12 Travel Hacks I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Abroad
Backpacking is, without a doubt, one of the most influential, mind-boggling and invigorating experiences you can have as a young person.
You’re thrust out of your comfort zone, immersed in exotic surroundings and forced, for probably the first time in your life, to weather the waves of life on your own (life vest not included).
It won’t always be clear skies, and sh*t will go wrong, so here are a dozen common truths I wish I knew before embarking on the trip of a lifetime:
1. Pack your staple wardrobe items and forget the rest
Before I left, I was terrified of bringing (and potentially losing) something I cared about.
So, instead of packing the pair of jeans that fit like a glove or my favorite leather jacket, I chose the clothes I didn’t love due to the slight chance I’d attend an orgy and misplace my precious material possessions.
Practically speaking, you most likely won’t lose your pants, but you might lose your mind pulling up pairs that don’t fit properly because you also forgot a belt. Bring only what you feel best in, and don’t think twice.
Side note: Please, please, please leave your 4.5 inch wedge heels at home.
I know they make you feel like Blake Lively, but they’re not worth the few uncomfortable hours you might have out on the town when you’ve already crammed too much junk in your backpack.
2. Factor in downtime
Yes, you want to do it all.
Yes, there are so many sights and so little time to see them, but keep in mind that as humans, we unfortunately require ample rest in order to fully enjoy the world around us.
And, attempting to cram all of London into two days is a truly impossible feat (trust me, I learned the hard way).
Book yourself a night train or bus to ensure some much-needed Z's while simultaneously saving a few bucks. Also, allot enough time in each place to really get a grasp on the city’s unique energy.
Mae West wisely once said, “Any man worth doing is worth doing slowly.” Same goes for Europe, baby.
3. Take a pass on Liam Neeson, just this once
This is imperative. Do not — I repeat, do not — entertain yourself momentarily with “Taken” (1, 2 or 3) within a week of your departure.
I had the misfortune of tuning in, and although I generally maintain a fair level of rationality, I couldn't help but envision various worst-case scenarios involving me and some wicked Albanian criminals. It's not worth the watch.
4. Don’t be afraid to stay in a hostel
Staying in hostels is hands down the best way to meet like-minded individuals who are just looking for a good time with people they barely know.
One of the greatest nights of my life was when I trolled the Berlin underground by rolling up joints and sipping fiery absinth with strangers.
Then, there was the time I laid low in a Dublin pub with a graduate student from Vienna (who had a crush on the bar-back), chitchatting about American music and men.
Some experiences truly are priceless, and I owe so much to people whose names I cannot recall and faces I probably wouldn't recognize today.
5. Location, location, location
Be forever conscious of the disparities between places; depending on where and what time of year you go, especially across Europe, geographic locations can have vastly diverse climates, cultures and customs.
Do your research for everything from weather to sleep culture (siestas are a godsend).
6. Flying is comparable to previously cheaper alternatives
Air travel is now as competitively priced as many other less immediate modes of transportation.
Frequent specials offering one-way flights for as low as $20 is not uncommon. Research and timing are essential when it comes to cutting costs and making the most of your amazing excursion.
But, beware: By eliminating overhead, these companies make a killing on baggage fees and deceptively excluded administrative services.
Limit yourself to one bag of 19 pounds or under (We’re packing light, remember?), have your boarding pass printed prior to checking in and you should be just fine.
7. Be prepared for slight culture shock
When jet setting to a new land (especially once with a native tongue different from your own), take a few extra precautions to ease the initial transition, like fly into the city's major, most convenient airport. Or, line up transportation ahead of time to get you where you need to go.
Traveling abroad can be a major culture shock, and this is one of the instances for which you'll be glad you prepped yourself.
This way, you can avoid a heavyset German woman — who wants nothing more than to see your bony, presumptuous American ass disappear — yelling at you.
8. Familiarize yourself with a few key phrases in a relevant foreign language
Take the time to educate yourself a bit. Not only does this give you a leg up upon your arrival, but it also goes a long way with locals (even if they’re largely just making fun of you amongst themselves).
Google Translate is an incredible resource to keep handy for whenever WiFi is readily available. Not only does this tweak expressions to reflect language variations, but it also offers pronunciation to help you come across as less of an assh*le.
9. Leave your expectations at home… along with those chunky-ass espadrilles
As Millennials, we’re constantly comparing our lives to the people around us.
Whether it’s intentional or not, we must come to a point when we can realize that, for better or worse, our lives are in no way like anyone else’s, and for this, we are entirely blessed.
Only once we relinquish the notion of how things should look do we allow ourselves to fully appreciate our place in the world.
10. Take walking tours
Sure, they’re touristy. Sure, you promised yourself you’d never do such a thing. Well, do it, anyway. You’ll get the lay of the land, learn some cool stuff and get your bearings for self-exploration later.
Plus, most hostels offer them daily and it’s a great way to acquaint yourself with fellow travelers and gain some valuable insight along the way.
11. You’re already out of your comfort zone — go all in
This goes without saying. You’ll never have this moment again, so make sure wherever you go, you do it right. Let your true colors show to whomever you encounter.
Cancel out all the white noise and become a sponge. And, whatever it is you take away from this fantastic adventure, remember to cherish it.
12. Planning makes your trip better; veering off course makes it unforgettable
Whatever you do, don’t marry your plans. Allow for leniency, allow for flexibility and allow for life.
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