I first backpacked through Europe in 2006, a trip that changed my life. The exhilarating experience opened my mind to all the possibilities the world held for me, and influenced my decision to travel full-time. I fell in love with the remarkable sights, cities, and diverse cultures. I wanted to immerse myself in all of them. Over the years, I have backpacked through Europe multiple times and always come back a stronger and more rounded person.
This May, Europe will be one of my first stops on my “around the world tour”. Alot lot of people tell me that they would love to go backpacking across Europe, but they’re afraid or nervous of what can happen so far from home. I am here to tell you that you will be fine! Throughout my multiple months in Europe, I have never once felt threatened, scared, or nervous.
Ok, so you finally saved enough money, but now your fears and worries have you on the fence about backpacking Europe, I have two pieces of advice for you.
- Do it, and do it now!
- You will make mistakes. It is part of backpacking. However, these misadventures aren’t necessarily bad and following my guidelines will not only limit them but will help protect you and your valuables while traveling.
BACKPACKING EUROPE SAFETY TIPS
Book you hostels ahead of time. I have met a lot of people (myself included) that struggle with this at first. For me personally, I felt I would lose some excitement and spontaneity by knowing exactly where and when I would arrive somewhere. However, you’re feeling of safety plummets to zero after getting to your destination to find every hostel full and you have to spend the night outside in the cold, sleeping on a bench or at an airport. You learn quickly that it’s not a bad idea to book your hostel at least two nights in advance. In the busier travel hubs, like Paris and London, you might want to book at least a week in advance. Chances are you already have a rough outline of where you want to go, and when you want to get there anyway. Booking your hostels in advance is just smart.
You need a money belt! Money belts are extremely good at three things.
- Your important documents are safe.
- Your documents are nice, neat, and organized.
- Your documents are easily retrievable.
I was once traveling with someone who didn’t have a money belt. A few days into their travels, they had dropped their debt card and I.D into the crowd of thousands at a summer solstice party at Stonehenge (they were never seen again). That hurts! Not only is it a huge hassle to replace these items and cancel out the lost ones, but it also takes away from your precious travel time.
Copy Your Important Documents
Always have backup copies of your bank/credit cards and other important documents. I suggest making three.
- Keep one set hidden in your backpack.
- Give one set to a family member at home.
- Store an electronic set on the cloud or email.
Copies of your important documents will make life easier in the event that they become lost or stolen, and these copies will also help verify your identity when trying to replace them. Another good idea is to store important phone numbers in the cloud or email.
Carry Emergency Cash
Always have enough cash tucked safely away so that if necessary, you could live for a couple of days. This has saved me more than once when I have had problems with my debit and credit cards. The emergency cash will save you unneeded frustration of having money wired, and lets you focus on dealing with the bank or credit companies instead of worrying about how you are going to eat that day.
Know What Areas To Avoid
I was in Athens, Greece when they were having the bad forest fires that crept up to the city. I was also in London during the riots of 2010. Was I nervous? No, not really. Why? Because I knew exactly what areas to avoid. If you are in a city where you don’t feel quite comfortable, do some research. If I am nervous about being in a country talk to people who live there. People who work at hostels are great for this. They will let you know what areas to avoid.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Don’t always be looking over your shoulder wondering if you are about to get robbed. I personally have never had a close encounter or even a scare, however, you should always be aware of your surroundings, grasshopper! It helps to keep these things in your mind.
The most important thing is to trust your gut, if your gut is telling you that you are headed toward a mishap, listen to it.
We live in a world of apps. There are apps for everything nowadays, and that includes some really good travel apps. These include apps that let you plan your itinerary, like Trip it, to apps that translate languages for you like Google Translate. These great tools for new and veteran travelers alike.
Watch out for Scammers
Beware of scammers around tourist spots. Scammers flock to main tourist attractions especially in big cities. Scammers are persistent and while they don’t mean you any physical harm, they do want to hurt your bank account. How do you know if someone’s a Scammer? Trust your gut! If someone is trying to lure you into making a deal that’s too good to be true, guess what? It is! Also, never sign a petition that gives any personal information including your personal email. Don’t entertain strangers that are trying to sell jewelry they just found or relics of old. These are a few of the scams I have seen in Europe. The best way to deal with scammers is just to say, “No, thank you”, and if they persist ignore them. It is not rude to ignore someone who is trying to take advantage of you. It is important to remember that not everyone wants to scam you, but it your gut is telling you not to do something, don’t. Feel free to email me about your experience as this is something I will have more in-depth writing on this in the future.
Don’t carry everything whether you’re going out for a night on the town or just going out to sightsee. Instead of carrying everything with you, leave anything you don’t need, safely locked in your hostel. I always carry one credit/debit card and a photo ID (never carry your passport if you plan on drinking) in my money belt and leave the rest in the hostel. Likewise, when going out at night, take enough cash out with you so that you don’t have to go to an ATM unless it’s an emergency. Again, always be aware of your valuables and try to keep all non-essentials locked in the hostel as much as possible.
Communicate With Your Bank And Credit Card Companies
Let your bank and credit card company know you are leaving. I have seen banks and credit card companies shut down people’s spending power after a couple of weeks because they are unsure about all the foreign transactions. No doubt, they are trying to protect you, but it can be very frustrating to be in a foreign country with a card that doesn’t work. It is much easier to let your companies know that you are leaving the country and how long you will be gone. This ensures that you will have nothing to worry about.
Choose Your Arrival Date
No matter what method of travel you are using, picking an arrival time during the day will make you feel a lot safer. While I have never felt unsafe traveling at night, it is intimidating to arrive in a strange city at an ungodly hour. If you don’t have any choice but to travel at night, write down exactly how to get to your accommodation as well as their telephone number. Alot lot of Hostels/Hotels let you arrange a ride from the airport. (You can usually find this information on Hostel World) I also try to take long journeys on buses or trains at night to save on accommodations with the added bonus that you also usually arrive sometimes in the morning. Beware: train and bus stations are not as safe as airports, so you want to keep an eye open for pickpockets and scammers.
Go On A Tour
Tours have their pros and cons.
- Tours offer security in numbers.
- Detailed itinerary about where you’re going and doing.
- Great way to make friends.
- Easy way to get to know a country.
- When a company arranges everything for you, there could be a lack of adventure.
- You have to read the fine print. Make sure the tour fits your personality.
- Lack of freedom. They choose how long you have to stay in an area.
- Tours can be more expensive than traveling on your own.
Starting an adventure with a tour is a great way to become comfortable in a new country before you embark out on your own.
It saddens me when people tell me there are too afraid to travel. Traveling is wonderful, the most life changing experience I’ve ever had and most of these tips will become second nature after a while. No one is perfect and when you add in language barriers, train and plane schedules sometimes things will go wrong. However, a part of traveling is making mistakes and figuring out what works best for you. Follow these tips and I guarantee your trip will go a lot easier.
What do you think of these tips? What would you add or take away? What experiences have you had using these tips? Let your voice be heard in the comments below.