How to Prepare for Your First Euro Trip
You want to backpack in Europe. Who doesn’t, right? Travelers in developed countries treat the Euro trip as something of a given, a rite of passage that forms part of their growing up years. After all, they only need a bit of money and then they can book a ticket and fly.
For most of us in developing countries though, our dream of setting foot in Europe sometimes ends up as just that—a dream. The challenges are great, from getting our Schengen visa application approved, to coming up with the funds to go there in the first place.
Still, we are always told to go for our dreams, right, to plan for it and act as if we are really going to achieve it. I did that, and thankfully, I had done it. I went on my first backpacking trip in Europe early this year, and I’m certainly hoping I will be able to return someday.
If you have included backpacking in Europe as an item in your bucket list, why not prepare for it now? Here are some of my tips which you can do months (or even years) in advance:
Build your savings.
Yes, you can travel cheaply in Europe, but you still need to have a substantial amount in savings. A return ticket alone will cost you $1,000+. It’s hard to buy one on sale because you buy the ticket only when you’re issued a visa.
The simplest way of building your savings is to set aside 20-30% of your monthly salary into a travel fund. Yes, this is substantial, but you can easily afford it if you can get rid of non-essentials like daily coffee or tea from S, or if you start commuting instead of taking a (non-refundable) cab ride every day. For more tips on building your travel fund, read 5 (Simple) Ways to Build Your Travel Fund.
Join hospitality exchanges like Couchsurfing.
Despite my huge disappointment at how the founders of CS sold out (yeah, who can say no to $15M?), I’m still a huge fan of the site. The principle is simple: once you become part of the community, you can travel anywhere in the world and find locals who will host you for free. Best of all, you will get to know their culture in their own eyes, too! (Read: The Couchsurfing Project)
Set up your own travel blog.
Establish your credibility as a travel blogger at least a year before your intended Euro trip. Once you have enough page views, Google page rank, and followers, you can tap potential sponsors for your trip. Roomorama shouldered my one night’s stay in Verona, Italy, but given enough preparation, you can also tap airlines, hotels, and other travel-related businesses to shoulder part of your expenses in exchange for exposure in your site.
Travel outside the country as often as possible.
Embassies will look at your travel history when they evaluate your visa application. Needless to say, it will help if they see you as a frequent traveler, even if you just go around the region. It need not be expensive too! Wait for seat sales and take advantage of them. My cheapest out of the country flight was to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia for only US$19, return.
Decide when to go.
I went to Europe on the tail end of winter, and for a few days, I suffered in the cold of up to -10 to -15 deg Celsius. While I don’t really regret being a contrarian (snow can be beautiful too), I lost some days just staying inside the house.
A lot of people go during summer, but in a lot of countries in Europe, the summer season can be really, really hot. There are hordes of tourists everywhere during this time too. I suggest going there during spring. It is cold enough to wear a light jacket outdoors, and it’s still off-peak season, so you can get discounts in hostels.
Familiarize yourself with websites that can help you save money.
I personally use Skyscanner to compare cheap flights, Carpooling.co.uk to save up on land transportation, and Hostelworld to get the best deals in accommodation.
Make a list of the countries you are interested to visit.
Include the cities and the sights that are a must-see for you. Once you get your visa and you know how long you’ll stay there, you’ll be able to finalize your itinerary.
And finally, the most difficult of all,
Apply for a Schengen visa.
Prepare a LOT of documents to back up your application. This includes sponsorship letters (if any), bank statements, credit card statements, letters from your employer, among others. Be thorough, and don’t be over-confident. Include as much helpful information as you can that will show the embassy personnel that you have every intention of coming back to the country. For more tips on this process, check out my post on How to File for a Schengen Visa.
There you have it then. If you really want to backpack solo in Europe, as I did, following these simple and practical tips can help you get there.
Have you backpacked solo in Europe? Do share your tips on preparing for the trip!
This is my entry for Carnival of Europe hosted by DJ Yabis at Dream Euro Trip.
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!