Euro summer (the living out of a bag edition)
If you open up Instagram or Tik Tok, it seems like everyone and their second-cousin flocked to Europe this summer. As a guilty party, it’s unfortunate that social media doesn’t capture the backpacking lifestyle, in all of its glory and grubbiness, with justice. Living out of a bag for months allows you to simultaneously visit the same places as honeymooners, trust fund babies and rich retired couples, while also opening you up to a new world of feral, penny-pinching and low-maintenance type of living. So if you’re thinking of planning a budget trip abroad, or trying your hand at backpacking, here’s what you can expect:
Deciding what to pack takes as more strategising than playing chess
Especially if you’re travelling carry-on, every item you squeeze into that bag needs to earn its place. While the thought of bringing cute fits and your nice moisturiser seems great, any extra weight adds up and you’ll be wishing you could amputate your shoulders when you have to walk around with your overweight bag under the sweltering hot Italian sun. The bare minimum essentials and items that can serve multiple purposes (e.g using a leather jacket as a raincoat, blanket, makeshift pillow, and picnic blanket) deserve priority. If anything, underpack
so you can have room for any souvenirs you might pick up and to avoid racking up a bill at the chiropractors.
Embrace the feral-ness of the hostel dorm
If you’re travelling on a budget, you’ll likely be staying in hostels during your trip. While sharing a room with 13 strangers may seem daunting, or odd, at first the (relatively minor) sacrifices you make in personal privacy, convenience, and comfort is beyond worth it for all the friends you’ll make.
Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that living out of a bag and in hostels is hardly the definition of glamorous. Before you check-in, always manifest and pray to the travel gods for a bottom bunk. Your stay is made infinitely better with a bottom bunk. Not only can you avoid constantly climbing up the creaky ladder and precariously rocking the entire bunk in the process, but more importantly, you don’t have to be the one subjecting the bottom bunk person to a jumpscare of your toes every morning.
As your bunk is probably the only thing that you don’t have to share communally in the hostel, it pays to get creative with making the absolutely most out of the 91 x 188cm space you’ve been allotted. Your bed isn’t just for sleeping in—it’s your drying rack for all the socks you washed in the sink with bar soap, or even a DIY changing room (if there’s privacy curtains) when the bathrooms are full.
Eventually, the fact that you’re sharing your sleeping quarters with complete randoms barely crosses your mind. The ever-present sounds of bags rustling at 5am as people pack up their stuff, snoring, coughing, footsteps of partiers sneaking in after a night out, becomes ambient noticeable, especially with the help of some trusty earplugs and an eye mask. Same goes with living in a perpetual state of grubbiness—after a few days, it becomes remarkably easier to ignore the weird stains on the bed sheets and wearing the same sweaty, sunscreen-smeared clothing over and over again.
Except for the fortunate few, everyone gets sick at some point in their trip. Travelling really fucks up your immune system—from the beige food diet, the whack sleep schedule, the overconsumption of alcohol, to being constantly surrounded by other travellers infected with the annoyingly persistent hostel cough. Having your own meds means you don’t have to drag yourself to the pharmacy when you’re on your deathbed and then describe to the staff in detail all of your stomach issues using Google Translate.
The tourist spots are indeed touristy
Europe is a popular bitch and with that comes insane crowds. Places like the Trevi Fountain, the Versailles Palace, and the Louvre are pretty much constantly packed with people in the summer, even if you show up early.
It’s not just the touristy spots, the transport connecting people to the touristy locations also gets extremely full and hot. Your face will probably be shoved underneath a moist armpit or two. If you’re really lucky like me, you’ll even find yourself wrenching your leg out of the train doors after being body slammed by a group of Karens.
Get your palate ready for hostel cuisine
Budget backpacking means you’ll likely be mostly eating supermarket food and cooking in hostel kitchens. If you thought broke student uni meals were strange, hostel cuisine takes this to a new level. After all, it’s hard to be Gordon Ramsay when the “kitchen” ends up being a microwave plonked on a table, or you’ve only got severely misshapen pans with broken handles at your disposal. Be prepared to survive off some weird, but mostly edible, dinners. And unless you’re willing to carry around a salt shaker and a bottle of oil for months, sometimes your food will be appallingly bland if you can’t scavenge any in the back of a hostel pantry or off another fellow backpacker.
Luckily, there’s a shared etiquette amongst backpackers to never judge whatever people are eating at the dining table. You can only fit so many groceries in your backpack so sometimes dinner will be a packet of Uncle Ben’s rice paired with a half-eaten pot of hummus. But don’t worry, another traveller will probably tell you, “that looks so good!” as they reluctantly eat their stale bread roll and can of tuna.
Europe, the Land Down Under!
Not sure how or why, but it seems like Europe is invaded by our lovely neighbours across the ditch every single summer. As you stroll leisurely through the cobblestone streets, expect to dodge swarms of mullet and pornstache-donned Australian guys and hear choruses of “oh naurrrs.”
Be prepared to become a full time Geography teacher
When you’re abroad and meeting people from other places, it quickly becomes apparent how little everyone seems to know about our humble abode. People will ask you, with a straight face, if New Zealand is an English speaking country, or where it is on the map. As an upstanding Kiwi citizen, you will be obliged to present a basic geography lesson and recite some fun facts.
Gotta collect them all
As you traverse around, you’ll probably collect the different types of scam artists like Pokemon. For the most part, they’re mostly harmless (e.g the flower ladies, just walk away from their “free” flower offering), but there are a few that may be more sinister (e.g the men who will try to aggressively shove a friendship bracelet onto your wrist and then demand a 30 euro payment).
Set aside an emergency fund
No matter how much research you think you’ve done, fuck ups are bound to happen. Don’t get cocky because as soon as I did, I missed an entire flight after being held back by security for looking “suspicious.”
Guard your shit with your life
There’s a reason why people are yelling “attenzione pickpocket!” all over Tik Tok, you can never be too careful with your belongings while travelling. Unfortunately, the horror stories of travellers having their entire bag, phone or passport nicked is pretty common. If you’re anything like me and it’s physically impossible for you to stay awake on public transport, it’s worth investing in a small cable lock to help secure your bag to a stable item like a chair, or even yourself, to prevent being stolen from while you’re having your third nap of the day.
Don’t expect any existential qualms to be solved
All that “soul-searching” shit is bullshit and only believed by pretentious travel influencers whose only personality trait is that they’ve been to 102 countries. You will learn some important life lessons but you will not discover the meaning of life after you see the Eiffel tower.