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  1. What Nobody Tells You About Backpacking in Europe...

    posted by Daniel Crudge | 14 Comments

    Jul092014

    Backpackers arrive

    Taking the sleeper train from Prague in the Czech Republic to Krakow in Poland is an experience that will stay with me long into the onset of my old age dementia. As the sun fell behind the mountains and the light exited stage-left to usher in the night, the conductor gave us all a little night time story to send us off to the land of nod.

    Taking the chain lock in his hand, he started ‘before you sleep, make sure you fix this, securely, like this’ he said, displaying to the group how to slide the metal bolt of the lock in place.

    Sleeper carriage 

    He then turned his to each of us, individually, his cobalt blue eyes burning into ours.

    ‘Because out here, this is bandit country. They ride on horseback’ he said, imitating the motions of a mounted raider ‘and board when the train slows at the junctions. When they board, there is no stopping them. They will take everything. Everything. They will take everything, even your soul.’

    I suspect this conductor is one of the best deadpan comedians going, though I do feel like I came back a little spiritually lighter. I fear my place in limbo awaits.

    True or not, this was one piece of essential advice I never received before backpacking across Europe. Of course, there's plenty more besides tales of bandits that never appears in the countless pieces of travel writing online or the grandiose stories of backpacker veterans. Never fear though, Hostelworld is here with a whole list of things people don't tell you about backpacking in Europe.

     

    Your InterRail pass won’t get you on every train

    Beers

    Of course, before the bandits confine you to limbo for all eternity, you need to actually board the train. Despite the fairly high fee you paid for the ticket, your pass doesn’t actually guarantee you a seat on every train in the InterRail zone. Typically this is a problem in Western Europe (mainly Italy and France) you might face when travelling with the Global Pass. Basically some train companies charge a mandatory booking fee, regardless of how busy the train is.

    Make sure you read the small print before setting of and try avoid the fee paying trains. Also, don’t hate on InterRail for this, it’s the individual train companies that charge extra. For some reason, don’t fancy playing by the same rules as everyone else.

     

    InterRaillers, prepare to get lost or stranded

    Stranded

    Definitely more of an Eastern European problem where the train staff, especially in small provincial towns, don’t speak much (any) English. Beware of unscheduled stops that leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere and make sure you carry a map to point frantically at.

     

    The views from the train are incredible

    Train views

    All this negativity. Man, backpacking is supposed to be a beautiful experience and beauty is exactly what you’re going to see from your train window. From Mediterranean olive groves, to alpine forests all the way to spiralling mountain routes that pass shining sapphire lakes. Europe provides an ever changing and unforgettable landscape.

    Golden Pass train

    The train ride around the mountains in Slovakia is amazing, with the cliff faces on one side and the water so close on the other you fear you might fall in. Also, make sure you get on the Golden Pass trains in Switzerland. They offer mind-blowing panoramic views and do not charge extra for the privilege.

    Classic Swiss train

    Alternatively, you can ride their classic style trains, decked out in late 19th century décor, and pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes on your way to your final confrontation with Moriarty… one for the literature geeks.

     

    Renting a car works out cheaper than an InterRail ticket

    Road tripping

    This can’t be right, surely? Well, as surprising as it is, get yourself a smaller budget car and the total cost is still likely to be less than your InterRail pass, especially if you’re over the age of 26. Even better if you travel in a pair or group. The only problem is you can’t really relax behind the wheel and the roads, for the most part, provide far inferior views when compared to the train. If you need a little more help deciding between the train and a car, check out our post on InterRail vs Roadtrip.

     

    Book accommodation in advance

    Sleeping rough

    Don’t really fancy a night on a park bench? Make sure you book your accommodation before you arrive, even if you just book the night before. During the summer places book up quick. If you get into a city late or find yourself delayed, you’ll likely find all the best spots have been taken by the time you arrive. Plus walking around the city looking for vacancies with your bag on your back is a real ball-ache.

    Also, make sure you know what’s coming up. Big events, like the Venice Film Festival or Munich Beer Festival will make accommodation in those areas nigh on impossible to find while they run. Or if you want to check them out, book WELL in advance.

     

    The local food is lush everywhere

    Eastern European pork & dumplings

    This is a lesson all travellers must learn. Sure, everyone knows that France and Italy have arguably the best cuisine in the world and Spanish tapas is to die for, but there are far too many places beside that get a bad rep.

    Czech peasant food

    Get stuck into the local cuisine everywhere you go. Hearty and rustic German dishes like pork knuckle are fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth incredible, and go great with the beer. Austrian schnitzel is beautiful, especially with tangerine sauce. And eastern European peasant food, like roast pork and bread dumplings are simply gorgeous. Same goes with Britain; get stuck into a few meat pies and you won’t be sorry. Wherever you are, avoid McDonald’s.

     

    Eat in the local restaurants

    Local's restaurant, Poland

    If you want to sample true local cuisine for cheap make sure you hit a locals’ restaurant rather than a tourist trap. Usually the proprietors will be happy to serve you, so long as you’re polite and at least attempt the lingo. If you don’t understand the menu, embrace it and pick something at random. After all, it’s supposed to be an adventure!

     

    Europe has the best booze in the world

    Beers

    Beer, whiskey, vodka, Jaeger, gin; it was all invented in Europe – and Europe still does it the best. You’re going to be hard pressed to find better lagers than you will in Germany, better Pilsner than you will in the Czech Republic and better ales than you will in the UK. Scotland is surely the place to sample whiskey and scotch, while if you want real vodka, you have to hit those Eastern European countries and pray you leave with your head.

    We also like our pub crawls, so be sure to sign up to one of those on your next hostel stay. The best would have to be the Rafting 99 River Pub Crawl in Cesky Krumlov, which is pretty much how it sounds… a pub crawl in a raft down a river. Blissful.

     

    Remember your student IDs

    Student ID

    If you’re a student, don’t forget to bring your ID’s! Europe are big on their student discounts and you can get money off almost all the major, cultural attractions in most major cities around Europe if you show your student ID – and there are a lot of them.

    Of course, if you find yourself in Britain most of those are free anyway, student or not. Enjoy!

     

    You can find something for a $ (almost) anywhere

    Dollar bills

    Yes, it’s true. Even in countries that use the Euro you can find something worth buying for a dollar. Find all the information you need in our article about the best budget buys across Europe.

     

    Most places accept plastic

    There’s no need to change up every cent into Euros and lug the rolls of cash around with you as you travel, pretty much everywhere accepts credit and debit card or at least has a few cash machines knocking about the place.

     

    Lakeside beaches are better than seaside beaches

    Lakeside Slovenia

    OK, so this is something of a sweeping statement, but in general the lakes are far more beautiful and secluded than the coastal beaches. Plus, most of Europe’s most popular beaches are always over-populated by international holiday goers in the summer. If you can find a little gem, like Lake Bled in Slovenia, you can find relative peace. Even popular lakeside resorts, like Zell-am-Zee in Austria are superior alternatives to most seaside beach resorts.

     

    The surf is excellent

    Surfing

    Yeah, it’s not just California and Australia that have the sick surf spots. If you fancy a lesson in riding the waves on your next backpacking trip, check out the South West of France, the Costa Verde or Costa De La Luz in Spain and Nazaré in Portugal.

     

    Bring your walking boots

    Walking boots

    Even if you’re not big into hiking, you’ll be hard pressed not to at least try a little ramble. The mountains in Europe are beautiful – incredibly so. Spain’s lush peaks in the Picos de Europa, the green alpine and snowy cones of Austria and the legendary Mount Olympus in Greece. You’ll be missing out if you don’t have at least a look.

    So there you have it, 15 lesser known tips that will make you a Europtripping pro. So what are you waiting for? The summer won’t last forever. Get booking!

    Need some accommodation for your epic European backpacking adventure? Get over to Hostelworld and start booking.

    Have any secret tips of your own for travelling Europe? Share them in the comments…

     

    Related articles:

     
    Thanks to Karl Baron , Giorgio Tomassetti, Simon Pielow, douglasjonesjr, Ruben Bos, John Benson, Dan K , Kristina D.C. Hoeppner , 401(K) 2012, Tiago J. G. Fernandes, Janet Ramsden, Global Lives Project and Ruben Bos for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all were listed under creative commons license at time of publishing.
  2. 14 Comments so far.

    victor said on 13/12/2014 at 10:40pm

    Trains, be it Eurorail or Interrail or individual tickets are an absolute rip off. Even when you factor in fuel and tolls, which are plentiful across Europe, renting a car is cheaper. It is will take you to out of the way towns that don't even have train stations. If you're traveling in a pair or group then shifts allow you all the viewing pleasure your eyes can handle. And don't discount the roads! They weave their way through some incredibly beautiful places and the thing about a car is, you can stop! Cheers and happy Traveling!

    Cath said on 13/12/2014 at 3:59pm

    Just beware its really difficult to find anywhere that takes cards in Slovenia and the cash machines rarely recognise English bank cards.

    Jenna said on 13/12/2014 at 8:09am

    The big problem with these passes is that you cannot make reservations in advance. At least you couldn't two years ago. Because the passes are on paper there was no way to book in the machines or online. We had to wait in line for at least an hour every time to purchase our reservations, which would sometimes lead to missing our train connections and spending the night outside of a lovely station and fighting gypsies *cough* Venice *cough*. The only solution for us was to book our next rezo right as we arrived which could easily kill half of the day. As for France, you cannot make reservations until you have crossed it's border. So what we had to do was Reserve a spot on a Swiss train, hop off in France and then book another train to bring us to our destination. Which of course ended up being another cozy stay in the Port Beau station. The police locked us in for security reasons, so we had zero access to toilets. I'm glad I did the inter rail thing.. it was a cool experience and yes I totally agree that the views are out of this world, and there's a certain comfort to sinking into your seat after a long day of trekking.. but just fly. The time and money we would have saved is mind blowing. The buses these days are also excellent. They might not be as comfortable but they are much more affordable than trains.

    Molli said on 13/12/2014 at 4:53am

    **If you want to get from Sarajevo, Bosnia to Budapest, they stopped running the train between the two a little while back due to low popularity! Best option i found was to take a shuttle van to Belgrade, Serbia (ask your hostel to book) and then take a train to Budapest! Belgrade is known for amazing night life! Definitely worth the stop!

    Kayleigh said on 30/09/2014 at 2:15pm

    I had a friend traveling with me in Europe... She bout the Eurail train pass and couldn't get on the train from Rome to Italy (she had to buy another $45 ticket). And also she couldn't get on the train from Florence to Paris or Paris to Amsterdam ( She had to buy last minute plane tickets .) Sometimes shit happens, and obviously not everyone has the same experiences, but I personally will never buy a Eurail pass. Also, I spent 3.5 months in Europe this past summer, I had only trouble using my credit card in Greece and sometimes Italy. It's usually smart to have cash with you at all times just in case, or ask if they accept cards before you sit down to eat at a restaurant or whatever. Chances are, someone accepts cards, you just have to look around. I like this article, thanks for sharing!

    Daniel.Crudge said on 14/07/2014 at 10:04am

    Typo. Amended.

    Daniel.Crudge said on 14/07/2014 at 10:04am

    Thanks for your very kind and respectful answer :) Yes, you're right, Thailand and Indonesia both have incredible food, but neither are in Europe so couldn't really get a mention. Also, you'll notice that I wrote 'arguably'. There are a fair few food critics and other people besides that do consider French and Italian the best cuisines in the world. But of course, it's all subjective, and it's nice to light a fire under someone and rally them to debate, as you are here with such grace. Naturally all tastes are subjective, though the alcoholic beverages I mention in the article were invented in Europe, so that sweeping statement was supposed to be semi-humourous, linking age with quality, like a wine gets better... never mind. And yeah, I think having a pair of walking boots is kind of important, since I've seen people ruined trying to hike the Tatra or Innsbruck mountains in a pair of flimsy sandles. But of course, if you REALLY REALLY HATE hiking and have no desire to see those places AT ALL, then sure, don't bother. Finally, as far as I remember, you can't simply hop on trains with your pass in a few of countries. I mean you can, but you will be charged extra when the ticket folk finds you. Those would be the conditions of the InterRail pass in certain countries, unfortunately. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy your next trip :)

    Daniel.Crudge said on 14/07/2014 at 9:48am

    Yeah, slight typo there. Thank for bringing it to our attention - amended!

    Daniel.Crudge said on 14/07/2014 at 9:45am

    Yeah, I took it a few years back and it's a little wonky, but it is of Lake Bled in Slovenia.

    Diogo said on 13/07/2014 at 2:22pm

    Costa de la Luz in Portugal? Man, who wrote this?

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