Mike started dental school this summer. That basically means that we will have little to no vacations for the next four years :( So as a farewell to care-free living, we decided to spend a month backpacking Europe before school started! This has always been a dream of mine, so I was super excited that we actually did it!!
Here was our rough itinerary for anyone interested in planning a similar trip:
Switzerland - Zurich
Germany - Bavaria, Berlin
Czech Republic - Prague, Kutna Hora
France - Paris
Italy - Genoa, Venice, Cinque Terre, Rome
Mediterranean Cruise - Pompeii, Sicily, Corsica, La Goulette, Monte Carlo, Toulon,
Spain - Barcelona
England - London, Brighton
Ireland - Dublin
My first piece of advice would be to #1 Plan as early and as much as possible! I know a lot of backpackers tell you not to plan too far ahead and be flexible. However, we found that being too flexible made us waste a lot of time and miss out on doing some of the things we would have loved to do. Especially if you are visiting super popular tourist destinations like Paris, London, Rome, etc. So, plan as much as you can, but be flexible with time/dates and understand that some things are just not going to work out. Our planning process began literally about a month before we left. We got a Eurail pass that was good for 15 consecutive days of unlimited travel within the countries covered on the pass (most of the countries in Europe). This worked great for us as we were moving locations every 2-3 days. We spent so much time on trains you wouldn't even believe it. But we really felt that we got our money's worth with this pass. Especially since we were planning so late in the game. One thing we wished we had done better was plan our train trips ahead of time. We spent literally 1.5 days in the Paris train station trying to get a train out of France with our train passes.
#2 Pack light. (Please ignore how ridiculously exhausted I look in this picture.) I think we actually did pretty well with packing. Looking back though, there are things I still would have left at home. We each packed around 22-24 pounds of stuff in our backpacks. After extensive Pinterest/Youtube/amazon research, we both bought the Osprey Farpoint 55 Backpack on Amazon. And we absolutely loved them! I bought the S/M and my husband got the M/L. They have a detachable daypack which was absolutely perfect for taking day trips when we left the rest of our stuff in the hotel/hostel. There are a million packing lists on various blogs/Pinterest, so I would recommend looking at those (especially for the specific countries you plan to visit). Basics: bring pieces that can be layered, are lightweight (obviously), and are easy to wash! No matter what time of year you're headed, you want a lightweight (and waterproof) jacket. I took my Helly Hansen one and it was perfect. Not too hot, but kept the rain at bay. Don't forget that Europe has some awesome shopping as well :) So either leave a little extra room or decide now which shirts/shoes/pants can be sacrificed when you find that amazing Parisian scarf for two Euro.
View from the Neuschwanstein castle. Definitely highly recommend!
In case you didn't already know, this is the castle that Walt Disney used to base Sleeping Beauty's castle! So... I was basically in heaven.
Gorgeous sunset overlooking Prague. Guys, Prague is awesome. You should go. Wandering around the city was amazing!
That gorgeous sunset came with a price though.We literally climbed a million stairs. # 3 Be prepared to walk more than you have in your entire life. Mike and I were doing this whole thing on a budget, so we walked most places and took taxis only when it was our only option. Being the vain girl I am, I didn't pack shoes with super awesome support. I semi-regretted it. But if I were to do it again, I probably wouldn't change anything. I didn't want some nasty white tennis shoes in my romantic shots at the Eiffel tower and stuff.
The "Bone Church" Kutna Hora (just outside of Prague). Super creepy, but pretty cool to see.
Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. We bought the three day Paris Museum Pass (not the Paris pass). We were pretty sure it was a good financial move. We think.
Fountains at Versaille. A definite must-do day trip from Paris! #4 do your history homework. There are tons of great audio guides and apps that are free for the sites you want to visit! We used Rick Steves' audio guide all over the place and loved it! We just plugged headphones into our phones and saved the 10 euro price tag for the museum's guide.
Burano, Venice. I was so happy I got to go here! Last time I went to Venice I wasn't able to check out this little island, so it was a must do for this trip! I'm no photographer, but it is pretty impossible to not get amazing pictures of this place!
# 5 Have your camera ready. By day three of our trip, we were exhausted. First thing to go out the door when we were tired? Taking pictures. We missed out on a lot of great photo ops because we were just too dang tired to stop and take a picture (and sometimes too tired to even get ready enough to be photographed...) Push through it people! You might only ever be here once!
#6 Learn how to sleep anywhere. I absolutely love sleeping. Like way more than the normal human. Slowly drifting off to sleep in a quiet, dark room with comfy bed and a nice air conditioned breeze is one of my all time favorite things. Let me tell you that you can expect very little of that if you're doing a backpacking trip on a budget. Hostels, train stations, and buses do not exactly provide the ideal lodging for a weary traveler. It is so hard, but take the sleep when you can get it. You won't get enough and you will be tired. Push through it. For me, this will probably be my only chance to go on a trip like this, so I didn't want to waste any time sleeping in or being in a half-awake zombie state. (If you ask my husband, he might have a slightly different story concerning my sleep attitude on this trip, but I'm sticking with my version.) After this trip, I can sleep just about anywhere.
#7 Get off the beaten path. Talk to friends and family (or Pinterest) about the places you are going. This is the best way to find those awesome places that aren't on Trip Advisor! We told a few people we were going to Italy and they said that we NEEDED to check out Cinque Terre. We'd never heard of it. So I Pinterested it and immediately decided we were going. Totally would have missed out if we hadn't asked around!
We did a night tour of the Colosseum. It was amazing.
#8 Know when to spend and when to save. 95% of the time on this trip, we adhered to the "save" mentality. However, every once in a while we splurged on things that we both really, really wanted to do. Ya know, those once-in-a-lifetime deals? Like seeing Les Miserables in London. That was a bucket list thing for me. So we bought same day (crazy expensive) tickets and absolutely loved it!
Brighton, England - fun daytrip from London!
#9 Have an Open Mind. Once you leave the USA, it is important to remember one thing: You are not in the USA. Seems pretty logical, but you'd be surprised. We saw some Americans doing and saying some pretty crazy things. Food, culture, transportation, language are all going to be vastly different than what you may be used to back at home. So learn to enjoy and embrace the differences while you're traveling! It will definitely help your trip go more smoothly. Example: I had little to no desire to go to Barcelona. I didn't know much about the culture or food and I don't have a huge appreciation for architecture... However, Mike had been looking forward to it the entire trip, so we had to go. Well, I ended up loving it. It is one of our favorite places that we went.
#10 Backpacking is hard. So don't forget to take time for a little R&R :)
We had such an amazing trip! If you're considering doing one of these, but aren't sure if you want to take the plunge away from work/school/paychecks/etc. Just do it! You won't regret it.