8 Countries in 3 months, a guide to backpacking the EU really cheap….
After weeks of contemplating and questioning life, “is this it? There has to be more to life than just working and paying bills. As much as I enjoyed the work I was doing, I didn’t like doing it on other peoples terms and I refuse to accept the common saying “that’s life”. I was born in Nairobi Kenya but moved around quite a bit but finally settled in America in 2000. I had been back to my home country three times but the longest I stayed was a month. I wanted to stay longer and explore business opportunities so that’s when the plan to quit my job and go traveling initiated. Since most flights to Africa either connect through EU or the Middle East most cases both, I decided on top of moving to Kenya, I also wanted to backpack EU. I could not decide what countries I wanted to see so I bought a one-way ticket from Rome Italy to Nairobi Kenya for 340$ Through Qatar Airways. I figured I’d work my way backward picking the countries I wanted to go to but the more I thought it out the more complicated it got. On an American passport, you can stay in EU without a visa for 90 days so that was the timeline to work with. I wanted to do this as cheap as possible so I referred to 6 awesome must have resources that I am now going to share with you.
The first is called WorkAway (www.workaway.info). Work aways is a way for you to work in exchange for accommodation. You can do something as simple teach or just talk English to children whose parents want their children to practice their English by speaking it daily. This option is so popular for women as most hosts prefer women to play the nanny role. Or you can do what I did which is work at a hostel for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week for a free bed. If you have never stayed at a Hostel (get that stupid horror movie out of your head) please do It! Regardless of age or gender, it puts you in a social situation that allows you to open up like you never have before, I promise. Work on a farm, Vineyard, Yoga Retreat Center, these were the categories I was looking at but there are plenty more to choose from all over the world. I strongly suggest attending one that you can read peoples past experiences at the bottom of the profile you’re interested in, this way you can be sure it’s legit.
The second resource is called Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) and it’s exactly what you think it is. Couchsurfing is a platform where hosts and surfers come together. The same ways you rate a restaurant after you after you eat there, the same principle applies here. You start off by searching for hosts where you can filter the results by “Do they have feedback and have they been active within the last week”, those are the only two I use but there are plenty more to narrow your search. Check out said hosts profile for feedback, photos and there about me to get an idea of who they are. You also need to put some effort in your profile so that when they are checking you out, your page represents you. Get creative with your answers but don’t try too hard to be something your not, just be yourself and I promise you it will be enough. To get some feedback on your page I would recommend checking out fellow couchsurfers in your city, you’d be surprised just how big the community is. This is not only for sleepovers, you can also just meet up for a coffee and get to know each other and rate each other afterward. Next and this is important, send a request that you typed specifically for that host. Make sure you have read their profile because popular/good hosts tend to get a lot of requests so they leave little Easter eggs in their profiles to weed out bullshitters. It’s not a bad Idea to type up some templates that you can just quickly change the name at the beginning, there is a place to save these on the site and the mobile app makes it all super easy.
Third place you want to sign up for is hostel world (www.hostelworld.com). Like couchsurfing, this is my favorite place to find hostels because of all the filtering options. Is the hostel in a safe area? Is it clean? How do I find the hostel? All these are answered on the hostel you are looking at and a lot of people leave reviews which I recommend reading because there is usually some helpful tips from past guest. For example, some places don’t include sheets, covers and a pillow in the cost, you have to rent those items which if they blindside you with that information upon your arrival kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth about the place. So be sure to thoroughly read the hostels FAQ and there terms and conditions. When you book you only have to put 10% down of the total cost to reserve your place but for a few more dollars you can get the cancellation protection which is fantastic when you booked a place but you find a host on CS, they instantaneously credit your account whatever you paid and that goes towards your next booking. I highly recommend the mobile app because it’s so organized and easy to navigate, makes it all a breeze.
The fourth resource is one you most likely already have and have used before, Google Maps (www.maps.google.com)! 21st-century stuff right here folks, you can go look at a map of whatever city you want to go to in your smartphone, in the settings you have the ability to download the map for offline use. This eliminates the need for carrying a big bulky map and makes it that more efficient getting around. I downloaded all the cities I was going to beforehand but the majority of the places I stayed there was wifi. I’d much rather find a place on my own before asking someone because the next time I’m in that city, ill know my way around because finding places the first time was quite an adventure. When you input a destination while connected to data or WiFi, maps gives you walking, public transport, cycling and driving options all with relatively accurate ETA’s. I found myself walking a lot because in a new place it’s so easy to walk an hour because your eyes and ears are taking in all the new surroundings, time is just not a thing. Whatever option you choose, it will be an adventure you will forever remember. What I would do before I was leaving a city, I would check out the map for my next city, particularly the airport to see how I was going to get to where I was staying. I refused to take a taxi from the airport plus like I said before, the little adventures are the ones you will cherish.
The fifth resource I have for you is an International sim card that comes with a UK & US number. If you search “international sim” on www.amazon.com, any of the sims that have “JT” on them will work and have great rates. www.jttravel.com is a fantastic app that lets you not only re-up via credit/debit card or PayPal but also has currency converter and world clock all built into the app. This is a must have because you can keep in touch with all your loved ones and not break the bank paying international fees. The ability to text SMS and call people in a foreign country comes in very handy especially when you’re making all these new friends or trying to get in contact with hosts.
The sixth and final resource I have for you will be travel (getting around EU) but it will be broken down into two parts, land & air. By land, I recommend two bus companies, Mega Bus & Flix Bus. I found booking Mega Bus tickets on the web a lot easier because there are a lot of 3rd party apps that I wasn’t too sure about and of course I got a fantastic deal. Its criminal how cheap it is to hop around EU, read on and I will share. Flix bus is a newer company (Feb 2016) and has amazing deals literally all the time. Their app is super easy to use but I did find it doesn’t list all the bus times so to be safe just book on the web. There is a 3rd option by land and its called Bla Bla Car (www.blablacar.co.uk), this my friends is 21st-century hitchhiking. Ever wanted that feeling of just you on the road with your backpack with your thumb out, waiting for some movie like stranger who’s heading the same way bla bla bla.. yea no thanks, what if they’re murderers or crazies, even I’m not that dam adventurous. Meet Bla Bla car, it’s a ride-sharing platform that works just like what we discussed earlier, review based. Read the drivers profile, look at his or her feedback and more importantly get to your destination with an awesome story to tell. Ill share my amazing trips with you later in my upcoming full travel book but the main idea behind this community is the fuel costs, it’s so cheap! There are pros and cons to traveling by land, pros are you get to see so much more of the country you are in with all the amazing nature. Cons are it takes ages to travel across EU by land but if you’ve got the time and there’s no rush, no sense of I have to be here nor there, I recommend experiencing at least one of these land options.
There are plenty of options when traveling by air but the two I recommend are Ryan Air (www.ryanair.com/us/en) & Easy Jet (www.easyjet.com/en). I said it before Ill say it again, it’s criminal how cheap it is to travel around in EU. Before you go to (www.priceline.com) or (www.booking.com) or where ever you’re accustomed to going to sort out your travels, go to their sites and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised and the steals you will find but there is a catch, You are only allowed one carry on bag and they can be very strict with this in efforts to make you check it in and pay extra. So be sure to read their luggage requirements so that you’re not surprised when you’re at you gate about to board. Momondo (www.momondo.com) deserves an honorable mention since I did book last minute through them and still saved a bunch. They too have a fantastic app that makes pricing and booking a breeze as they compare different airlines.
As I mentioned before I will be putting out all my adventures in the full book coming soon but these are some resources I just had to share to hopefully get you out of your routine and go see the world. Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to ask any questions.