During the summer of 2017, my best friend and I took on backpacking Europe for two months. I not only got to travel to nine European countries, but I also woke up every day without a plan.
The only rule: see where the day takes you.
But, let’s back up and give you the context of my long-awaited journey out of the country. My friend Mallory and I decided our sophomore year of high school that backpacking Europe was our big adventure.
Enrolled in French and Spanish classes together, we both had a significant love for languages. This was the foundation for what was to come.
More and more, we would talk about the trip becoming a reality until it was the most constant source of conversation that we had. We were more than likely planning our escape from high school, and dreaming of our trip was the one way to not go completely out of our minds.
Over the course of the next few years, we slowly recognized that our plan was coming to fruition. We decided that there was no better time to make the trip happen than the summer after our freshman year of college. Lucky for us, it was.
Both Mallory and I were on the same page when it came to planning the trip. Cost-savvy, the only things we booked were transportation and accommodation; more specifically, the cheapest hostels and flights we could find without staying at a place that guaranteed needing another shower after using their shower.
We wanted to experience the thrill of wanderlust without falling into the trap of becoming a tourist.
I’ve always preferred the term ‘traveler’ over ‘tourist’ when it comes to describing my style of travel.
With city-hopping every 4 days or less for 2 months, we knew it was carry-on or bust. This forced us to bring along only what we need and absolutely valued. This leads to my first big lesson learned.
1. Leave the blow dryer at home
Laugh if you want or cry if you can’t imagine going without it. There’s really no judgement or rule book in deciding how to pack. Two months is a long time to be away from your simple comforts.
However, during my trip, less became more and every item I packed had to be a) packable and b) worth packing. My life was simplified because I had to travel with only a carry on.
More often than not, people were shocked that two teenage girls were not only surviving but thriving off of toiletries that fit in a sandwich sized zip-lock bag.
2. Sleeping next to strangers is actually fun
What’s up, hostel life! This is game-changing, and if you are not familiar with hostels, then jump in, because we seriously could not have backpacked without hostels providing safe, welcoming, and traveler-oriented accommodations.
One of my best memories is from sitting at a sticky beer-covered table in Munich with a rowdy group of Englishmen playing cards. Hostels are the key into any city and your ticket to meeting people from around the world, who (like you) are thinking outside of the box when it comes to travel.
Don’t let it bother you that seven other people are sharing the bunk beds around you—that’s part of the experience.
3. Skipping the tourist sights doesn’t ruin a trip
Our absolute best aha-moments came from veering off the path of what we were expected to see in a city. It gets very old very fast to check off top-visited sights from a list.
Riding bikes around Christianshavn—priceless.
4. I can sleep when I’m dead
Please please please do not pay that outrageous plane ticket to Europe and snooze. I mean this in the literal sense of sleeping. There’s time for breaks and mental recharges, but take advantage of every single moment.
5. People make the place
Locals are just the best (unless you’re in Paris). Half the time, I didn’t even need to approach a local before they were telling me their opinions of U.S. politics.
But in all honesty, genuine, kind people who are excited to share their city with you are unforgettable (locals often work at hostels and have really good suggestions on where to eat and what to see).