3) How to pack
Pack lightly. I hate to be blunt, but packing lightly will save you a lot of stress in the long run. Bring a few pairs of jeans, a bit more shirts (t-shirts, dress and regular), underwear and lots—LOTS—of socks. The reason for the latter is that it’s not as comfortable in wearing socks for two or three days in a row. Ah, speaking about the last point, wearing jeans or shirts for multiple days in a row—if they stay cleanish of course—is the best strategy. Some hostels have washers and dryers and some don’t. Going to the dry cleaners—as I had to a bunch of times—is not the cheapest thing. Also, bring clothes for warm and cold weather. You don’t know where you’ll be in a few days, and sometimes in Europe a 2-hour train ride will put you on the coast from the mountains, or vice versa.
4) How to plan
I’ve heard all the stories about the best way to plan. Some like to have every hostel, train and plane booked before they even step foot on Europe. Some like to plan a good two or three weeks in advance and have everything booked. Both methods are big mistakes. The best way to plan is around two to five days ahead while you’re at the hostel. Let me sight a few personal experiences to support my assertion. I was finishing my trip in Lisbon and planned on going to southern Spain before I made my way north to France. An Australian came up to me asked if I had ever been to Lagos, a small beach town in southern Portugal. I told him no, of course, because I didn’t even know it existed! He started telling me how him and his friends were going there, about the cliff walks, sandy beaches and the warm weather (it was winter when I was in Lisbon). Right then and there, completely out of the blue, I decided to hop on a train and join them. To this day I still talk to those same Australians (thanks facebook!) and will never forget the people—there were around twelve countries represented at the hostel—that helped me maximize my experience.
From Lisbon: a cannon and view of the city
Another similar story played out the same way in Poland. Again, my trip was coming to an end before I planned on heading to the Czech Republic. I spent three days in Krakow and felt I saw everything I needed to see. On my last day, I met Graftieaux, a Frenchman who had previously lived in Krakow. He had a lot of pride and insisted I stay another day or two so he can give me a tour—one that that locals would go on—of Krakow. Long story short, he showed me off-the-map places, bars, restaurants and a cool walk through the Jewish District that I would have never known about beforehand. He even took me to an empty terrace where the view of the castle was impeccable. Now to the point: Would meeting people from almost a dozen countries hanging out on the back porch of the Lagos hostel drinking a beer and going on cliff walks been possible if I had my travel itinerary already booked? Would not having the flexibility to stay an extra two days in Krakow been worth not seeing Krakow from the point of view as a local? The answer to both questions is, NO. I can’t stress enough the importance of not planning too far ahead.
Check back tomorrow for tips 5 & 6.