Planning a Girl’s (Backpacking) Getaway

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

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I’m a student, and when I was accepted into an exchange program in Copenhagen, my two best friends and I leapt at the chance to fulfill one of our lifelong dreams: a month-long tour of Europe. This article is about all the planning that we went through to get our trip all figured out. Now our travel itinerary is set, we’ve ordered our railpass and have our backpacks – Europe here we come!

Accommodation

Obviously, being students, we’re travelling on a budget. We knew from the beginning that this would mean taking advantage of the many youth hostels scattered around Europe. To book our hostels, we used three different hostelling websites: hostelbookers.com, hostelworld.com, and hihostels.com. Of these three websites, I would recommend hostelbookers.com. It doesn’t charge a booking fee (as hostelworld.com does) and you don’t need to have a Hostelling International membership (which is required for hihostels.com).

The reviews of other hostel-goers are the best way to gauge whether you really are getting value for your money. We’re paying an average of about $25/night. The prices really vary though – our hostel in Venice is $40/night, and our hostel in Rome is $15/night. It depends on where you go, and how much comfort you’re willing to sacrifice. I would also recommend that you try to book your hostels as far in advance as possible. We found that prices for rooms went up significantly in price every day.

Your Backpack

backPack_250First and foremost you need a good backpack! In terms of size, I wouldn’t recommend getting anything bigger than 60 Litres, and nothing smaller than 45 Litres. My pack is 55 Litres, and it fits an incredible amount of stuff.

Also, don’t be distracted by the pretty colours and fancy materials of some of the packs on offer. Not only will they be hugely expensive, they will be an irresistible temptation for thieves. A plain, ordinary looking pack is the best way to go. Be sure to buy a waterproof cover for your pack, as very, very few packs are waterproof (they’re usually just water-resistant). Also make sure that your pack has places to put locks (there are usually metal loops on the zippers specifically for this purpose).

A great kind of pack to buy is one that has a detachable daypack. Mine zips up the front, so you can leave all your clothes and stuff in the main part of the pack at the hostel, and just take the daypack with you on your day-to-day wanderings.

In terms of price, I wouldn’t pay more than $200. The prices tend to go up past $300, but you can get a perfectly good pack for about $100.


What to Bring

PACK LIGHT! JUST DO IT! I know it’s easier said than done, but you’re going to be responsible for carrying every single thing you bring, usually for a long period of time. When you really think about it, some stuff just isn’t worth it.

Here’s a list of the stuff that I brought with me:

Toiletries

• soap

• shampoo

• conditioner

• deodorant

• toothpaste

• toothbrush

• Dental floss

• Contact lenses + solution (if you need it)

• Pads/tampons

• Hairbrush

• Mirror

I brought little travel versions of everything, and managed to make it all fit into a nice small toiletries bag. DON’T BRING ridiculous things like cans of hairspray or hair dryers. I know you want to look your best for all the gorgeous European people you’re going to meet, but that’s just not going to happen. No one looks their best when they’re travelling, not even those gorgeous Europeans!

Clothes

• 2-3 comfy T-shirts for everyday wear

• A pair of long pants (like jeans)

• A pair of capris or shorts

• A nice looking skirt

• A nice shirt (for fancy restaurants, if that’s a possibility)

• A warm, light sweater or jacket

• A rain jacket

• 3-4 pairs of underwear

• at least 2 comfortable bras

• 3-4 pairs of socks

• pajamas

• a bathing suit

Don’t bring too many clothes. They’re HEAVY! It’s much smarter to just wash your clothes every couple of days instead of lugging around a different outfit for every day of the week. And really, no one is going to notice that you’re wearing the same shirt you wore two days ago.

Other Stuff

• Big padlocks (or combination locks) – for lockers and hostel room doors (which sometimes don’t lock)

• Small padlocks (or combo locks) – for your backpack

• A sleeping sac – sometimes sheets at hostels cost extra, and usually they aren’t so clean. The best kind of sleeping sac is silk – very lightweight, warm but breathable, rolls up really small.

• Travel towel – they roll up really small, but are very absorbent.

• Water bottle – will save you money on bottled water. The tap water in the vast majority of European countries is safe to drink.

• An iPod – as long as you’re really careful with it and won’t freak out if it gets stolen, iPods can be really handy. If you have an iPod touch, it can be used as an alarm clock, a currency converter, a guidebook, a translator, and a way to pass the time. All in a teensy, light little package.

• Power adapters

• Camera

• Travel speakers – so you can plug in your iPod and annoy everyone in your hostel room with your music

• A money belt – put all your important stuff (passport, plane ticket, credit cards) as well as the majority of your cash in your money belt, and then wear it under your clothes to prevent theft. Only take out the money that you need for the day, and never take out your money belt in public.

• A first aid kit – you can get cheap, prepackaged, tiny first aid kits, or you can put together your own.

• All-in-one liquid soap – I found this stuff that you can use to wash EVERYTHING. You can use it as shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, dish soap, EVERYTHING. Very handy.

• Flip-flops – for general walking around as well as for use in hostel showers. Trust me, you’ll need them. Unless you think foot fungus sounds like a good time.

• A little travel sewing kit

• Good, comfortable walking shoes – hiking boots are completely unnecessary (unless you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking.) I just brought my normal every day sneakers. But make sure that your shoes are nicely broken in before you start walking around. Also, blisters are kind of inevitable regardless of how expensive and comfortable your shoes are. Just make sure that blister-alleviation stuff is in your medical kit.

• Sunscreen + hats – sunburns are not fun

• A compass – helps with map directions etc.

• A swiss army knife – for overall handiness

• A spork or something of that nature – most of your food will probably be hunks of cheese and bread that you bought from the local market. This is one of the best ways to save money (restaurants are REALLY EXPENSIVE).

• A little flashlight

• A little travel umbrella

Here’s a couple of videos that also have lots of great packing info for us girls!

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  2. Frances says:

    I love this write-up by Sarah on what to take / not take on the trip to Europe. She’s so right! And she even makes it funny and fun to read.