or in other words, working your ass off so you don't have to for the next six months.
01.01.2014 - 23.06.2014
When I was in primary school I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up, because I loved writing. One day I asked my parents how much it costs to go to university to study journalism. My mum asked why, and I told her I was worried I wouldn't have enough money to go. Sometimes when I am stressed about something that feels bigger than me she tells me this story, saying that I don't need to worry because I have always been a practical person. I am a planner, a problem-solver. I make things work for me, and when they don't those things better watch out. When I finished uni and started planning for my six month trip through Europe, I was determined to avoid the urge to plan everything to a tee. I still combed through google, made endless lists and packed my bag two months before take-off, but when the day finally came I only had a vague idea of the route I would end up taking. Looking back, this is the best thing I could have done. There are pros and cons to travelling this way but I truly believe the cons are easily forgotten and the pros will stay with you for a lifetime.
For instance, after the first two weeks Jordy and I were free to stay in places as long or as little as we pleased. It was easy to find cheap buses and trains in between destinations and most of the time we had ample options for accommodation even though it was the middle of peak season. There were only a few instances where we didn't realise there was a festival or something on so hostel beds were more expensive or a bit harder to find. In Bruges we ended up having to book a hotel room just outside the city walls, but it turned out we were in desperate need of a few good night's sleep and it was really worth the few extra euro not to have people walking in at 3am giggling, playing with their favourite plastic bag or testing if the lights still work.
Initially when it was just going to be Tom and I travelling we hadn't considered paying for BusAbout, Contiki or Top-Deck because paying the extra dough for the convenience of having everything planned for you wasn't the sort of trip we had in mind. Jordy considered doing BusAbout as there was a chance she would be travelling solo, and while I had Tom for company and peace of mind, she wouldn't have anyone. The idea of these organised tours is great, and if I was going for six weeks instead of six months then I probably would have forked out the extra money for it. However in the end I think we are all glad that we decided to stay together as a tripod and hack it on our own, as the places we had the most fun, such as Kotor and Hvar, weren't stops on the big company's maps. Although, the flexipass that BusAbout offers does allow you a lot more freedom and is worth considering if you think the price is reasonable.
If you are a worrier, but you want to embrace your 'free-spirit' or whatever you like to call it and go out on your own, it is better to hone all your worrying skills on the other things that need considering. If you do your research, there really is nothing to stress over. I don't consider myself a seasoned traveller, but I feel it doesn't take long for anyone to learn the ins and outs of backpacking. I have offered my advice below, but in the end you've got to go about things your way. It's your trip, so go with your gut.
Backpack or suitcase?
I went with backpack. At first when I wasn't used to the weight I was really jealous of people with suitcases, but we had the last laugh when it came to the cobblestones in Italy or the stairs in Amsterdam. Kathmandu and Anaconda often have online sales where you can save a lot of money, plus they are happy for you to bring it in and teach you how to adjust the straps so that it's comfortable and safe on your back. One thing I will say... don't get a massive backpack. Tom and I both have 65 litres plus a ten litre smaller backpack and we fit two seasons worth of clothes in there. Jordy had a 90 litre backpack and travel days became hell for her because sure enough, if there is room in there you will find a way to fill it. If you're really worried about it, you can be a pussy like Tom and buy a slightly more expensive model with wheels.
For a six month trip I was hoping to save at least $20,000 and managed to get to $18,000. While I wasn't living the high life it allowed me to go out to dinner every now and again, have quite a few big nights and do some of the more expensive tours or activities that I didn't want to miss. Most of the time I was aiming to spend 20 euro a night on a bed or less, but in places like Paris and Amsterdam that is nearly impossible. However, if you are planning on going to Eastern Europe, this isn't such a big deal because the cost of living is much lower there so it balances it out. Other than that, on a budget friendly day I was spending 30 euro or less. On a side note, free walking tours are only free if you're an asshole. Don't be an asshole.
Travel towel or bath towel?
I. Hate. Travel Towels. I had a normal size bath towel from home, I considered chucking it out a few times but couldn't bring myself to do it because travel towels feel so gross. Tom swears by his as they take up no room in your bag and dry a lot quicker, then there was me finding different ways to make room for my towel in my bag because I couldn't stand the other rag. It's really up to you, however do note that if they aren't left out to dry properly they stink like a hangover fart.
Laptop or Tablet?
Jordy and I brought our laptops, Tom took his iPad. You don't necessarily need either as there are nearly always hostel computers or internet cafes but they were extremely handy to have. Other than being able to book on the go, it was handy for keeping in touch with family and friends and awesome for watching movies or reading a novel on travel days.
I am lucky enough to be entitled to a British passport, so I didn't have to worry about applying for a visa. I only know a few things about working visas or travelling on an Australian passport, but the most important thing to realise before you book anything is that if you don't hold a British, Irish or European Union passport you can only legally travel in the Schengen area for 180 days total out of 360. There are ways around this. For example Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, etc. are all out of the Schengen zone and definitely worth a visit. Some countries, such as New Zealand, have special deals with certain European countries, so it might be worth asking around if this is an option for you. You can also apply for a visa for individual countries but there will still be restrictions on your travel and it can be a massive hassle. Or you can choose to stay in the Schengen area illegally, risking getting the boot and not being allowed to come back for a long, long time (sometimes ten years). Just quietly, in many cases when travelling by bus they didn't check my passport or at most, only glanced at it. It's a risk many young people take but I personally don't think it's worth it.
Clothes and shoes?
I can't stress this enough... do not bother packing clothes that you are not comfortable in, you might only wear once, that are expensive or special to you, or will shrink if they come within a metre of a dryer. Having a lighter backpack will make you happier than having five different outfits with matching shoes to go out in. Everyone is in the same boat, no one cares if you wear the same thing twice and no one will feel sorry for you if you whinge that your bag's too heavy because of the five pairs of heels you packed. As long as you smell bearable, you'll still make friends. I bought smaller 'travel bags' off ebay for $10 to keep my things organised and it was worth every dollar. Not only do they help keep everything compact, organised and wrinkle-free, they go a long way to keeping track of all your belongings.
Buses, trains or planes?
We nearly always chose buses as they are the cheapest option If they weren't available you can find good deals on trains if you are under 26 and are happy to travel on the slow trains. In terms of flights, the earlier you book the cheaper it is. If you are looking for a flight two weeks from the day it is very unlikely you will find a good deal, or a good deal that includes baggage costs. Make sure you explore all your options before booking, there were a few times I thought I'd found reasonable quotes for transport then kept looking and found prices that made the first deal look ludicrous.
It's not that hard to prepare for a trip. Make your lists, talk to other travels, read up blogs on the internet and you'll be sorted. There are only a few things that can ruin a trip and they are easy to avoid.
Always know where your passport and money is
Be weary of unsavoury places, scams and pickpockets
Don't drink yourself stupid in an environment you aren't familiar with
Never underestimate the power of padlocks
Respect other people's cultures
Pay no attention to people that rub you the wrong way
Use your common sense