Hey guys, In lieu of my popular post on the “100 Things I Have Learned about Photography,” I originally planned on writing a “100 things I have learned about traveling in Europe” post as well. However this time around, I decided to embellish more on each of the points that I presented. Therefore, I realized that I would cut my list short to “25 things I have learned while traveling in Europe.” Furthermore, I also have had a few friends asking me for pointers or tips for backpacking in Europe. So hopefully in the near future, I will be able to write (to the best of my knowledge) a comprehensive guide for students trying to backpack in Europe (on a limited budget). So until then, please read my post and feel free to share this list with anybody you want via Facebook, Twitter, Email, or IM. Also please leave me a comment below as I always love hearing feedback! :)
25 Things I Have Learned while Traveling in Europe
- Pack lightly. There is no worse feeling than lugging around a bag of bricks on your back when you are trying to enjoy yourself.
- Be frugal, but enjoy yourself. You don’t want to blow away $20 every meal that you are eating when on the road, but at the same time you want to enjoy the local cuisine.
- Use the local language. Although you may be worried about butchering the language and that locals will criticize you, the opposite Is more true. People appreciate the fact that foreigners try to embrace their culture and highly appreciate it (regardless of how terrible your accent may be).
- Plan, but not too much. When you are traveling, it is nice to have a peace of mind knowing that you will have a place to spend that night. However on the other hand, spontaneity is the most exciting while traveling. When you arrive at your destination, simply get a map and ask the locals for the top sights. Leave the rest to fate.
- Don’t be afraid. This is what prevents most people from traveling in the first place. There are a million “what if’s” that cross a person’s mind before deciding to travel. “What if I run out of money?” “What if I get mugged?” “What if I don’t enjoy traveling?” All of these concerns may be legitimate to a certain degree, but most of the terrible stuff you hear happening to travelers are over-blown by the media anyways. Most people die without even leaving their country. Do you want to regret that when you are on your dying bed? Embrace your courage and explore!
- Make friends. I recall that while traveling, my fondest memories were not so much shaped by the sights I saw or things that I experienced, but rather the people that I met during my journey. Take the time to know fellow travelers or native locals. It is surprising how much I grew while learning about our differences and our similarities.
- It is better to spend more time in fewer places, than see more places in less time. Traveling is incredibly exhausting. When you are on the road, there will be a few moments that you will be able to sit down and rest. So when traveling, it is best to save your energy and allow yourself to let your surroundings soak in, rather than going for the goal of seeing as many places as you can. Doing this will cause you to get burnt out, which will cause traveling to be more of a chore than something you can enjoy.
- Get enough rest. If you do not get enough rest while traveling, you will be miserable. It is much better to get a late start on the day and enjoy the fewer things that you may see, rather than getting up extremely early when you barely have enough energy.
- Eat up. When you are traveling, you will be a calorie-burning machine. Don’t be shy to fill your stomach while traveling and worrying about stuff like carbs, sugar, fat, etc. Even if you eat a ridiculous amount of food while traveling, you will most likely end up losing more weight than before you started your trip.
- Invest in a good backpack. True the nicer backpacks may run you over a hundred dollars, but they are truly worth it. I highly recommend North Face backpacks (I used the North Face Recon Backpack), as they are extremely comfortable and are built super-tough. Furthermore, they are rain-resistant and their zippers won’t break, even if you fill it to the brim. While traveling I used the North Face Recon, which had more than enough space and zippers for everything I needed during my trip. If you just travel with a more generic backpack like a Jansport, your back will hate you.
- Take photos, but limit yourself when necessary. If you are a first-time traveler (as was I), you will probably go photo-happy from all of the unique things that you will see during your trip. Although it is great to capture many memories while traveling, it is also important to truly enjoy your trip, rather than trying to document every second of it. I learned this one from my girlfriend Cindy, and it was probably the best travel advice that she ever gave me (even though being a photographer I am naturally inclined to take thousands of photos at a time). Some things are better enjoyed without your camera.
- Go alone. People often say that this is the best way to travel. Not only do you have time to get to know yourself better, but you will also be forced to meet other people. Being abroad and having that sense of anonymity is surreal, and it is definitely an experience that everybody should have. I probably had the deepest moments of self-introspection during the few weeks that I traveled alone.
- Go with a friend. Although this contradicts the point previous, it is also great to go traveling with a friend (or two). You will be able to create memories together that only you two share, and you can always reminisce after the trip is over. Furthermore, it is also economically sound to pool your resources together when it comes to getting a room together, eating food, or getting other miscellaneous discounts when sightseeing. Also inextricably, you will grow so incredibly close to that person so quickly, and build a life-lasting bond with one another through your experiences.
- Keep a journal. This is one of the things that I am glad that I was very religious about while traveling. My girlfriend Cindy told me that it was a great practice to do, and so I did. Although during the trip it was sometimes a chore and difficult to do on the grounds that I was always so tired, being able to open that journal and reminisce on past memories was so precious. Also, there is no better way to unwind from a long day than journaling your thoughts, feelings, and things that you did during the day.
- You don’t need to be rich to travel. Although I was a broke college student, I refused to allow my economic situation to prevent me from traveling and seeing the world. To finance my 30-day trip to Europe, I took out a $4,000 student loan from UCLA and bought my plane tickets, hostel-lodging, as well as my travel expenses. Granted that $4,000 isn’t chump change, in my opinion it was a very small cost to fulfill one of my dreams in life, which was to go backpacking through Europe. There are so many people who make excuses from fulfilling their life dreams due to fiscal reasons. However I am a true believer in that if you want something badly enough, you will make it happen.
- Museums are physically and mentally draining. Now I am not trying to discourage any of you from visiting museums when abroad in Europe. Europe houses some of the most distinguished museums from around the world which are home to some of the greatest artists from history. However be warned, museum visits take a LOT of your time and energy. Trying to see more than a museum a day is extremely ambitious (it is difficult to even see all the exhibits in one museum in a day). Just a tip.
- Flying via Ryanair is one of the best ways to travel through Europe. If you book flights early enough, you could seriously go on flights from Paris to Rome for $3.00 (including tax and misc. costs). How the hell do they do this? Well first of all, these seats are special promotion deals and the times that they offer are very limited (super early in the morning, or super-late at night). Furthermore, if you are limited in terms of what you can bring (only one carry-on baggage, and it costs extra to bring luggage as well). Furthermore, they bombard you with advertising before, during, and after your flight. However if you are smart, you could seriously have your transportation within Europe for nearly nothing! Check out Ryanair.com for their deals!
- Do your laundry by hand. You can easily do this while traveling by using a bungee cord and a bar of soap. To do all my laundry when I was in Europe, I simply washed my clothes in the hostel sinks with soap, and hanged it on some impromptu clotheslines which were made out of a bungee cord with hooks on each side. It would usually take 2 days for my clothes to dry fully, which would allow me to always wear clean clothing while traveling even though I only had around 5 pairs of shirts, socks, and boxers with me. This will save you the hassle of wasting all your money on laundry money and also packing fewer clothes while traveling, which equals less weight on your back.
- Take the path off the beaten road. Sure the traditional landmarks of Europe may be nice and all, but the most beautiful things that I experienced were not the touristy places, but rather those hidden gems that you fall upon in a moment of serendipity. So do not always feel obliged to see what is popular, but just let your curiosity lead you down mysterious alleys, over gracious bridges, and through unexplored tunnels. Relive the child in yourself.
- Feel free to skip what is uninteresting to you. Don’t feel obliged to do things that seem uninteresting to you. For example, if you enter a famous landmark and it simply doesn’t compel you in any certain way, there is nobody forcing you to be there. You can just speed through the place and just leave. What is one man’s treasure may not necessarily be your cup of tea.
- Smile. Whether you are talking to the manager of your hostel or to a random vendor on the street, smile as often as you can. Smiling at others instantly makes yourself seem much more welcoming to the other person, which can stir up an interesting conversation or interaction. You will be surprised that how far a smile to a random stranger in the streets can go.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let’s face it, when you traveling you are going to be lost more than once. Rather than being worried of being stigmatized as a “lost tourist,” put away your pride and ask for help. It is amazing how willing people that people can be when helping others. For example, when I was lost in Venice (the most impossible city to get around without getting lost), I asked a man who was speaking Italian to his friend if he knew where X was. He then quickly stopped his conversation, and walked me for nearly 10 minutes to my destination. There was another time when I couldn’t find my bus to take me to the airport, and a complete stranger walked around with me for nearly an hour, talking to other locals to help me find my bus. People are more kind and generous than one realizes.
- Don’t be tied to your computer. When I traveled, I bought an Acer Aspire One Netbook to write quick emails, do research, as well upload images to my hard drive while traveling. However I made it a point to stay off my computer as much as I could during my trip. There is nothing easier than getting sucked into using the internet for hours on end, wasting precious time that you have overseas. Rather than unwinding after a long day of traveling by using the computer, use that potential time to journal (do it in a notebook), get to know fellow travelers, or simply reflect on the day. When you are traveling, disconnecting from the internet can be one of the best ways to “detox” from being wired.
- The world is a big place. Although I have done a fair share of traveling while growing up (moving around many times in California, moving to New York for 3 years, driving back across to California in a car, going to Canada, and Korea) I now realized that I barely saw anything at all. Once I went to Europe and experienced a totally different culture, it shocked me to realize how small my home (and country) was to the rest of the world. Although Los Angeles is one of the biggest cities in the world, it is nothing but a speck when compared to the rest of the world.
- Home is where the heart is. After my 30-day journey of backpacking in Europe, it caused me to appreciate my home so much more. Although I did visit some of the best museums of the world, relished at the antiquity of the cathedrals, and dined on some of the most exotic foods, I came to the realization that all of these things that I experienced while I was abroad was readily available at home as well. I do not say this to discourage anybody from traveling. On the contrary, this is one of the biggest reasons why I advocate people to travel is because when they come back home with a fresh new pair of eyes, they appreciate home so much more. After coming home, make sure to tell all of your friends and family about your wonderful experiences while traveling, and don’t forget to embrace them and also tell them how much you love and appreciate them as well.
Click below to see more… My Europe Photos Slideshow