13 Rules to Survive By When BackPacking with Friends: Sarah Travels on a Budget

November 2011

BackPacking in Europe

GirlsGetaway is delighted to introduce an ongoing travel series by Sarah Emery, a university student with an insatiable lust for travel. She recently returned from a long term backpacking trip through Europe with two of her girlfriends and has agreed to share tales of her adventures with our readers. Here’s the first story in our series: Sarah Travels on a Budget.

I recently spent two wonderful months backpacking across Europe with my best friends. We’re still friends and one of the ways we managed this was by living with some hard and fast rules, what we called our “13 Rules to Survive By When Traveling with Friends.” I’d like to share how we ended up planning and organizing this huge trip, and our girlfriend rules of the road.

First of all, let me make introductions: I’m Sarah, and during my third year of studying graphic design, I decided to take advantage of my school’s exchange program, setting off to spend a winter semester at the Danish Design School in Copenhagen, Denmark. My two best friends and I had always dreamed about traveling across the world together and with me already in Copenhagen, we decided to live our dream and spend the summer backpacking through Europe. Winna (pronounced Ween-ah) was in her third year of studying french, and Carly had just been accepted to an architecture school. We were terrified, none of us had much travel experience, but we were also determined, this was the perfect and maybe last opportunity for us to take a summer off to do some hard core traveling.

Backpacking with Friends: RulesFirst we figured out timing and where exactly we wanted to go. This took a long time, and we all had to compromise and give up on some major dream destinations just to make our (VERY tight) schedule work. Next, we all researched hostels, and then reserved our rooms online. Finally, we figured out transportation; Carly and Winna bought their plane tickets (I was already in Copenhagen by this point), and we all bought Eurail passes.

Carly, Winna and I decided early on that we needed some rules and guidelines to help us on our trip. Our main challenges were staying on budget, keeping on track with our tight schedules, and not killing each other. Some of these rules were unspoken, and some we were more relaxed about than others. But they were all important, and we needed them all:

  1. There are two kinds of schedules. For smaller cities, we spend 2 days (and three nights) there, no more. For larger cities, we spend 3 days (and 4 nights), no more.
  2. Train days are days that are spent traveling from city to city. Some days we would spend 16 straight hours traveling; other days would be just one hour. Regardless of how much time it takes to get somewhere, train days are always just train days, and are not included in the amount of time allotted to see each city. In other words: no half days.
  3. We only stay in hostels, and only in hostels that cost less than $30/night.
  4. We buy all our own food and cook for ourselves. EXCEPT: for each city we visit, we can go out to one restaurant to experience the local cuisine.
  5. We make an effort to go to markets rather than grocery stores, and try to buy only local produce whenever possible.
  6. Fully experiencing each city is the overarching goal of the trip. However, exceptions can be made; there are lots of different ways to fully experience a city. Museums are good, but must be balanced with other activities. Spending all day in a museum is NOT fully experiencing a city.
  7. Stay together, protect each other, watch each other’s stuff, and stay safe.
  8. No petty arguments, no fighting, no snarkiness, no grudges. Stay calm and reasonable. Traveling is stressful and we WILL have bad days. If you can sense someone is having a bad day, do your best to make it better. If they are being bitchy and grumpy, do your best to LET IT GO. For one day soon YOU will be the bitchy and grumpy one, and you must hope that on that day, they will also let it go.
  9. The goal is to spend no more than $50, or €30, per day.
  10. Walk everywhere. There is literally no better way to see and experience a city than to walk. Public transportation is also allowed, but only in certain circumstances (in keeping with rule #9). No taxis.
  11. Take lots of pictures, and then put away your camera. Never let picture-taking take precedence over having fun.
  12. Upon arriving in a new city, the first thing we do is always just get out and explore. Just wander around aimlessly. This is usually closely followed by the second most important thing: GET FOOD.
  13. Map reading: Carly does one day, I do the next day, etc. (Winna did not do much map reading). If we get lost, we all put our heads together. If one person is just not having a good day, the other person will take over.

So those are some of the main do’s and dont’s that we followed. This list helped us survive the trip, have fun and remain best of friends. How about you? If you have any other tips to share or if you have your own commandments of traveling together, please leave a comment below so we can learn from each other and make our travels with friends fun and exciting!

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