I would like to debunk some travel “necessities” you could waste money on (like I did).
The Backpack: Oh the Godforsaken backpack I am carrying around with my whole life in it. We have an intense love-hate relationship. It’s love when I can throw it on my back and quickly move from airport to train station to bus, etc., versus having to roll a large suitcase. BUT there was a better way to do this. I know now. There are stores throughout Europe (a continent FULL of backpackers) that sell packs for less than half the cost of one you’d get in the States. I bought mine back home at REI for $320 and could have got a better, lighter one here for $100. If I were to do this over, I would have brought an old suitcase that was ready to be trashed and transferred over to a new affordable backpack on arrival.
The adapter/ converter: I bought mine from Target for $40. I was so excited because it came with all the hook ups for every single country I could ever possibly visit. Given the fact I was unsure where the world would take me, I figured I would need this big bulky thing and would just suck up how much space it would take in my bag. Then I got to Spain and realized my portable phone battery would not charge with it because it didn’t carry the correct voltage. Seriously?! Then I went outside to the bodega on the corner and guess what I saw? A charger you can plug your USB cord into, for only $7! Depending on what you’re bringing, you don’t need to waste the money on the converter. You can even buy a converter here for cheaper than in the states if you find you really do need one. Just pick up the right outlet when you’re in the country that is your destination and you’re good to go.
The International Phone plan: This is a 50/50 call for me. I say: weigh your options and consider where you actually plan to go. Do you plan to go to one country and stay there for a while? Or will you be moving around constantly changing countries? If you plan to stay put, it’s cheaper to get a local SIM card and just bring your old phone from home. If you’re traveling all over the place, just know what to expect from the service you’re paying for. I am paying $100 per month for unlimited internet and data as I roam around the globe, which I thought was a small price to pay to stay connected. The trouble is, the service can totally suck depending on where you are. The more remote (and usually most beautiful) places don’t have towers to bring you the service you may be paying for. I spent four beautiful days in Porto, Portugal and could not access the alleged “unlimited internet service” I was supposed to be having. On the flip side, when I moved on to larger cities like Lisbon, my service rocked and I could use my GPS to get around easily.
The travel (microfiber) towel: This can take up valuable space in your bag and space in the washer when you do your laundry (which, yes, you have to pay for). The hostels will rent you a towl for about $1 and you just turn it in dirty on check out. For me, its worth the $1 to not have to worry about carrying that thing around, and the less laundry I have, the better. haha
The Euro rail pass: A friend I met in at a hotel paid $600 for 10 travel days anywhere in the Schengen part of Europe. I decided against doing this because I didn’t want to stress about getting in all of my train rides to get my money’s worth- plus I didn’t know when or how I wanted to go where. Important to know: you have 90 days to spend in Europe before you are essentially forced to leave and go elsewhere. If you have a 10 train pass like my friend, that means you can spend an average of 9 days in each place, but you could use three train rides just for Spain, for example. Also, this isn’t a train you can just show up and hop on. You have to know in advance when and where you will go and reserve your seat a few days in advance. Travel times are much longer than a short, cheap flight. You will waste about a week of your 90 days (at least) in travel time on the train. I have been diligent about shopping around for flight deals (check out Skyscanner and “Secret flights”) and will end up spending the same amount of money to see all the parts of Europe I want to see. I may take a train here and there but you can buy individual trips for fairly cheap. So, it is in my humble opinion that you think twice before springing for the Eurorail pass prior to your trip.
Accommodations: AirBNB can be the same cost as Hostels and comes with built in privacy, wifi (usually) and a way to do laundry. Balance out the two options if you’re like me and need space sometimes. There are pluses and minuses to both, but don’t be like me and think that hostels are the “best” option. I think staying in a neighborhood like a local in an apartment that gives you a day or two of privacy will be so worth it, especially if the prices are near the same as the local hostels.
Money belt or other special cash stash that you wear: Don’t bother. If you have one, chances are you’ll never even wear it, let alone need it. Tap into your common sense and don’t carry ample amounts of cash or display all of it publicly. Just be smart and stay in tune with your surroundings. I’ve been carrying around a little clutch with a zipper pouch inside for cash and credit cards and it’s been perfectly fine. Bonus: it holds my lipgloss. 🙂
Now for a necessity I would like to set straight….
A pillow from home: I was told repeatedly not to bring one! “They have them at every hostel!” I heard over and over. if you’re like me and have trouble sleeping- especially in foreign places- this item SHOULD be with you on your trip. Here’s why: rest is essential to your play time! Many times your rest will only happen on the plane or on a long train ride where they do NOT have pillows, especially your comfy one from home. Yes, hostels have pillows for you but they may as well be nonexistent. They are way too small (you only get one) and squish down to nothing the second you lay your head down.
***Be sure to pack headphones and a sleep mask. You’ll need to block out light and noise from your sometimes inconsiderate roommates at the hostel. I have learned quickly here in Europe that people do not go to bed anywhere near when American’s typically do. Multiple times my room mates have come back to the room at 6 AM. I don’t know about you, but if you wake me up before 7 AM, it’s ugly! My pillow, earphones, eye mask and pillow have saved my life!
That’s all I have here on just day 9! I will continue to add to this post as my journey continues and hopefully help save a few people (and myself next time) some money! If you have more tips please leave in the comments! I am learning as I go, just like the rest of us.