Notes for Student Backpackers

Published on the York University Blog on Apr20 2009

     So the York summer is almost here. Some of us will be earning minimum wage at the mall or at Wonderland. While a lucky few will be taking the rite of passage for every Canadian student. These students will be hopping across the pond to backpack around Europe.  I’ve been there and done that as I am a mature student.  I covered 10 cities in one month having to change currencies (pre-Euro) and languages after every big train ride. I learned a few things along the way. 

Get an address card for your hostel – this will help you to avoid situations like I found myself in when trying to find my hostel, late at night alone in a taxi. I soon discovered that my hostel was in a dangerous area when the taxi driver asked with a look of doubt, “Are you sure you want to be dropped off here?” 

Try not to spend the bulk of your budget at the beginning– I of course ate lavishly at the beginning of my trip drinking glasses of wine and eating prix fixe meals. By the time I got to Italy I was eating nutella and mortadella sandwiches for every meal (Now I can’t even look at Nutella). 

Call ahead and book hostels over the phone or online – Some European hostels take reservations and it’s good to make them in high season. It is a pain to carry your backpack going from hostel to hostel to find a space.  Ask if the hostel has a first come first serve policy that will require you to wake up at the crack of dawn and stand in a line to get a spot at popular hostels.(It’s a lot of hard work!) 

Be wary of thieves – I was approached by a little child in Florence who had a newspaper over his arm to hide his pickpocket fingers. Other thieves will make you read signs while they take your money.  

Be crafty with how you hide your money – I saw a little boy lift a wallet from a belly bag on the Metro in Paris. That’s not the best place for a wallet. I always put my wallet in my backpack and I separate my traveler’s cheques in different places. I never leave any of that stuff at the hostel.  

There are no land taxis in Venice so don’t even bother to ask for one – I was overwhelmed by the concept of Venice. I travelled in the train over a bridge into a world of pathways and darkened alleys that can be reached only by boat or on foot.  When I asked someone where I could get a taxi she said, “Everything’s done here by boat honey.” And then I knew that I had entered another world.  

Be sure to visit a few travel agencies in Italian port towns for getting your ticket to Athens – As a naïve traveler I went to the first agency I saw when I got off of the train. This agency lied when they told us that the deck tickets, which were included with the Eurail pass, were sold out. I of course believed this and bought a more expensive ticket.  

A Munich pint is not equivalent to a Canadian pint – be careful when you down beer in the massive and heavy mugs at Munich’s famous Hofbrauhaus. You will have difficulty returning to your hostel. You will wake up with the vision of men in Lederhosen in your head. You will recover from this trauma after eating Bratwurst with Sauerkraut.  

Travel well and safely. You will be telling your travel stories for decades so live it up(while budgeting appropriately of course.)

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