Before you backpack: A Comprehensive Guide

So, you want to go backpacking. First, get carried away with daydreams of swimming in the lakes of Switzerland and sipping wine in France. Make sure this is what you want to do. Ask yourself some questions:

-Do I have enough money?

-Can I get off of work/school for the length of the trip?

-Is this a once in a lifetime opportunity?

-Do I have a longing in my bones to get the hell out of here?

-Do I desire to wander across Europe?

It didn’t take us long to figure out the answers to these questions. We were sitting in Highland Coffees, a little local coffee shop in Baton Rouge, La., and said: Let’s do it, let’s go to Europe! We worked out some practical things and were ready to make a commitment.

1. PURCHASE FLIGHT: The best time to buy an international flight is 3-4 months in advance on a Tuesday at 3pm Eastern. The cheapest day to fly is Wednesday. Sign up for alerts- they will send you an email when the price of your flight changes.

We didn’t really care what European city we landed in: we just wanted the cheapest. So plug in many different cities in Kayak and similar websites to see which one is cheapest. Brussels was the most affordable, so we are starting there. Being flexible will work in your favor for getter less expensive flights. We noticed a very big jump ($100-300) in prices departing the week of May 12-16 and the week of May 19-23. I’m not sure why this is, but that’s why we decided to leave the Wednesday of that week- May 14.

2. MAKE ITINERARY: Figure what cities you want to visit, and don’t be overly ambitious. A good rule of thumb is to plan to spend at least a week in cities you are very excited about, and 4-5 days in cities you aren’t as excited about. Get a big calendar and a map, and decide where you want to go and for how long. Remember that you can move things around once you get over there, but it is good to have a primitive idea of what you are doing.

3. PURCHASE EURAIL PASS: There are different option depending on how long you will be in Europe. We purchased the one that is 15 days of travel within 2 months. It was $827 for anyone under 25.

4. GET YOUR BACKPACK: If you really want to backpack, well… you will need a backpack! We chose Osprey Packs, the Aria and Ariel 65s. It seems like it will be the perfect size to carry on a plane, big enough for everything we need, but not too big to lug around for 2 months. North Face has great backpacks as well. Most backpacking stores have student discounts, so ask about that before you buy. We also got compression packs in order to fit everything we need in our backpacks.

5. START LINING UP WHERE YOU WILL STAY: If you know anyone living in Europe, see if they wouldn’t mind you staying with them. Get a Couchsurfing account and look up good hostels. Make your first 3 weeks’ reservations in hostels, and figure out the rest when you are traveling.

6. GET ALL MEDICINES NEEDED FOR THE TRIP: You will have to call your insurance company to get an override on refills, then call your pharmacy to make sure they got the override. You may also have to call your doctor to let them know you will be out of the country.

7. INFORM CREDIT CARD/ DEBIT CARD COMPANIES OF YOUR TRAVEL PLANS: If you don’t, your card will not work in Europe. Make sure to do this at least a week in advance!

8. START HYDRATING/ EXERCISING:  Backpacking is going to be a lot of walking and a lot of biking. Getting into shape now will help you not to be as exhausted while on the trip. Make sure you are getting enough water.

9. CELL PHONE: If you want an international plan, go to your cell phone provider and look at options. We are not using our phones, except when on Wifi, so we are not getting a plan. Apps such as Viber and What’s App are great for calls and texts over Wifi. If you choose to only communicate over Wifi, make sure to turn your roaming off on your phone.

10. PASSPORT/ ID: Make sure both of these are up to date.

11. BREAK IN YOUR HIKING BOOTS:  Or any other shoes. Your feet will thank you later.

12. TELL YOUR FAMILY/FRIENDS:  Or, don’t. As much as we would love to just run away, it is in our best interest for people to know where we are.

13. GET A RIDE TO THE AIRPORT: Bring your own snacks, airport snacks are expensive. Have a plan for what you will do when you land- taxi, someone picking you up?

Okay, you are ready to go! Fly off into the horizon, young grasshopper.  Have the time of your life– we are planning on it!