How to Backpack through Europe

Summer 2022, everyone decided that Covid was not a severe threat anymore. After 2 years of not booking the flight, it seemed like everyone hit purchase together. Thus kicked off the summer of revenge travel in Europe. From May through July I jumped country to country amongst the throngs of people. 9 countries in 2 months on more planes, trains, ferries, buses, and cars, in more languages than I could keep track of. Here are some of the lessons I learned for anyone looking for general Europe exploration advice. After 4 years of nomadic traveling I finally became the backpacker I was born to be.

Lesson 1: When flying in Europe, you can only carry on 1 L bag filled with liquids. It doesn’t matter if all your million liquids are less than 100ml. If it is more than 1 bag, you can’t bring it through.

I learned this the hard way boarding a plane to to Latvia. I was traveling with a backpack which is also Lesson 2. I confidently strolled through mocking my friends as they pulled out their liquids all in plastic bags. My cockiness bit me when the agent called me over and reviewed all of my liquids individually. Thankfully he let me throw them in my friend’s bag instead of throwing them away. Remember, 1 bag of liquids thats it.

Lesson 2: Travel light. Europe is an old place, there aren’t many elevators or escalators, even their buses can have stairs in them. I have been stuck dragging my luggage down marble stairs trying to transfer trains because I couldn’t carry the two bags I had trying to get to an airport in London. Every single British person stared at me, full judgement.

While running from train to train in Copenhagen, I realized it is easier when you have a backpack on your front and back. I truly now understand why the 18 year old backpackers do this. It’s the safest and fastest.

Lesson 3: Pack simply and put some underwear in your carry on. This seems fairly simple, but when I checked my bag in Lithuania I was too hungover to move anything over. I didn’t see that bag for 4 days. Heathrow was so overwhelmed with travelers and had so little staff that an entire gate was filled with luggage. There was no one to deliver all the bags to all the people. My friends went to rescue our bags and had to physically sort through hundreds of bags to find ours.

I was already in another city and had to go to TK Max (TJ Max British brother) and grab some crappy underwear. I borrowed my friend’s blazer and dress and went to our British office for an offsite meeting. It did give me a good excuse to go thrift shopping in Brixton though.

Pack simply because you’ll be outfit repeating often. You can mix and match solids endlessly, but have 1 print dress, wear it twice, and then watch how quickly you’ll regret it. I get around it because I thrift in every country I visit. Find a donation bin, ditch what doesn’t serve, purchase something cool and local.

Lesson 4: Buy the train pass. By the time you get to the airport, go through security, pay for the bag that they’ll probably loose you’ve wasted 3 hours. The train in Europe is something out of a dream. As an American with no trains and only chemical explosions I was in awe. There’s a traveler pass for around $400 that will give you 5 trips. The country side blurs as you cross countries with such ease and speed it is surprising when you exit and the language is different.

It is actually extremely complicated. You create your journey on the app, you choose the times and stations and countries but you cannot buy it online. You have to buy it at the train station. The lines are long and I waited in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, to buy the tickets. Sometimes the one you want is sold out. Twice that happened to me and I had to extend or travel through different cities. Which leads to the next lesson…

Lesson 5: Travel slowly. Take the train, look out the window, but mostly don’t try to rush around country to country seeing every little thing. If the train you want is sold out, take another one to a different city. The ruins of Italy and the clubs of Berlin aren’t going anywhere. Your trip should be about the experience not checking off a box. But even though it is super touristy, I’d still go sit under the Eiffel Tower to watch it sparkle.

Lesson 6: Be flexible and follow the signs. If you are open to the adventure you will be surprised where it will take you. Like a butterfly flapping its wings, each blow of the wind took me to a new place, a new experience, a new friend, a new lesson.

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