By Imogen Wakefield
Backpacking Europe is almost a rite of passage enabling college-aged people to gain life experience through traveling. It is quite literally the journey of a lifetime and feels like the world is at your fingertips!
I lived and studied in Barcelona, Spain for four months, which turned out to be a life changing experience in itself. That completed, I packed up my (ridiculously large) accumulation of clothing and crammed it into my (equally way too large) backpack and headed off to visit 10 European countries in a whirlwind two-month period.
I visited amazing places, experienced food from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is, however, always a downside and it was pretty large and ever present- the challenge of finding accommodations.
If you’re around my age, which is 21, you probably first turn to hostels when it comes to accommodations. But before you rush into anything, let me tell you about my experiences – and a few avoidable issues that can crop up when booking accommodations.
I am not a morning person and I’m not the nicest person when not fully rested. Right off the bat you can see how combining this with sleep deprivation is dangerous. While backpacking, I ran into the problem of dorm room living. Like me, your experience of sleeping in a dorm room may have come from childhood camps where everyone tried to stay up as late as possible because saying you pulled an all-nighter was cool. Now instead of rowdy children, you’ve got rowdy adults, average age around 25. The latter just doesn’t have the same charm does it? Over my two month backpacking trip, every hostel I stayed in had at least one person was there to have a good time with no regard for the other people around.
The common solution to this problem that most people suggested to me was, “get a private room.” It sounds like such an obvious solution! However, after doing research you will find that a private room in a hostel can cost the same, if not more than a hotel room, and you still have to wear your flip flops in the shower. I have come to the conclusion that when you go on vacation, your flip-flops’ sole purpose should be for the beach, not for hygienic protection. So instead of a private hostel room my friend and I decided to stay in a hotel room, nothing too fancy but it cost roughly $75 per night, or $37.50 per person a night. Important note: European establishments are allowed to label themselves as hotels while lacking amenities such as air-conditioning in 80-90 degree weather. I could have handled the heat if it wasn’t for what happened next. Bed bugs. This is not a joke, I laugh now but at the time I was a force to be reckoned with to say the least. After a very heated discussion with the hotel owner, I got my money back and I was out of there.
After doing a little more research we decided to splurge and stay in a REAL hotel. Don’t get me wrong; the hotel was great, long bath and a great night’s sleep but the only problem was that it cost $200 a night. This clearly wasn’t a viable solution. At this point you might be wondering why I titled this blog, “How I Saved My Sanity” when it clearly seems like I lost it during my trip. Stay with me here…
With little sanity left, we decided to stay in a vacation rental. I know, the name already sounds like it has to cost more than a hostel or hotels, but after all of our previous failures I figured we had nothing to lose. What I found changed my entire trip. I could stay in a private apartment or house in a great location with access to a kitchen and washer and dryer.
Quick reflection on those amenities... First, the washer and dryer – I must give them the recognition and appreciation they deserve. Having a washer and dryer while backpacking is an incredible luxury. Never in my life have I wanted to hug an electrical appliance, but after wearing the same three outfits for two weeks in a row, I wanted to embrace them! We also saved money on food by cooking in the vacation rental and doing our own laundry. I thought it couldn’t get better until a host gave us a bottle of wine for being such good guests. (Side note: I recommend French wine.)
We spent the rest of our trip in vacation rentals and never looked back. Please don’t waste a third of your precious trip before learning that vacation rentals are the best option. Backpacking Europe isn’t relaxing. You are busy all the time, seeing so much in such a short space of time that you really just don’t have any time to spare on being worried about not getting a good night’s sleep, bed bugs or spending too much. You deserve a spacious, quiet place to relax after your adventures, which saves your precious money for the important things (French wine).
P.S. If you're not convinced, here is a breakdown of prices per night (per person) in some of the major European cities.
Good luck and Bon Voyage!