I’m not the best advisor but I think I’ve seen and done enough to mention a few handy tips before you go. Before I went there was a few things I was worried about – money, safety and language barriers. I planned to go for a 3 months holiday (which extended to 6 months!) and wanted to see most of Europe – just an overview – without breaking the bank.
First thing you need to do before any trip and ask yourself a few questions..
- Where do I want to go and for how long?
- What’s my budget?
- Am I travelling with someone for the first-time?
You don’t have to be specific but at least you have an idea. Here’s my example:
Where: Europe (East & West) Duration: 3 – 6 months Travel Buddy: Kim (1st time travel together)
Kim is my high school friend. It is our first-trip together and we would have a meeting once a week about what we want to do in Europe. The decision above was mutual. I’ve travelled with 2 other friends separately before and I know sometimes travelling together can end friendships. It’s never happened to me before but I’ve had tension in both occasion but it was temporary. Even travelling with family can be stressful. (It’s not as stressful as Amazing Race though!). Since Kim and I wanted to do different things sometimes, we had to meet in the middle and agreed to travel separately at times to give each other space. We both saved up a lot of money and honestly my budget was AUD 10,000 (includes everything from airfares to accommodation). It is a high figure but we weren’t planning on backpacking hardcore. Guess we’re called “flashpacker” with our wheeled luggage (I highly advise travel backpacks!!! Stairs and non-flat surfaces are everywhere….). So, now we know where we want to go and for how long, can we afford it both financially and time?
It’s time to do homework and work out the main places you want to visit and do a rough calculations what is the bare minimum it would cost us! Obviously we don’t know what food costs because we’re European virgins but we had a rough idea from our book: The Rough Guide To Europe On A Budget by Rough Guides. They also have a First-Time Europe Guide you should check out. Note: I wouldn’t advise bringing the books along.. they are very bulky! If you want, I suggest getting a digital version otherwise the Internet and other travellers provide plenty of information. Planning is very time consuming. There was way too many places we wanted to see and there was way too many figures to juggle. This is when we decided maybe a tour group is best for us taking the weight off our shoulders.
Why go with tour groups?
Tours is a great way to meet new people and visit a lot of places guided by a knowledgeable and experienced tour guide. It’s also stress-free (yay)! If you’re the kind of person who have an idea which countries you want to go to but don’t know what to do and want everything taken care of? Joining a tour is your answer. Also, some tours offer insurance that covers the duration of the tour. Great!
I booked 2 tours in advance.
This is a very big group tour (50 people when fully booked). It’s a very long tour (there’s longer!) which covers about 10 countries. After the tour, I felt like I’ve seen everything Western Europe’s got to offer. It isn’t always packed everyday, you get free days so you can do anything you want and everyday, breakfast is taken care of (which is what you want!!). The problem I had was really you don’t want a big bag and a travel backpack is ideal. There are time we have to climb many flights of stairs and sleep in very small rooms. One tour manager with us the whole time. It amazes me how 1 person can handle 50 travellers!
Money to bring: AUD 1500 is a good amount for extra optional activities food and shopping.
Much smaller group and a lot of bus rides (You get some bumpy roads and one time we hit a motorcyclist!). I remember sleeping a lot on the bus and the relationship with everyone was more intimate due to the size of the group. I highly recommend visiting Eastern Europe. It is very different from Western Europe in so many ways. Feels less modern and more ancient and sacred . The tour guide I had had a very strong accent so sometimes I couldn’t understand what he was saying and it was very different to Contiki. Much more laid back and slower pace of travel which is a nice. We had about 2-3 tour guides through out the trip! They were very funny people haha.
Money to bring: AUD 600 is a good as Eastern European currency is lower than Euros.
In between tours, I travelled alone without a clue what I would do. Going solo isn’t hard in English speaking countries but non-English speaking countries may prove a bit challenging. I suggest if you plan to do impulse travelling, at least know how to get to your hostel/hotel and have some cash on you! If you can, ask for a map.
You don’t have to know what to do straight away. It helps to settle down first. There are many ways to find out what to do later on. Such as:
- Asking your hostel/hotel
- Travel agents and Information Centres
- Meeting other travellers and ask to tag along
- Websites such as: Tripadvisor.com, Couchsurfing.org and Meetup.com
It’s also helpful to know about the dangers and crime of the places you go. I knew pick pocketing was a big thing in Spain and made sure I was alert all the time. When I let down my guard one time, I was nearly pick pocketed in Madrid and a friend of a friend of mine got mugged in Barcelona. You should always be careful every time (of locals and foreigners) but some places need more attention than others.
It’s always a good idea to get travel insurance. I can’t advise one for you but make sure you read and understand their policies and coverage. Insurance companies can be tricky…
How much money to bring?
Bring money is a tricky questions. I brought way too much money as I over estimated my spending. I brought a some cash (AUD, USD, GBP and EUR) as well as travel cards issued by ANZ bank. I don’t know how to use travellers cheque and never really looked into it. I use the ATM a lot as I don’t like to carry large amount of cash with me (yes there are fees but I rather pay the fees than carry thousands of dollars). There are times I stayed with friends so I saved a bit of money but generally hostels are quite reasonable and I think AUD 10,000 (USD 10,280) is more than enough to just last 6 months (includes everything). Depending on how you spend and where you go, always have a backup and potentially ask someone from home to wire money to you. Again, set a daily budget.
What to pack?
I don’t have to explain general packing as you can always buy stuff on the way but I think a common mistake is to bring too many shoes and clothes. If you plan to move around a lot, try to travel light and bring a laptop isn’t a problem. In fact, I think it’s a good idea to bring a laptop as most places offer free Internet and a good place to backup your photos. Never put valuables in your check-in bag! Always, have it with you at all times or place them in a secure place at your accommodation.
Very Useful Resources..
When I travel theses are the main resources I use when in Europe:
- Google Maps… life saver but not always accurate (such as in China and Thailand).
- Trip Advisor is good for knowing the best places to go and for second opinions.
- Couchsurfing is a great website to meet other travellers, get information and a look for a host to stay at.
- Hostel World is probably the biggest hostel booking website there is!
- Expedia is useful for good deals on nice hotels.
- For everything else…… use Google!!
I hope this was somewhat useful ^_^