Euro-Backpacking Review

I spent my Easter break from studying abroad at Swansea University in Wales backpacking across Europe for 30 days. For a rundown of the places I went, I  traveled to 14 different Nations during the 30 days (20 total during my 6 months): Wales, England, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungry, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, France, Monaco and Spain. I spent nights in 13 different cities: Swansea, London, Milan, Cinque Terre, Venice, Budapest, Kosice, Vienna, Prague, Munich, Interlaken, Nice and Barcelona. Plus, I made day trips to 6 different places: the Slovakian countryside, Dachau Concentration Camp, Salzburg, Bavarian Castles, Cannes and Monaco. And then I also spent limited time in a few other places (mainly explorations during train-layovers): Pisa, Florence, a tiny Hungry/Slovakian border town, Bratislava, Zurich, Geneva, Lyon and Marseille.

For my traveling, I had purchased a EuRail train pass. To be eligible for this pass, you have to be a non-European resident and in the 18-26 age range. Then there are multiple passes you can choose from, with plenty of options for number of days and countries. Seeing how I wanted to do a lot of traveling and wanted to have absolute freedom in where I wanted to go and when, I choose one of the most inclusive passes. It allowed for 21 consecutive days of travel through 21 different countries of Europe. While this was very expensive, it was a great decision.

All throughout my blogging about my trip, I have talked about just jumping on trains and switching my mind whenever I wanted, and this flexible pass is what allowed me to do so. I would simply look at my train timetable and map I had been given, and decide what train to take & when I wanted. If I decided I wanted to see a few more things in a city the day I was supposed to leave, I would just take a later train, or if I got bored, I would get on an earlier train. Total freedom.

My plans literally changed every single day. Whether if it was where I was going next, what I was going to do, or how long I was going to stay somewhere, I was always changing my mind and I loved it. That is how I wanted it to be and I am so happy it worked out as well as it did. I was always keeping my ears open and asking people I met advice on where they had been and where to go, and I got a lot of my plans and ideas from what other people had said.

Technically the EuRail suggests you reserve a seat on the trains your taking. These reservations usually cost around 3-15 Euros. This was a cost they don’t tell you about when you sign up for it, and me, as well as everyone else I talked to who had it, were not happy about this. So at first my plan was to every time I arrived in a city I would reserve my next train ride. This wasn’t going to give me the total freedom that I wanted though. After my first time doing this (arriving in Venice, booking to Budapest), I realized that you really don’t need to do it.

As long as you aren’t sitting in someone else’s seat you’re fine, you just need the pass. And even if you were in someone’s seat, you simply get up and find another. So I went the entire rest of my trip without reserving trains, and it wasn’t until I was in France where I was even told to move because I was in someone’s seat. Some trains were busy, but I guess I just kept getting lucky picking seats, or else people were just scared to tell me to move (ha). So I was able to have the complete traveling freedom I was looking for after all. I have spoken to other people who had a EuRail pass and paid reservation fees for every train, and spent upwards of 100 euros on them, and they were all livid after hearing that I did not do so and saved that much money.

I don’t think besides a 20 minute train ride I took in pre-school I have ever even ridden a train in the states. But from these 21 days, plus a lot of other instances throughout my 6 months abroad, I became a train and train station expert. I had the system, the timetables, and the station layouts down pat. I was always nervous about getting on the right trains and getting to the stations in time at the beginning, but after the first week I felt like I was running the show.

I spent the majority of my train rides doing only a few basic things. This included: Killing my ipod battery, keeping my journal, filling out postcards, reading about the Italian mafia, reading my travel book, practicing the local language for the next place I was going to, sleeping, making friends, people watching and enjoying the passing scenery.

As for my hostels, I had pretty good experiences all around with them. The process I usually went through with them was that I would arrive at one, and then once I figured out how long I was going to be in that city and where I was going next, I would then book my next one. I booked all of my hostels on hostelworld.com (except for my 2nd one in Switzerland) and it made things pretty easy. For the most part, they had pretty good directions listed on hostelworld and even with my late room bookings, I almost always was able to get the hostel I wanted and at a good price. The Venice and Budapest hostels towards the beginning of my trip set the bar pretty high; they were awesome places and I met and hung out with really cool people at them. At most places I went I usually met cool enough people to hang out and explore with, but it would have been much more of a daunting and scary trip had I not had great experiences at these first couple of hostels.

When booking hostels, the more people in the room, the cheaper it is. They call them “dorms,” or you can also get privates, but on my budget I was definitely getting the biggest and cheapest rooms possible. Depending on the size of the hostel and room availability, I was usually in 8-16 bed dorm rooms, and sometimes the rooms would have their own bathroom, but usually there was a large shared one for the entire floor. Checkout times were usually 10 or 11am, but the hostels would always have luggage storage rooms to keep my bag in so I didn’t have to walk around with it if I wasn’t leaving until later in the day, so checkout times really didn’t matter too much. The good thing about checkout times was that it just forced me to be up and out exploring by a certain time. Also, breakfast almost always ended at 9 or 10, so I was always up in time for that. So the combination of these two things meant that I never slept passed 9 during my trip and maximized my exploring potential.

I almost feel like since nothing at all ever went wrong on my trip it left me with a lack of events to write about on this blog. While I’m definitely very happy nothing bad happened, I am a little surprised. Almost all the Americans I have talked to after our Easter break had at least that one city where everything went wrong (whether its missing trains or flights, being pick-pocketed, having things stolen from hostels, getting totally lost, etc). I definitely put my self in some very scary situations looking back, things I would not suggest anyone do, but I survived. Even with my total lack of planning, everything still went almost perfectly everywhere I went. The lack of planning and freedom to do what I want that came with it is actually something I wanted though and “planned.” So I was somewhat almost expecting something bad to happen, like at least not being able to find a hostel and having to sleep in a park or missing a train that I needed. I attribute this to two main things: my no-worries attitude and confidence. One of my favorite sayings is “Confidence is the Father of Success.” I’m not exactly sure how this relates to this paragraph, but I’d like to think that me just not worrying too much about things and walking around confident in what I was doing is what helped me have such a successful experience backpacking through Europe.

I luckily never had to experience any pick-pocketers or muggings (except the one time my new friend I was with in Budapest “thought” she had been pick-pocketed). Everywhere I went I was constantly keeping an eye on my surroundings and being wary of possible bad situations. I wasn’t always putting myself in the best situations (walking around all the time at night, in places I didn’t know, scary places, all alone), but I was always careful. I would definitely not recommend a lot the things I did to girls (or even small dudes) who are traveling alone in some of the same places; I was in some scary areas.

I’m sure I will get plenty of questions when I get back about my favorite places (which I will be happy to answer), but I’ll now just kind of outline a list of my favorite places. I plan on making one final blog post in a couple of weeks right before I come home. This post is going to be a “European Awards” if you will. I have been keeping notes on my favorites of everything and will have top threes of a couple dozen different categories from my entire 6 months of traveling (everything from best place, train ride, castle, tour, food, hostel, most beautiful, worst, etc). But for now, here is a rundown of a few of my favorites from my month-long European adventure.

In order (very hard to do), the most fun I had at places. This is like an initial reaction too, it will be interested to see how I feel about these lists a year or so down the line.  Only places I spent at least a day in too.

  1. Munich, Germany
  2. Barcelona, Spain
  3. Interlaken, Switzerland
  4. Kosice, Slovakia
  5. Prague, Czech Republic
  6. Cinque Terre, Italy
  7. Venice, Italy
  8. Budapest, Hungry
  9. Nice, France
  10.  Monaco & Cannes, France
  11.  Salzburg, Austria
  12.  Bavarian Castles, Germany
  13.  Milan, Italy
  14.  Vienna, Austria

              Dachau, Germany (hard to put this one as a “fun place,” so it is unranked).

This list is similar, but this is just my favorite places overall, not regarding anything I did in them, just more about the feel, learning experience, the vibe and the atmosphere of the cities.

  1. Barcelona, Spain
  2. Prague, Czech Republic
  3. Munich, Germany
  4. Venice, Italy
  5. Interlaken, Switzerland
  6. Cinque Terre, Italy
  7. Budapest, Hungry
  8. Dachau, Germany
  9. Salzburg, Austria
  10. Nice, France
  11. Monaco & Cannes, France
  12. Bavarian Castles, Germany
  13. Milan, Italy
  14. Vienna, Austria
  15. Kosice, Slovakia

Top 3 Favorite Countries, in terms of people, culture, atmosphere and general feel.

  1. Germany
  2. Switzerland
  3. Spain

Here is one final one for now, roughly the top 8 activities I did on my trek.

  1. Paragliding, Switzerland
  2. Hockey Finals from Corporate Box in Slovakia
  3. Beer Gardens & Beer Challenge, Munich
  4. Hiking in both Switzerland & Cinque Terre
  5. Dachau tour, Germany
  6. Clubbing in Barcelona
  7. Beaches in Nice & Barcelona
  8. Bath in Budapest

Those 3 lists were all very difficult to write and order, but I am very excited about writing the comprehensive review of my 6 months abroad and trying to decide the top few things of each of the couple dozen categories I have come up with so far, and I hope you all are looking forward to reading it.

These four weeks of backpacking across Europe was with-out-a-doubt the best time of my life. I have never felt so alive and so in touch with my self as I did while traveling. Before I went, a lot of people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was going by myself. There was no question though that that is how I wanted to do it, and I am very happy it happened that way. Yes, it was a little scary, especially at the beginning, but I ended up loving every minute of it and it was the experience of a lifetime and something I will never forget. I want to take this time to thank everyone who helped make it possible, whether it was financial support, just being there to talk to and help get me through some of the tougher and lonelier times, or just knowing that there were people out there missing me and reading up on my blog and facebook updates, thank you.

The fact that Swansea University had this month-long Easter break was the primary reason I picked to go there (along with it was cheap and in Europe). I have always wanted to travel around and see Europe and I’m glad I was blessed with the opportunity. I have had an amazing experience just being in Swansea and making tons of British friends, but it doesn’t compare to the remarkable time I had backpacking. I am getting goose bumps just writing about it, and I’m glad. I want this experience to be something I will never forget and I hope I get goose bumps talking about it 5, 10, 20 years down the line.

Post to come soon about my last month in Swansea and then the big review finale post.

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