Hello! Greetings from Germany. It’s me, your friendly neighborhood dirtbag named Cartwheel! You may remember me from when I thru-hiked the PCT in 2021, writing about everything from why I sent home my tent to the pros and cons of BIG tramlies.
Ya girl is currently backpacking Europe. I am one month into my trip, with three countries thus far. Here are some choice things I wish I had known before coming on my trip. Some of them I’ll admit I was told but I am a bit stubborn and need to learn things the hard way apparently.
Do Research Visas, and the time you are allowed to spend in each country you want to visit.
As an American, I am allotted 90 days for tourism in the “Schengen area” with a valid US passport. Once you pass those 90 days you must leave the Schengen area for another 90 days and then you can return, so I don’t have to fly home per say but I do need to leave the EU. I found my information here: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/
Do Download These Apps: Google Translate, Currency Converter, HostelWorld, Couchsurfing, Blablacar and FlixBus.
Google Translate is my best friend. I try to download the language before I enter the country to make my transition into it a bit easier. Google translate has this cool feature where you can take a picture of something and it will translate it for you. I use this feature a ton in grocery stores to figure out if I’m buying orange juice or a diuretic… Not that that has happened or anything…
Currency Converter is self explanatory. I’m not the quickest with mental math, so this calculator on your phone makes life 10x easier, especially when the currency starts getting into the hundreds and thousands.
HostelWorld/ Couchsurfing are two apps that I would not survive Europe without. HostelWorld has a ton of reviewed hostels and you can filter out what kind of vibe you want for what prices you are comfortable with. Couchsurfing is as it sounds. You apply to be friends with people and they will host you in their home! It’s as simple as that.
Blablacar is a similar app to Couchsurfing except its car sharing instead of home sharing. You look for a ride to a certain destination to see if any other travelers want to ride share. Easy peasy. This is especially convenient if you are traveling from big city to big city and you’re a little low on funds. It is not free, but you get to ride in a car instead of a crowded bus, train or plane.
Flix Bus is a discount bus option. They have buses from as far north as Stockholm, Sweden all the way to Palermo, Italy and they are usually under $40. I find buying them about two weeks in advance is the sweet spot for cheap tickets through them.
Do NOT Overpack!!! One of my best friends lives in Berlin, so my bright idea was to bring half of my wardrobe in an Army duffle bag along with two smaller backpacks for my excursions. Just like with thru-hiking, you don’t need half of what you think you will need to backpack through Europe. The less possessions you have, the more freedom you have, especially when it comes to flying on those unfathomably cheap airlines such as WizzAir and Ryan Air!
Do Get a Sim Card for All of the EU. I am currently using O2 on a fixed data plan. I got mine in Germany and mine includes roaming throughout all of the EU. I am currently paying half of what I pay in the states for phone coverage. Make the switch as soon as you step off the plane. Otherwise you could end up doubling your American phone bill with international daily phone charges.
Do NOT Bring Knives, Pepper Spray or Small Weapons. Your best protection is being present and aware of your surroundings. As an American and a woman I have heard horror stories about bad things happening to female travelers. The fear, while well intentioned, can lead to packing some things that may get you in a pickle with international airport security. Theft is the main issue, and it’s important to take precautions, like keeping valuables close on your body.
Do Learn Basic Words in the Language of the Country You’re Visiting, including Restroom, Train, Bus, Hello, (Your coffee order, trust me on this), Thank You, Excuse Me, Do you speak English? I practiced pronunciation using the google translate speaker option.
Do NOT Fall for Tourist Scams. If you happen to go to Europe during the tourist season, there will be a few tourist traps you can accidentally fall into. Two of the most popular I’ve been warned about are Bracelets and Roses. A stranger walks up to you and says something along the lines of “For you” once you have the item in hand or on your wrist, they will ask you to pay for the item. It’s best to say no thank you and walk away.
Do Have a Backup Travel Method and Place to Stay. Chances are not every single accommodation will be perfect for you and sometimes transportation fails. I once missed a FlixBus by being two minutes late to the station. I spent $90 trying to get on another bus, which I wasn’t able to catch until 3 am the next day.
Do NOT Overplan, Over-Extend, Over-Book Yourself. Europe has been around for a very long time and will be here for a very long time. Not to mention, it is MASSIVE. Make a top 10 list and figure out modes of travel. Then compare that with how long your stay is. The whole point of backpacking Europe is to enjoy your time, not to experience travel burn out and drain your wallet as fast as possible.
TCHÜSS! (Which is my favorite German word because it’s like cheers, bye, see ya later alligator all in one!)