In about a week I’m off to go backpacking in Germany! I’m flying in to Switzerland to meet up with a couple friends who already left today. Throughout the preparations for this trip I learned a lot of the benefits of both planning and flying by the seat of your pants. For example, we’re going over at separate times and this is the first time I’ll have been overseas without adult supervision or guidance. I’m flying by myself into a country where I’ve never been and have to somehow find these people.
This is an area where planning is actually a smart decision, although admittedly rather difficult. I was originally going to meet them in Basel or Freiburg in Germany, but coordinating that was getting confusing so now they’re going to come find me in Zurich. I don’t know if we’re going to meet at the airport, or at a cafe or some other little place in Zurich I’m going to have to track down, but either way my body clock will say 4am when I get there so I’m thankful I at least don’t have to find my way to another city. After that….we have no plan. None. We know we want to go to the Black Forest, we know we’re going to end up in France and we have an easyjet flight booked from Paris back to Berlin where we’ll board to come back to the states, and that’s it. It’s a little terrifying, but also very exciting!
Good things to plan for:
1. Meeting places ~ what I just described above. If you’re in this situation make sure you have a way to communicate with them in case you do have trouble finding them or the meeting place you initially stated somehow didn’t work out. If you or them don’t have an international data (which would be handy to look into for the google maps feature) or calling plan added to your phone you need to have a way of getting ahold of each other for if/when you’re separated. You can always get a small pay-on-the-go phone which would probably still be cheaper than a lot of the plans phone carriers provide. Otherwise there’s wifi hotspots all over Europe so emailing or Skyping is always an easy choice, as long as you’re all on the same page.
2. Communication ~ I guess I just covered that 🙂 Make sure you have backup plans with your fellow travelers if something goes awry.
3. Packing ~ Obviously you want to pack as light as humanly possible, and it’s smart to make a list of the essentials. I read somewhere that you should think more along the lines of “What can I do without” rather than “What might come in handy”. Scrutinize every single thing. If you’re bringing a sweater that you won’t wear by itself and are only bringing it to wear with a certain shirt, scratch those two items and bring a different shirt. You’re going to be re-wearing everything and hopefully will find laundry opportunities, so versatility is a must: If you bring a cardigan or scarf accessory ask yourself if it can go with everything or just a single item. As I read somewhere, “Don’t pack for the worst case scenario, pack for the best case scenario.” I know this is hard, because I myself am a “What-if” packer, but, my fellow wonderers, we must put this aside as best we can. After all, your goal is one bag that you can carry around on your back all day.
** Pack more than once. This might sound silly, but it’s amazing the things you’ll change when you pack and then go look at it again a day later. You’ll realize you might not need something, or that something else would be more practical or oops you should probably buy travel deodorant because it takes up 1/4 of the space of the regular size. I’ll probably end up packing 2-3 times. You especially want to do this if you’re like me and you second guess everything because I know if I don’t I’ll end up sitting on the plane wishing I had traded something out.
** That being said, don’t pack the night before you go. Just…don’t do it. Make sure you have all your travel size toiletries and proper footwear and everything on that handy dandy list you made. You don’t want to be packing the night before your flight leaves and realize you’re forgetting or missing something. Panic will ensue and that is not a pleasant way to start your journey. That goes for your backpack too. This may be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many will leave these basic things to the last minute. If your flight leaves on a Monday, I recommend packing the Friday or Saturday before. But I’m a little OCD when it comes to these things :]
4. Budgeting ~ This is my biggest concern on this trip. This adventure will suck me dry, and I have just enough to get me through. I grew up under the roof of an accountant and professional bargain hunter so money management has been engrained into my head. My dad emailed me a sample budget to go off of and I can already feel my head starting to spin. My other friends don’t have much of a budget – that’s part of the excitement for them – and so that makes me worry about myself getting caught up in spending. I was talking to my friend and he said to plan out my budget, keep it in mind, but don’t stress about it, and while it’s good to keep track, try not to micromanage it too much because it is true that that takes the fun out of flying by the seat of your pants. My friends were gracious enough to offer to spot me if it’s nearing the end of the trip and is absolutely necessary, but I hate mooching or asking others for money. I am thankful that they are willing to help me out though, should the need arise.
5. Vital documents ~ Make sure you give yourself enough time to get your passport if you don’t already have one. One friend who left today picked his up Friday and that made me stressed out. If you do have a passport, make sure you know where it is or that it wasn’t lost or stolen or didn’t expire without you realizing it. Check the website of the passport agency nearest you to see what their policy is – generally you need to have your trip itinerary with you when you purchase it. I didn’t have one because I wanted to make sure I was able to get a passport before I bought my ticket, and I said this and the lady let it slide because I still had my travel dates and destination to give her. But I can’t assure you that the same will work for you. Make copies of your passport, your birth certificate and your itinerary for not only yourself, but for each of the people you’re traveling with. That way, if your passport or ID gets stolen you still have proof of your American citizenship and your travel plans. You don’t want to get stuck over there with nothing.
It’s ok if you’re not a planner. While planning can definitely be more efficient for packing and budgeting, sometimes not planning is where the fun comes from! You’re relying on the locals and your own adventurous spirit to make your journey an adventure. Talking to locals and getting to know them can take you to hidden spots, like that hill or rooftop has the perfect view of the sunrise, or this is the cutest coffee shop, or here’s the cheapest shopping…you might make some new friends along the way! If you’re worried about a language barrier, almost everyone these days speaks some degree of English and you can pick up one of those small pocket books if there’s a specific country you’ll be in most of the time. If you go to duolingo.com you can learn the basics of the language before you go! It’s a handy website I’ve become fond of :] Besides, being over in a country is the best way to learn the language!
My travel tip of the night:
Be patient with your fellow travelers, be patient with yourself, and be patient with those you come across on your trip. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and stressed and this can lead to panic, crankiness, or some people have the tendency to get a little controlling (I, myself, am included in all three of these categories) and that will put a dark cloud over your adventure. You don’t want to resent anybody or any part of your trip and especially if this is your first trip like this there are going to be moments where you don’t know what you’re doing and where you can easily get frustrated whether it’s from communication/language barriers, transportation mishaps, or if misfortune falls and you’re a victim of pickpockets. Don’t let these things get to you or ruin your trip. Take a deep breath, put a smile on your face and find your way through it. It will make for a much more interesting and pleasant trip where you learn and see a lot and sometimes the terrifying unexpected can lead to something even better!
If you have backpacked before and your fellow comrades haven’t, you must be patient with them. I understand how at times you might feel like a babysitter and that would be very frustrating, but they’re learning, kind of going with the flow, and instead of getting controlling you should use your wisdom and expertise to help them understand how things work and help make this a memorable trip for all of you.
I’ll hopefully find time to update this while I’m on my adventure, and I’ll be posting some packing tips as the day of departure gets nearer!