This past August, I packed two large suitcases and headed over the Atlantic for my semester long adventure in Europe. Like most first-time travelers, I had no idea what I was doing. I was terrified of stepping foot onto new territory, but I was also incredibly excited to be temporarily living in France and exploring Europe for myself.
The truth is, Europe can be horribly expensive and difficult to manage if you don’t keep your wits about you. The classic “new to Europe syndromes” are almost always chronic over-packing, fear of exploring the unknown, and, perhaps most important of all, culture shock. For some people, these feelings can be totally overwhelming and they end up secluding themselves – but this can be totally avoided with a little help.
1 Do Your Research
Do yourself a huge favor now: Put the book down: Use the internet. Do research for weeks on end so you know full well that Versailles, France is nearly 100% free if you show your student visa and that you can get in the Louvre for nothing by showing them your university ID. I saved myself hours of time by getting comfortable with a map of Amsterdam so I could tourist hop and save time. The time you spend researching and calculating will add up to the dollars (or euros) you save by having a plan.
2 Explore Other Options
One of the best things about studying abroad is the word of mouth capability, which is exactly how I discovered BlaBla Car, a system similar to Uber but allows you to travel internationally for relatively low prices. My trip to Paris was painless (I only spent 18€, but the two hour car ride turned into four due to traffic), but I know of people who were trapped in the car for nearly 12 hours. Don’t settle for the first decent price you stumble on. I recently booked last minute tickets to Paris by train and a round trip only cost me 32€. By using SkyScanner in advance, you can have a round-trip flight from Paris to Milan for as low as 50-60€.
3 Pack Only What You Can Carry
I know what you’re thinking: you booked your hotel/hostel and there is no reason to not pack everything your heart’s desires. I hate to break it to you, but when you are train hopping and metro surfing and street navigating, the last thing you are going to want to worry about it how fast you can drag that 50-pound suitcase behind you. With that being said, pack the bare minimum and then pack even less than that. The best way to do this is completely back for your adventure, let the bag sit overnight, then take everything out of it and lay it on the floor. Seeing what you selected the first time around will make it easier to eliminate other unnecessary items that you might have missed before. I did 10 days in the Netherlands with only one small backpack. It’s totally possible.
4 Leave Time For Aimless Wandering
Europe is filled with big attractions; it’s easy to schedule your entire visit with things to do. By hitting only the main tourist sites, you’re missing the part of the city that people call home. In other words, you’re missing all of the really cool parts that all the natives love. Most of the time, the prices will be significantly cheaper than those around the attractions. You’ll be in for plenty of pleasant surprises when you get over your fear of the exploring the depths of the unknown. The best thing I ever did was let go of the map and just roam the streets of a Dutch college town. I still to this day think I had the best stroopenwafel around!
5 Free Isn’t Always Better
Most importantly, remember why you came to Europe. I know people who paid a lot of money to come abroad and hated every second because they nickeled and dimed their way the entire time. If you want to splurge and go to the Van Gogh Museum, splurge and go to the Van Gogh Museum. There is certainly benefits of doing Europe cheaply, but if art is meaningful to you, the time and money to experience it. Free is good! There are many alternatives to expensive tourist attractions that could easily be comparable, but stay true to what you really want to do and spend the money if it’s important.
Don’t listen to people when they tell you backpacking Europe will be hard and expensive – because it’s not if you take the time to do it right. Planning the perfect trip takes time and the earlier you can do it, the cheaper it will be. Do your research and keep your options open, because Europe is a place almost necessary to experience.
Featured Image via We Heart It, all other images belong to author.