By Desireé Borba
About five years ago, a few of us had the crazy idea of planning a backpacking trip to Europe. To be honest, we planned a fair amount in advance, but with traveling, the unexpected always happens: missed plane and train connections, the questionable hostel, and stolen goods, etc. However, backpacking was an opportunity to see a city or a country in an up-close-and-personal kind of way that was unique compared flying or even staying in a private hotel room the entire trip. Plus backpacking is also more affordable, even if you feel like a hot mess at times!
Below are some tips for your backpacking trip and stepping out of your comfort zone; to allow culture to smack you to the ground and pick you up with Nutella-covered crepes in Paris, Juan Carlos at your hostel rocking your soul with an impromptu jam session in Madrid, or getting lost through the winding side streets of Barcelona - sweaty, tired, and gloriously happy.
1) Clothes: Comfort is key and choosing pieces that are comfortable and that you are also able to turn from day-to-night. Above all though, invest in SHOES!
a. Besides the backpack, I invested the most money in my shoes, and it was money well spent. I bought sneakers and ballet flats with arch support. Ballet flats, you’re probably wondering why, but I paid around $70 for a cute pair of flats that I don’t regret . I would wear them after we had done the rougher part of traveling, and just wanted to wander around the city, casually. I also wore them if we went out at night to dinner or dancing. They lasted my 2-month trip with no problems. One of my traveling companions did not invest in great shoes, unfortunately, and ended up with a foot injury about our third city in, and was told not to walk, which was obviously a problem.
b. Other key items would be a rain jacket, cargo pants, and sweatshirt. Then I brought about three comfortable shirts and sun dresses that I would just rotate.
2) Backpack: I bought my backpack from The North Face, and it was comfortable and easy to travel with. This is essentially your home in a bag for the amount of time you are traveling, so make sure it is comfortable. I packed the lightest out of everyone on my trip, and I never felt I was lacking in anything. Remember that you have to carry this backpack from the train station or airport to wherever your accommodations are. From the train stations, the metro was never far off, so we would usually hop on the metro and walk to our hostel. You definitely save money this way versus paying for a cab, but it can be a bit of a walk sometimes, so make sure you get the right backpack for you. Also keep in mind you will buy things on your trip, and want to make sure you have room to bring it back without it being so heavy.
3) Other Items to Bring:
a. I bought a travel pouch that would go around my waist to carry my important items such as passport, cash, I.D., cards, etc. If there were no lockers at the hostel, I would wear this pouch. To be honest, I carried my passport and cards with me at all times anyways, so I found this pouch to be super handy.
b. Stain remover
c. Pint sized toiletries. And try to find ways to free space up in your backpack. Perfect example of this, are the razors with the shaving cream already built in.
d. If you’re traveling with other people, split up the necessities. One person can carry a curling iron or straightener; someone else can take the detergent packets, etc. Not everyone needs to take the same things.
e. Which brings me to washing clothes. You will find laundromats around your area if you want to take time to wash your clothes. We found we didn’t want to usually waste time doing that when we could be exploring, so we took detergent packets and would wash our clothes in the sink, tub (if we had a private room), or in the shower, and would leave our clothes out to dry.
4) Where to Stay:
You will meet so many people, beautiful, crazy people. These people may become life-long friends, one-day encounters, or they may make you long for solitude in a private room in a hotel! I recommend staying in a hostel and breaking it up about every third or fourth city. You can still find relatively cheap private rooms at a hostel and hotel, and the privacy is much needed after all of the traveling. When I was doing this trip, Airbnb and Couchsurfing weren’t as popular, so I am not too familiar with these types of accommodations, but I’ve heard great things and would definitely look into those as well.
There you go! These are some of my tips if you choose a backpacking trip (or really, a lot of types of trips). I hope they are helpful and you’ll learn along the way what worked and what didn’t work for you. There is no right way or wrong way of doing this really, just whatever works best for you. Above all, soak up every minute of the culture, the food and the people. You will be forever changed.
Disclosure: I paid for all of the items for this trip myself and I am not endorsing any brands, just sharing my experiences.