It’s no secret that I had the time of my life last summer backpacking around Europe. I wrote quite a few posts preparing for it, and I had every intention of blogging about it when I got back but life was WAY crazier than I ever expected it to be. Many of those travel posts I wrote have been pinned and shared thousands of times on Pinterest, and that has lead to weekly emails from awesome readers and aspiring travelers. How cool!
I’m not claiming to be a travel expert by ANY means. I’m just a girl who worked her butt off to save money to study and travel abroad, and I wanted to get the most out of my limited funds. My friend Brittany is studying abroad this summer in a similar program to mine (through the Cameron School of Business) and she pretty much summed up ALL of the questions I’ve gotten into one succinct email. I figured it would be super helpful to answer her questions so others could benefit too, thus this blog post was born! Hopefully these tips will help everyone be able to experience the world, even on a college girl’s limited budget!
THE BIG QUESTION, How much I ACTUALLY spent (note: this is WAY different than my pre-planned out budget): $1,700 in three weeks of backpacking, which is about $80 a day. This includes EVERYTHING. Trains, hostels, food, drinks, shopping, and miscellaneous adventures! Many ebooks and blogs boast that you can ‘travel Europe in $30 a day!’… which is true if you exclude trains and hostels. This budget is totally realistic and includes everything so you can make a tangible savings goal.
My study abroad budget after the backpacking was really different because I had to pay for tuition and lodging for the University, plus our traveling was different than when you’re backpacking. In backpacking, you go from one city to the next; in study abroad, you leave your University’s city, explore, and come back… which basically doubles the travel expenses per trip. I would suggest using my original estimate if you are only backpacking!
What did you spend it on the most? It’s really hard to decide… I definitely spent a lot more than I had planned on food and drinks. So probably food, travel, and hostels! Some train tickets can be a little pricey.
What is the most beneficial thing to spend it on (most worth it)? DEFINITELY those random adventures and shopping. That may sound crazy, and you’re probably rolling your eyes and totally disregarding my ‘cheap’ travel advice. To me, traveling is all about experiences and making memories, so make sure you have a REALISTIC budget that will accommodate for random opportunities. I didn’t realize how many awesome things there are to do that cost 20 Euros here/there, and that adds up fast. TIP: We split a Gondola ride in Venice with a cute couple we randomly met, so instead of splitting 80 Euros between two people, we were able to split it between four.
How much was spent towards food/necessities vs. traveling and shopping? Here is the breakdown from my first three weeks of backpacking:
Hostels and travel (ex: trains and buses): $700
Food: $600 (those gelatos, bottled waters, and cappuccinos sure add up!)
Shopping: $250 (clothes, gifts, postcards/stamps)
What is absolutely not okay to wear? Tennis shoes, anything with an American logo/words on it, yoga pants.
What was your “go to” outfit? I loved wearing jean cut off shorts with a variety of tank tops or blouses (since it was June/July/August). Jeans were easy to roll up in my backpack, wouldn’t wrinkle, and were dark enough to hide dirt! I also LOVED my black cotton maxi skirt from H&M ($12!) that had pockets and was perfect for cool nights or going into the mountains.
What is considered “going out clothes”? You need to look NICE, clubs won’t even let you in if you have flip flops on. It obviously varies by city and country, but a safe bet would be to combine a cute top with a skirt or black skinnies. Remember: you’re backpacking and aren’t here to get that flashy experience, so I suggest bringing small things to dress up your outfit like a statement necklace and the always trusty red lipstick.
Do people in Europe wear shorts!? Haha! YES. It’s hot as heck in southern Europe (and in Germany too!) so please save yourself from a heatstroke and bring shorts and skirts.
How much more/new clothing did you come home with? (or, how much did you actually shop or buy clothes?) I 200% suggest you PACK VERY LIGHT & BUY THINGS THERE. It was so much more fun to buy cheap things at H&M and Primark than to wear things from the US. Plus you get the extra benefit of feeling more confident that you fit in AND taking those clothes home with you for a fun memory whenever you put it on! I packed ONE backpack (similar here and here) and I definitely suggest it. It fit nice on my hips, and I loved that it fit as a carry on (I never had to check it on the way to or from Europe), and you could tuck in the straps to fit in the overhead compartment.
Flights & Traveling
What are the most important things to bring? Here’s a quick checklist of the things I used the most:
A NICE camera (I got the Canon Powershot, and loved the 30x zoom. Didn’t love how it performed in low light), charger, and 4+ memory cards. TIP: Please do not keep all of your pictures on one memory card, if you lose that, you’re in trouble.
Your phone… but I literally only used it when I had wifi to Instagram things. I also used the app Viber to communicate with peeps back home, though I think there’s some new app everyone is using instead now…?
iPad (mainly for school purposes), but it was nice to upload photos from my memory card to Dropbox through it so I knew everything was safe and sound!
Clothes (to bring, buy more there!)
2 pairs of shorts, 1 skirt, 1 dress
3 shirts or tanks, 1 sweater
3 t-shirts and a couple pairs of running shorts (to double for hiking and pjs)
Tennis shoes (for hiking), cute sandals that you can walk 10 miles in, more comfy shoes (ex: I brought my white lace TOMS). Please save yourself the nightmare and DO NOT bring heels or rainboots… again, you’re backpacking not living luxuriously!
Facewash, and travel sized shampoo/conditioner so you can carry on your backpack. If you’re checking it just bring a small size.
Washcloth, towel, shower shoes
Passport, travel VISA card (I got mine from AAA and gave my parents access to add more money so I could avoid international bank fees), Euros I got from AAA in advance, student ID/license
Journal, tape, pens, ziplock bags (to keep tickets and receipts)
What are just some basic tips about weekend travel? Pack SUPER light and don’t be afraid to re-wear things! If you fly any of the cheap-o airlines (ex: Ryanair), their carry on bag size and weight restrictions are absolutely tiny, so be sure to check that in advance. Book things in advance if you can. If you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling in one country, get a Eurail train pass (basically buying in bulk for train tickets).
How many people did you normally travel with? For both backpacking and some study abroad trips I traveled with one friend. During study abroad, my weekend groups varied from 4-8, and I personally think 4 is the best! We were able to share rooms, share a whole cabin on the overnight trains, and it was just easier to make an itinerary that pleased everyone. With 8 people we had too many different ideas and plans to coordinate and it got kinda stressful.
Is it smart to pack light for weekend travel or to be fully prepared? Like I said earlier, PACK LIGHT. Be prepared to walk everywhere, and if you forgot something hopefully one of your friends brought it or maybe someone in your hostel will lend it to you :)
Study Abroad aka school-related-things-you-never-actually-think-about
Is it difficult to balance the work and the whole experience of being in a new country? Not at all (at least for me!). Summer courses in general seem to be a little lighter, and your professors understand that you’ll be learning just as much outside the classroom as sitting in it… if not more! We brought out notes and studied on the train and plane rides to pass time and get every minute of travel time that we could!
One weekend (during study abroad) we flew to London, and decided to save 30 Euros by flying back at 5am on Monday to get back by 9am for class… we had to wake up at 1am to take the bus to get to the airport. Which meant one hour of sleep that night. Which meant we passed out on the plane, and then wrote our essays on the bus from the airport to the school. I’m still not sure if it was worth it to save 30 Euros but we got those papers finished!
Did you “go out” any during the week? Yep! One of the first nights there, the University actually had us all go out as a ‘mandatory’ event and it was SO fun! Clubs stay open until like 5am or later so you can literally party until the sun rises at 4am.
Are the professors as helpful as they would be at UNCW? This one could vary, but one of my professors was from UNCW and I loved her :)
My top 5 tips for backpacking Europe on a budget!
ONE: Save twice as much as you plan on spending! I know this sounds incredibly extreme… but I had to call home about five weeks into my trip because I had $50 left in my travel account. Don’t be stranded. Overestimate. Work your BUTT OFF before you leave and save every penny you can. Don’t buy that Starbucks coffee; save it for a cappuccino in an Italian cafe. You don’t need anything from the Target dollar section; you could buy a few postcards and stamps to send to your family and friends. Little things add up and save save save!
TWO: Don’t be nervous! This may only apply to me, but I was absolutely freaking out before I took that first flight alone from Charlotte, NC to Rome, Italy. I have a little travel anxiety and all I could think about was the movie Taken, not having cell service, and being out of my element. However, what I didn’t think about were all of the incredibly awesome things that outweigh anything to be nervous about. We’re all human and if you ask nicely, most everyone is willing to help out a lost traveler. Bonus points: know the language enough to at least say the basics (hello, goodbye, how are you, im good, can you help me find, please, thank you). It’s the polite thing to do, considering that you’re the guest in their country.
THREE: Prioritize! As a crazy hardcore budgeter, I had to create a list of what mattered the most to me, and where I was OK putting my money. For me, this meant almost entirely cutting out alcohol and going out at night. It gets really expensive buying drinks and paying to go to clubs, and I wanted to spend my money on different experiences. By doing that, I had extra money to do things unique to each city like riding in a Gondola in Venice, and riding in a cable car up to the top of the Alps overlooking Lake Mondsee in Austria.
FOUR: Make your Itinerary four times. The first time, go on Pinterest and make a list of every city in every country that you want to go to (in that trip). In the second list, try to make a one-way route out of those places, and cut out the ones that don’t reasonably fit or aren’t on your ‘must-see’ list. For your third list, show your travel buddy and ask for their input! Where do they want to go? Narrow it down again! For the last version of your itinerary, make it realistic. Consider how much time you have, how much time you need to do everything you want in each place, how far away cities are, how much you’re willing to spend on train travel, etc.
FIVE: Embrace the here and now! Take a moment in the hustle of running from one thing to the next to put away your map and immerse yourself in the city you’re in. Walk around aimlessly. Write in your journal at a cafe. Sit in the park and soak in the conversations around you. Meet new friends at your hostel and don’t be afraid of staying with 10+ strangers. TAKE ALL OF THE EXPERIENCES IN. You will never be a young, broke, traveler again. Walk 10 miles to avoid paying for a metro ticket because you’re young, you can do it, and you’ll find that some of your most vivid memories are on that walk between destinations.
Some of my fave travel things:
P.S. Help me share these travel tips with other travelers on a budget, pin this post!