Tips for a BackPacking Adventure in Europe

October 2010


Cross post: Original posted on HostelBookers

Sarah Emery, GirlsGetaway writer and my daughter, has recently returned from six months in Europe. In this interview with, Sarah shares her tips about backpacking as well as some of the highlights of her recent trip through Europe.

1. What made you start traveling?

I just travel because I love it. I love the excitement of being in a new place, and I love going to places I’ve always dreamed about visiting.

2. How do you prepare for a trip?

Very carefully! I definitely believe in careful planning. I know a lot of people who just fly by the seat of their pants (and they love it!) but I’m not really comfortable with that. I like to have all my hostels booked, my budget set out, my packing list set. For me that’s part of the fun. I kind of prepare myself mentally too – I like to watch movies that are set in the city that I’m going to visit, and listen to music that comes from that region. I like to do a lot of research about the city (look at pictures, learn about the history) before I go.

3. How do you budget for your travels?

I draw up a very careful budget before I leave. I estimate how much certain things will cost (food, transportation, hostels) and then draw up a rough daily budget (usually around 35-40 euros). Sometimes it’s hard to keep a budget while you’re traveling, so I usually am very careful to write down my days purchases in my journal every day.

4. Do you stay in hostels? What do you like about them?

I mostly stay in hostels when I travel. The number one thing I like about them is that THEY’RE CHEAP! And if you’re lucky, some can turn out to be even nicer than a hotel. I also like that you get to meet a lot of people – for me, part of what makes traveling great is meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. In hostels, that’s much easier.

5. What essentials would you suggest first time backpackers pack?

Number one, your own sleep-sheet. NOT an ordinary sleeping bag (they’re big and cumbersome) but just a thin sleep-sheet. A lot of hostels don’t provide sheets, or if they do you have to pay extra and their cleanliness is dubious at best. Most travel stores sell sleep-sheets, usually in cotton and silk. I prefer silk, since it rolls up REALLY tiny, it’s really lightweight, it’s cool in the heat and warm when it’s cold outside, and it keeps bugs out better than cotton does (since it’s a tighter weave). Also sleep-sheets usually have little pillowcase things attached, so if you don’t have a pillow you can just stuff some clothes in there and voila! The number two thing you should have is your own little travel towel, since most hostels also don’t offer towels. Ordinary towels are big and bulky, so a little fast drying one is super handy to have. Number three: remember to bring flip-flops to wear in the showers! Sometimes they’re really nasty, but a pair of flip-flops helps you to brave even the yuckiest of showers.

6. What is the best country you’ve visited so far and why?

Hmmm, I don’t think I could say which is the best country… every country has something great about it. But if I had to decide I would have to say that I liked France the best. It has everything – small quaint villages as well as big exciting cities, lots of history and culture, beautiful natural landscapes, an awesome language that’s always a joy to hear, and great food!

7. What destination really surprised you and why?

I think Florence surprised me… and not in a good way, unfortunately! Everyone raves about Florence and it kind of gives you a false impression. Mostly what I got from Florence was a whole lot of tourists and not much else. The city itself was not as beautiful as I had been expecting. The art is great (if you’re interested in art – I am, so I enjoyed it, but I was under the distinct impression that most people only went to the art galleries because they felt they had to!). A destination that surprised me in a good way was Copenhagen. I spent a lot of time there, and it was more beautiful than I ever expected. I missed it once I left, and was so exited to go back. It’s still one of my favorite cities!

8. What’s the weirdest thing you have eaten on your travels?

I guess that depends on your definition of weird… but I suppose the weirdest thing I’ve eaten would have to be tepesquintle. It’s a big rat-like rodent that is a delicacy in Guatemala. I guess it would be closest in taste to Rabbit. In other words, not gross at all – pretty delicious!

9. What is the craziest experience you’ve had abroad?

The craziest experience I had abroad was in Germany. My friend and I were visiting the tower of an old church – the rest of the church was being renovated, so it was off limits to visitors. But we made friends with the admissions guy, and once he heard that we were art students he decided to give us a tour of the the church! We got to climb the scaffolding and touch the ceiling and see things that very few people ever get to see. It was amazing.

venice_30010. What are some of your best travel memories?

My best memories are all really simple things that you wouldn’t think make a big impact, but they do! Something like sitting in some gorgeous piazza in Venice and eating a gelato with my best friend while the sun goes down… that’s the stuff you never forget.

11. What have you learned about yourself while traveling?

I learned that I’m pretty good at dealing with stress, like when things don’t go according to plan. I learned that I’m good at planning! And I learned that you NEVER need to pack as many clothes as you think you do.

12. Do you have any future trips planned?

My plan is to never stop traveling! I’d love to see more of the UK, and I’d love to go to India and Egypt and… EVERYWHERE! There is no trip that I would say no to.

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