how busy and easy it is to manage a low-key crime, so watch out for that. This was a huge life lesson for me as I had to deal with finding the nearest US Embassy, canceling my credit cards, figure out what to wear and how to buy essential things such as food. It also taught me the meaning of materiality and what's actually essential. Luckily, I had my friends to spot me money for that trip and the train ticket I had, (which was in my pocket), was a two-way so I was set for the ride home, but it's always, always, ALWAYS, a good idea to have the most important things on your body. Keep your ID, money, phone, passport, etc. on you at all times. Everything you absolutely need should be with you at all times, even if you put your backpack below your feet or lock it up in a locker, the essentials should always be on your person. As long as you're a smart traveler, you're going to be fine. This unfortunately was a combination of unintelligent placement on my part and organized crime. Sh*t happens, but que sera sera and you learn from your mistakes. Please learn from my mistake and travel safely.
I hope this is helpful to you all and is a good intro post into a series of advice guidelines I will post later on. Perhaps I will post "guides" based on country and the advice that follows... If you want advice on a certain place or anything, shoot me a message and I'll see what I can do! Feel free to like, share, comment, follow as you please--
Much love to y'all.