What happens on tour, stays on tour

20130523-210100.jpg

A big part of your itinerary plan will be deciding whether or not you will book an organised group tour. This all depends on the kind of traveller you are but if you like to party, a tour is a must-do on your European adventure.

There are a huge number of tour companies for young people and they have been around for decades.

Contiki

Now I am a huge fan of Contiki. I started my 6 month European backpacking trip with a 28 day European Contrasts tour- holy moley words can’t describe how amazing this was.

If backpacking Europe is a rite of passage for young people, Contiki should be a passage in it own right!

Travelling can be daunting at first so a tour can be an easy way to become accustomed to being in a foreign country and wow Contiki is the way to do it. Not only are they ridiculously organised and everything goes off without a hitch, it will be the most fun you will ever have.

With a full bus, I now have 48 new friends mostly from Australia and New Zealand but South Africa, Canada and America as well.

Contiki lives up to its reputation- every night is a huge party. At every Contiki site you stay, you meet up with a few other buses full to the brim of partying Contiki revellers. The next day you get up, see the city and do it all again!

Contiki is a whirlwind so it’s a great idea for the start of your trip when you are still getting your bearings. You can get a taste of a number of cities and go back to places you love later on. I myself went back to Paris and Munich even though I visited them on Contiki.

Now you don’t have to be a party animal to go on Contiki but just realise the majority of those on the bus want to get drunk every night. You will get up, see the sights and experience the culture but it is a much more superficial experience so I would treat it as a ‘tasting’ journey. Just know what you are getting yourself into. My only advice is go wild- I have never felt so relaxed and carefree than while on Contiki tour.

Now some other tour companies for young people include:

Busabout

Busabout is an awesome way to get around Europe especially if you are a female travelling solo. Instead of booking expensive last minute trains and buses you pay the one flat fee for whichever loop itinerary you choose.

The bus drops you off at the recommended hostel and picks you up from there too. Busabout is a brilliant way to make a lot of friends because you are all travelling on the same itinerary and have every chance of meeting up with them again. Busabout also offers fantastic flexibility and you can stay in a city as long as you like then book the next Busabout bus out of there!

Topdeck

Top deck seems to be gaining a lot of momentum with fantastic itineraries and slightly lower fares than Contiki. Normally Topdeck draws a slightly older crowd about 22-27 year olds and a few more couples but that doesn’t mean Top Deck doesn’t know how to party!! Might be an idea to join one of these if you think the non-stop partying nature of Contiki might be a little too full on for you.

Fanatics

Fanatics are an Aussie tour company who specialise in sporting events and festivals. From my own experience, they are not the most experienced of tour companies but if you want to go to European festivals like Oktoberfest and La Tomatina or sporting events like Wimbledon it is a great way to experience them with like-minded young people!

Just be prepared that their tour guides are not experienced and you really only get accommodation and transfers to whichever festival you have booked. You are paying to be apart of a large fanatics group. That is the only real benefit to touring with Fanatics. I personally would choose another tour company.

Others to look into include PP Travel and Stoke Travel who are both particularly great for European festivals.

Advertisements

Friends to Foes- choose your travel companion wisely

20130501-205214.jpg
Through school and Uni, you and your best friend would procrastinate hitting the books and day dream together about wild adventures in distant countries- sipping on espressos in Paris, going on safari in South Africa or partying the night away in Rio.

Suddenly it’s crunch time. You are on the brink of booking your once-in-a-lifetime trip and you really need to think twice about who will be your travel buddy.

This isn’t just for the sake of your trip but for your friendship. I am sure you have heard the many sad stories of best friends who jetted off as BFFs and returned home as enemies. I know of one such travelling pair that fell out forever after one became so frustrated with the other she drunkenly jumped on a plane to London one night and left the other alone in Germany. They still don’t speak to each other.

You may be two peas in a pod but can you travel together?

Every individual is a different kind of traveller. If you want to party every night and sleep all day you do not want to team up with a sightseer who must see everything nook and cranny in a city.

You need to be the same kind of traveller or one of you isn’t going to be happy. I saw way too many friends splitting up on their adventures because they wanted different experiences on their travels. Some split up amicably, others don’t go so well.

Another factor is budget. Compare how much you both want to take/how much you will realistically take. If you are Miss Money Bags you don’t want to be missing out because your friend is broke and vice versa. It doesn’t mean you can’t meet up with this mate but travelling together the entire time could mean one of you could miss out on experiences you were looking forward to. It isn’t selfish, you saved that money so it’s up to you how it’s spent.

You need to share interests. Whether it’s art, history, shopping or sport you want to visit the same sites or at least the same cities. Create a dream itinerary together and make sure you list the countries and activities you do not want to miss. If your itineraries don’t match up then it could be you aren’t a match as travel companions.

Now this isn’t a factor for some friendships but it has to be noted. Your relationship status can change the style of your trip. If you are attached and your travel buddy is single you may be presented with the situation of making your way back to your hostel alone in a foreign city. You may have to take the role as wingman and get stuck talking to the obnoxious friends. Yes, you may do it all the time at home but you aren’t home. It’s just the two of you and you aren’t going home to your boyfriend so make sure you know what you are getting into. For a lot of friends this isn’t an issue at all but it is something to think about.

Remember, you will be spending a lot of time with your friend and even if you live in each others pockets, you will have never spent this much time together. You may be confronted with stressful situations and you will need to work together to escape them unscathed.

From my own experience, my bank balance which was to last me the remaining three months of my trip was stolen when my travel money card was skimmed at an ATM in Switzerland. All of my money was gone and I was a blubbering mess.

My friend took control, lent me money until the bank returned mine and visited numerous police stations with me. Not to mention keeping my mind off my empty bank account by shouting me numerous shots that night to make me feel better. A week later I was in hospital in Germany (not a direct result of the shots) and she was pushing past nurses so I wouldn’t be alone. Now these are some pretty extreme situations but you have to be willing to do this for your travel buddy. If not you may want to think about travelling alone.

Extreme circumstances aside the two or how ever many of you travelling together will be navigating new cities and cultures where you may not speak the language. You need to be patient with each other and work together as a team.

Once you have worked out you want to travel together you need to talk about how long you will travel as a team. One friend may think it is the full duration while the other wants a month to themselves. You need to nip this in the bud early to avoid any feelings of rejection.

Keep in mind that plans do change. I know a friend who fell in love with an American boy at the beginning of her trip and cut her time short in Europe so she could return to America and spend time with him. Her travel buddy was left to be alone but she couldn’t have been happier for her friend.

Now on the positive side, friendships can become even stronger while travelling. You experience amazing places, cultures and meet incredible people together. They are the friend who reminds you of home and kicks the homesickness monster in the butt. They will be there for you and understand exactly what you need when you need it. You will create amazing memories with them at a time in your life when you are blissfully happy exploring the world and finding yourself. When you do return home, together you will tell the story of the time she got so drunk on tequila shots in Spain she danced on the bar, fell on her ass and no one kicked her out because it was Europe!!

Packing your life into a backpack

20130412-203241.jpg
Airline weight limits will soon become the bane of your existance. Now it is pretty hard to squish your entire wardrobe into a backpack but the below tips should help you out!

Shoes-
Now girls please think before you pack. High heels really are a want not a need when backpacking. Everywhere you go Spain, Germany, Finland, Turkey- locals and tourists rock flat shoes when they hit the town and you should follow suit. I took one pair of black high heels with me and never wore them.

I could not bear to ditch the beautiful stems but they were too heavy to send home so they made the trip around Europe with me and never made it onto my feet. If you really can’t leave home without them- take one pair. They should be comfortable (because of all the mischief you will get up to you will probably need to be able to run in them) nude or black so they go with any outfit.

Gladiator flats are the way to go as they are dressy enough for a dinner or a club but look very chic during the day. You need a pair of runners for all the sightseeing you will be doing and a pair of thongs (flip flops) for lazing about and if you are a hygiene freak to be worn in the shower.

Hair straightener-
Yes, take it. My travelling amigo has wildly curly hair and was somehow talked out of taking her GHD. Instead she took a miniature hair straightener that took over an hour to get her hair looking half decent. Everywhere we went she borrowed hair straighteners from dorm mates including a very metro guy who got ready with us to go out. The fact of the matter is- take it. If you can’t live without it at home, you need to take it with you.

Singlets-
A great way to keep your luggage levels down is to take singlets which can be worn during the day with shorts but then dressed up at night with jeans or a high waisted skirt. Flattering singlets in black, white and one colour are the way to go so you can mix and match with your bottoms.

Sleeved shirts-
Even in Europe there are places where you won’t feel comfortable showing too much skin in a singlet and shorts so it is good to have the option. You will visit churches and places of cultural significance and it is respectful to cover up.

Jewellery-
Accessories are the best friend of the glampacker- statement necklaces can completely change your outfit and take up next to nothing of space in your bag! You want a number of bright and bold pieces so to the untrained eye you seem to be wearing a different outfit each night.

Make up-
Now you will be lazing about in the sun a lot so you won’t need too much. As per my above tip though if you can’t live without it, take it. You only really need foundation, bronzer, eye liner, mascara and blush. You will be going for a natural look most of the time. Waterproof mascara is a good idea because those Barcelona pool parties get pretty wet!

Toiletries-
Razors, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, body wash and you will be good to go! Good tip for bikini lines is to use conditioner on the area if you don’t take shaving cream with you. It can help avoid those nasty razor bumps as you probably won’t be popping into a beautician for a wax.

Random essentials you must take include:
-Travel pillow
-Water bottle with a hook
-Day backpack/bag
-Sewing kit
-First aid kit
-Ear plugs
-Eye mask
-Small going out bag
-Adapters

I find a great way to make sure you have all the clothing you need is by making a list from top to toe, from hat to shoes.

Now don’t forget chargers and adapters for all of your electronics and remember you can buy anything you need over there (and for cheap) so do not stress!

Backpack or wheelie bag?

20130411-230702.jpg

Now choosing the right bag is vital as you will be lugging this thing around for months. It becomes your home and without a good quality bag, a normal travel day can turn pretty horrid fast. You will be lugging this thing up stairs, throwing it in luggage compartments not to mention it carries everything you need to survive while abroad.

A backpack with wheels is definately my ideal option. This way you have the best of both worlds- you can wheel it everywhere you please but once the rain starts coming down or you have to lug it through a pebbly path you can throw it on your back. This is definately the option for girls who love to shop- if you are going to be buying plenty of clothes and souvenirs your bag is going to get heavier and heavier so you will need those wheels by the end of your trip. I only used my bag as a backpack once while walking through a muddy path to our campsite at Oktoberfest but it was nice to know the option was there for me. Ah the joys of modern backpacking- backpacks with wheels!

A wheelie bag is definately a good option for those who may be staying in nicer hotels instead of hostels. I met plenty of female travellers who were using normal wheelie travel bags but I still think the option of the backpack is the way to go.

For those who travel light, get a backpack. The backpackers who actually had backpacks seemed to move a lot damn faster than my friend and I but really it depends on your luggage weight.

Now that’s another thing you need to think about- the capacity of the backpack. I took a 70 litre Katmandu backpack with wheels for a 4 month trip and really regret not downsizing to the 50 litre. When you buy a larger bag you find a way to fill it up but if you buy a smaller bag you will be stricter about what you take. Remember you are lugging this about- up stairs, down stairs, through airports, bus terminals, hostel stairwells and through narrow pebbled streets. You don’t need everything from your wardrobe back home.

Question everything you are taking, now do you really need that pair of red stiletto high heels? Yes, they could look so cute while you sashay around the beautiful streets of Paris and sip on espressos but seriously leave them at home.

The greasy haired backpacker is dead.

20130411-213857.jpg
Okay ladies, you will be happy to know the image of the greasy-haired, smelly backpacker who sleeps on a park bench is dead.

Yeah, there are still some of these out there but if you decide to take the plunge and live out of a backpack for months just know you don’t have to turn into something resembling a homeless person.

Modern-day backpacking has changed and now you can see the world on a budget without giving up all luxury.

This is a guide for gals who want to backpack around Europe and would like to know what to expect from a girl who has lived off less than 25 euro a day.

You are about to depart on the most amazing trip of your life and it’s nice to have an idea of what is coming your way!