When I was backpacking across Western Europe (Friends references will never get old, that’s a fact), I had some experiences that negated some “advice” I had heard before I went. I’m here to debunk some “Euro myths” about your upcoming Euro trip. (See what I did there? That was funny.)
1. “Hostels are dirty and full of sketchy people who will stab you in your sleep.”
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: despite what a lot of people think, hostels are awesome. Everyone loves a spacious, relaxing hotel, but if you’re traveling on a budget, hostels are the way to go. Obviously, check the reviews before you book anything–that’s what the Internet is for. I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels, and shared a room with at least three strangers each time, and the only slightly unfavorable hostel housemate I’ve had was an older gentleman who wouldn’t stop talking about the color wheel for no reason and was super vocal while taking care of his business in the bathroom. And that’s more of a funny story than anything else.
In my experience, checking into a hostel and meeting the randos with whom you’re in a room is like being given automatic friends for the next couple of days. Most other people who I’ve met in hostels are 20- and 30-something (with the exception of the Bathroom Gentleman) and just trying to explore a new city.
Most hostels also offer some kind of meal and/or host a tour of the city, and sometimes even a pub crawl, all of which are great ways to meet the other people staying in your hostel. Also, people who work at hostels are generally super chill and laid-back.
2. “Everyone in Paris is stuck-up and won’t talk to you if you don’t speak French.”
If you’re an American living in, say, Missouri, and someone just walked up to you on the street and started speaking to you in French, and you don’t speak French, you’d be like, “what the hell,” right? It’s the same thing. If you learn a couple of important phrases in the language of every country you visit–like “hello,” “thank you,” “what time does happy hour start,” etc.–you should be good to go.
I needed to ask for directions several times while I was in Paris (and everywhere else), so I learned how to ask “do you speak English?” and also to say “I don’t speak much [language]” in the language of each country I visited. When I opened with that, people were more than happy to help me out wherever I went, and most people also knew a substantial amount of English.
Which brings us to…
3. “Nobody will speak a word of English anywhere you go.”
While this is certainly more true for some countries than for others, most people in most countries speak at least enough English to have a short conversation. Which is unfortunate, actually. It’s a little harder to have a full-fledged cultural experience if there’s still English everywhere you go, but it is what it is.
Regardless, it’s a good idea (and the respectful thing to do) to learn some words and phrases in the language of wherever you are.
4. “Pickpocketing is a huge problem and you’ll definitely get robbed.”
Pickpocketing is for sure a thing, but it can be a thing anywhere. Just like everywhere else, keep an eye on your belongings, pay attention to where you are, and don’t be an idiot. Those are solid rules for life, actually.
5. “You have to be rich in order to be able to go.”
You don’t have to be wealthy to go to Europe, but you do have to know how/be willing to a) save up and b) budget.
5a. Saving up: This is easier said than done, but before your trip, try to start thinking things like, “Would I rather spend $7 on this burger right now or have 7 more dollars that could go towards a night at a hostel?”
(This isn’t as crazy as it sounds–yesterday I was lurking different hostel websites and saw that there’s a hostel in Thailand that costs $7.95 a night. True facts.)
Start putting some extra time into making food to bring to work and/or school instead of buying meals out, don’t buy drinks at bars (except for at happy hour occasionally), leave your friend’s party before midnight so you can take the last bus home instead of calling an Uber. Save a little now, and you’ll thank yourself later. Is that already the slogan for an insurance company or something, because if not, it should be. Any slogan-less insurance companies out there, get at me.
5b. Budget: Although I liked the idea of bouncing from European city to European city without any actual plan, it was waaaay cheaper to book my accommodation and transportation ahead of time (and I’m glad I did). I also printed out all of the confirmation pages for all of my hotels, trains, and flights before I left, and lugged them around with me everywhere in a folder in my backpack, which was a slight pain in the ass, but still saved me a ton of trouble when I was there, since sometimes the WiFi was crappy or nonexistent and we wouldn’t be able to pull up our confirmation emails at the hostel or train station.
I budgeted around $40/day not including flights or accommodation, which ended up working out fine, especially since in some countries you will definitely spend more (cough cough drinking in Spain), and in some countries you will definitely spend less (Greece).
Once I was there, I was also super careful about picking which activities I wanted to spend more on. I literally didn’t eat a legit meal the whole 36 hours I was in London because I heard it was expensive and I wanted to save my $$ for experiences, like the London Eye. I don’t necessarily recommend only eating nuts and janky half-frozen sandwiches for a day and a half like I did, but you get my point.
TL:DR; Hostels are dope! A lot of people speak English, but it helps/is considerate to learn some phrases! Keep an eye on your stuff and you should be fine! You don’t have to be ballin’ to go to Europe, but you do need to learn how to save up and budget!