Almost exactly a year ago, I was boarding a flight to Dublin, Ireland to begin a 5-city, 3-country, 14-day backpacking trip across Europe. My then-beau (now ex) and I impulsively bought flights for a trip we were eager to make awesome for the least amount of damage to each of our savings.
If you’re wander-lusting for Madrid, Barcelona, Dublin, Paris, or just looking for backpacking advice, read on and put my nuggets of information to good use!
- Figure out where you want to go, specifically. And then make sure it feasibly fits into your timeline. Take into account all travel time between each place, and remember that you need time to sleep! It’s easy to think you can book overnight buses now, in your well-rested, excited state… four days into a backpacking trip you will want to sleep in a bed, for a full eight hours.
- Look at a map. Geography isn’t my strong point, so it was helpful to pull everything up on Google Maps and see just exactly where everything was located in relation to each other. It also helped us plan the flow of the trip (arriving in Dublin, since its closer to the East Coast of the US). Throughout my breakdown posts, I’ve added in screen captures of maps to show proximity of locations within cities.
- Book multi-city round-trip flights. This lets you arrive in one country, leave from another, but still be on one round-trip ticket on the same airline.
- Make a list of what, specifically, you really want to see and do in each city you visit. Come to terms with the fact that you just aren’t going to get to do it all. Pick your must-sees, research them (admission cost, wait times, special restrictions, exact location, etc.) and make sure it can work into your trip. Leave some free time; you’ll fill it with exploring the cities and local gems, but this way you’re sure to see everything you absolutely must.
- Once you’ve set your must-sees, look into other cool finds near these main attractions. A lot of smaller local experiences and sights helped make my trip incredible. While they usually weren’t things I would go out of my way to see or plan a day around, some research into what was around my hostel, or along my walking route to a main attraction helped me maximize my trip and squeeze in extra adventure.
- Explore all of your regional travel options thoroughly. This was one of the most daunting parts of planning. I wanted a set schedule for arriving and departing each city, but I also wanted flexibility at each location. Check out local budget airlines, trains, buses, and even car rental. Play around with different options to see if something is significantly cheaper. While it may seem extravagant to fly from Madrid to Barcelona, when I compared the €50 flight cost to a cheaper but much longer, 8+ hour overnight bus ride, the flight was a doable concession. I knew at that point of the trip I would really value being able to get a good night’s sleep and the small additional cost wasn’t prohibitive.
- Know the budget airline baggage requirements and make sure your bags fit them. A hiking or travel pack (taller and thicker than the backpack I used) wouldn’t have fit RyanAir or Vueling’s “free personal item” requirement. Checking a bag would have cost more than the flight fare, and been an additional stressor worrying about lost luggage. I opted to keep costs and travel time down by packing light and staying within the guidelines.
- Research the weather and culture. Now that you know where you’re going and a rough idea of what you’re doing, it’s helpful to know what the weather will be and what is typically worn in those places. Ireland and Spain have very different climates, so knowing I would have to account for both helped me shop and pack smarter. I also chose certain pieces over others (for example, a boyfriend blazer instead of a cardigan) after researching the local style so that I would blend in better. (If you’re traveling somewhere with cathedrals, you’ll want a blazer or light sweater to covre your shoulders when you tour inside places like The Sagrada Familia.)
Read through the breakdown of my entire trip, starting with a great day in Dublin, Ireland and why I chose to avoid the popular Guinness brewery tour.