25/03/2017

Planning a backpacking trip around Europe

Back in September I flew off to Europe for five and a half weeks. I went with Soph my university friend and met another of my friends Tilli half way through. We had planned on interrailing through Europe for quite a long time, however, my planning for the trip wasn't as detailed and thorough as I would have liked due to most of it being done while I was in India. However, I think the planning I did was successful and so I thought it may be useful to put together a post of the general steps I took to planning the trip and tips I learnt whilst planning and whilst on the trip.


HOW LONG WILL YOUR TRIP BE?


This seems like a sensible place to start. This determines a lot of other factors, such as where you'll visit and how long you'll stay in each place. You may be lucky and have no restrictions on the length of your trip. However, realistically they will be some sort of restriction, maybe it's the amount of holiday you get at work or the fact that you're at uni/college/school or that you only have enough money to go for two weeks unless you eat baked beans on toast three times a day for the next six months. Travel is great but I don't think anyone should have to make that sort of sacrifice. 

WHEN WILL YOU GO?


A lot of people go interrailing in the summer. Firstly, because of the good weather and secondly if you're at school, college or university then this is the only break you get that's long enough to go and you'll most likely have no work to do during the summer.

WHERE WILL YOU GO?


Europe is massive! Realistically, you won't be able to do it all, maybe not even half! It's best to focus on one area, for example central Europe or Eastern Europe. Lots of people who backpack Europe choose to do central Europe such as Paris, Rome, Berlin etc.

I personally didn't visit any of these of my trip. I chose to focus mostly on Eastern Europe and places where I wouldn't necessarily choose to go to for a weekend away or holiday. Places like Paris I could see myself visiting for a weekend or when I'm older so I didn't prioritise them.


HOW LONG IN EACH PLACE 


This links back to how long your trip will be. If you're only going for three weeks then the amount of places you visit will be quite different than a six month trip. If you're trip is quite open ended then I think going with the flow is the best approach, stick to just booking up the first couple of nights or if you want a bit more set in stone then decide how long you'll stay in the first couple of places you visit. 

If your trip is tighter and you have an exact end date then deciding how long you have in each place will help you get the most out of your time. We booked up all of our hostels either beforehand or about a week before while we were travelling. You don't have to be quite so structured. If you want the freedom of changing your itinerary then stick to booking hostels as you go. Or even just turning up. However, while I did this quite a lot in India and Sri Lanka I think it would have been harder to do so in Europe, especially in high season. A lot of the places I stayed in were fully booked or nearly fully booked and I visited in September and October which I wouldn't even class as high season. 


HOW I PLANNED MY TRIP


Planning a trip is sometimes a bit daunting, especially at the start when all you know is that you're going on the trip. You don't know where you're going in specific but you know you'll be heading off to Europe. 

Blogs are often my first point of call for starting to narrow down where I'll be going. Oh, and Instagram but that's once I have a bit of an idea of where I'll be going. Because I was Interrailing on my trip I used the interrail website quite a lot. They have information about each country that the pass can be used in and this helped me a lot when deciding where I would go.

I also like to open google maps to start to form a route. If there's one place I want to go to that seems further away from everything else then I need to figure out if it's plausible and how to fit it into the trip. A prime example is Venice. I really wanted to fit it into my trip but it would involve a 10 hour detour and mean that we'd have to cut our time in cities such as Prague and Budapest. It wasn't on the way to anywhere I was going so I decided it was best to skip it and allow more time in other places. I'm glad I did this as Prague and Budapest both needed a few days to see the sights and it meant we were able to fit in a night in Bratislava which was on the way to another destination we were going to. 


MY FAVOURITE RESOURCES 



Skyscanner: The place to go when you need to book a flight. Or the place to go if you're dreaming of you're next trip. I usually use Skyscanner as my starting point for checking prices. Sometimes I book directly through a website and sometimes I book through Skyscanner, it completely depends on the prices. If you're dates are quite flexible then choose to search the whole month to see which days are cheapest.

TIP: Delete your cookies and history if you've been looking up flight prices a lot. This may make the prices a bit cheaper. 

Hostel world: Some people love them, some people hate them. Hostels are
my main accommodation especially in places like Europe where there aren't really guesthouses like Asia and the price of accommodation is a bit more pricy. Hostel world is the best place to find hostels, the app makes it very easy to find accommodation on the go.

TIP: While I book most of my hostels through Hostel world it is also worth giving your chosen hostel a quick google to see if you can book directly through them as many of them are a tiny bit cheaper if booked direct.

Air bnb: Air B n B is a great place to find nice places to stay but it is also great for finding guesthouses. I always try and compare prices on booking.com and air b n b as quite a few guesthouses are on both. But the main reason I use Air B n B is when I want to stay somewhere a bit nicer as a treat. There are so many great apartments and villas on Air B n B and a lot of them are very reasonable. We stayed in one for my birthday in Prague and while it was more expensive that a hostel it was cheaper than a nice hotel and we got an apartment to ourselves including a kitchen where we made breakfast each morning.

TIP: Recommend a friend and get them to sign up and you'll both get some travel credit. Even better if you're both travelling together as your friend can book one stay and once you've stayed there you'll get credit which you can use for the next time you use Air B n B, which may be on the same trip! 

Interrail website: If you're not planning on Interrailing this might not be that much use to you but it still may be worth checking out as there are example itineraries and plenty of information on countries.

TIP: Download the app. It's free and you can check train times and routes without needing to be connected to wifi. You can also track the train you're on to see how close you are to your destination. 

Tripadvisor: I don't tend to use Tripadvisor that much, I prefer to look at blogs to find out what to see but i do like to use it for food. Sometimes I prefer to find places to eat on my own or through blogs, sometimes the best places are the local hidden gems. However, sometimes you just want to save some hassle and eat somewhere that comes recommended, sometimes this pays off and sometimes you end up in a very busy restaurant that's a little overpriced. But more often than not Tripadvisor recommendations do pay off. 

___________________________

Have you backpacked around Europe? Where did you go?

Sophie 




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