North to South’s Tips for a Smoother Europe Trip

North to South's Tips for a Smoother Europe Trip

Want to plan a low-stress European vacation? These tips will get you well on your way! 

This year, we learned a thing or two about backpacking Europe. By plane, train, car, bus, and foot we traveled all around the continent, visiting twelve countries in two months (view our itinerary here). And not only did we survive, but we also had a quite relaxing time. If you want to enjoy a low-hassle Euro trip of your own, use our easy-to-follow list of tips to guide you!

1. Pack Light

If you’re backpacking and moving around a lot, this is the single most important thing you can do to have a more enjoyable trip. Travel with just one bag, with a max weight of 20 pounds. See how we packed for visiting twelve European countries in two months in just one bag.

2. Wear Comfortable Shoes

You must have comfortable shoes if you want to enjoy your Europe trip. Don’t limit your mobility by sacrificing comfort for fashion. I wore my running shoes every single day of our two-month trip — I packed both running shoes and flip flops — and I never regretted my decision to wear those shoes.

3. Carry a Useful Map or Guide

I don’t recommend packing bulky guidebooks because they’re a pain to carry and use. You can use these for planning before your trip, but once you’re there, I recommend either having something digital (on your phone) or lightweight on hand that you can pull out for quick reference.

We were just introduced to Use It (free maps for young travelers created by locals) by a student in Brussels. The maps are full of honest, helpful tips on worthwhile things to see in a city plus they give you a feel for the local culture. Most of the to-do’s are ultra budget friendly, too. Use It offers both paper maps and an iPhone app for several cities in Europe. If you’re a budget traveler, you should check them out!

4. Use Your Smart Phone

While some cities are great about WiFi access, it’s not a universal offering. Look into getting a cellular data plan before you go. Check with your cell service provider to see what they offer for international data. If it’s not reasonable, there are other options. We ordered a Spanish SIM card with a rechargeable pay-as-you-go data plan with free roaming in Europe. At €1 per 100MB, it wasn’t super cheap, but it was the perfect plan to have for those times when free public WiFi was nowhere in sight.

Whether you have a data plan or not, download an offline map of the area you’ll be exploring before you head out for the day. Having a currency converter is pretty essential, too.

5. Pack a Snack

Emergency chocolate is a real thing. Throughout your trip, carry a granola bar or other calorie dense throw-in-your-bag type of snack so you don’t need to find food right when you begin feeling hungry.

6. Carry Cash… and 2 Credit Cards

Having both cash and credit cards is the best way to ensure you are always able to pay for whatever you need. We kept a small amount of cash on hand but used our credit card, earning travel reward points, whenever possible. We carried two debit cards (one with and one without a security chip) and two credit cards (both with chips) and got in the habit of visiting an ATM as soon as we arrived in a city with a new (to us) currency. We’d then break a large bill for smaller bills and coins ASAP. Airports and bus stations typically have ATMs inside or nearby.

Don’t forget to tell your bank and credit card companies your travel schedule.

Check your bank’s policy on foreign withdrawals to determine the right quantity and frequency of ATM visits for you. Our bank charges a maximum 1% foreign transaction fee, and most ATMs in Europe didn’t even charge a fee for non-member users, so we didn’t bother strategizing our ATM visits — we just got more cash out when running low.

I recommend carrying at least enough cash to cover a restaurant meal, some small coins for paid-use toilets (they’re worth it because they’re clean), and keep in mind that not all countries use the Euro (view the Eurozone here). Having two credit cards is useful, too, in case one doesn’t work.

7. Don’t Try to See Too Much

Europe in particular is one of those travel destinations where tourists try to jam as much as they can into their time there. This can easily lead to exhaustion and crankiness. I recommend spending at the very least two or three days in any particular destination and moving on to a nearby city (2-3 hours away) next. And don’t forget to incorporate some down time in your itinerary. Alone time, too, if you’re traveling with others.

Learn how we planned a smart, affordable route for our Europe trip (luckily the smartest routes are also the cheapest).

8. Freshen Up Regularly

European cities aren’t the cleanest places. Throughout the day you’ll touch plenty of germy door handles and encounter a fair number of smokers. I always try to carry a pack of hand wipes with me and wash my hands really thoroughly whenever I had the opportunity. The hand wipes are great for use before chowing down on street food and for wiping off sunscreen once the sun’s gone down. I only use and recommend hand sanitizer when I’m in close quarters with visibly sick people.

I also recommend building in time for a quick shower and some down time between day and nighttime activities. You’ll feel so much better heading out at night if you’ve had time to reset and are freshly clean!

9. Take a Small Daypack

A lightweight daypack was a huge essential for our trip. Between the two of us, we took turns carrying one small, lightweight daypack everywhere we went in Europe.

Inside I recommend carrying a lightweight jacket, granola bar, and water. I typically carry a lightweight camera with a comfortable neck strap (learn how to make one here) around my neck, but I save space in my daypack for when I want to remove it. There’s also extra space inside for grabbing a few grocery items on the way home. Other things you’d find in our bag at various points in our trip: rain pants and jackets, a USB battery, and waterproof bag for a camera.

10. Pack Water!

Stay hydrated. Everywhere you go (except through airport security), you should have a water bottle with you and remember to sip it throughout the day!


If you found this post helpful, check out our other Europe posts. Have an awesome Europe trip!

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

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