Europe is awesome! I loved Europe from the first time I visited during a study abroad trip one summer in Spain. After graduating, I returned with three buddies to backpack and further explore Western Europe. After that adventure, here’s my advice.
Europe is fun! Rich in culture and landscape, it’s hard not to like Europe. Whether you like warm beaches in Spain (don’t say I didn’t warn you about the topless grannies), beer gardens in Germany, or cafes in Amsterdam, there’s a lot to do for the young and restless. For those desiring a more cultured experience, Europe is host to many of the masterpieces of the Renaissance, thousand year-old castles and cathedrals, and beautiful countryside. Though I must admit after the first four or five cathedrals, they all start looking the same. Regardless of your interests, take advantage of the opportunity to explore; don’t just sit in a bar or club the whole time.
Get a good travel book! I recommend Let’s Go Europe; it was my Bible while planning the trip and throughout it. Touring a foreign country, especially when you don’t speak the language, can be quite the task. Get a good guide; it’ll help a ton, I promise!
Hostels! There are nice hostels and not-so-nice hostels, so choose wisely. The good ones are nicer than many cheap hotels; but, the best hostels often require reservations far in advance, so plan accordingly.
Pack light! Lay out everything you need and then take only half of it. When backpacking, the lighter, the better. You only need, and will only end up using, the bare essentials. My buddies and I learned this the hard way; we ended up shipping half of our stuff back home in the middle of our trek-it cost a pretty penny.
Watch your stuff! Europe is not America. Pickpockets are everywhere: trains, buses, markets, everywhere. Keep a close eye on your valuables. This was another lesson I learned the hard way. I had a backpack with my valuables beside me at a train station. A group of professional thieves pulled the whole “make a distraction while the other guy grabs the bag” trick. Never found the bag.
Be Smart! You stand out like a sore thumb. There are more dangers and you don’t have the same rights or protections you do at home. While you may not need a DD, it may be smart to have a designated chaperon. In all cases, follow your spider senses when things feel sketchy.
Europe has something for everyone! I can’t wait to go back and hope you enjoy your European excursion!