BACKPACKING EUROPE: What I Learned
I went into this trip thinking I had the same body I had 10 years ago.
I do not.
I said to myself, “Hell yeah!!! I will throw this bag on my back and walk around Spain and Portugal without a care in the world! I will not be tired because I am a strong woman who works out and plays sports multiple times a week.!”
Guess what? No.
No. That is not how it went. It was close to that, but in between my positive mantras were many curse words about being tired and in pain. Much more than I had originally expected. So, let’s chat about some things I learned along the way …
Walking: I’ve said it 3,000 times, and I’ll say it again … get decent shoes! There are so many cute and comfortable sandal brands out there now, you don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort! Gone are the days of being able to wear shitty and un-supportive shoes for long periods of time. Some of my favorites depending on budget are: Sorel $$$, Clarks $$$, and Eurosoft $$ (This is the brand I had!). You’ll be walking all over the place from one monument to the next, so be prepared physically! We walked an average of 20-22K steps a day!
Tipping: Tipping isn’t really a thing overseas. But, don’t just assume that no one tips. It’s important to do some research ahead of time. We googled our location, and for the most part people did tip but it wasn’t much. Usually it was any extra change from their bill or maybe 1-2 euros at most.
Luggage Checks: We didn’t do this, but there are apparently tons of places you can check your bags at within the cities themselves. It’s essentially a storefront that allows you to check your bags for the day while you either wait to head to the airport or if you have to wait to check in to your Airbnb/hotel. Do this if you need to. It’s hard carrying a 55lb bag for 10 days straight. My back was sore, I had bruises on my hips, and I had one really strong oblique muscle from constantly picking up my backpack with my right arm.
Water: The city water was safe to drink in both Portugal and Spain. We had no tummy issues the entire trip, which was a wonderful surprise and bonus! But, what you need to know is that any water brought to your table, you’re paying for it. If you don’t want the water DO NOT TOUCH IT. If you don’t want the bread, DON’T TOUCH IT. Anything brought to your table that you specifically did not order, cannot be charged to you if you don’t eat/drink it. They will bring bread, but if you don’t want it, just leave it there (good luck with that). We didn’t realize this included flat water as well, but it does. Fun Fact: Drinking water costs more than drinking beer … you know the obvious choice here. Skip the water.
Sizes: Americans have a weird infatuation with everything being huge. GIGANTIC fountain pops, biggie sized fries, ice cream cones as tall as my face. I don’t really get it, and honestly it’s gross. Be aware things are much smaller overseas. The portions are smaller and so are the beers. If you order a Cerveza and you have pretty limited Spanish skills, they’ll usually come to you with an 8oz draft. They only cost about a 1.30 (or less), and it’s nice not having a giant beer in front of you while eating. They stay cold longer and they just taste better with the views there.
Mini Bottles: Not those ones you drunk. I recommend limiting the weight of your bag in any way you can. Keep your pack as light as possible by transferring any bath products you have into those small travel size containers. It will save a surprisingly large amount of space and weight. This was even more noticeable when I ditched any leftovers on our last day and realized how much lighter my pack was even with just those few things being removed.
Carry On: If you’re traveling to any country in the EU, you’ll be taking a pretty big plane. I would suggest a carry on/backpack for this reason as well. The overhead carriers are huge on these planes, and easily fit our backpacks. Use this and you can move quickly out of the airport when you get to your destination. After an 8 hour flight, this will be one less stressful thing to deal with. Remember, you’re losing hours of sleep on your way over!
Fly Delta: Fine, maybe you don’t have to use Delta specifically, but don’t go cheap. The budget friendly airline, Wow Airlines, actually went out of business while we were overseas. Hundreds of people were stranded at their destinations and those airlines give their customers only the bare essentials. Delta treated us like we were kings. We were only in Coach and we were still fed multiple times, given pillows, blankets, eye masks, etc. They take good care of you and it’s worth it. Trust me, 9 hours in a plane is a long time.
Photography Courtesy of Blake Brattina