Eight months into my degree and I was craving my next dose of, “cabin crew prepare for landing”. My budget was tight and my ambitions were high but I managed to plan a two-week adventure backpacking from Bratislava to Budapest. From minimalist packing mistakes to hostel etiquette and how to survive travelling with a friend, here’s what I learnt along the way.
Planning my European backpacking trip
After hours spent trawling through SkyScanner, I decided to take the initiative and finally book a flight. I settled on Bratislava, Slovakia for both its price (£23 flight from Leeds Bradford) and location on the map (bordering six countries). My next stop was Trainline.eu which offers not only clear train information in English but also discounted youth tickets for those under 25. I saved about €15 on two train journeys. With discounts in place, I managed to plan my route:
Bratislava >> Vienna >> Prague >> Budapest
Step two in my planning process was figuring out where on earth I was going to find somewhere to stay on my £15 per-night budget. That’s when I discovered Hostelworld.com. Okay, I get you. Hostels? Really? But hear me out. Hostels have come a long way from the image our parents might have. The stained mattresses, the cockroach-infested toilets and the rickety old bunkbeds are long gone. Instead, you’ll find:
- Great communal spaces.
- Bunks complete with power outlets, reading lights and privacy curtains.
- Great hostel perks (Everything from bar-crawls and free walking tours to breakfast).
- And a price that, as a young person on a budget, is unbeatable. I paid an average of £11 per night on my trip by booking through Hostelworld.
Okay great. In theory I was all set, but when I arrived at my first hostel in Bratislava I got some pretty quick reality checks.
How to make the most of your hostel experience
Firstly, you have to rip the plaster off and do it quick. If you walk into your dorm for the first time with your head down and then fall silently onto your bunk, you give off the air of someone who isn’t open to making friends. Just say hello. Even if your roommates don’t speak English, odds are they know what hello means. Ask them about their experiences in the city. If you take a genuine interest in someone else, odds are they’ll take a pretty similar interest in you.
Secondly, this isn’t a hotel and things aren’t just thrown in for free. Towels aren’t included and there’s no little shampoo and shower gel bottles just waiting for you in the bathroom. I thought I’d cracked the code to minimalist packing until I was stood air drying in the bathroom because I didn’t bring a towel, while a queue of annoyed travellers waited to use the shower.
Hostels, for me, provided a great place to ditch my back-breakingly-heavy bag and head out to explore. Although hostels have lockers for storing your belongings, don’t forget to bring your own padlock, as a lot of times these aren’t thrown in for free!
Ask at the front desk before you head out into the city, the people working there are often locals or even travellers doing a few shifts to earn some cash before moving onto their next destination. Their inside knowledge can be priceless, especially if you have a limited amount of time to explore. Often, they’ll give you a free map with the fastest route to the centre of the city, some free things to stop off and see and a recommendation for somewhere to eat that will help you steer clear of extortionate tourist prices.
How to survive travelling with a friend
Once you’re out and about, something I’ve learnt from experience is that even the best of friends can start to grate on each other. Be realistic with the things you like, the things you want to do and ultimately the things you want to spend your money on. My travel buddy and I had dramatically different interests. While she was keen to visit old churches and classic art galleries I wanted to just wander aimlessly, exploring cafés and taking some cool pictures (if you ever find yourself in Prague, head to the John Lennon wall for some seriously ‘instagramable’ photos).
There was nothing wrong with either of our approaches but, ultimately, doing things for the happiness of the person you’re with doesn’t leave you happy. It’s not selfish to be honest. Just be real. Approach the issue in the evening and make it clear there’s some things you want to do on your own the next day. Suggest you meet up in the morning for breakfast before you part ways. Or, have dinner the next evening to discuss what you did. You’ll be grateful for the time you spent alone and look forward to coming back together and having a whole host of new things to talk about.
What I learnt backpacking from Bratislava to Budapest
Now, as I write this, I’m once again deep in the “post-travelling blues”, spending every free moment planning my next adventure. In the meantime, here’s a few final lessons I learnt from my travels this summer:
- Make mistakes. Mistakes are the things that make us human and above all teach us some great lessons about travelling. Trust me, surviving on three pairs of socks through four cities taught me that there are certain items you just can’t live without.
- Make friends. Learn that the people who we cross paths with on the road can genuinely teach us something. This can range from sightseeing tips to their language, home culture or general backpacking tips.
- Finally, make memories. You don’t have to take a gap year, renounce your worldly possessions and give up modern society to consider yourself a traveller. Being a traveller is about wanting to experience the world in a way you’ll be able to reflect on for the rest of your life. That’s what it’s all about. Be young and make memories that you can tell your future children about after one too many.