Backpacking Europe, Tips and Gear
I did essentially no research before heading on my trip, so I thought it might be useful for someone out there if I wrote up a brain dump of all my conclusions regarding travel logistics. Enjoy.
First things first, dealing with the airport. Carrying a giant backpack, if you go to the check-in counter you can guarantee that they will tell you that you must check that giant pack as it won’t fit, because the flight is full, or whatever it is. Therefore, you don’t go there at all. You need to make sure your backpack will happily go through security (with laptops and liquids removed), then you need to fully check-in online, and download the boarding pass to your smart phone. This way, if they really want to keep you from bringing it on-board they have to catch you in the actual boarding process. I found, if you act confident, they will let you right on by.
Unfortunately, some airlines (Smartwings for example), simply won’t allow online check-in and or it fails over and over again until you give up. In this case, you need to take your day pack and fill it with anything fragile or medically/functionally important. For me, it’s eye drops, toothbrush (and other toiletries), chargers (external batteries), laptops, hat, sunglasses, contact lenses, a warm layer and backup headphones/ipods, wallet and passport (backup underwear and t-shirt isn’t a bad idea). That way assuming this very well organized airline loses all your stuff, you can still function for a number of days waiting for your bag to show up.
Have some good music and a couple games queued up on your smartphone, as airports are a lot easier to deal with (especially the endless waiting) if you are listening to some delightful jams and playing angry birds. Not being in a rush certainly makes everything less stressful, and helps with anxiety, just be there early. Once through security grab a couple bottles of water, dehydration is a big problem, and I hope you brought your vaseline. You can basically guarantee that during a trans atlantic flight, the skin on the inside of your nose will get dry and crack and you will allow about a million different kinds of cold causing bacteria into your blood stream to try and ruin your trip. Lube up the inside of your nose and lips with magical vaseline, I know it feels weird and seems strange — but it’s certainly worth it.
If you decide that you are going to go the low budget (make lots of new friends) program, you will probably be staying at hostels. I found hostelworld (with a nice smartphone app) to be spot-on regarding recommendations. I stayed in some private rooms, as well as 6 person dorms and at 31 found myself to be the oldest person in the room at nearly all times. If you have issues with being around energetic partying early twenty-somethings, you may want to go the private room, or even budget business hotel route. I however was able to dig deep, find my extrovert and enjoy the experience. However, I would suggest you avoid drinking games with large groups from Wales.
I found my lock to be really important as all my stuff wound up in a box under the bed and as I was out walking all day every day, it was nice to know that no one was going through my dirty laundry (literally). Additionally, a camping towel is key — it takes up very little room and dries incredibly quickly. I brought a Packtowl Ultralite and was extremely happy with it, both in the dorm style hostel setup, as well as drying off after getting wet on a fjord boat ride, or for a quick wipe down after a day of hiking in the black forest.
As space and weight is a significant concern (when you take your whole world with you nearly everyday), so here is what I found to be effective and efficient.
- Foot wear: These damn things take a lot of space, so you really want to bring only exactly what you need. I brought a pair of flip flops, and a pair of Olukai Moloa. They are awesome, they work as a great walking shoe (good support), are sturdy enough for hiking, don’t have laces and the back flops down to be kind of a slipper. But most importantly, you can take a quick towel and scrub them with some water, throw in a pair of jeans, and they look classy enough to wear to a nice restaurant. I am very happy with my decision here, and it’s the second time I’ve toured Europe wearing these bad boys.
- Socks and underwear: Camping style lightweight wool socks are amazing as they don’t hang onto oder and can be washed and dried very quickly. A mix of short and tall is ideal, depending on whether you are rocking shorts or not. Going from Norway to Greece required a pretty drastic change in attire. The same with boxer shorts, they have quite a selection at REI. These are also super space efficient unlike cotton stuff, which is just wasted space.
- Pants! My main goto was prAna pants since they are super light weight, compact and durable (not to mention comfortable for lots of walking). Linen pants, from banana republic were awesome for both sitting on airplanes and walking around in the hot Grecian sun. I’m a big fan of these pants in general. One pair of jeans, sometimes, you just want a sturdy pair of jeans to wear out in the nasty weather, but they are bulky, heavy and space inefficient, so bring as few as possible.
- Upper body: I brought too many cotton t-shirts, I wish I had picked up some REI camping wear, as I would have worn that underneath the marmot collared long sleeves I brought (which were awesome). I brought a Patagonia fleece which was super key at various points, even if just to warm yourself up a bit more at night, or as a blanket on a long train ride. Also a full on ski shell, layers are key, but when its raining you need something to offer an outer layer of protection. If you only have two days in some cool city, you can’t let a little rain and hail force you inside.
- Hats: I brought both a golf hat and a beanie, both were key at their respective moments.
- Main Pack: I brought and filled up a 60 liter North Face backpack, but I think if you get all the right lightweight gear for camping and whatnot, you can probably go smaller. This worked out great for me though, as I was able to bring some additional clothes options, journals, phrase books, backup smartphone and some other non-essentials.
- Day pack: Super key after you drop your big bag at the hostel, put the essentials in the day bag and start adventuring! Mine is super lightweight and is actually meant to be a camelback for skiing, which provided a perfect interface for my battery cable to the smart phone in my pocket.
- REI packing squares: Very useful to segment a big backpack that you are accessing from all different directions, keeping all your socks etc in one place from getting strewn about your pack.
- Outdoor research dry bags: These things are key for all your electronics, also useful for organizing lots of small loose things like adapters, converters, cameras etc.
- Velcro wallet: Europe uses coins as money (substantial money), and as you move around you will be collecting bills from all over the place. A good wallet that isn’t too easy to get in and out of is key. Also keep your drivers license and passport separate at all times for security.
- Power Adapter: As you move around Europe it is super important to have a multi nation power adapter, I bought mine at the Zurich airport my last trip, and it continues to work awesome, it has about 5 different options.
- Toiletries Pouch: It is awesome to have all this stuff in one place, with a hanger, so you can just hang it up the second you walk into the new room.
- Batteries and Technology: You can read about this in my post about the Nexus 6 and Android, or read about my perspective on international data in my post regarding Google’s Project FI.