This summer, like many before me, I packed a 60 litre, heavily equipped backpack and got on a plane to Europe. I planned my journey with three of my closest friends from home; people I knew would still talk to me after seeing what I was like on very little sleep, food, and no coffee – aka my truly dark side. Anyways, I know there are already 4,500 Pinterest boards and Buzzfeed articles that could probably provide more detailed and accurate advice, but if you’re a Europe noob like I was, hopefully you’ll find some solace in this list. After traversing 9 countries and 13 cities, I’d like to humbly suggest I learned a thing or two.
1) Surprise expenses are a very real thing. Fear them. Do not take them lightly
If someone told me before my trip that 50 euros of my budget would go towards giant bottles of water, I would’ve laughed heartily. Now I shed a silent tear for all the money I spent on water. I would say try and plan for these expenses, but there’s honestly no concrete way to do that – so just make peace with the randomly expensive train tickets, attractions and Giant Bottles of Water before you go, ok?
2) Google Maps will fail you, often
Yet, like a Chinese food takeout dinner, you will always come back to it. Even though it’s familiar and mostly helpful, there will be times where you’re sweaty, tired, walking in circles looking for your hostel, and you’ll think, I will never use Google Maps ever again. But you will, and it (might) be fine.
3) On that note, you will never not be sweaty/hot/unable to deal with the temperature
Not to worry, though, you’ll adapt, even if it takes a while. My moment came on a humid, packed train from Naples to Sorrento, in which old men were selling socks and 15 year old couples were making out like it was their last day on earth. I stood there, my backpack feeling like a 1500 pound space heater, and I had a Zen moment where I told my body, “Fine, sweat more. Go for it.” After that, it was manageable. Mostly.
4) Doing normal, simple, every day things are just as valuable as the big attractions
Undoubtedly, some of my favourite memories from our trip were seeing the iconic things, like the Coliseum and the Eiffel Tower. But I’ll also never forget the day we went to the grocery store in Munich and had a picnic in the park, or when we bought food from La Boqueria in Barcelona and cooked dinner at our apartment. Don’t get too stressed about having to pack in every sight at once; try to live the lifestyle a little bit, and you’ll find it’s just as, if not more, special.
5) Eat all of the things, in every place, at every time
Coming home from Europe felt a little like going back to the gym for the first time after Christmas Break – a hard dose of reality and some chub in places it shouldn’t be. I know some people have self-control and discipline and all that, but my advice: those few extra pounds (and euros) are so worth it. I wouldn’t take back a single gelato in Italy, beer in Ireland, waffle(s) in Belgium, or basically any meal of the entire trip.
6) Free walking tours are a thing, and super affordable
Sandeman’s New Europe has amazing guides, and they work for tips, so basically you pay what you thought the tour was worth/what you can afford. They’re a great way to cover all the basics of a city that you may have limited time in, and they offer more specified tours in specific districts or on certain topics. And they run a lot of pub-crawls. Enough said.
7) Understand that sleep will become a foreign concept that you will appreciate more than ever
Waking up for an 8:30 a.m. class is a struggle for anyone, but when you’re travelling, there is just no excuse. There were many days where we woke up at 7:00 a.m. to catch a train or see a sight, toured all day, attempted to nap in 10-bed hostel rooms, and then went out all night, only to do it all over again. I still don’t know how I did it, but trust me- you will find it within you. It also means you will learn to sleep anytime, anywhere. Airport benches. Bus stops. Beside strangers on a train. No place is off limits.
8) Everything will seem surreal, but try to take it all in and be present
Now that I’m back to normal life, it almost feels like my five weeks in Europe didn’t even happen. When you finally do those iconic things that everyone talks about, see the most popular cities, or experience a totally unique place, it’s completely surreal. The best advice I have is to put your phone or camera down for one second, and just think, I’m here. Even then, you won’t believe it. But that’s the beauty of travel, friends.
Now go forth to Europe and make mistakes and forget everything on this list!
Shauna McGinn, Online Columnist
All Images: Shauna McGinn