Have you ever wanted to visit Europe? Are you unsure about going because everyone says it’s super expensive? If you’re comfortable staying in accommodations that aren’t exactly 5 star boutique hotels, Europe might not be out of your reach after all if you consider a backpacking trip.
Why I chose to backpack Europe instead of taking an organized tour
When I initially got the idea to go on vacation to Europe, backpacking solo wasn’t my first thought. Friends of mine had taken a Contiki tour around Ireland a couple summers back and still rave about it, so I figured a guided tour might be my best bet as a solo traveller. I could see the places I wanted to see and have a built-in friend base every day of my tour. But as I tried to narrow down the tour that best fit with my travel dates and bucket list of places, I discovered that I either had to cut cities off of my list or spend a fortune and stay in Europe longer than I has planned in order to see it all. I wanted to visit Europe, but I didn’t want to sign over my first born child.
I almost threw in the proverbial towel, when it dawned on me. I could probably plan a trip much cheaper on my own than going through a tour company. Sure, I wouldn’t be travelling with 40 other twenty-somethings, but when did that ever stop me before? So that’s what I did. I handpicked the countries and cities that I wanted to see, the date that I wanted to leave on and the coolest hostels in Europe to sleep in. And here’s how I did it.
Step 1: I sketched out a very basic itinerary
Before I even decided on the details of when I’d leave for this trip, I wrote down the places that I wanted to see. I didn’t leave anything out. The way I figure it, I might only get to do this once. What cities do I HAVE to see in case I never get to come back to Europe? The answer to that question provided me with the basis for a route.
As a Newfoundlander, the easiest starting point for me is London, UK because there is a direct flight that’s only 5 hours long from YYT! So my list (which at that point consisted of London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Munich, Vienna, Venice, Rome and Nice) needed to be arranged in a way that meant I wasn’t back tracking and spending more money on transportation. Luckily, the majority of awesome European cities can be done in a loop! So I decided to hit up Amsterdam first, so I could leave the best (Paris) for last. I initially decided on two days in each city and arbitrarily picked a weekend that I knew I’d be in St. John’s as my departure time. I did this so I could then scope out an estimate of how much hostels and train rides would cost for these dates.
Step 2: I hunted for the perfect hostels
I’m a fairly low-key kinda gal. If I have a eye mask, ear plugs and a warm blanket, I can sleep just about anywhere. Hotels are expensive in Europe and for people travelling solo, they aren’t the best places to meet fellow travellers who might want to sightsee or have a pint with you. So half of the reason my trip is affordable is the fact that I’m staying exclusively in hostels in every city I’m visiting. If you aren’t familiar with what hostels are, they are accommodations that are affordable because you sleep in bunk beds in rooms with anywhere to 3-19 other strangers. Washrooms are shared, you store your luggage in private lockers and you often get free breakfast. I’ll post more about what hostels are like in another post.
In order to get an idea of whether my trip was actually affordable, I spent hours on Hostelworld.com researching the hostels I wanted to stay at in each of my top cities. I have stayed at four different hostels in Dublin (Isaacs and Abigails) and Edinburgh (Budget Backpackers and my all time favourite, Castle Rock Hostel) and let me tell you, you want to book a hostel with a good rating. I’m talking 80% or above. My first experience in a hostel in Dublin (Isaacs Hostel) was not great because we booked the cheapest hostel we could find. My group of friends were poor university students, so that’s all that mattered to us. But what a mistake. There were no lockers in the rooms and we had to go down three flights of stairs to get our stuff to shower and we were well away from the centre of the city, making it a tad sketchy walking home at 3am from Temple Bar.
So the hostels I picked out were carefully chosen. I made sure that where I could, I booked a bunk in a female-only room with a full locker next to or under the bed. An added bonus is having a dedicated outlet near your bunk so you can charge your electronics as you sleep. I’m even staying at a hostel that has a mini locker for charging devices so it’s secure while you sleep. I also made sure that each hostel looked fun. Almost 3/4 of the hostels I’m staying at have bars downstairs or restaurants associated with them, which makes for a great friend-making atmosphere… and an easy way to get food!
I also made sure my hostels were in prime locations. As a solo female, I know I’m going to have to be aware of my surroundings, especially at night. I feel that having accommodations nearer to the hustle-and-bustle will add a sense of security that I’ll need.
Finally, there’s price. A night in a hostels generally costs anywhere from $30-$60 a night depending on the season or day of the week you’ll be staying. The most expensive accommodations I found were in Amsterdam and Venice because Venice just seems to be the most expensive place on the planet and I’m staying in Amsterdam over a weekend. Overall though, I managed to find hostels for an average of $40-$50 a night. Another great bonus of staying in hostels is their flexibility. When you book your stay at any given hostel, you only pay 10-12% of your final stay. If your travel plans change… as the always seem to for me, this gives you the option to cancel and book another place and you’re only out $10 bucks.
In the next post I’ll fill you in on how I finished the rest of my itinerary planning by buying each train ticket separately instead of getting a Europass and the rejigging of my schedule that was needed to accommodate information I learned after more about my bucket list cities as I researched them.