While it may be tempting to purchase a six-piece luggage set for your next European adventure, there’s plenty of fun to be had while carrying your belongings on your back. Backpacking through Europe is a great way to save money, take in adventure and fill your memory bank with plenty of cultural encounters and authentic experiences.

Like any trip, it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared so you can focus on making those unforgettable memories (and bring back a few funny stories to share). 

It’s all in the bag

No one wants to strut down the Champs de Elysse or wander through Kensington Gardens with a bag of bricks on their back. When selecting an appropriate travel bag, consider its dimensions, weight, comfort, quality and cost. And don’t worry, you don’t have to shop like a Sherpa or buy the most expensive bag on the market to find something that’s comfortable and fits your needs. Famous travel guide Rick Steves offers helpful tips for choosing the best travel bag, including the pros and cons of a soft backpack versus an internal frame or rolling option.

Tip: Practice carrying your backpack around in advance of your trip. And, while on your adventure, adjust the bag’s fit daily before setting out to sightsee.  

Pack like a pro

With limited space comes limited room for shirts, pants, jackets, shoes and important undergarments. You’re not going to be able to pack enough clothes for each day of the trip, so expect to wear items several times in a row, and plan to wash your clothes in sinks or find accommodations with a washer.

A good rule of thumb is to lay out everything you want to take and divide it by half. The must haves? A waterproof jacket, quick-drying towel, good walking shoes, Ziploc bags and a hat or sunglasses. While you may have to omit your designer scarf or cute sandals, your back will thank you. Here’s a helpful packing guide with more suggestions on clothes and gear you should bring and tips for packing light.

And, don’t forget to plan for souvenirs. Allow enough space for your French cheese or German beer stein, and ship the big stuff home.

Plan destinations but be flexible

There are simply too many places to visit in Europe and not enough time to pack them all into one trip. Have a basic outline of where you want to go, how much time you plan to spend there, how you will get there, and an idea of where you would like to stay. Be sure to talk to locals or other tourists to get additional recommendations and insights. And, don’t feel obligated to see or do the things that don’t seem interesting to you. If the Louvre isn’t your idea of fun, skip it for a relaxing afternoon spent people-watching at a café.

Places to stay and ways to get there

A backpacking adventure requires flexibility that’s not always conducive to detailed planning and advance reservations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your homework and know your options.

Hostels are inexpensive, accessible and full of young travelers. Most hostels have multiple options when it comes to the type of rooms available, ranging from big open spaces to private rooms (one bed or bunk bed) and can cost anywhere from $10 to $30/night. Sites like HostelWorld.com allow you to read past reviews from other travelers so you can make the best decision on quality before booking. Airbnb also is a great option to live like a local and avoid over-priced hotels.

When hopping from town to town, trains are the primary form of transportation and it’s how most Europeans travel. A high-speed train connects almost every city, and the travel times can often rival the airlines. RailEurope is the single spot for European rail travel-newbies (and the site is in English), and you can even purchase train tickets or a rail pass in advance.

Bonjour, Hallo, Ciao

Even if you barely made it through high school French, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the country’s basic phrases and greetings. People appreciate the fact that you’re making an effort to embrace their culture (regardless of how terrible your accent may be).

If you’ve backpacked across Europe, share your experiences, tips and helpful resources on our Facebook page. Merci, danke, grazie!