Usually a month or two around Europe is people’s first big step into their gap year. You’ll want to see Big Ben in London, the Louvre in Paris, and visit Vatican city- and although all these places were amazing to look at, it seems the experiences I had in Europe are more vivid in my memory than the monuments I saw.
Make sure you aren’t just checking things off a list and going to bed early each night, just to wake up early and sight-see. Party your butt off! Go to festivals. Save a little extra money for adventures like skydiving. Do a little research so you don’t miss out of amazing opportunities.
Top 10 Backpacking Europe Experiences
1. Going to La Tomatina or San Fermin in Spain. Running with the bulls in Pamplona can be dangerous and I’ve met a couple of guys who did it and said “never again” but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch from a balcony above. La Tomatina is a giant tomato throwing food fight, and is a world-famous party. There are more famous ones like Zurichs summer parade, and of course Oktoberfest. Check out this article on Tomatina from Nomadic Matt’s site.
2. Adventure thrills in Interlaken. I wrote a piece on how Interlaken is a tourist hub, but that should divert you from going. Tourists go for a reason, whether it be canyoning, ice climbing, sky diving, or hang-gliding. Interlaken is a tiny town between two clean glacier lakes in Alps, and probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
Canyoning and hang-gliding in Interlaken.. unforgettable.
3. Party Hard in Barcelona. Sounds cheesy, but truly this city is a machine. Sight-see, have some sangria and tapas, then explore the nightlife. Don’t bother going to the clubs until after 1 AM and you’ll be out past sunrise. My favorite strip of clubs was at Port Olympic, easily accessible by local transportation. Here are more tips on Barcelona. And remember, it’s not bad to party while backpacking (as long as it’s not all you do); nightlife is part of a country’s culture.
our couchsurfing host in Barcelona- perfect way to explore the local nightlife scene
leaving Barcelona a happy chica!
4. Couchsurf. Even compared to the US, Europe is more “free” and open-minded. I loved learning from my couchsurfing hosts. You’ll make a new friend, have a tour guide, a free place to stay, and get a locals point of view. Do your research and find someone who meshes well with you. You might get lucky like I did staying with scuba instructors on the beautiful island Santorini. Here are 9 safety tips for couchsurfing. It’s a great option even if you are a solo traveler. Remember, that you need to give back by not only being a great guest, but by hosting people in your home as well!
- SIGN UP here and create an account, it’s free!
5. Go to a Huge Music Festival. I went to one in Serbia that was very unique and it made me want more. The queen of documenting music festivals might be Alex in Wanderland (read her tips on Tomorrowland in Belgium). The one I’d love to go to is Glastonbury in England, mainly because of the great acts and Kate Moss wellies ;) Other huge ones are Exit in Serbia, Calvi on the Rocks in Corsica, and Roskilde in Denmark. Check out this guide: 15 music festivals to go to in 2015.
6. Journeying by train. This may seem like a no-brainer, but for us Americans, we don’t use train travel and unless we grew up in a big city, might not have used public buses or even metros. Learning how to navigate a metro and running to catch a train last-minute are all part of the backpacking experience. You’re bound to make at least one mistake (FYI the trains sometimes split apart and go different ways mid-journey). Buying a Eurail pass makes it all a bit easier and more affordable but do know that you’ll have to pay reservation fees sometimes and still book your train ahead of time.
7. Go Sailing (Party sailing!). I hadn’t heard of this when I went to Europe or I would have been ALL OVER IT. The first I saw about it was this article: Sailing Experience with the Yacht Week Croatia then I saw a negative light of it with this one: Review of Party Yachting with Sailing.hr So make sure you do your research and it seems like it’d be the best week of your life.
8. Play tourist. I feel it’s necessary to say it because it’s not all party, not learning while in Europe. There’s so much to learn and it’s easy to do so cheaply with the help of FREE walking tours (tips only and will help you to see all the most famous monuments), city passes, passes for kids under 26, checking out signs up in your hostel, and checking out museums.
9. Eating out even if your budget is small. Lots of backpacking cook in their hostel, even I did sometimes. It saves loads of money. If you’re that tight on your budget, it’s best to couchsurf and ask your host to teach you to cook something local (you should pay for the groceries), but better yet save a little more and go out to eat! You don’t have to go to a fine dining establishment (which are usually more intercontinental anyways) but instead have street food! There’s no better way to experience a country than through its food.
local cevapi in Bosnia, affordable and delicious!
10. Try to go East, but don’t kick yourself if you can’t. Seeing Eastern Europe is so exciting and different from Western Europe, but it’s also a big step to try to “see it all” and can sometimes be better to save it for another trip. Don’t let people tell you going to London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome is too touristy of an option. There is a snobbery around traveling, that you are better than! Only see what you have time for and travel slow.
Now, a little inspiration so you can book that flight!
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