So as most of you know, I had been planning a Eurotrip earlier this year. Well.. I did it. Backpacked across western Europe.. had a crazy schedule. Covered 6 countries(1 city per country :)) in 15 days. Here's something for people who are planning to do so too but just couldn't get off their collective asses or think its too expensive or think its dangerous or don't know how to go about it.
Things I did right, and thing you SHOULD do too:
- Get a good backpack. Can't stress this enough. You have to carry something equal to twice the size of your torso, about 15-20kg, on your back. You might have to walk a mile or two(unless you are rolling in money, in which case don't backpack). Get a good backpack.. I got a 65lt Osprey Waypoint.. worth every single penny.
- If you are directionally retarded(for the lack of a better word), like I am, get a friend to tag along with you who isn't. Frankly, I need a GPS to walk to my restroom(that's bathroom for the non-American junta), so treading my way across the cobbled streetways of Prague was an unlikely possibility. My friend just used to look at the map and used to guide me to all the places like a local.
- Buy a guidebook. There's no shame walking around with the fat book in a foreign place. I just used to mark the places we HAD to visit and we MIGHT visit, factor in the time to travel, and time allotted to the city, and use TSP to do the rest :)
- Concentrate on soaking up the culture and the history, not just looking at buildings. Just go to all the small alleyways, drink the local wine, taste the local favourite dish in a bistro. Look for places that are not really close to a touristy place (like the restaurant right next to Eiffel tower or on the Old town square in Prague). Its fun talking to complete strangers in a different country.. the language barriers just fade away.
- Surprise yourself. I'm not the artsy/emo sortta guy, try to analyze everything, so I was vary of visiting any museums. But boy was I wrong. Went to about 3-4 museums, took the audio tour in each one of them. It is one thing reading about it in history books and quite different experience altogether to really see them. You have no idea how human you feel after seeing/touching artifacts from 2000BC, paintings of Van Gough, Remembrandt and Da vinci, pages from the diary of Anne Frank ( I can go on and on about the things I saw and felt.. if you care to listen just call me and I'll eat you head off with my long philosophical rant about humanity and mankind in general). Bottom line, don't judge yourself.
- Suck it up when need be. I'm a lacto ova vegetarian, that been said, I had meat in Europe. Not that I couldn't find Subway/Salad bars/Indian vegetarian restaurants in Europe.. I just didn't want a superficial view of the cities. As I said earlier, I wanted to soak up the local culture and custom. After all, what Eurotrip is complete without the German currywursts. :)
- Relax when you need to. Backpacking is a hectic affair. If you are not a marathon runner, backpacking tires you out soon. Just kick back and call it a day early on.
- If you are into photography, carry lots of memory card. I carried 10GBs in CF cards, filled about 8GB. Shoot some artsy good pictures, but when push comes to shove, shoot anything and everything. You are making memories here, not trying to sell prints. That being said, a non-photog friend helps. I used to study the composition, look at photogenic stuff and angles and then take the pics. The non-photog friend used to cry "photo please" at every damn place, so sometimes I used to shoot photos, begrudgingly, without properly composing the picture. Although irritated then, I'm thankful to him for pushing me take all those photos. Shot about 650 photos.
- Check out craigslist and other local websites to find cheap accommodation. Some people let you crash on their couch or just rent a room for a night for pretty decent price. Hostels again are not that expensive. Avoid backpacking in summer.. just too many tourists in Europe during that time. I went in autumn.. just the right weather.. just the right crowd.
- Any backpacker should know the importance of a towel (what? you haven't read hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy?.. what are you doing here). Please O please don't carry a thick towel, its hard to dry and gets stinky pretty soon.
Things I did wrong. Learn from my mistakes:
- I booked accommodation and inter-country travel tickets just 3 weeks before the departure date (that too when I HAD to because I needed it for the shengen visa interview). Ideally you should always travel at night so you can sleep on the bus/train/plane and keep the days for sightseeing. Unfortunately we were cursed to travel during the day, which made our days shorter by 4 hours.
- If you are a photographer, carry all your gear, all your lenses, even your big ass tripod, the backpack is gonna be heavy anyway, but atleast you wont crib about needing an extra 5mm of focal length to get the perfect shot, or about not having a tripod for capturing the eye popping nightlife in Europe (unless you like the shitty ISO 1600 pics of course).
- Get a proper shoe. I had a relatively new Nike Air, but all the cushiony, airy, squeaky comfort goes for a toss when you are lugging 20kgs around and walking for miles at end. Within 2-3 days, your feet will conspire against each other to kill you. Research shoes before you get one for backpacking.
- Get lots of socks, lots. Atleast get a pair for each day (or you can use the laundromats which are easily accessible from the hostels). Failure to comply to this advice might result in a "biohazard" symbol sutured on your forehead.
So what I did in Europe, i.e Paris,Zurich,Munich,Prague, Brussels, Brugge and Amsterdam, is a completely different blog post.. stay tuned in.