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Backpacking Europe alone after high school is one of the biggest clichés out there.
I’m proud to say that I avoided that cliché and travelled Europe alone for the first time right after University. 😉
Cliché or not, there is a reason why backpacking Europe alone is one of the most popular things for young people interested in travel to do.
Hell. I travel Europe alone as often and as frequently as I can even though it has been years since my first solo trip to Europe!
Europe is my favourite place on the planet, and the best part is it is super easy for solo travellers to explore Europe.
However, there are a few things I wish I knew before backpacking Europe alone.
These things would have saved me a lot of anxiety, money, and a few tears along the way.
If you’re planning your first backpacking trip through Europe, this is the post for you!
Hopefully you’re a little bit more prepared than I was!
You Don’t Have to Stay in Hostels
When I was researching before my first solo trip to Europe, every blog I read said that solo travellers stay in hostels.
The fact that I had to stay in hostels, and there were no other affordable options was beat into my head.
There were other reasons, such as the social aspect, that people were recommending hostels. But those reasons didn’t resonate with me as an extreme introvert.
The biggest thing I wish I knew before backpacking Europe alone is that I didn’t have to stay in hostels.
They’re a great, affordable option.
But they’re not the only option.
I spent months staying in hostels and hating it. They’re just not my jam.
If you’re like me and don’t love hostels, know that there are tons of affordable options out there!
I highly recommend you try to find guest houses to stay in or Airbnbs.
A lot of the time they are less expensive to stay in than a budget hotel and aren’t much more expensive than a hostel.
They’re a great option for people like me who don’t enjoy staying in hostels but also don’t want to spend a ton of money on lodging.
Of course, there are limits to how well this works.
If you’re in an expensive city like London, you’re going to be paying a pretty penny no matter where you stay.
So, figure out what your budget is and research all your options before automatically searching and booking a hostel.
Don’t Take Internet Safety Lightly
Not enough people take internet safety seriously when they travel, and that is a mistake.
In fact, being internet safe is one of the most important travel safety tips I can give you!
As a traveller, you connect to public wifi networks on a daily basis, and this puts your devices at risk of being hacked.
And, yes, even hotel and café wifi networks that have a password are considered public wifi networks!
Anybody can access public wifi networks, and you’d be surprised at how easy it is for someone to steal your online data without you even knowing it.
I can’t imagine a worse scenario than backpacking Europe alone and having someone steal my banking information.
The hassle of canceling all your banking cards and then trying to figure out a way to fund the rest of your trip is not the type of thing you want to deal with when you’re on a solo trip.
The only way you can protect your devices when using a public wifi network is by installing a VPN on your devices.
A VPN essentially puts a forcefield around your devices and makes it impossible for prying eyes to access your online information.
It makes using a public wifi network just as safe as using your home wifi where you’re the only person who knows the password.
In my mind, installing a VPN on your devices is a non-negotiable.
It is the responsible thing to do, and there are no excuses for not protecting your online information and data when you travel.
My Favourite VPN
I’ve used quite a few different VPNs over my years of travel, and, to be frank, most of them suck.
They slow your phone down to a snail’s pace. It is so frustrating to use most VPNs that you end up turning them off and exposing your online information.
Which totally defeats the purpose of having a VPN!
The only VPN I use and trust now is NordVPN.
I’ve been using them since 2018 and have no plans change provider.
They are the fastest VPN on the market, which is why I recommend them to my fellow travel lovers.
We need our internet to be quick, and if you’re like me, you don’t have the patience to deal with lagging internet.
That is never an issue with NordVPN.
You hardly notice a difference in the speed of your internet. You can use your devices and be safe without sacrificing any internet speed.
Plus a NordVPN subscription is super affordable.
It costs less than a latte per month, and you can install a VPN on up to six devices with on subscription.
There are no excuses not to protect your online information and data when backpacking Europe alone.
My motto is that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to protect your online information and date!
Get Off the Beaten Path
One of the biggest mistakes most people backpacking Europe alone make is not getting off the beaten path and visiting less popular tourist destinations.
This includes what cities you choose to visit and what you choose to see and do in those cities.
Even if you only visit the most popular cities in Europe, there are still less common things you can do to experience a different side of the city.
Now that I’m an experienced traveller, there is nothing I love more than finding lesser known cities and exploring them.
They give you a different taste of what life in that country is like without all the tourists swarming around.
There is nothing wrong with visiting the most popular tourist sights and cities.
They’re popular for a reason!
I just think you should also go out of your way to see a different part of the place you’re travelling.
Taking a day trip to a nearby town or village is one of the easiest ways to get off the beaten path and see more of a country.
I personally like to spend three or four days in three or four different cities when I visit a country, but I know not everybody has time for that.
All I’m asking is that you do at least one thing on your backpacking trip through Europe that can’t be found on the first page of every guide book ever written.
Set a Realistic Budget
This is one of the biggest mistakes I made the first time I was backpacking Europe alone.
I read a ton of blogs that said you should only spend $50/day in Europe. That’s all you need.
It created this image in my mind that $50 is what I should spend a day, and if I spent more than $50, I wasn’t a very good traveller.
Now I know that is absolute rubbish, but I didn’t back in 2015 when I went on my first solo trip to Europe.
I also failed to take into consideration the exchange rate. The blogs were referring to $50 USD/day. I was budgeting $50 CAD/day, which came out to about $32 USD/day!
If there is only one tip for backpacking Europe alone on this list you listen to, let it be this one.
Do not blindly listen to anybody on the internet who tells you how much it costs to travel anywhere.
That is their experience. You can use it is a guide, but do not take it as a hard fact.
Instead, think about what your travel style is. How you imagine your backpacking trip to Europe looks and go from there.
You’re travelling alone, so if you underestimate how much money you need, you’re kind of screwed.
There is nobody travelling with you that you can potentially borrow money from, and you need to figure out how to make too little money stretch your entire trip.
It is not a fun place to be!
So, set a realistic budget and have a little extra money saved just in case some things are more expensive than you anticipate.
You don’t want to have to skip meals or stay in terrible accommodation just because you didn’t set a realistic budget!
Backpacking Europe Alone Isn’t Glamorous
Backpacking Europe alone is over glamorized in the media.
Images of meeting an Italian man and falling in love, finding your true self, and becoming an influencer are attached to the idea of travelling Europe aline.
While all those things are possible, I’m here to tell you that they are not the norm.
Backpacking Europe alone is amazing- don’t get me wrong- but it isn’t quite as romantic as you might think it is.
I guarantee that you’ll shed a few tears, your clothes will stink (and you’ll hate doing laundry), you’ll get lost more times than you can count, and I see a number of cheap grocery store meals in your future.
It’s all part of backpacking Europe alone, and it also might be some of the best parts of it!
If you’re going into Europe with your rose coloured glasses on, you’ll be disappointed.
One of the fun parts about backpacking Europe alone is figuring out how to solve the little problems that pop up along the way.
Because trust me no trip goes 100% to plan!
And, in my opinion, the best way to make sure your solo trip to Europe is amazing is to have realistic expectations and know that what you see in the media probably isn’t how your trip is going to go.
But it will undoubtably be an amazing trip though!
Currency Can be a Pain in the Butt
A lot of people think of Europe and see it as one big economic zone where everything is the same.
While a lot of European countries use the Euro, there are many who don’t. And that makes currency a bit of a pain.
Not only do you have to figure out how to get the different currencies you need, you also need to keep the currency conversion straight in your head.
Again, it isn’t much of an issue if you only visit countries that use the Euro, but most people visit countries with different currencies.
When you’re backpacking Europe alone, you need to have a plan on how you’re going to handle all the different currencies you need.
My recommendation is to get convert some of your money into the currency of the first country you’re visiting before you leave.
You’ll have money to pay for whatever transportation you need to take when you land and buy food.
You do not want to deal with converting currency after a long flight when you’re tired and just want to get to your accommodation!
After that, I like to use ATMs to the currency I need for the rest of my trip.
Beware of ATMs in Europe
ATMs can cause a bit of confusion in Europe.
The most important thing you need to remember is to never select the option that does the currency conversion for you and removes money from your bank account in your local currency.
Always select the option to have the money withdrawn in the local currency and let your bank do the conversion.
ATMs in Europe are notorious for giving you a horrible exchange rate, and you’ll waste a lot of money if you remove money in your home currency rather than the local one.
No matter what option you choose, you will receive money in the local currency. I know that section may sound confusing, but it will make sense once you get to Europe.
Another major tip I can give you is don’t take too much money out at one time.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve overestimated how much money I’ll need and then have a bunch of left over currency that isn’t accepted in the next country I’m visiting.
It is a fine line to walk between getting enough money versus getting too much money.
Finally, be sure you have a currency conversion app on your phone. It helps you keep track of what the local currency is doing based on your home currency.
This is a huge help for staying on budget and understanding what you’re paying for things while backpacking Europe alone.
Transportation is a Breeze
I was a bit nervous about getting around Europe on my first backpacking trip. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and didn’t want to spend a ton of money and fly from place to place.
It didn’t take long before I learned that Europe isn’t like other parts of the world (like Asia) where it can be a challenge to get from city to city and country to country.
There are trains and buses that take you pretty much anywhere you need to go.
Even across international borders!
The last time I was in Europe for an extended period of time, I took a total of four flights in three months!
From London to Dublin and back. From London to Finland. And Prague to Paris more due to needing to be in Paris quickly for an event rather than there not being a way to overland between the two cities.
The only thing you need to be aware of is there are some countries where the price of train tickets steeply rise the closer you get to the day of departure.
If you’re travelling within or between these two countries, be sure you book your train ticket as early as possible.
Tickets go on sale three months in advance, and you want to buy your tickets as shortly after that as possible.
If you’re not a planner, the bus may be a better option than the train. Bus ticket’s don’t see a price increase the same way train tickets do.
But, transportation is not something that should hold you back from backpacking Europe alone.
It is super easy to use, and even a beginner traveller can breeze their way around Europe without too much sweat.
Don’t Ignore Eastern Europe
Okay. So, this is one thing I did know before backpacking Europe alone, but I feel like not enough people know it!
Eastern Europe is amazing and doesn’t get enough love!
I’m talking the Baltic States, the Balkans, Central Europe, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, everything outside Western Europe really.
Most of my favourite European countries are outside of Western Europe and along the road less travelled.
They are beautiful, full of history, and are home to some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
And as a bonus for people backpacking Europe alone, they are extremely affordable.
I once got a plate of pierogi, a salad, steamed vegetables, a drink, and a piece of cake for about $10 USD in Ukraine! Where else are you going to find such great value in Europe?!
I fully understand the desire to tour Western Europe. It is home to some of the most iconic sights in Europe.
But that doesn’t mean that Eastern Europe deserves to be ignored.
I highly, highly, highly recommend you arrange your itinerary so you spend at least a third of your trip in Eastern or Central Europe.
Not only will your wallet thank you, but I have a feeling it will also result in some of the best memories that come out of your trip.
Take Your Time
I’m seeing a trend here, and it is following bloggers blindly.
Says the person who is now a travel blogger writing this post.
But the blogging content put out in 2014/2015 when I was planning my trip and backpacking alone in Europe is vastly different from what is online now.
Back then, I saw post after post after post saying you should never stay in a city more than 3 days.
Yes. That includes major cities like London and Paris!
The sentiment online at that time was you have to keep moving and see as much as possible as quickly as possible or you’re not travelling properly.
Thankfully the travel blog world has change a bit, and now there is more of a focus on slowing down and getting a more in-depth taste of a city or country.
I spent the first month and a half of my backpacking trip to Europe rushing around. I was exhausted from never settling in anywhere and never having a break to people watch in a café.
Don’t be like me!
Thankfully I figured out that it is worthwhile to slow down and spend more time in each city.
It is much more enjoyable, relaxing, and it gives you a better appreciation for the place you’re visiting.
I mean it is ridiculous to think that you can get a true taste of a major European city in three days or less. That’s nonsense.
I’m not going to tell you how much time to spend in each place.
That’s super personal and changes based on what city you’re visitng.
I am going to tell you to do your research and figure out a reasonable time to stay to see everything you want to do.
I also like to add on an extra day just in case the weather is bad, I’m tired one day, or I discover something else I want to do.
Plus, you can always take a day trip if you don’t need that extra day!
Backpacking Europe Alone is Safe but Know the Local Scams
Before I went on my first solo trip to Europe, I had people in my life telling me it wasn’t safe for solo female travellers.
Or that certain countries (like Ukraine) I planned to visit weren’t safe.
I didn’t listen to them and went on my trip anyways, but I would be lying if I wasn’t a bit nervous at the start of my trip.
Especially when I got to some of the lesser travelled countries in the Balkans.
Now I know that it wasn’t something I ever had to worry about, and you don’t have to either!
Europe is very safe.
Even in less financially rich countries you don’t have anything to worry about.
You can start backpacking alone in Europe and know that you’re safe and don’t have to stress over your personal safety.
The one thing you do need to worry about though is knowing local scams.
Every country and city in the world has local scams.
These can range from something as simple as pick pocketing to something much more elaborate like people not giving you the proper change or giving your counterfeit money.
You need to be aware of what the local scams are wherever you’re going.
This will help you know what to look out for.
As a solo traveller, you are solely responsible for your safety. You don’t have a friend to watch your back, so it is even more important you familiarize yourself with local scams.
But, aside from scams, Europe is super safe. Even for solo female travellers.
Best European Countries for Solo Travellers
There you have it. You’re now in the know and are more prepared for your first solo trip to Europe than I was!
Europe is one of the best and easiest places for solo travellers. Even if you’re a complete beginner, you can successfully backpack Europe alone.
If I can do it, you can do it. I was a horrible traveller when I first backpacked Europe alone.
It is so important to understand that not everything is going to be perfect and know that you’ll have to problem solve along the way.
Backpacking Europe alone is one of the best experiences you’ll have in your life.
The continent is so full of life, food, and beauty. And no two countries are the same!
So, book that ticket, strap your backpack on, and have the time of your life!