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Before You Go Backpacking in Europe

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Want to go backpacking in Europe? Welcome to the FAQ you need for travel on a hiking boot string, designed to answer key questions before you go backpacking in Europe -- what to pack, where to go, budgeting, how to get there, where to stay and how to backpack Europe on the cheap. No ramen noodles. Unless you want 'em.

Get the right gear for backpacking Europe

Get a side-loader backpack that fits with help from a local shop and some advance reading. What goes in it? Read up on what you need for backpacking Europe:

Learn how and how much to pack, too.

Set a Europe backpacking budget

Pick your travel budget number after you buy your gear, as it's a one-time expenditure. Budget by the day, allowing a figure for fun and souvenirs per day -- you can always pool those bucks for one hotel splurge or night out. $40 is realistic, $25 is doable in Eastern Europe, and London is minimum $55. Understand the money and exchange rate before you go, prepare to eat cheap but well with street food, and write down what you spend in a travel journal or you will run out of money. Look for free things to do in Europe to stretch the euros, too.

Set a destination in Europe

Choose Eastern Europe (Sofia, Budapest) for dirt cheap excitement. London is spendy and friendly. Rome is cheapish, crime-challenged and huge fun. Paris is relaxed and affordable. Laid-back Amsterdam is totally packed. Brussels rocks cheap. Germany can be staid or mind-blowing. You can always choose an event, like a hot summer music festival, or a place you want to see, like the Louvre, and plan your trip around it. Go to 17 countries on one rail pass if you can't decide.

Get cheap transportation to and around Europe

To get there, choose a student airfare finder for the best deal -- student travel agencies offer the best student airfares. Check ticket prices against an aggregator to be sure and watch for student airfare sales.

Use rail passes or cheap European airlines to move around Europe (boats, cars and buses, too). To get around in-country, understand local transportation before you go. Subways are generally very cheap and efficient. Taking taxis seems intimidating until you know the taxi rules.

Understand the difference between Eurail passes and single European rail tickets (and which you want), too.

Learn some lingo before backpacking Europe

Speaking the language, even a few words, will save you money and headaches while you're backpacking in Europe. You'll be able to figure out what cab fare should be, how to find the bus and train station and the hostel, and how to make a phone call. I carry a travel phrasebook in one cargo pants pocket and make lame lingo attempts no matter what (good for a shared laugh with locals). And don't believe that Paris stuff - locals like to talk to you, fractured French or not.

Where to stay when backpacking Europe

Stay in hostels when backpacking Europe - they're fun, cheap, usually central, clean enough if you know what to expect (demand clean sheets, accept iffy bathrooms and ewww floors - bring flip flops), and packed with other backpackers doing Europe, surprisingly few of whom are American. Reserve in advance if you can -- ask at coffeeshops if you arrive without a hostel. You can also go Couchsurfing free and safely or choose a homestay to meet a family and learn lingo.

Get travel documents

Before backpacking Europe, you'll need a passport, and you may need a tourist visa, an international work visa, immunizations records and an international health certificate, an international driver's license and more. You may want a student discount card, too. Learn what travel documents you will and may need for bacpacking Europe, how and where to get them before you travel, what to do with travel document copies and how much they will cost.

Backpacker health and safety

Backpack travel is as safe as you make it; in the words of one veteran traveler, "Stay safe but don't stay home!" And, with a few precautions, you'll be as healthy when you travel as you are at home. Learn about backpack travel safety and staying healthy on the road, and get a few health and safety tips just for for women travelers. Oh, yeah -- them... learn about bed bugs, too -- among other bed bug facts, learn that they won't make you sick and they don't mean it's unclean.

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