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This article is not just about Europe. You can use these tips to backpack anywhere that backpacks are sold, and just about anywhere else. Europe, of course, is the standard backpacking destination for the adventurous American of around college-age. If you’re considering a trek across unfamiliar countries, living on your wits, the occasional hostel, and the big sack strapped across your shoulders, the following advice could be invaluable.
- Keep it light. It’s tempting to pack for every eventuality, but your pack has to be light enough to walk around with easily, and accessible enough that you can get to your items. Ten changes of clothes for every possible weather condition just won’t fit into your garden-variety rucksack. When packing for your trip, pack extra light.
- Forget everything of value. Because backpacking does bring you to hostels and other cheap places to rest your head, it’s important to leave your valuables out of the equation when you pack. This way, if your bag gets swiped, you’ll be replacing clothes, not your grandmother’s diamond wedding rings. And watch for thieves, will you?
- Europe uses drink cards! A lot of clubs abroad, particularly in Europe, use club cards, particularly punch cards. This is how it works: you get your card on the way in, it gets punched every time you order a libation, and on your way out, you pay for all of the punches on the card. A quick way to lose your money? Let someone else get your drink card. Extra punches, or worst case scenario, lost punch card fees, can mean a hefty hole is getting punched in your field trip funds.
- Do a lot of walking. Cabs are great, and in the cities, they’re everywhere. It can be pretty tempting to grab one, but resist the urge. Cabs can rack up high fees quickly, particularly if the driver can tell you aren’t familiar with the area (those tourist fees are a killer). Besides, walking is great for your body, and great for the Earth. If you can’t make the walk, grab a bus.
- Drinking? Pre-game. Pregaming, drinking before you go to a bar, so you can avoid high drink prices. This is a unique money-saver for a backpacker. Buying your alcohol from stores and pregaming at your room with friends or strangers before you head to the club is a good way to avoid tourist pricing. Check and see if your city allows public drinking: maybe you can even drink on the way!
- Keep your money and your papers against your skin. You’ve been warned more than once about thievery and loss. The best possible way to make sure that a thief doesn’t end your trip early by leaving you broke is to give them no way to get anything of value. If they swipe your backpack, the worst you should lose is clothing, souvenirs, and perhaps an iPod or other small electronic. Your cell phone, wallet, cash, and all travel documents should be kept in a place that’s hard to steal. Consider wallets on chains, or thin travel wallets worn under your shirt, wherever possible.
- Start – and end – with a great backpack. This should really have been rule one. The key to great backpacking is, of course, a great place to fit all of your stuff in. Backpacks should be roomy, durable, with enough pockets and compartments to organize your life, but not so many as to confuse you. Buckles and flaps are good – they make it hard for someone to go into your backpack if you fall asleep holding it on a train. Weatherproofing is essential, if you want to avoid moldy clothes and broken iPods after you get caught in the rain. Last but not least, your backpack needs to have some personality.
Mike is a traveling expert who has backpacked all over the world. He is always sharing all of experiences and giving advice to those who are new to traveling and backpacking.