My month-long backpacking trip through western Europe was definitely one of my favorite memories. It was amazing to be able to experience so many different cultures within such short distances. The food, museums, people, histories and buildings were just as gorgeous and romantic as you have seen in Woody Allen movies. Since Europe has so much to offer, planning your trip could be overwhelming. Here are some top tips to help plan your perfect Europe trip.
What experience are you looking for?
Ask yourself, what do you want to do or see the most? Are you looking for a winter getaway in the Alps, or checking out big cities in Europe?
Since it was my first time in Europe, I wanted to check out all the famous cities. London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome and more! I wanted to get a taste of each cities while leaving adequate time to explore some of the less touristy areas.
At the same time, I wanted to visit my friends. Nothing beats visiting the locals and have them show you around. Meeting my friends in their hometowns are definitely the highlights of my trip.
When to go?
Europe in general, especially popular cities like Paris and London are busy all year round. No surprise that the busiest time being June-September when people take summer breaks.
I went in late April to late May, and it was perfect for me. The weather was very nice in general. I would only need a thin jacket for the most part, which was the perfect weather for walking around so much. All the main attracts were still busy, but it was nowhere near the peak time in the summer. I couldn’t imagine fighting through the crowds in the heat.
Of course, if you wanted to lay by the beach, then you would need to go in the summer.
This is probably the best advise I can give you. When my friend told me he was going to bring a huge suitcase for his two-week-5-country (that’s intense!) Europe trip, I almost had a heart attack. You would be doing so much traveling and walking, the last thing you want is to drag a huge suitcase with stuff you don’t really need.
Even with backpacking, bring a smaller backpack. The benefit of going to Europe in May is that you wouldn’t need to bring any heavy clothing, which makes traveling easier. Europeans are quite fashionable and I would recommend you bringing some better yet comfortable clothing.
Planning your Itinerary
As mentioned, I wanted to check out some of the top cities while having enough time to explore some of the less touristy areas. I would recommend staying at a city for at a minimum 4 to 5 days. There are so much to explore in Europe as most places are so developed. Don’t try to rush through just because you wanted to see as much as possible.
Europe has so much to offer, and it takes a lifetime and more for someone to truly learn its beauty. So don’t give yourself too much pressure to see everything. You will definitely be back.
See my itinerary below for your reference:
London (5 days) –> Paris 4 (days) –> Barcelona (6 days) –> Rome (4 days) –> Helsinki –> (3 days) –> Berlin (3 days) –> Munich (5 days)
Vacation from vacation
It’s important for me to always have some downtime when it comes to traveling. It helps me relax and experience even more by slowing down. As you can see from my itinerary above, Barcelona was my vacation from vacation. There were a few days I had no agenda but wandering around and getting lost either by myself or with friends I made in the hostel. Barcelona turned out to be my favorite, I wondered why?
I encourage you to have your own version of vacation from vacation. It could be as simple as taking the afternoon off and sit at a cafe watching passersby. Or spend a day getting lost while making new friends.
Don’t underestimate the time you spend traveling within Europe
As I mentioned that it’s better if you don’t give yourself the pressure that you had to see it all. Spend more time experiencing rather than getting to the next destination.
I’ve always heard that flights within Europe are so cheap. Most of them are less than $100 USD or sometime even $50 or less. Ryan Air and Easy Jets are two of the most popular cheap airlines. I personally didn’t end up booking with them. The main reason being their airports are typically pretty far away from the city. If you factor the time and cost traveling to the airport, it’s almost not worth it for me. The last thing I want to do is to spend tons of time traveling to airports when I already had a busy schedule.
Utilize hostels and Airbnb
I have never stayed at a hostel until my Europe trip, and it was simply awesome. If you don’t mind sharing rooms with others, it could certainly help you save a lot of money. Or you could always get a private room. The best part about hostel is that you can meet so many like-minded people from around the world. I enjoyed my solo Europe trip, but at the same time, I was grateful that I was able to make some cool friends to share the experience with. Oftentimes the hostel will organize events which is a great way to travel and explore the city with fellow hostel friends. The hostel in Barcelona that I stayed at, they organized a pub crawl with an underground concert in the end. I would never knew to check out some of the coolest spots in Barcelona if it weren’t for the hostel.
Airbnb is also another great option to bring your experience to the next level. Airbnb was less popular than when I backpacked to Europe. But I stayed at Airbnb almost exclusively on my second trip to Europe in Croatia. It is an intimate way to experience a new culture as you get to see how the locals live.
Check out some non-touristy areas
Popular sites are a must, but non-touristy areas could just be as fun. I would often get overwhelmed by the crowds at popular tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower. But the tip is if you just go a few blocks away from the main attraction, you will find yourself surrounded by locals with cute local cafes and shops. In Paris, I came across a pride parade just a few blocks away from the Louvre. I found the cutest cafe with the nicest host up a few blocks up the hill from the old city in Dubrovnik.
There are “free” walking tours all over Europe. They are provided by passionate individuals who want to show you their cities. There are no tickets required, but you should tip them generously as the tours are very informative and it is also a great way to explore.
I can’t say this enough that Europe has so much to offer. Don’t try to see as much as possible as you would only end up giving yourself too much pressure. Instead, slow down your pace and sit down at a cafe and relax.
Special shout out to my old and new friends for making my Europe trip awesome! You know who you are!