Five common European trip planning mistakes of new backpackers

3 Jul

I’ve always believed that the idea of “learning from your mistakes” was overrated. Not completely useless as a guideline, but overrated nonetheless. My main reason for thinking this is that there isn’t always a second chance to put these life lessons to use. But in the case of my travel plans, I was lucky enough to have a second chance, my second backpacking trip across Europe. Two years after my first one, I looked back on my first trip, and realized that, like many novice travelers, I made some major mistakes in regards to itinerary planning. Today, I’m going to share my mistakes on this blog and explain what i learned from them for my second itinerary.

Not searching thoroughly enough for a great airfare deal

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be flexible in your airfare search. There are two major mistakes travelers make in this area. The first is not looking at enough booking websites. Many people will assume that expedia has the cheapest airfare without doing a more thorough search on better sites, like Kayak and Skyscanner. The second is not being flexible with dates or airport destinations. Sometimes, flying a day later or earlier can be a few hundred dollars less than flying your ideal day. Also, in Europe, many airports are close together. Depending on the airfare difference, if you are going, say, to Paris, it may be cheaper to fly into Brussels and take a train or a budget flight to Paris. The connection to a smaller flight doesn’t have to be in the same ticket as the long haul flight. There’s nothing wrong with booking a flight to Dublin on Aer Lingus, and then getting a separate ticket on Ryanair to Spain.

Trying to see too many countries in one trip

On my first major trip to Europe, I was headed to the Baltics and Central Europe, regions which have smaller countries than Western Europe. I figured the best way to get an overview of the region was to see each country’s capital for a few days each. That way, I figured, I’d get a small taste of the culture of each country I visited. I now wish I had focused on two or three countries I was very interested in, rather than trying to go everywhere. Maybe instead of the Baltics, I could have spent the first few weeks seeing more of Poland, and more of the rest of the time seeing the Czech Republic and Austria. If you only visit the capitals, you won’t get a true idea of the country. Which brings me to the next point: If you are like most travelers, don’t stick to cities!

Seeing only cities, with no stays in rural areas

Don’t only include cities on your trip. They are great for sightseeing, but if you have any appreciation for the outdoors, you will regret only visiting cities. Typically, capitals are great places to get a taste of the country’s culture, and to see its most iconic sights. But in most cases, the most traditional form of a national culture exists in the rural areas. Some countries have a bigger divide between town and country than others. Its also true that rural areas tend to be less accepting of people of color or LGBTQA+ visitors. Its still safe though if you are cautious. Rural areas are an important place to go to understand any country. And in European countries, there’s usually at least a few small towns that are accessible by public transport, and surrounded by good activities.

Not researching opening times

Just because in one town, museums are open on Tuesday doesn’t mean that they are open in the town 30 miles away. A lot of travelers get tripped up by this. Opening hours are important to factor in not only during your stay, but in designing your itinerary. In general, try to plan your intercity trips on the days museums are closed in your destination city. It won’t always work out, but it’s great if it does.

Not factoring in any downtime

When I first planned my first backpacking trip, I assumed I’d be sightseeing from 10-5, and I planned the number of days in the cities I visited accordingly. It wasn’t realistic. I love sightseeing but its not always the thing I’m in the mood for. Some days, I was sick or jet-lagged. Other days, I just needed a break. No matter how active you are as a traveler, there going to be days every once in a while when you want to sit in your hostel and do nothing. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you should remember that when planning your itinerary.

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