Apparently I'm not the only one in the family who has been bitten by the travel bug (not bedbugs- don't get them confused… the travel bug is waaay more fun!) – my father, who will be 58 this year, left a week ago for a solo backpacking trip across Europe. The trip became reality like this:
My dad: "I heard about a guy my age who just took a few weeks off work and backpacked around Europe. Wouldn't that be cool?"
Me: "Um, sure!"
My dad: "I'd love to do something like that… so why couldn't I?"
Me (unsure of how to respond because he has that twinkle in his eye): "You could I guess."
My dad: "You know, I think I will!"
That was one year ago, and since that time he has been planning, planning, planning. He's stopping in 13 cities, staying exclusively at hostels and has one giant backpack worth of stuff. It was really tricky to make reservations with the various hostels – language was sometimes an issue and almost every one of them wanted credit card numbers to hold reservations, which can be daunting (and risky) via email. There's not a lot of info out there for travelers who are embarking on such a trip (on the cheap, staying in hostels, etc.). Here's what we learned so far:
– Hostels are all about the bare minimum, which was fine for my dad who really only needed a place to sleep. You need to bring a lot to a hostel – some require bedding, towels and locks, while others provide you with all of the above. A few have internet areas, continental breakfasts and free transportation from the nearest airport or train station. Some have shared bunk rooms while others offer private rooms (for an obviously higher rate). Ask lots of questions.
– Do your homework. We used all of the Lonely Planet books, which are incredibly handy (and are packed in my dad's backpack as we speak). They're written by actual travelers so their reviews are really reliable. They cover everything from hotels to hostels, restaurants, sites to see, and much more.
– Pack well and pack light. My dad got an incredible Mammut backpack – for years they've been designing top-quality backpacks and other travel bags, and he was able to fit everything in it that he needed for three whole weeks. He also packed a number of quick-dry clothing items, like undergarments as well as one pair of ExOfficio pants and a short-sleeved collared shirt – he can wash them out at night and they'll be dry in the morning.
You can definitely do Europe "on the cheap" if you plan ahead. Staying at hostels can free up enough funds so that you can fit in a few extra cities on your trip.
Look for travel columns about my dad's expedition across Europe in the coming weeks.