Backpacking Europe 101: Plan, Pack, and Survive Your First Backpacking Trip


So you’ve saved every penny you’ve earned for the last year and a half in your piggy banks, and after borrowing another three grand from your parents, you’ve decided to buy that plane ticket and head off to Europe for a month. If you’re anything like I was at this point you’re just about wetting your last pair of clean underpants. You’re not sure what to pack for your backpack (buy at, what not to pack, what to expect, or even how to plan. Well, take a moment, run to the bathroom if you need to, and let me help you feel right at ease with this first step out of the nest and into the real world.

First off let me say good for you! You are willing to get out of your American box and see the world. Remember you’re a representative of our great nation so don’t pull a Bush and make the world hate us even more. You may be a tourist but that doesn’t mean you need to act like one. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way lets get started.

#1: The Plan

You’ve heard the stories of people who just up and buy a plane ticket and let the wind take them wherever their “free spirit” heart desires. If you’re willing to spend the last three and a half weeks of your four week vacation with no money and no place to sleep but on the train station bench of the same city you flew into, then I would recommend making at least a rough outline of where you’re going. I would also recommend that you book your hostels in advance, especially if you are traveling during high season. You probably will still be able to find a place to sleep (eventually) if you don’t, but you will waste a lot of time on foot going from hostel to hostel trying to find an opening if you’re traveling during the peak tourist time (usually from around April through September). Some great hostel sites to check out are and

Now would probably be a good time to sketch out an itinerary of what counties/cities you want to visit. If you’re like me I tend to plan just about everything out, but if you want to just pick the cities or general area you would like to visit then you can decide on what attractions, museums, restaurants you want to hit when you get there. If this is the case I would definitely recommend picking up a guide book such as lonely planet’s (you can find it at to help you make decisions on the fly. I also highly recommend asking other travelers at your hostel or the hostel desk staff for great tips on where to visit or places to eat since they are the most likely to know where not to eat…unless you really like the taste of fried golden retriever…just kidding Sparky, I would never let anyone eat you.

#2: Getting from place to place

Ok, so you have figured out where you want to go and where you’re going to stay, now let’s talk about the cheapest and best ways to get around. Some people may tell you different but I still believe your best value for travel is definitely going to be the Eurail. Especially if you are under the age of 25 this is a great option for you. When you purchase a Eurail pass it allows you unlimited travel for a certain amount of days within a specific travel time period. You can choose from a Global Pass, Select Pass, Regional Pass, or a One Country Pass. Rather than go into all the details of each this is the web address check out that website for more info. Passes start at around only US$175 and trust me they will save you money in the end. Just remember that some train routes require you still to reserve a spot (and even if they don’t I still recommend reserving a spot beforehand) and some also require that you pay an extra fee but usually not too much. Book a sleeper (costs a little more) and save money on a hostel if you’re planning on traveling a pretty long distance between cities.

Another way to travel if you want to save time is by budget airline. There are a couple different options but one of the cheapest that I’ve found is Ryanair ( Easyjet, and SkyEurope are also options as well. If you really want to compare airlines the “Travelocity” of European budget airlines is

#3: What to Pack:

Ok, so your airline ticket is purchased, your hostels are booked, you know where you want to go and when you want to go there, and of course how you’re going to get there, so what’s next? Well, time to pack of course! Well unless your trip is still a couple months away then you might want to wait a bit before packing up your favorite shirt.

So what to bring. First off I would invest in a sturdy backpacking backpack. Keep in mind that your backpack must fit within airline regulations for size and weight, so check out the airline website that you will be flying on to reach your destination for their guidelines and limitations. This is one area that I would not skimp on moneywise since this thing is going to be attached to your back for the next however long, and you do not want it to break. For further guidelines on choosing a backpack go to and they have a pretty rigorous selection method for the best pack possible. Also you will need a daypack since you do not want to carry around your whole life with you while you’re on a day trip or eating dinner. While were talking about the things you should invest a little more money in, I would also recommend a good pair of shoes! I can not overstate how important this is. Blisters suck butt when you still have 3 miles to walk to your next destination, so don’t be a cheapwad and buy yourself some good shoes!

Now it’s time to decide what to pack. Of course we all want to be prepared like we were taught in Boy Scouts (or Bluebirds or Girl Scouts…mmm now I want Girl Scout cookies, but I digress) but it’s very important to only bring the essentials, realizing that most things you can pick up and buy while you are overseas (yes, they even have toothbrushes in London).

Here is a basic packing list:

– Sleeping Bag (find a travel one, most hostels have stuff to sleep in/on but I still bring a small travel one because you never know when things were washed last).

– Towel (also never know when the towel was last washed)

– Pillowcase

– Swimsuit

– Sandals (good for both the beach and the iffy shower floor of a hostel)

– A travel raincoat

– TP (toilet paper)

– Pajama Bottoms or Basketball Shorts to Sleep In

– Couple Pairs of Shorts

– 1 Pair of Jeans

– 3 Short Sleeved Shirts

– One Sweater or even better a Hoodie

– Toiletries (try to fit them all in one of those leather bags you can get at wal-mart. If it doesn’t all fit its time to weed out what you don’t need. Put your First-Aid kit in here too with a needle and thread for sure)

– At least a weeks worth of underwear and socks (more socks if you have room) Trust me you can wear pants or shirts multiple times but you can only double dip for so long on the underwear before you get stanky or a nasty case of swamp butt.

– Money Belt (cant stress this one enough)

– Bike Chain Lock (great to lock your bag to the bed at the hostel when you’re gone…not that someone wont steal it if their determined enough but if there is a room full of bags they are going to try to steal the one that will come the easiest first)

– Camera

– Extra Batteries

– Money/ATM Card (The card is great because of easiness with exchange rates, but make sure and watch the ATM fees, they can wipe you out pretty quick if you’re not careful).

– Day Pack (to put things you will take with you during the day and your important documents).

– Sleep Sheet (This is debatable since if the hostel requires you to have one you can usually rent one for really cheap).

– Sunglasses

– Guidebook

– Passport as well as your drivers license and student ID if you have one.

– Club or going out clothes (you don’t want to look like a scrub at the club…hey that rhymes)

– DEODERANT! Ok, this is something that fits in your little leather toiletry bag but if you want to meet a hot guy/girl overseas to spend time with you better smell good.

This is just a basic list. Of course you can bring more or less, but just remember you have to carry everything on your back with you, and a heavy pack gets real old real quick.

(For more information and tips please read “Backpacking 101 Part II”)

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